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article number 695
article date 12-14-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Our "First State," Delaware, Part 1: The Difficulty of Settlement, 1609 - 1700
by Work Projects Administration

From the 1938 Work Projects Administration book, Delaware, a Guide to the First State.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is randomly decorated with pictures from the many sections of the [same] book.

* * *

Backgrounds and Beginnings

RECORDED local history begins in 1609, on August 28, when Henry Hudson, an English navigator in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, discovered the present Delaware Bay and River. Sailing the ’Half Moon’ in search of a northwest passage to China and the Indies, he arrived off the coast of present Sussex County and “came to a point of land,” now Cape Henlopen.

Finding the bay shallow and having no small boat to take soundings ahead of him, Hudson departed and discovered farther north the river afterward named for him. This the Dutch called the North River, and the Delaware the South River.

One year, lacking one day, after Hudson’s visit, Captain Samuel Argall of the new English Colony of Virginia, sailing the pinnace ’Discovery,’ came to the entrance of the bay, and named the “point of land” Cape La Warre, for Lord de Ia Warre, Sir Thomas West, Governor of Virginia. Subsequently the English used this name for both bay and river, and finally for the land along their western shores.

Between 1614 and 1620 Dutch ships commanded by resourceful skippers explored the South River. Among these were Captain Cornelis Hendricksen in the ’Onrust’ (Restless), built at Block Island in 1614, and Captain Cornelis Jacobsen May, of Hoorn, in the ’Blyde Boodschap’ (Glad Tidings).

In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was formed as the result of long effort on the part of William Usselinx, Dutch citizen, who advocated a program of permanent colonization. The company had plenary powers that practically made it an extension of the government itself, except the one of declaring war.

Within three years the trading post at Fort Amsterdam (New York) on the North River had more than two hundred people, and a trading post, Fort Nassau, had been established on the South River near the site of Gloucester, New Jersey.

Urged by influential members, the West India Company in 1629 adopted a charter of freedoms and exemptions which gave the powers of feudal lords to patroons who would take up, settle, and cultivate tracts of land within New Netherland. In the interlocking directorates formed under it, each of the patroons became chief patroon in his own district, his associates having lesser shares of investment and correspondingly of profits.

That year Samuel Godyn, president of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Company, sent Giles Hosset and Jacob Jansen as agents to buy land from the Indians. As chief of the South River patroons, Godyn chose land along the west shore from Cape Henlopen to Bombay Hook and formed a company that included Samuel Blommaert and Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. The purchase—the first within the limits of Delaware—was registered at Fort Amsterdam by Peter Minuit, July 15, 1630.

To secure the services of the experienced navigator, David Pietersen de Vries, of Hoorn, the patroons made terms of partnership with him and turned over to him the establishing of a whaling colony as their first bid to fortune on the South River.

Navigator, David Pietersen de Vries, of Hoorn, by John Moll.

De Vries’s ship, the ’Walvis’ (Whale) “of 150 lasts,” sent out under command of Captain Peter Heyes, arrived near the site of Lewes on Lewes Creek in the spring of 1631, with twenty-eight men, whaling implements, cattle, and a large stock of supplies. The ship’s ballast was building materials, “lime, brick, tiles, etc.,” to be used in the construction of a large combination dwelling and storehouse within a stockade.

The settlement was named Swanendael; the creek, Blommaert’s Kill; and the bay, Godyn’s Bay (see the town of LEWES in Part 2 of this book, Cities & Towns).

Giles Hosset and four others came from the North River to join the colonists. After the fields had been prepared and planted, Captain Heyes returned to Holland, leaving Hosset as commissary in charge of the settlement.

Early in 1632 Captain de Vries was ready to sail from Holland with a second expedition when Peter Minuit, returning to Holland, brought news to him that the colony on the South River had been massacred by Indians. De Vries sailed in the ’Walvis’ accompanied by a yacht, the ’Squirrel,’ and after spending some time in the West Indies reached the Delaware in December. There he found the settlers’ house burnt and their bones, with those of their cattle, scattered over the fields.

From the Indians he learned that one of their chiefs had taken from a post near the shore a tin coat-of-arms of Holland to make himself pipes; out of Giles Hosset’s stupid handling of this incident, and possibly other misunderstandings, had come the savages’ revenge.

