In the 1600s, European nations wanted colonies in North America.
They believed that colonies would bring them wealth, prestige, and power. Between
the 1630s and 1670s Sweden, Holland, and England all wanted the land that became
Delaware. The English won in the end, but the power struggle made Delaware a
culturally diverse place from the earliest days of European settlement.
David Peterson deVries established
Swanendael (Zwaanendael), the first European colony
in Delaware, for the Dutch near present-day Lewes in 1631. In 1632, however, a
dispute with the Native Americans led to the massacre of the colony.
Sweden was also planning a North American colony. Plans began under
King Gustavus Adolphus (reigned 1611-1632) and were put into action during the reign of
his daughter Queen Christina (reigned 1632-1654).
Two ships, the Kalmar Nykel and the Fogel Grip, left Sweden
under command of Pieter Minuet and landed in late March 1638 at "The Rocks," near
present-day Old Swedes Church
in Wilmington. The colonists built Fort Christina.
Although the settlement never contained more than 200 people and never received enough
support from home, it survived. Fort Christina became the first permanent European
settlement in Delaware. The Swedish and Finnish settlers brought the log cabin to
But the Dutch thought the Delaware Valley should be theirs. In 1651,
a detachment of Dutch soldiers, commanded by Peter Stuyvesant, came down from New
Netherland (now New York). They established Fort Casimir (now New Castle)
south of Fort Christina. The Dutch built that fort to threaten the Swedes. In
1654, however, the Swedes captured Fort Casimir, and renamed it Fort Trinity.
A little over a year later, in 1655, the Dutch took back Fort
Casimir and went on to capture Fort Christina. They now controlled the Delaware
Valley, and Sweden's dreams of empire were over.
By the early 1660s, King Charles II of England, newly restored to the
throne, wanted to add the land the Dutch controlled to his empire. English naval
forces attacked New Netherland in 1664. Peter Stuyvesant was forced to surrender to
the English. King Charles II granted his new lands to his brother, James, Duke of
York. Delaware was now English.
The Dutch did not accept England's victory, however. In 1673 they
reconquered Delaware. Their comeback did not last long, for the English retook the
area in 1674. Delaware was again under the control of the Duke of York.
Although Delaware remained under English control for the rest of the
colonial period, one more change of ownership lay ahead. William Penn, from a
wealthy, influential English family, had become a leader in the new Quaker religion.
He dreamed of a settlement in North America where the persecuted Quakers, and
members of all other faiths, could worship freely. Penn's father had helped King
Charles II regain the English throne, so William Penn felt that he could ask the king for
something in return. He requested and received, grants of land from the Duke of
York's holdings in 1681 and 1682. Those lands became Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Old Swedes Church
Kalmar Nyckel Foundtion
State of Delaware Brief History
Penn Visionary Proprietor
William Penn Biography:
Gustav II Adolf