In 1791, Delaware state law moved the Sussex County seat from the town of Lewes to Georgetown, a town that was approximately 16 miles from any other town in the county.
At that time, all votes were required to be cast in the new county seat, giving those who lived farther from the coast easier assess to voting, without having to travel as far. Residents would also “return” to Georgetown two days following the election to hear the election results, also known as “returns.”
Despite the tremendous expansion of polling places and the speed of election results being disseminated, the Return Day tradition has continued to present day, with people from across Sussex County and beyond returning to Georgetown to listen to the election results and celebrate the end of election season.
“Now, Delaware once again is a shining example for the nation of coming together, putting aside our political differences and burying the hatchet — literally and figuratively,” said WBOC’s Steve Hammond, who emceed the ceremonies on Georgetown’s central Circle. “I think a lot of the nation could learn from the example that we set every two years here in Georgetown.”
The “great Delaware tradition that has been going on for over 200 years” began this year in the morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 7, as the event’s Ox Roast Committee began cooking a local steer — approximately 1,250 pounds of meat. The ox, along with 120 loaves of bread cradling it and about a ton of charcoal used to cook it, would make for about 1,000 free sandwiches offered to Return Day attendees on Wednesday, said committee member Kenny Towers.
During Wednesday evening, those looking to kick off the festivities early were able to enjoy food and live entertainment on The Circle.
On Thursday, Nov. 8, a slew of activities, including a mayoral hatchet toss, martial arts demonstration and dance performances took center stage before the 1:30 p.m. parade, which was led by outgoing Sussex County Councilman and Grand Marshal George Cole. Officials participating in the parade included Gov. John Carney, U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long.
High school marching bands, as well as the Delaware State University and the University of Delaware marching bands tooted patriotic tunes as they traveled along the route. Onlookers were also able to wave to Delaware pageant winners and view antique tractors and firetrucks.
Following the parade’s conclusion, Town Crier Kirk Lawson read the Sussex County results of Tuesday’s elections.
“Why only Sussex?” asked Lawson. “Because that’s all that matters.”
Georgetown Mayor Bill West took the opportunity to thank veterans attending the event, as Return Day was held just days before Veterans Day.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. We couldn’t do the things we love to do if it wasn’t for the job that you’ve done and continue to do,” he said. “Enjoy the day, enjoy the food, enjoy the politics. We all need to come together as one and move this state forward.”
Campaign 2018 was concluded with traditional literal burial of a hatchet, a ceremony performed by Don Petitmermet, chairman of the Sussex County Republican Party; Jane Hovington, chairwoman of the Sussex County Democratic Party; Wolfgang Von Baumgart, chairman of the Sussex County Independent Party; and James Brittingham, chairman of the Sussex County Libertarian Party. The sand used in the ritual is from Lewes Beach, paying tribute to the location of the first county seat.
“And with that, we can officially put Campaign 2018 to bed,” pronounced Hammond.
By Maria Counts