Competition between the traders of the Dutch West India Company and Hosset, as agent for the patroons, for the rich fur trade may well have been a cause of trouble with the Indians. Disagreement between the company and the patroons as to their respective rights at Swanendael continued until 1635, when the Dutch West India Company bought the land from the patroons for 16,500 guilders ($6,240).

Before de Vries left the river in 1633, he made friends with the Indians in the Delaware territory. These were of Algonquin stock, the Lenni-Lenape (“original people”). By other Indians they were called “Grandfathers” out of respect for the tradition of their long descent from ancestors who had immigrated from the far West.

Of their several tribes the Unalachtigo, whose totem was the turkey, were found throughout Delaware territory. They were called Nanticokes in the southern part, and were mingled with the neighboring Unamis or Turtle tribe in the hilly region to the north.

The Lenni-Lenapes were friendly and peaceful people, engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. At the time of the first white settlements they were comparatively few in number, though the many village sites along most of the streams indicate previous and long-continued habitation by larger numbers.

The Minquas Indians, from whom the Christina Creek took its original name, were also Lenni-Lenapes, of the tribe of Minsi or Wolf, a more warlike group living north of the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania and in the Susquehanna country. They came to the Delaware River to trade, and from them the white settlers obtained the largest and most valuable stocks of furs.

Subsequent to the Swanendael tragedy, there seems to have been another clash between traders and Indians, which gave rise to the name Murder-kill for a creek in middle Delaware. All other relations were friendly, and the Swedes, who arrived on the river five years after de Vries’s first visit, became to the Indians a special people, beloved and befriended.

Chief Clark, current resident, Riverdale.

New Sweden

As the controlling directors of the Dutch West India Company showed a determination to play for immediate profits at the expense of permanent colonization in New Netherland, William Usselinx (who had first suggested founding the company) withdrew in 1624 and offered his services to Sweden.

King Gustavus Adolphus, the outstanding ruler of his day, became deeply interested in promoting colonies for the advance of civilization in the New World as well as for profit. The Swedish South Company was formed in 1626-27, but, owing at first to the king’s preoccupations with the Thirty Years’ War in Europe and then to his death in 1632, no expedition was prepared.

By 1637 the work of Usselinx bore fruit in the New Sweden Company, supported by the Swedish Government through Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna (able regent during the young Queen Christina’s minority) and Oxenstierna’s assistant, Clas Fleming.

Two Dutch citizens, Samuel Blommaert (formerly of the Swanendael company) and Peter Spiring (who had entered Swedish service), aided the plans for an expedition by raising half the money in Holland.

Peter Minuit had offered his services to Blommaert in 1635, and from their common knowledge of the New World and common disgust with the controlling directors of the Dutch West India Company had come the proposal, ascribed to Minuit, of a Swedish-Dutch rival to that company.

Minuit was engaged as Director of the first Swedish expedition, the preparations being kept secret in Holland until near the date of sailing.

The Minquas Kill (the Christina, flowing into the Delaware at Wilmington) was the intended site of the Colony, if conditions upon arrival permitted. The claim of Sweden to this territory was to be based upon valid purchase from the Indians as against the claim of Holland by right of Hudson’s discovery.

To avoid the Dutch West India Company’s recently bought land extending from Cape Henlopen to Bombay Hook, Minuit was instructed to buy from the Minquas Kill to Sankikan (the Falls at Trenton). The purchase actually made by Minuit was from Bombay Hook to the Schuylkill.

In December 1637 Minuit set sail from Gothenburg with two Swedish ships, the ’Kalmar Nyckel’ (Key of Kalmar) and the smaller ’Grip’ (Bird-Grip). Besides the ships’ crews, which were chiefly Dutch, he had with him 22 Swedish and Dutch soldiers to man a fort and cultivate some land until a second expedition should arrive; he brought supplies for the Colony and for trade with the Indians and also a cargo of wines to be sold in the West Indies. Mans Nillson Kling was in charge of the soldiers, and Hendrick Huygen, a relative of Minuit, was commissary.


Early in March 1638 the ships arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, where Minuit made a ten-day stop “to refresh with wood and water.” Jerome Hawley, Treasurer of the Virginia Colony, in writing to London, mentioned this visit.

A second stop was made at “Paradise” in Delaware Bay, either at the site of Swanendael (Lewes) or further north. On the map (1654-55) of the Swedish engineer Peter Lindeström, the whole region in the neighborhood of Lewes is marked Paradijset (Paradise) and a point south of the Murderkill, Paradijsudden (Paradise Point).

