Delaware Colony

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Lower Counties on the Delaware Bay
A map of Maryland with the Delaware counties and the southern part of New Jersey (page 1 crop).tiff
Delaware in 1757
StatusColony of England (1664–1707)
Colony of Great Britain (1707–76)
Capital New Castle
Common languages English, Dutch, Munsee, Unami
Government Dependent proprietary colony
Territory contested
William Penn (first)
John Penn (last)
LegislatureGeneral Assembly of Delaware Colony
Currency Delaware pound
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Statenvlag.svg New Netherland
Delaware Flag of the United States (1776-1777).svg
Today part of United States

Delaware Colony in the North American Middle Colonies consisted of land on the west bank of the Delaware River Bay. In the early 17th century. the area was inhabited by Lenape and possibly Assateague Native American Indian tribes. The first European settlers were Swedes, who established the colony of New Sweden at Fort Christina in present-day Wilmington, Delaware, in 1638. The Dutch captured the colony in 1655 and annexed it to New Netherland to the north. Great Britain subsequently took control of it from the Dutch in 1664. In 1682, William Penn, the Quaker proprietor of the Province of Pennsylvania to the north leased the three lower counties on the Delaware River from James, the Duke of York, who went on to become King James II.


The lower counties of Delaware were governed as part of the Province of Pennsylvania from 1682 until 1701, when the lower counties petitioned for and were granted an independent colonial legislature; the two colonies shared the same governor until 1776. The English colonists who settled Delaware were mainly Quakers. In the first half of the 18th century, New Castle and Philadelphia became the primary ports of entry to the new world for a quarter of a million Protestant immigrants from Northern Ireland, referred to as "Scotch-Irish" in America and "Ulster Scots" in Northern Ireland. Delaware had no established religion at this time. With the start of the American Revolutionary War, Delaware's assembly voted to break all ties with both Great Britain and the Province of Pennsylvania, forming the state of Delaware.

Dutch and Swedish settlements

Historical population
Source: 1670–1760; [1] 1774 [2] 1770–1780 [3]

From the early Dutch settlement in 1631 to the colony's rule by Pennsylvania in 1682, the land that later became the U.S. state of Delaware changed hands many times. Because of this, Delaware became a heterogeneous society made up of individuals who were diverse in country of origin and religion.[ citation needed ]

The first European exploration of what would become known as the Delaware Valley was made by the Dutch ship Halve Maen under the command of Henry Hudson in 1609. He was searching for what was believed to be a Northwest Passage to Asia. Hudson sailed into what now is the Delaware Bay. He named it the South River, but this would later change after Samuel Argall came across the mouth of the river in 1610, after being blown off course. Argall later renamed this waterway as the river Delaware, after Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, the second governor of Virginia. [4]

Follow-up expeditions by Cornelius May in 1613 and Cornelius Hendrickson in 1614 mapped the shoreline of what would become the colony and state of Delaware for inclusion in the New Netherland colony. Initial Dutch settlement was centered up the Delaware River at Fort Nassau at Big Timber Creek, south of what is now Gloucester City, New Jersey.

Neither the Dutch nor the English showed any early interest in establishing settlement on this land. It was not until 1629 that agents of the Dutch West India Company, Gillis Hossitt and Jacob Jansz, arrived to negotiate with the Native Americans to "purchase" land for a colony. (The Dutch always purchased land from the Native Americans, rather than take it by force, but the peoples had differing concepts of property and use. The Native Americans often considered the Dutch "payments" to be gifts in keeping with their Native custom, and expected to share use of the common land.) Hossitt and Jansz secured a treaty granting the Dutch a parcel of land running along the shore eight Dutch miles long and half a Dutch mile deep (roughly 29 by just under 2 US miles). This nearly coincided with the length of the coast of modern Sussex and Kent counties in Delaware.

In 1631 the Dutch sent a group of twenty-eight men to build a fort inside Cape Henlopen on Lewes Creek to establish the Zwaanendael Colony. [5] This first colony was intended to take advantage of the large whale population in the bay and to produce whale oil. A cultural misunderstanding with the Native Americans resulted in their killing these 28 colonists before a year had passed. [5] Patroon David Pietersz. de Vries arrived shortly thereafter with an additional 50 settlers. Although he concluded a treaty with the Indians, de Vries, his partners in Holland, and the Dutch West India Company decided the location was too dangerous for immediate colonization. They took the additional settlers to New Amsterdam (New York) instead.

