As the many state and local slogans proclaim, America started here.

The area is indeed very rich in history, much of which has been preserved for us to enjoy today. Trace the steps of our founding fathers in historic Philadelphia. Experience the charm and history of Old New Castle (one of America’s earliest settlements). Visit the birthplace of the DuPont Company at Hagley and discover the legacy of the du Pont family. Or, turn on the Bob Marley and drive by the Chrysler Plant in Newark where the reggae musician worked-briefly-before becoming an icon. No matter where your interest in history lies, our roads, rivers and railways can take you there.

 

Discovery

August 28, 1609–The Spanish and Portuguese are believed to have made explorations of the Delaware coastline in the early sixteenth century (as early as 1526!). However, Henry Hudson–an English navigator under the employ of the Dutch East India Trading Company–is credited with the discovery of what would become known as the Delaware River and the Delaware Bay.

Hudson’s magnificent discoveries would eventually give the Dutch the right to claim a major chunk of the New World (much of what is now the mid-Atlantic region) as the New Netherlands.

It’s important to note that at the time, Holland was the major maritime power and the world’s greatest trading country. Explorers were sent to the New World not to build a political empire, but to find a faster route to India. It was hoped, briefly, that the Delaware River would be a shortcut to China. It wasn’t.

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What’s in a name?

One source we consulted states that the English allowed the Dutch to name both the Delaware River and the Delaware Bay in honor of Lord de la Warr who was believed to have discovered both on his voyage to Virginia in 1610. It has since been proven that Lord la Warr never made it this far north, but the name stuck and over time de la Warr became Delaware.

We also read a more dramatic story about a Dutch captain name Samuel Argall who was blown off course during a storm. Seeking calm seas, he sailed into a strange bay. He survived (as you probably guessed) and thrilled that he did, he named this bay (the Delaware Bay) in honor of his governor, Lord De la Warr.

This Lord de la Warr (if you’re wondering) was the first Governor of Virginia, a title he earned for life even though he ultimately returned home to Europe. His real name was Sir Thomas West. He became Lord de La Warr only as a courtesy to his father Lord de la Warr. (confused? Us too.) Apparently, Thomas had two older brothers, and as the third son of Lord la Warr, he was ineligible for the title. Now, it’s our guess that Thomas could take the title and bear the crown in the event of the untimely deaths of his two brothers, or if naughty etchings of the two were to have surfaced. But, as we said, that’s just our guess.

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Exploration

1613-1614–People knew it was there, but the Delaware River and Bay were first explored by Captain Cornelius Hendricksen, aboard the boat called "Onrust" ("Restless"). Hendricksen is regarded by many to be the first "civilized man" to set foot in what is now Delaware. In his journal, he records that he traded with the Indians for skins of various kinds; sables, otter, mink, bear robes, etc. The forests, he said, were alive with game, bucks, does, turkeys and partridges.

At Christiana Creek, he landed and walked over land that was "destined to be covered with the streets and buildings of the city of Wilmington." There he met a band of Minquas Indians. Hendricksen "relieved" the Indians of the three white men in their capture. Apparently these "not-quite-as-civilized" men had fled the Dutch fort near the site of Albany, NY in the spring of 1616. They wandered up the Mohawk Valley, crossed the dividing ridge to the headwaters of the Delaware, descended that stream to Delaware where they fell into the hands of the Minquas who kindly made prisoners of them.

1625–"The colony of Manhattan numbered over two hundred souls." Doesn’t have much to do with the history of Delaware, but helps put things into perspective.

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The First Settlers.

1629-1631–Samuel Blommaert and Samuel Godwyn send a crew to the Delaware Bay area to buy land. The agents purchased, from the Indians, a tract "32 miles long, two miles deep extending from Old Cape Henlopen northward to the mouth of a river." The patent for this land was registered and confirmed on June 1, 1630.

Blommaert and Godwyn appoint David Pietersen De Vries to lead colonization and development of their land. In December 1630, his ship De Walvis (The Whale), under the command of Peter Heyes of Edam, sets sail from Texel, Holland, with immigrants, food, cattle and whaling implements (de Vries was told that whales abound in the bay). At the time Dutch were interested in making money in the new world, the partners planned to open a whale and seal fishery as well as a settlement and plantation for the cultivation of tobacco and grains.