Within a day or two of his arrival on the Minquas Kill late in March, Minuit secured a deed from the Indian chiefs, executed on board the ’Kalmar Nyckel’ and dated March 29 (probably Old Style, which would be April 8, New Style). It was signed by five chiefs, and by Minuit and his officers.

A fort was built and named Christina for the young Queen of Sweden; and the ’Grip’ was dispatched to Virginia to trade. The Minquas Kill was first called the Elbe, but this name soon disappeared and Christina Kill took its place.

Minuit sent the ’Grip’ upon a second trading expedition while he assembled a cargo of furs at the fort to take back to Sweden. He left the Colony in June, bound for the island of St. Christopher in the West Indies to trade his cargo of wine. There he visited a Dutch ship, which was blown out of the harbor in a storm during Minuit’s visit and lost with all aboard. The ’Kalmar Nyckel’ returned to Sweden with Minuit’s papers and reports (now lost).

Following a second expedition in 1640 in charge of Peter Hollander Ridder, the Swedish Government bought the shares of the Dutch investors in the New Sweden Company and satisfied all Dutch claims.

But Dutch citizens in Swedish service, especially Samuel Blommaert, continued to assist in colonization. Governor Ridder (in Swedish service for some years) brought with him a few colonists, a new commissary, Joost van Langdonk, an assistant commissioner, Gregorius Van Dyck, and a Lutheran clergyman, Reorus Torkillus, the first of that faith to serve in America.

Fifty Dutch settlers from Utrecht arrived in the fall of 1640 in charge of Joost Van Bogaert under Swedish auspices; and in October 1641 the ’Kalmar Nyckel’ and the ’Charitas’ brought the first expedition of colonists qualified to create a self-reliant community.

There were:
○ Swedish soldiers to serve as unskilled workers as well as guards;
○ some Finns, who had deserted from the army or who had cut down trees against orders, but who came with wives and children and made good colonists; and
○ farm laborers and skilled workmen—a bookkeeper, a tailor, a millwright, and a blacksmith (some of whom brought their families); and
○ the preacher, H. Christoffer.

Besides these, Gustaf Strahl, a young nobleman, was permitted by the Royal Admiral to sail for experience to the New World, and with him came the son of the mayor of a Swedish town, also bent upon adventure, and several youths of humbler family, one a baker’s son.

Mans Kling returned as lieutenant with wife, child, and maid.

Cattle, horses, sheep, and goats, and supplies of grain, implements, building materials, and small wares were unloaded from the two ships; new houses were put up and Ridder built a church at the fort during the year.

Reports of English encroachment—a settlement at Varkens Kill (Salem) across the river, and the attempted establishment of a trading-post on the Schuylkill—were sent to Sweden by Governor Ridder with the returning ships.

The Swedish Council of State thereupon authorized a new expedition to reinforce the Colony. It was February 1643, however, before the sails of the ’Swan’ and the ’Fama’ were descried on the river.

The ships brought a new governor in the commanding figure of Johan Printz, a former cavalry major of the Swedish Army, schooled in strategy on the battlefields of the Thirty Years’ War. The Indians called him “the big tub” and he grew in size with the years.

But the size of his person proved to be but a trifling symbol of the power and energy with which he defied and outwitted man and elements to bring the Colony through its testing period—years of neglect by the Government and friends at home. With him came his family, soldiers, servants, settlers, and the Reverend John Campanius.

The new Governor brought his own horses, doubtless “of brave size” like himself; brought, and added to by purchase from New Amsterdam, a larger supply of live stock than had yet come to the Colony, with feed to carry them through the winter; food for the settlers in substantial quantity; household equipment, clothing, and many packages of small articles needed by each settler. He had filled every crevice of the two ships with oranges and lemons during a stop at the West Indies.

Governor Ridder had bought from the Indians all the land on the western shore of the Delaware (including the Dutch West India Company’s tract) from present Cape Henlopen to Trenton and on the east side from Raccoon Creek to Cape May.

Adopting a suggestion of Ridder’s, Printz built Fort Elfsborg on the New Jersey side below the mouth of the Varkens Kill, to control the trade and traffic of the Delaware.

Printz chose for his place of residence, where he built also a third fort, a location up the river at Tinicum Island (Essington), Pennsylvania, “about 3 Swedish miles from Fort Christina.” At Upland (on Chester Creek, Pennsylvania), a blockhouse was built to protect the few settlers there and to make the site attractive to others.