In March 1638, the Swedish colony of New Sweden was established as the first permanent European settlement in Delaware. The Kalmar Nyckel anchored at a rocky point on the Minquas Kill. Today this site is called Swedes' Landing; it is located in Wilmington, Delaware. [5] The New Sweden Company was organized and overseen by Clas Larsson Fleming, a Swedish admiral and administrator. Samuel Blommaert, a Flemish director of the Dutch West India Company who had grown frustrated with the company's policies, assisted the fitting-out. [6] The expedition was led, and had been instigated by Peter Minuit, the founding governor of New Netherland. He had been dismissed by the Dutch West India Company, which operated the colony as a concession. Minuit resented the company and was well aware that the Dutch had little settlement in the Zuyd (Delaware) river valley. New Sweden was a multicultural affair, with Finns, Dutch, Walloons (Belgians), and Germans, in addition to Swedes among the settlers.

The first outpost of the Swedish settlement was named Fort Christina (now Wilmington) after Queen Christina of Sweden. The Swedes introduced log cabin construction to the New World and the humble house form was later spread to the American backcountry by Scotch-Irish immigrants who entered the colony through the port of New Castle. Swedish colonial Governor Johan Björnsson Printz administered the colony of New Sweden from 1643 to 1653. He was succeeded by Johan Classon Risingh, the last governor of New Sweden. [4] The Dutch had never accepted the Swedish colony as legitimate, and the Dutch West India Company competed with the officials and backers of New Sweden. In 1651, New Netherland Governor Peter Stuyvesant had Fort Nassau dismantled and reassembled downriver of Fort Christina as Fort Casimir. This meant that the Dutch effectively encircled the Swedish colony. The Swedes abandoned Fort Beversreede, a short-lived attempt to establish a foothold at the end of the Great Minquas Path (in modern Philadelphia).

Three years later, the New Sweden colony attacked and seized Fort Casimir, renaming it Fort Trinity. The struggle finally came to an end in September 1655. With the Second Great Northern War raging in Europe, Stuyvesant assembled an army and naval squadron sufficient to capture the Swedish forts, thus re-establishing control of the colony. The Dutch renamed Fort Casimir/Trinity as New Amstel (later translated to New Castle). It became their center for fur trading with Native Americans and the colony's administration headquarters. [4] The area's European population grew rapidly.

English conquest

In 1664, after English Colonel Richard Nicolls captured New Amsterdam, Robert Carr was sent to the Delaware River settlements. He took over New Amstel, pillaging it and mistreating its settlers, some of whom he sold into slavery in Virginia. [7] [8] Carr translated the name of the post from Dutch into English and it has been known since as New Castle. [5] Carr and his troops continued down the shore, ravaging and burning settlements, including a Mennonite utopian community led by Pieter Corneliszoon Plockhoy near present-day Lewes, Delaware. This effectively ended the Dutch rule of the colony and, for that matter, ended their claims to any land in colonial North America. The English took over New Netherland, renaming it New York. Delaware was thenceforth claimed by New York under a Deputy of the Duke of York from 1664 to 1682, but neither the Duke nor his colonists controlled it. The proprietors of Maryland took action to take advantage of this situation. [5]

Durham County, Maryland

Between 1669 and 1672, Delaware was an incorporated county under the Province of Maryland. When the Duke of York made use of his charter on behalf of courtier William Penn, through conveyances made by the governor of New York, there was a brief conflict of interest between the Catholic, Tory and sometime Jacobite sympathizer Lord Baltimore with his friend the aforesaid Duke. A hard-fought court battle was subsequently relegated to a proprietary dispute between the Calvert and Penn families, since both were held in favor by both the King and Prince James. By 1768, the Mason-Dixon line is said to have legally resolved vague outlines in the overlap between Maryland and Pennsylvania. By this boundary, Delaware was substantially awarded to Pennsylvania. Eventually Delaware gained its own independence from Pennsylvania, and fended off Maryland.

