Fort Christina, founded by the Swedes in 1638, was the first
permanent settlement in what is today the state of Delaware in the
In the early part of the seventeenth century, many nations were fighting
(often literally) to establish footholds on the western hemisphere for
new colonies and new sources of goods for the home country. The coast of
modern-day Delaware was surveyed in the sixteenth century by
the Spaniards, and later by the Dutch and
English, including Henry Hudson and Samuel Argall. Argall
was the man who coined the name "Delaware" (in honor of the English
governor of Virginia Lord De La Warr) when a storm blew his ship into
Delaware Bay. The Dutch tried to establish a colony in Delaware in
1631 near present day Lewes which they called Zwaanendael or
Valley of Swans, but the colony was destroyed by local native
tribes (the Leni Lenape). The Dutch returned briefly in 1632
but did not stay at that time after finding Zwaanendael destroyed.
In 1638, Sweden decided to try its luck in the Delaware Valley.
The New Sweden Company was founded in 1637 to bring trade goods (fur and
tobacco) from the New World. Peter Minuit (former
Dutch governor of New Netherlands) was hired to lead two Swedish
ships -- the Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar) and the Vogel Grip
(Gryphon) -- from Gothenburg, across the Atlantic Ocean, and up
the Delaware Bay and River to establish Fort Christina
(named for the young Queen of Sweden). Fort Christina was located at the
mouth of the (newly christened) Christina River, now located in downtown
Wilmington near 7th Street. The original group of 25 settlers who
established the fort were a mix of nationalities: Swedes,
Finns, Dutch, Germans, and one freed
slave from the Caribbean. All
25 were men -- they left their families behind, and they lived in Finnish-style
log cabins around the Fort. When their families arrived two years
later, all 25 were still alive, a rare occurrence in those days.
The Swedes founded New Sweden in 1640 seated just a few miles south of
the original Fort Christina, and they bought a large parcel of land from
the native inhabitants stretching from Cape Henlopen at the mouth of
Delaware Bay, far up the Delaware River to Trenton Falls, and from the
river as far inland as they wanted. At that time, Johan Printz was
appointed the first governor of the colony. The colony thrived, and
more than 600 Swedish and Finnish settlers moved from Europe to New
Sweden over the next decade and a half. Swedish settlements in the
region included what is today Philadelphia, New Castle, Delaware, and
Salem, New Jersey on the eastern shore of the Bay.
Though the colony did fairly well for itself, it ran into
diplomatic problems starting in 1651. Apparently the local
sold the land along the Delaware River to the Swedes and the Dutch.
The Dutch were apparently oblivious to (or just ignored) the Swedish claims
to the land, and founded their own new settlement in the region, centered on
Fort Casimir, near modern New Castle. Things were further complicated when
the Swedes used their forts on Delaware and New Jersey sides of the Bay to
block Dutch and English ships from entering the River. Finally, in 1654
Governor Johan Rising (who replaced Printz the previous year after complaints
from the settlers) "attacked" Fort Casimir and took over the Dutch colony.
Apparently Fort Casimir had no gunpowder, so they surrendered without a fight.
When news of this reached Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam
(modern day New York), he was furious, and sent Dutch forces to the region
-- seven ships and over 300 soldiers -- in late 1655. The Swedes realized
they were outnumbered and outgunned, and finally surrendered Fort Christina
in September of 1655, ending direct Swedish
control over the region. However, Stuyvesant allowed the Swedes currently
there to continue living as they had done, and did not impose Dutch law on
them so long as they acknowledged Dutch control. Actual control of the
region switched back and forth between the Dutch and England for the next
thirty years, until England finally took control, and most of the region was
ceded to William Penn by James II in 1685.
When the English ordered the Dutch out of the region, they allowed the Swedes
to stay. In fact, the Swedes thrived, and retained some of their culture.
For example, the Old Swedes Church (Lutheran) was built in 1698 in New
Castle, well after the English take-over, and remains to this day. A few
other examples of the Swedish history can still be found. The
Governor Printz Boulevard runs from the edge of Wilmington to
Claymont, Delaware. And the Christina River also retains its name.
and the general gist of things from memory. My apologies for dead links, I'm
starting a new noding project on Delaware history.