Only two small expeditions, with few colonists and insufficient supplies, arrived during the time of Governor Printz.

With no other help he so organized New Sweden as to maintain Sweden’s control of the river territory for ten years against increasing intrusion of the English and the aggression of the Dutch. He built mills, houses, boats, wharfs, and trading-posts and encouraged all the industries of which the colonists were capable—cooperage, brewing, baking, weaving.

But there were not enough colonists, cattle, or equipment, and especially not enough skilled workmen and artisans, to produce a comfortable surplus for the company’s trade. Printz competed with English and Dutch in the Indian market and in lean years was forced to pay double to the English for essential supplies to sustain the Colony.

Many of the colonists, feeling themselves cut off from Sweden and resenting the increasingly harsh regime into which the harassed Governor was forced, deserted the Colony to accept easier conditions under the Dutch or English.

Sweden’s affairs at home demanded the close attention of her ablest ministers; the Queen was absorbed in the costly brilliance of her court, Blommaert had left Swedish service, Clas Fleming was dead.

Although Printz’s reports and appeals had led to the preparation in the early summer of 1649 of an additional expedition, the ’Katt’ on which it sailed was wrecked in the West Indies, and neither colonists nor supplies reached the Delaware.

Printz’s weakness of defense was well known at Manhattan (New Amsterdam) to the able Peter Stuyvesant, ‘Governor of New Netherland. With men, money, and ships at his disposal and a larger and better fortified Colony behind him, Stuyvesant, in the summer of 1651, having secured from the Indians a deed for the land they had previously sold to Minuit and again to Ridder, sailed his fleet “drumming and cannonading” up and down the South River past the Swedish forts.

Knowing that Printz had too little ammunition to provoke hostilities, he erected a fort at Sand Hook (New Castle), six miles down the river to control the traffic in the interest of the Dutch. He named it Fort Casimir in honor of Count Ernest Casimir of Nassau, for whom Fort Nassau had been named, moved to this new fort the Dutch soldiers and their families from Fort Nassau (site of Gloucester, N.J.) and abandoned that fort.

Little Dutch House, New Castle, by John Moll.

Printz made vigorous written protest to Stuyvesant and sent to Sweden urgent appeals to the Crown for the protection of the American Colony. Finally, early in 1653 he sent his son by an English ship to make a stronger plea, and hearing nothing, went himself at the end of the year, leaving the Colony in charge of his son-in-law, Johan Papegoja.

By the time Printz arrived in Europe assistance for him had been arranged; a cargo, settlers, and an assistant governor, Johan Classon Rising, set sail in the ship ’Orn’ (Eagle) about February 10, 1654.

News of the arrival of Printz in Europe was not unexpected, and Rising had instructions, in case the Colony and lands had been taken by others, to get them back by peaceful means if possible, but if not to settle and fortify another place on the South River, or even to settle in Florida.

Rising’s ship was crowded with colonists and the ’Gyllene Haj’ (Golden Shark) was to follow with more; he had supplies and money and credit; so, although his instructions warned against hostilities, he came to anchor before Fort Casimir on Trinity Sunday, May 21, 1654, and demanded surrender under threat of his guns.

As the little fort was entirely unprepared for defense, he won without bloodshed. Rising then manned the Fort, which he named Fort Trefaldighet (Fort Trinity), left Captain Sven Skute in charge, and sailed up the river to Christina.

Rising was well qualified by education and experience for his post as assistant governor. He was secretary of the Swedish Commercial College, had made commercial and economic studies at home and abroad, and had been knighted for his services. With him was an engineer of the caliber Governor Printz had long asked for, the “noble and well born Per Martensson Lindeström,” whose ’Geography of America,’ translated by Dr. Amandus Johnson, is one of the most delightful sources of Delaware’s early history.

By the following summer Rising had doubled the land under cultivation by organizing the loan of oxen and horses belonging to the freemen and to the company, and by planning a rotation of labor and volunteer help on the plantations of the freemen and on the company tracts. Roads between the settlements had been cleared and kept passable.

Under Lindeström’s supervision the village of Christina Harbor, behind Fort Christina, was expanded on a plan of rectangular blocks with streets crossing at right angles. Forts, blockhouses, and other buildings on the river were so well braced and strengthened that they withstood heavy floods and the ice of an unusually hard winter.

In little over a year, the more than two hundred colonists brought by Rising and possibly a hundred he found under
Papegoja had become a thriving community.

