History of Delaware
Delaware's history is a long and proud one. Early explorations of our
coastline were made by the Spaniards and Portuguese in the sixteenth
century, by Henry Hudson in 1609 under the auspices of the Dutch, by
Samuel Argall in 1610, by Cornelius May in 1613, and by Cornelius
Hendricksen in 1614.
During a storm, Argall was blown off course and sailed into a strange
bay which he named in honor of his governor. It is doubtful that Lord
De La Warr ever saw, or explored, the bay, river, and state which today
bears his name. In 1631, 11 years after the landing of the English
pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, the first white settlement was
made on Delaware soil.
A group of Dutchmen formed a trading company headed by Captain David
Pietersen de Vries for the purpose of enriching themselves from the
New World. The expedition of about 30 individuals sailed from the town
of Hoorn under the leadership of Captain Peter Heyes in the ship De
Walvis (The Whale). Their settlement, called Zwaanendael, meaning valley
of swans, was located near the present town of Lewes on the west bank
of the Lewes Creek, today the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal.
Arriving in the New World in 1632 to visit the colony, Captain de Vries
found the settlers had been killed and their buildings burned by the Indians.
No further attempts at colonization were made on Delaware soil until 1638,
when the Swedes established their colony in present Wilmington, which was
not only the first permanent settlement in Delaware, but in the whole
Delaware River Valley and North America. The first expedition, consisting
of two ships, Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar) and Vogel Grip (Griffen),
under the leadership of Peter Minuit, landed about March 29. The location
of the first Swedish settlement was at "The Rocks," on the Christina River,
near the foot of Seventh Street. A fort was built called Fort Christina
after the young queen of Sweden, and the river was likewise named for her.
The most important Swedish governor was Colonel Johan Printz, who ruled
the colony under Swedish law for ten years, from 1643 to 1653. He was
succeeded by Johan Rising, who upon his arrival in 1654, seized the Dutch
post, Fort Casmir, which the governor of the Colony of New Netherlands had
built in 1651, on the site of the present town of New Castle.
Rising governed the Swedish Colony from his headquarters at Fort Christina
until the autumn of 1655, when Peter Stuyvesant came from New Amsterdam
with a Dutch fleet, subjugated the Swedish forts, and established the
authority of the Colony of New Netherlands throughout the area formerly
controlled by the Colony of New Sweden. This marked the end of Swedish
rule in Delaware, but the cultural, social, and religious influence of
these Swedish settlers has had a lasting effect upon the cultural life of
the people in this area and upon subsequent westward migrations of many
generations. Old Swedes (Holy Trinity) Church built by the Swedes at
Wilmington in 1698 was supplied by the Mother Church with missionaries
until after the Revolution. It is one of the oldest Protestant Churches
in North America.
Fort Christina State Park in Wilmington, with the fine monument created by
the noted sculptor, Carl Milles, and presented by the people of Sweden,
perpetuates the memory of these first settlers and preserves "The Rocks"
where they first landed.
Following the seizure of the colony of New Sweden, the Dutch restored the
name of Fort Casmir and made it the principal settlement of the Zuidt or
South River as contrasted with the North or Hudson River. In a short time
the area within the fort was not large enough to accommodate all the settlers
so that a town, named New Amstel (now New Castle), was laid out.
The year 1681 marked the granting of the Province of Pennsylvania to William
Penn by King Charles II and the arrival of Penn's agents on the Delaware
River. They soon reported to the proprietor that the new province would be
landlocked if the colonies on either side of the Delaware River or Bay were
hostile. As a result of Penn's petition to the Crown for the land on the
west side of the Delaware River and Bay below his province, the Duke of
York in March 1682 conveyed, by deeds and leases now exhibited by the
Delaware State Archives in the Hall of Records at Dover, the land included
in the Counties of New Castle, St. Jones, and Deale. On October 27 of the
same year, William Penn landed in America first at New Castle and there
took possession from the Duke of York's agents as Proprietor of the lower
Counties. On this occasion, the colonists subscribed an oath of allegiance
to the new proprietor, and the first general assembly was held in the colony.
The following year the three Lower Counties were annexed to the Province
of Pennsylvania as territories with full privileges under Penn's famous
"Frame of Government." Also in this year, the counties of St. Jones and
Deale were renamed Kent and Sussex Counties respectively.
After 1682, a long dispute ensued between William Penn and Lord
Baltimore of the Province of Maryland as to the exact dominion
controlled by Penn on the lower Delaware.
The dispute continued between the heirs of Baltimore and Penn until
almost the end of the colonial period. In 1776 at the time of the
Declaration of Independence, Delaware not only declared itself free
from the British Empire, but also established a state government
entirely separate from Pennsylvania. Delaware's boundaries were
surveyed in 1763-68 by the noted English scientists, Charles Mason
and Jeremiah Dixon.
With the advent to the Revolution nearly 4,000 men enlisted for service
from the small state. The colonial wars had built up the militia system
and supplied a number of capable officers who led the troops of Delaware
in all the principal engagements from the battle of Long Island to the
siege of Yorktown. The only Revolutionary engagement fought on Delaware
soil was the battle of Cooch's Bridge, near Newark, on September 3, 1777.
An important stimulus to the recovery of the state's economy after the war
was the invention in 1785 by Oliver Evans of Newport, Delaware, of automatic
flour milling machinery, revolutionizing the industry.
In the following year, John Dickinson of Delaware presided over the Annapolis
Convention, which called for the Federal Constitutional Convention, that met
in Philadelphia the next year. When the new Constitution was submitted to the
states for ratification, Delaware was the first of the thirteen original
states to ratify the Constitution of the United States. This unanimous
ratification took place in a convention of Dover on December 7, 1787, whereby
Delaware became "The First State" of the new Federal Union. Proud of this
heritage, Delawareans continue to honor the traditions which made them the
First State to ratify the United States Constitution, the document that
continues to protect our nation's justice, strength, and liberty.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia and other sources.
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