New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties, Pennsylvania

The area now known as Delaware was owned by William Penn, the Quaker owner of Pennsylvania. In contemporary documents from the early Revolutionary period, the area is generally referred to as "The Three Lower Counties on the Delaware River" (Lower Counties on Delaware) or by the names of the three counties. [9]

After William Penn was granted the province of Pennsylvania by King Charles II in 1681, he asked for and later received the lands of Delaware from the Duke of York. [4] [10] Penn had a very hard time governing Delaware because the economy and geology resembled those of the Chesapeake Bay colonies more than that of Pennsylvania. The lowland areas were developed for tobacco plantations and dependent on enslaved Africans and African Americans for labor. Penn attempted to merge the governments of Pennsylvania and the lower counties of Delaware. Representatives from each area clashed strongly and, in 1701 Penn agreed to allowing two assemblies to be elected and conduct their separate affairs. Delawareans would meet in New Castle, and Pennsylvanians would gather in Philadelphia. [5] Delaware, like Philadelphia and more so than Maryland, continued to be a melting pot of sorts. It was home to Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and French, in addition to the English, who constituted the dominant culture.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Sweden</span> Former Swedish colony in North America

New Sweden was a Swedish colony along the lower reaches of the Delaware River in what is now the United States from 1638 to 1655, established during the Thirty Years' War when Sweden was a great military power. New Sweden formed part of the Swedish efforts to colonize the Americas. Settlements were established on both sides of the Delaware Valley in the region of Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, often in places where Swedish traders had been visiting since about 1610. Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware, was the first settlement, named after the reigning Swedish monarch. The settlers were Swedes, Finns, and a number of Dutch. New Sweden was conquered by the Dutch Republic in 1655 during the Second Northern War and incorporated into the Dutch colony of New Netherland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peter Minuit</span> 3rd Director of New Netherland (1626–31)

Peter Minuit was a Wallonian merchant from Tournai, in present-day Belgium. He was the 3rd Director of the Dutch North American colony of New Netherland from 1626 until 1631, and 3rd Governor of New Netherland. He founded the Swedish colony of New Sweden on the Delaware Peninsula in 1638.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fort Christina</span> United States historic place

Fort Christina was the first Swedish settlement in North America and the principal settlement of the New Sweden colony. Built in 1638 and named after Queen Christina of Sweden, it was located approximately 1 mi (1.6 km) east of the present-day downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at the confluence of the Brandywine River and the Christina River, approximately 2 mi (3 km) upstream from the mouth of the Christina on the Delaware River.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Jersey</span> English possession in North America (1674–1702)

West Jersey and East Jersey were two distinct parts of the Province of New Jersey. The political division existed for 28 years, between 1674 and 1702. Determination of an exact location for a border between West Jersey and East Jersey was often a matter of dispute.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Middle Colonies</span> Subset of British American Thirteen Colonies

The Middle Colonies were a subset of the Thirteen Colonies in British America, located between the New England Colonies and the Southern Colonies. Along with the Chesapeake Colonies, this area now roughly makes up the Mid-Atlantic states.

<i>Kalmar Nyckel</i> Swedish ship built by the Dutch

Kalmar Nyckel was a Swedish ship built by the Dutch famed for carrying Swedish settlers to North America in 1638, to establish the colony of New Sweden. The name Kalmar Nyckel comes from the Swedish city of Kalmar and nyckel meaning key in Swedish. The name was also a tribute to Kalmar Castle which was a symbol of power during the time of the Swedish Empire when Sweden was a military great power. A replica of the ship was launched at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1997.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peach Tree War</span> 1655 North American conflict

The Peach Tree War, also known as the Peach War, was a large-scale attack on September 15, 1655 by the Susquehannock Indians and allied tribes on several New Netherland settlements along the North River.

Peter Hollander Ridder (1608–1692) was the governor of the Swedish colony of New Sweden from 1640 until 1643.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swedes' Landing</span>

Swedes' Landing is the warehouse road found along the Minquas Kill in Wilmington, Delaware that is close to the Delaware River. This was the site where the initial Swedish landing took place and marks the spot where the New Sweden colony began. The first Swedish expedition to North America, under the command of Peter Minuit, embarked from the port of Gothenburg in late 1637. The members of the expedition, aboard the ships Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel, sailed into Delaware Bay, which lay within the territory claimed by the Dutch West India Company and anchored at a rocky point on Swedes' Landing on March 29, 1638. They built a fort on the site which they named Fort Christina after Queen Christina of Sweden. Today Swedes Landing Road is a short stretch from 4th Street to 7th Street and ends at a long two-story mural depicting the area from the time before the Swedes came through the modern Wilmington waterfront. At the far end of the mural is the entrance to Fort Christina National Historical Site, a part of the First State National Historical Park System.

