Ebe W. Tunnell

Ebe W. Tunnell

Ebe Walter Tunnell (December 31 1844December 13 1917) was an American merchant and politician from Lewes, in Sussex County, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family

Tunnell was born December 31 1844 at Blackwater, near Clarksville, now Ocean View, Sussex County, Delaware, son of Nathaniel and Maria Walters Tunnell. After attending the public schools at Milford, Delaware and Lewes, he ran the Blackwater general store started by his grandfather. Moving to Lewes in 1872, he operated a drug and hardware business there. He was one of only two Governors who never married and was a member of the Lewes Presbyterian Church.

Governor of Delaware

Tunnell was a member of the Delaware House of Representatives in the 1871/72 session and Clerk of the Peace for Sussex County from 1885 through 1890. He was the unsuccessful Democratic Party candidate for Governor of Delaware in 1894, losing to the Republican Party candidate, Joshua H. Marvil. Two years later, in 1896, he was elected Governor, defeating the Union (Addicks) Republican Party candidate, James R. Hoffecker, and the regular Republican Party candidate John C. Higgins. He served one term as Governor from January 19 1897 until January 15 1901.

During his term of office the present State Constitution, the Delaware Constitution of 1897 was written and adopted. It provided some additional representation for New Castle County in the Delaware General Assembly, but actually reduced the representation of Wilmington which by then was the most populous part of Delaware. Among many other changes it created the office of Lieutenant Governor, allowed Governors to be elected to a second term and gave him the veto, reduced judge's terms from life to twelve years, and eliminated the poll tax. It was also during his term that the General Incorporation Law was passed, creating the favorable business environment that has resulted in Delaware becoming the preferred place in the U.S. for companies to incorporate.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1897-1898 89th Democratic Hezekiah Harrington Democratic Emery B. Riggin
1899-1900 90th Democratic Charles M. Salmon Republican Theodore F. Clark

Death and legacy

After his term ended, Tunnell returned to Lewes, where he became President of the Farmers' Bank of Delaware, a director of the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Railroad, and owner of the Delaware Pilot. He died December 13 1917 at Lewes, Delaware, and is buried there, in the Lewes Presbyterian Church Cemetery.


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1st. Members of the Delaware General Assembly took office the first Tuesday of January. State Representatives have a two year term. The Governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and has a four year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Elected Term began Term ended notes
State Representative Legislature Dover 1870 January 3 1871 January 7 1873
Clerk of the Peace Executive Georgetown 1885 1890 Sussex County
Governor Executive Dover 1896 January 19 1897 January 15 1901

Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1871-1872 76th State House Democratic James Ponder Sussex at-large

Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1894 Governor Ebe W. Tunnell Democratic 18,659 47% Joshua H. Marvil Republican 19,880 50%
1896 Governor Ebe W. Tunnell Democratic 15,507 44% James R. Hoffecker
John C. Higgins
Union Republican


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company.
  • Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6.
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). A History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press.
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, Delaware: Roger A. Martin.


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