Collecting Delaware Books
by Jeffrey W. Seemans
This article was published in December 1994
Ten years after his death and almost twenty years after the publication of his book, The Forest of Appoquinimink, it seems only fitting to pay tribute to both the book and the man who wrote it Clifford Pryor. This book was written about the genealogies of almost two dozen families who settled in the heavily forested area of southern New Castle County Delaware. Many of them lived before the Revolutionary War.
The author had kinfolk among the group, and his book was published in 1975 by Shawnee Printing, a division of State Media, Inc., from Milford. What percentage of Delaware books can claim such a triple-header of Delaware subject matter, author, and printer?
Mr. Pryor died in 1984 after having lived a respectable 89 years. According to his obituary printed in the Wilmington News Journal, he lived a productive life as well. Active in Democratic politics, he served from 1932 to 1934 as a representative in the Delaware General Assembly and during that term worked to pass a bill replacing paper ballots with voting machines. He was unsuccessful during that term, but the voting machine bill finally passed in 1955.
He served as a state senator from 1954 to 1958. A highlight of his career as a senator was his sponsorship of a bill which helped set up a permanent signature system of voter registration. He served on the New Castle County Board of Assessment before retiring in the 1960s.
A man of many interests, he also worked as a carpenter and farmer, having raised pigeons, minks, and turkeys on his farm in Blackbird.
He writes in the introduction to his book that he was "curious to learn what sort of people contributed to the stream of life of which we are part." When his father died in 1960, he came into possession of some old papers including letters, wills, and other legal documents. He resolved to find out what he could learn of his ancestors. Having ready access to the old public records such as wills, original land surveys and grants, and having "a curious mind and sufficient patience for research," Mr. Pryor undertook what must be regarded as a formidable task.
It is difficult enough to piece together the generations of ones own family, let alone two dozen others. But this is exactly what Clifford Pryor accomplished. He writes, "As the research continued, I became aware that the facts obtained were sufficient to preserve, and members of my family shared in the opinion that the information ought to be compiled for the benefit of those interested."
Since I learned through a relative that the Seemans family was one of the families written about in the book, I became interested and made arrangements to meet Mr. Pryor at his home in Smyrna and purchase a copy. I was very excited to meet the author and receive an autographed copy. He unearthed facts which even Runks Biographical and Genealogical History of Delaware did not discover.
Clifford Pryor dedicated the book "to the memory of the pioneer families who settled in the Forest of Appoquinmink, to their descendants, and to my kinfolk everywhere." However, his chapters on the forests churches, schools, and personal recollections help to take this book well beyond the interest of the families he wrote about. The current generations of those families are indebted to him for his carefully researched data, but every Delawarean interested in local history should read this book.
In all my browsings of various bookstores and flea markets, I have never seen another copy of this book. The auction reports in Collecting Delaware Books report only one sale, that for $110. I suppose this could be considered the highest form of flattery, since few, if any, desire to trade their copy for cash.
It also speaks highly of Clifford Pryor. I tried to get him to take his book to a second printing, but he politely declined. He said that the first and only 300 copies would become prized collectors items. The scarcity of this book in the marketplace proves that he was right.