Return Day

John M. Clayton, Delaware U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State in President Taylor's administration once said of "Return Day" "that the man who had been to a political meeting in Dagsboro, seen Return Day in Georgetown and visited Paris had witnessed the three most interesting sights in the world"

The above is a quote from an 1878 newspaper.

The Return Day Office is located on the Marvel Carriage Museum Grounds. You can get more information at or contact the President, Rosalie Walls at (302) 855-9660

What is Return Day?

A Sussex County Tradition.

Here is a history taken from the 2006 Return Day program:

Although the date of the first "Return Day" in Georgetown is uncertain, it could have been as early as 1791. The State Law in 1791 removing the county seat from Lewes to a new place later named Georgetown required all votes to be cast in the county seat on election day. Poor traveling conditions and interest in the outcome of the political contest may have resulted in an extended stay by voters.

Then as now, interested persons would visit the county seat to hear the announcement of the official results. In 1811, voting districts in the individual hundreds were established, but the Board of Canvassers, presided over by the Sheriff, would meet two days later in Georgetown to announce the final returns.

Naturally, the gathering of two or three thousand politicians, supporters, and curious on-lookers made for a very festive atmosphere. J. Thomas Scharf, in 1888, described "Return Day" in the History of Delaware as "one of the customs peculiar to the people of Sussex, from time immemorial, is to hold high carnival on the day when the results of a gener election are announced."

By early morning, Sussex County folks from every nook and corner, and even from Maryland, could be seen coming to the county seat in almost every conceivable manner to observe "Return Day". Some walking, others on horseback, and still others in carriages, coaches, gigs, and farm wagons, drawn by ox, horse, or mule. Many of the vehicles were gaily decorated with bright colors or flags.

On most Return Days, large strips of muslin were extended from one side of the courthouse to the other in the years of Presidential elections. The names of the states that had gone one way or another were painted on the muslin with the approximate majorities.

A court bailiff would step upon the old courthouse balcolny, address the hundreds of anxious politicians, supporters, and curious on-lookers who stood below him on the public square, and cry out the results of the canvass court of election.

Booths, stalls and stands were erected near the courthouse, where all kinds of edibles, such as Delaware biscuit, hot corn pone, opossum and rabbit meat, fish and oysters, could be procured.

There was a big celebration in 1936 when Franklin D. Rosevelt won in a landslide and the Democrats carried the State for the first time in many years. Return Day was cancelled altogether in 1942 because of World War II. However, it was too good an event to let die in Sussex County where traditions are important. In 1952, a group of interested citizens of both the Republican and Democrat parties joined together to revive this great tradition.