Delaware Barbour, also known as "Sweet Orange," began selling vegetables on the streets of Southwest Washington from a cart pulled by a billy goat when he was 8 years old. That was back in 1894.
He got his first horse and wagon when he was about 13. He stayed in the business of selling vegetables, fruit and fish from a horse-drawn wagon until the early 1960s, and then went to work in the open-air stalls at the Farmers Market at Union Terminal Market, 5th and V Streets NE. He did not retire until he was 85. That was in 1971.
"Delie" Barbour died yesterday at 91 in Howard University Hospital after a long illness. Although he lacked a formal education and other advantages, his life was marked with some notable accomplishments.
Thirty-seven years ago, for example, he was able to lend his daughter, Erma, and her husband, the Rev. Merrel D. Booker, the down payment for the house they still occupy on 20th Street NE.
Mrs. Booker is a retired art teacher. Mr. Booker is retired as a teacher at Garrett Evangelical Seminary, a part of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
"He learned how to survive on the streets," Mr. Booker said of "Delie" Barbour yesterday. "That is so very important - that he learned to survive on the streets."
Children would steal from his wagon. Sometimes thugs would rob him, and "Delie" Barbour went armed. He weighed only about 115 pounds, but one night just before Christmas in 1956, he fought off an attacker who tried to get into his house at 503 M St. SW.
According to police accounts of the incident, Mr. Barbour went after the intruder with a pistol in each hand, shot at him, and thought he had hit him. But the intruder took one of the guns away, lacerated "Delie's" scalp with it, and fled.
The house on M Street was torn down during the Southwest renewal in the early 1960s. That is when Mr. Barbour had to give up the stable he kept behind his home and the last of his horses.
He was known to many of his customers as "Sweet Orange" from the cries with which he used to hawk his produce and fresh fish.
"Sweet oranges, sweet oranges,
"Watermelon man, watermelan man,
"They're ripe from the vine.
"I plug them every time."
Mr. Barbour called himself "the last of the hucksters," by which he meant the last, or one of the last, to sell things in the streets from a horse and wagon.
According to his family, he once was arrested for hawking his wares too loudly. The arresting officer is said to have been transferred to the zoo after making the arrest.
Although Mr. Barbour spent most of his life in Southwest, he sold his goods "all over, he loved the city and was just everywhere, you never knew where he might show up," his family said.
At one time he owned as many as five wagons, four of which he rented to others. The only concession he made to mechanization was to put rubber tires on his wagon. In looking after his horses, he became skilled at veterinary medicine.
In 1964, when he was working in a stall at the Farmers Market, Dr. Murray Grant, former director of the D.C. Department of Health, came by and pronounced the place an eyesore and unsanitary.
Mr. Barbour remarked to a reporter that the market was a sight for sore eyes.
Mr. Barbour never smoked, drank or gambled. But according to Mr. Booker he would lend money to those who did gamble - "on their watches."
Mr. Barbour never left Washington until he was 87, when he went to the Chicago area to live with his daughter and son-in-law. He returned to Washington about a year ago.
"He just didn't want to go to Chicago," Mr. Booker said. "It was quite a trauma to him. He had all his people here."
When the family moved back to Washington, they took their time. The trip by car provided Mr. Barbour with his first experience in motels. After a life of frugality, he expressed astonishment at modern restaurant prices.
The change in prices is a small measure of the changes that Mr. Barbour saw in his life. A larger measure is the change in his family's fortunes.
In addition to his daughter and son-in-law, his survivors include a grand-daughter, who is a writer and producer for a television station in Los Angeles, and a grandson, who is station master of the Post Office in Chicago.