In the lives of the settlers throughout the Swedish period, hard labor on their own account and in the interest of the New Sweden Company was the order of the day. But each of the governors, however vigorously he sought the financial success of the Colony, was primarily concerned with the welfare of the people.

The term of service for soldiers and servants, paid by the company, was usually for three years, after which they might receive land of their own and a start with its cultivation.

Those coming as freemen, especially planters who took up land or farmed company land on shares, paid for their passage and land, and usually for cattle, on easy terms over a period of years.

After the first few years a majority of the freemen fared well and some became sufficiently prosperous to build larger houses and greatly extend their plantations.

Trade with the Indians aided the individual settler as well as the company. To the latter the settler first offered his surplus of produce for sale and, if not taken by the company, sold it where the profit was greatest.

Women, clever with the loom and the needle, made from cheap materials articles that sold well to the savages, especially caps with gay-colored tassels.

Suffering from lack of suitable food, clothing, and shelter, combined with overwork, took heavy toll of life in several years. Inexperience, failure of supplies from home, or misfortune in trade led to the discouragement of many.

Yet the standard of living at which governors and colonists aimed was high. In good years, especially in the summer and early fall, there was an abundance and wholesome variety of foods that made festive their everyday living as well as the occasions of hospitality and sociability that the people enjoyed.

Left side of drawing, ’KEY OF KALMAR AT FORT CHRISTINA’ drawing by John Moll.
Right side of drawing, ’KEY OF KALMAR AT FORT CHRISTINA’ drawing by John Moll.

Dutch Rule

By seizing Fort Casimir, Rising had made a false start, which Peter Stuyvesant was soon ready to make the Swedes pay for in drastic fashion. Conditions in Europe played into Stuyvesant’s hands. Chancellor Oxenstierna, still the great statesman of Europe and in spite of his age a power in maintaining Sweden’s prestige abroad, died the year Rising came to America, 1654; and in the same year Queen Christina gave up her throne.

The Government of Holland, fearing the rise of Sweden’s commercial power, made alliances against her.

A year and four months after Rising took Fort Casimir from the Dutch, Stuyvesant had it back, and the flag of Holland flew over Fort Christina as well. A month and a half later, the end of October 1655, Rising was on his way back to Sweden aboard a Dutch vessel.

While the parley between Stuyvesant and Rising was still on, word had been brought to Stuyvesant by fast messenger that an Indian war was causing bloodshed and destruction at New Amsterdam. Had the messenger been swifter, Swedish colors might have continued to float at Fort Christina.

Stuyvesant left Dirck Smidt in command at Sand Hook, where Fort Trinity was given back the name Fort Casimir and became the Dutch capital on the river.

The Swedes were permitted to keep their officers and their Lutheran clergyman, and were promised security in their lands and other possessions.

Jean Paul Jacquet, a French Hugenot who had come to New Amsterdam from Holland well recommended by the Company’s directors, arrived at Fort Casimir as vice-director on the South River under Peter Stuyvesant in December 1655. He governed with the aid of a council composed of the sheriff-and-secretary, Andries Hudde, former commissary for the Dutch at Fort Nassau, the commissary, Elmerhuysen Klein, and two sergeants. The chief Swedish officer up the river was Gregorius Van Dyck, sheriff, assisted by Sven Skute, Anders Dalbo, Jacob Swenson, Olaf Stille,, Peter Rambo, Peter Cock, and others.

Vice-director Jacquet, following instructions from Stuyvesant, regulated trade with the Indians and the English, forbade sale of liquor and ammunition to the former, and sought to establish prevailing rates of exchange for skins and tobacco.

The next year Swedes and Dutch were called together at the fort to consider improvement of roads and bridges; ownership of land was confirmed and new grants made.

Important among the duties of the vice-director was the challenging of all vessels on the river and collection of duty from those permitted to trade.

One of the first foreign ships to arrive, early in 1656, was the ’Mercurius’ from Sweden with an expedition of colonists, mostly Finns. The ship had sailed before news of the taking of New Sweden by the Dutch had reached Stockholm. Hendrick Huygen, former commissary of the Swedes, and Johan Papegoja, son-in-law of former Governor Printz, were in charge.

Permission to land settlers and cargo was refused by Jacquet, and by Stuyvesant also when appeal was made to him.

But the Indians, offended at the Dutch for delaying the landing of the well-provisioned expedition of their favorite people, went aboard the vessel in numbers and piloted it past the guns of Fort Casimir, whose commander could not risk hostilities with the savages.