The history of Delaware as a political entity dates back to the early colonization of North America by European settlers. Delaware is made up of three counties established in 1638, before the time of William Penn. Each county had its own settlement history. The state's early colonists tended to identify more closely with their county than Delaware as a whole. Large parts of southern and western Delaware were thought to have been in Maryland until 1767. The state has existed in the wide economic and political circle of the nearby Pennsylvanian city of Philadelphia.

Måns Andersson, was a pioneer in the Swedish colony of New Sweden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fort Casimir</span>

Fort Casimir or Fort Trinity was a Dutch fort in the seventeenth-century colony of New Netherland. It was located on a no-longer existing barrier island at the end of Chestnut Street in what is now New Castle, Delaware.

Måns Nilsson Kling or Mauno Kling was the second governor of the 17th century colony of New Sweden, which he administrated from Fort Christina, now Wilmington, Delaware.

Peter Gunnarsson Rambo was a Swedish immigrant to New Sweden known as a farmer and a justice of the Governor's Council after the British took control of the area. He was the longest living of the original Swedish settlers and became known as the Father of New Sweden. Rambo's Rock along the Schuylkill River is named for his family.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fort Nassau (South River)</span>

Fort Nassau was a factorij in New Netherland between 1627–1651 located at the mouth of Big Timber Creek at its confluence with the Delaware River. It was the first known permanent European-built structure in what would become the state of New Jersey. The creek name is a derived from the Dutch language Timmer Kill as recorded by David Pietersen de Vries in his memoirs of his journey of 1630–1633. The Delaware Valley and its bay was called the "South River" ; the "North River" of the colony was the Hudson River. The factorij was established for the fur trade, mostly in beaver pelts, with the indigenous populations of Susquehannock, who spoke an Iroquoian language, and the Lenape, whose language was of the Algonquian family. They also wanted to retain a physical claim to the territory.

New Netherlanders were residents of New Netherland, the seventeenth-century colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands on the northeastern coast of North America, centered on the Hudson River and New York Bay, and in the Delaware Valley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fortifications of New Netherland</span>

New Netherland, or Nieuw-Nederland in Dutch, was the 17th century colony of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands on the northeastern coast of North America. The claimed territory included southern Cape Cod to parts of the Delmarva Peninsula. Settled areas are now part of the Mid-Atlantic states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Its capital, New Amsterdam, was located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan on Upper New York Bay.

Sven Svensson (1636-1696) was a Justice and Legislator in Colonial Pennsylvania. He was born into a prominent family in the colony of New Sweden.

Fogel Grip was a Swedish sailing ship originally built in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. She was used on the first Swedish expedition in 1638 together with Kalmar Nyckel to establish the colony of New Sweden.


  1. Purvis, Thomas L. (1999). Balkin, Richard (ed.). Colonial America to 1763. New York: Facts on File. pp.  128–129. ISBN   978-0816025275.
  2. Purvis, Thomas L. (1995). Balkin, Richard (ed.). Revolutionary America 1763 to 1800. New York: Facts on File. p.  160. ISBN   978-0816025282.
  3. "Colonial and Pre-Federal Statistics" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. p. 1168.
  4. 1 2 3 4 State of Delaware (A Brief History) [ permanent dead link ]. State of Delaware. Accessed March 18, 2017.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Faragher, John Mack, ed. (1990) The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America. New York: Sachem Publishing Associates, Inc., pp. 106–108.
  6. A History of the Kalmar Nyckel and a New Look at New Sweden by John R.Henderson Archived July 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Scharf, John Thomas (1888). General history. L. J. Richards & Company. p. 67.
  8. Gerrit van Sweeringen's account of the settling of the Dutch and Swedes at the Delawaare in: Pennsylvania archives. J. Severns & Company. 1877. p. 752.
  9. Rodney, Richard S (June 1930). "Early Relations of Delaware and Pennsylvania". Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. p. 209. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  10. Rodney, Richard S (June 1930). "Early Relations of Delaware and Pennsylvania". Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. pp. 211–214. Retrieved November 16, 2019.


Coordinates: 39°44′17″N75°33′29″W / 39.738°N 75.558°W / 39.738; -75.558