In 1631–11 years after the English landed at Plymouth Rock, the first settlers arrived in Delaware. Under the leadership of Heyes, they established their settlement, Zwaanendael (valley of swans) near the present town of Lewes.

1632–Captain de Vries visits the colony only to find that the settlers had been killed and their building burned by the Indians. Today, the settlement is commemorated by the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes.

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Home Swede Home

1638–A band of Swedes, led by Peter Minuit, set sail for the New World. At about the end of March, the Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar) and Vogel Grip (Griffen) land at "The Rocks" on the Christina River (in present day Wilmington). On this site, a fort was built and named Fort Christina after the young queen of Sweden.

Swedish governor Colonel Johan Printz ruled the colony under Swedish law for ten years (1643-1653). Printz was succeeded by Johan Rising.

1654–Johan Rising arrives in the new world, promptly seizes the Dutch post, Fort Casmir which had been built by the governor of the Colony of New Netherlands in 1651.

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Let’s go Dutch

1655–Peter Stuyvesant, from New Amsterdam, arrives with the Dutch fleet. The Dutch forces overpowered the Swedish forts, and established the authority of the Colony of New Netherlands throughout the area, thus marking the end of Swedish rule in Delaware.

Following the seizure of the colony of New Sweden, the Dutch restored the name Fort Casmir and made it the principal settlement of the Zuidt or South River. The area within the fort was not large enough to accommodate all the settlers. Soon, a town, New Amstel (now New Castle), was laid out.

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Billy Penn gets his way

1681–King Charles II grants the Province of Pennsylvania to William Penn. Penn’s agents visit, and report that the new province would be landlocked if the colonies on either side of the Delaware River or Bay were hostile. Penn petitions the Crown, and in 1682 is granted the land below his province on the western shore of the Delaware River and Bay. This land included the counties of New Castle, St. Jones, and Deale. (St. Jones and Deale would later be renamed Kent and Sussex Counties, respectively).

October 27, 1682–William Penn lands in America, at New Castle, where he promptly takes possession of the lower counties from the Duke of York’s agents. On this occasion, the colonists pledge an oath of allegiance to Penn, and the first general assembly is held in the colony. The three Lower Counties (now the entire state of Delaware) were annexed to the Province of Pennsylvania as territories with full privileges under Penn’s famous "Frame of Government."

1682–William Penn and Lord Baltimore of the Province of Maryland dispute the exact dominion controlled by Penn on the lower Delaware. This debate outlasted the both of them–their heirs would continue the dispute into the latter part of the next century.

1763-1768–Delaware’s boundaries surveyed by noted English scientists, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

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There’s a revolution…

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.

September 3, 1777–The only Revolutionary battle on Delaware soil is fought at Cooch’s Bridge, near Newark. The colonial wars had built up the militia system and supplied a number of capable officers who led the Delaware troops (nearly 4,000 men in total) in all of the principal engagements from the battle of Long Island to the siege of Yorktown.

1785–Oliver Evans of Newport, Delaware, invents automatic flour milling machinery, revolutionizing the industry. His invention would become an important stimulus to the recovery of the state’s economy after the revolutionary war.

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The First State

December 7, 1787–In 1786, John Dickinson of Delaware presided over the Annapolis Convention, which called for the Federal Constitutional Convention. 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 in Dover on December 7, 1787, whereby Delaware became "The First State" of the new Federal Union.

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A Big Bang

1802–For all the new world had to offer, it was a tough place to find good-quality gunpowder. Recognizing a golden opportunity, a young Frenchman purchases 95 acres along the Brandywine River to establish a gunpowder mill. In time, the company he founded would change its focus from gunpowder, to "Miracle Fibers" to Life Sciences and the "Miracles of Science." E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, would go on to become one of world’s largest corporations. And, the state of Delaware would never be the same.

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Delaware Incorporated

March 13, 1899–The General Assembly passes "An Act Providing a General Corporation Law." With passage of this bill, Delaware effectively set out the welcome mat for America’s corporations. To this day, many of the world’s largest corporations are incorporated in our tiny state.

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discovery | what's in a name? | exploration | the first settlers
home swede home | let's go dutch!
| penn gets his way
there's a revolution | the first state | a big bang
delaware inc. | state facts