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Delaware Colony facts for kids

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Lower Counties on the Delaware Bay

Flag of Delaware
Delaware in 1757
Delaware in 1757
Status Colony of England (1664–1707)
Colony of Great Britain (1707–76)
Capital New Castle
Common languages English, Dutch, Munsee, Unami
Government Constitutional monarchy
Legislature General Assembly of Delaware Colony
• Established
Currency Delaware pound
Preceded by
Succeeded by
New Netherland
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 the Assateague tribes of Native Americans. The first European settlers were Swedes, who established the colony New Sweden at Fort Christina at present day Wilmington, in 1638. The Dutch captured the colony in 1655 and annexed it to New Netherland to the north. The English took control from the Dutch in 1664, and in 1682, William Penn, the Quaker Proprietor of Pennsylvania to the north, leased "the three lower counties on the Delaware River" from James, the Duke of York (future King James II).

The Lower Counties of Delaware were governed as part 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 became (with Philadelphia) the main port of entry to the new world for a quarter of a million Protestant immigrants from the north of Ireland (referred to as "Scotch-Irish" in America and "Ulster Scots" in Northern Ireland). Delaware had no established religion. With the start of the American Revolutionary War, Delaware's assembly voted to break all ties with both Great Britain and Pennsylvania, forming the state of Delaware.

Dutch and Swedish settlement

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 very heterogeneous society made up of individuals who were both religiously and culturally diverse.

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, during a voyage to locate the Northwest Passage to Asia. Hudson sailed into what now is the Delaware Bay. He would name it the South River, but this would later change after Samuel Argall discovered the river in 1610 after being blown off course. Argall would later rename the river Delaware, after Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, the second governor of Virginia. Follow-up expeditions by Cornelius May in 1613 and Cornelius Hendrickson in 1614 mapped the shoreline of what would become Delaware for inclusion in the New Netherland colony. Initial Dutch settlement was centered up 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 any kind of settlement on this land. The first true attempt to settle Europeans in the territories that would become the State of Delaware was not made until 1629 when 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. (It was a rule among the Dutch that Native American land must always be purchased and never seized by force, but as the concept of land ownership was alien to the Americans, there was a great deal of cultural confusion attached to the transactions with the Dutch "payments" taken for gifts in keeping with Native custom.) 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), nearly coincidental with 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. This first colony was established to take advantage of the large whale population and produce whale oil. A cultural misunderstanding with the Native Americans led to the massacre of the initial 28 colonists before a year was out. Patroon David Pietersz. de Vries arrived shortly thereafter with an additional 50 settlers. Although he concluded a treaty with the Indians, deVries, his partners in Holland, and the Dutch West India Company decided the location was too dangerous for an immediate reattempt and the additional settlers were landed in New Amsterdam (New York) instead.

In March 1638, the Swedish colony of New Sweden became the first permanent European settlement in Delaware. The Kalmar Nyckel anchored at a rocky point on the Minquas Kill that is known today as Swedes' Landing (in Wilmington, Delaware.) 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 The expedition was led, and had been instigated by Peter Minuit, the founding governor of New Netherland who had been dismissed by the Dutch West India Company which operated the colony as a concession. Minuit resented the company and was well aware of the spareness of Dutch occupation along the Zuyd (Delaware) river valley. Like the Dutch colony it aimed to squat, New Sweden was a multicultural affair, with Finns, Dutch, Walloons (Belgians) and Germans as well as Swedes among the settlers.

The first outpost of the Swedish settlement was named Fort Christina (now Wilmington) after Queen Christina of Sweden. Governor Johan Björnsson Printz administered the colony from 1643 to 1653. He was succeeded by Johan Classon Risingh, the last governor of New Sweden. The Dutch had never accepted the Swedish colony as legitimate and the struggle between the forces of the Dutch West India Company and the officials and backers of New Sweden was on going. In 1651, New Netherland Governor Peter Stuyvesant had removed Fort Nassau and had it reassembled down river of Fort Christina as Fort Casimir, effectively encircling the Swedish colony. Fort Beversreede, a short-lived attempt to establish a foothold at the end of the Great Minquas Path (in modern Philadelphia) was abandoned. Three years later, the New Sweden colony attacked and seized the outpost, 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 a sufficient army and naval squadron to capture the Swedish forts, thus re-establishing control of the colony. Fort Casimir/Trinity was again renamed as New Amstel (later translated to New Castle) was made the center for fur trading and the colony's administration headquarters and the area's European population began to boom.

English conquest

In 1664, after Colonel Richard Nicolls captured New Amsterdam, Robert Carr was sent to the Delaware River. He took over New Amstel, pillaging it and brutally maltreating its settlers, some of whom he sold into slavery in Virginia. Carr translated the name from Dutch into English and it has been known since as New Castle. Carr and his troops continued down the shore, ravaging and burning settlements, including the famous Mennonite utopian community of Pieter Corneliszoon Plockhoy near present-day Lewes, Delaware, which was utterly destroyed. This effectively ended the Dutch rule of the colony and, for that matter, ended their claims to any land in colonial North America. Delaware was thenceforth claimed by New York under a Deputy of the Duke of York from 1664 to 1682, but not actually held in the Duke's possession nor his colonists, a situation taken advantage of by the proprietors of Maryland.

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 whose son was likewise a sometime Jacobite sympathizer Lord Baltimore with their friend the aforesaid Duke, but this was a hard fought court battle 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. The Mason-Dixon line is said to have legally resolved vague outlines in the overlap between Maryland and Pennsylvania, which pretty much awarded Delaware to Pennsylvania, although Delaware would eventually prove too independent for legislation north of New Castle (as well as that from the southerly Chesapeake Bay), leading to the separation from Pennsylvania and unique pioneer status as America's first state, tied to neither province's destiny.

New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties, Pennsylvania

The area now known as Delaware became 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, all of which retained linguistic and cultural connections to those of Maryland; New Castle, which related well to North East England's Newcastle as the defunct Durham County, Maryland (both Newcastle and Durham were relatively close to the Calvert regional identity as that of Northern England—and as landlords in County Longford, of the Irish Midlands, their barony shared some characteristics with the earlier English Catholic plantation by Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain in Queen's and King's counties), while Kent was contiguous with neighboring Kent County, Maryland and Sussex generally held a similar origin to Sussex County, Virginia, being the furthest removed from Penn's colony. The term "Lower Counties" refers to the fact that they were below the fall line, or farther downstream, on the Delaware River than the counties constituting and integrally within Pennsylvania proper, such as Philadelphia, Chester and Bucks counties.

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. Penn had a very hard time governing Delaware because the economy and geology were largely the same as those of the Chesapeake. He attempted to merge the governments of Pennsylvania and the lower counties of Delaware. Representatives from both areas clashed heavily and in 1701 Penn agreed to having two separate assemblies. Delawareans would meet in New Castle and Pennsylvanians would gather in Philadelphia. Delaware, like Philadelphia and unlike Maryland, continued to be a melting pot of sorts and was home to Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and French, in addition to the English, who constituted the dominant culture.

Other sources

  • Johnson Amandus. The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1638–1664 (Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society, 1911)
  • Weslager, C. A. A Man and His Ship: Peter Minuit and the Kalmar Nyckel ( Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. Wilmington, Delaware. 1989)
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