Return Day


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Return Day

November, the Thursday after Election Day
In the early 19th century, the rural residents of Sussex County, Delaware, had to travel all the way to Georgetown, the county seat, to cast their ballots on Election Day. The roads were rough, the weather was often bad, and many of the men were uneasy about leaving their families behind.
In 1828, the General Assembly adopted new election laws establishing polling places in the "hundreds," as the political subdivisions of the county were called (probably referring to the early English "group of 100 hides," the number of land units necessary to support one peasant family). While this spared voters from having to travel, they had no way of finding out the results of the election because there were no county newspapers. The tabulations were rushed to Georgetown by couriers, and the results were read two days later from the courthouse steps. Many of the farmers in the surrounding areas would take a day off and travel to Georgetown with their families to hear the announcement and to join in the festivities, which included cockfights, band concerts, and open-air markets. The winning candidates were often carried around the town green in an impromptu victory celebration.
Of course, there is no longer any need to wait two days to hear election results (with the notable exception of the 2000 election). But the residents of Georgetown continue the tradition, which includes a formal announcement of the results on the Thursday after the Presidential Election Day. There are parades, picnics, military displays, and, of course, politicking. Both the winners and the losers circulate among their supporters. Street vendors sell roast oxen, which has been cooked on a spit, and there is a parade down Market Street reminiscent of the days when farmers would arrive in town in their wagons and ox-drawn carts.
CONTACTS:
Georgetown Historical Society
108 E. Main St.
Georgetown, MA 01833
978-352-2208
www.georgetownhistoricalsociety.com
SOURCES:
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 443
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