The colonists landed finally near Tinicum, and seem to have been taken care of by the local Swedish officers, for there is no further record of trouble.

Because of the cost of Stuyvesant’s conquest of the Delaware, added to other losses and drains upon the resources of the Dutch West India Company, the company in the summer of 1656 sold the settlement at Fort Casimir, together with the land between the Christina and Bombay Hook, to the rich City of Amsterdam. Jacob Alrichs, the new director, who was responsible to the burgomasters of that city, began development of the settlement at the fort, called by them New Amstel, in the spring of 1657.

In spite of prevailing illness and a population of several hundred traders, clerks, women, and children sent by the burgomasters instead of the needed artisan and farmers, Alrichs, with the help of Stuyvesant and the Swedes, provided food and shelter for all of these people.

At the beginning of the next year New Amstel had nearly a hundred dwellings, a dozen or more other buildings, and about 500 people.

After the surrender of Fort Christina in 1655, a few Dutch soldiers were stationed there to keep an eye upon the Swedish planters and their officers. But in this peaceful community the soldiers seem to have paid more attention to their gardens and other interests than to the fort (called Fort Altena by the Dutch), for the buildings became dilapidated and complaint was made of it as the haunt of smugglers of tobacco and other commodities.

Upon the arrival of Governor Stuyvesant in the spring of 1658 to make a survey of conditions on the river, orders were given for the repair of buildings and fortifications to serve as the West India Company’s seat of government. Later in the year William Beekman from New Amsterdam was put in command at Altena, as vice-director under Stuyvesant, and was made collector of customs for the whole river. The privileges accorded the Swedes, who now had plantations from the Appoquinimink to Tinicum and Wicaco (Philadelphia), were continued.

Meanwhile, at New Amstel, Director Alrichs, in good faith to the owners of the Colony, was enforcing many prohibitions against his settlers concerning trade, crops, and occupations. Though he seems to have labored early and late in the interest of the people as well as that of the burgomasters in Holland, the restrictions, together with enticements offered by the English of Maryland, caused many settlers to leave the Colony.

Worn down by illness, overwork, and worry, Director Alrichs died in December 1659. At the time of his death Gerritt Van Sweringen was commissary, Cornelis Van Gezel, secretary. In command of the soldiers was Lieutenant Alexander D’Hinoyossa, an adventurer, who inherited Alrichs’s office.

To protect the Swanendael region from trespass by English traders, Alrichs had stationed a guard at Blommaert’s Kill—called by the Dutch the Hoerekill or Hoerenkill, within a few years after the destruction of the de Vries colony. In origin the form Hoeren could have been a corruption of Horen meaning a horn or cornucopia, symbol of the fruitfulness of the land. As to whether it was a corruption of Hoorn, from which town some of the early explorers, and de Vries, and some of his colonists came, no evidence has been found in available records. The Dutch name continued in use until occupation by the English in 1664, when it became Whorekill.

Zwaanedael Museum, Lewes, displays area history.

Whatever the original name of Lewes Creek may have been, Delawareans now generally use the name Hoornkill in referring to the early stream and site, this form having been given official sanction by its use in the legislative and international ceremonies honoring the State’s first white settlement.

D’Hinoyossa followed the practice of Stuyvesant, of the City of Amsterdam, and of Director Alrichs in giving privileges at the Hoerekill to settlers accepting Dutch sovereignty. But having established Peter Alrichs, nephew of the former director, in charge of trade there, and having given him sole right of trade on the bay, D’Hinoyossa devoted himself to plans for a trading-center and capital at Appoquinimy (near Odessa) for commerce with the English. He kept up a continuous quarrel with Beekman at Altena, who opposed his methods and complained bitterly to Stuyvesant.

In 1663 when the burgomasters of Amsterdam acquired the whole river from the Company, D’Hinoyossa persuaded them that only money and plenty of good Swedish farmers were needed to make the Colony a paying venture. He was made director of the whole river Colony and returned from a visit to Europe with a new appropriation of funds and as many Swedish settlers as could be persuaded to emigrate under the Dutch. To Beekman, D’Hinoyossa now offered a job as assistant in command, but Beekman refused to serve and left the river.

In spite of desertions to Maryland and the return of a number of settlers to Europe, the population along the river from the Schuylkill to the bay is believed to have been nearly a thousand at this time, the majority Swedes and Finns, the rest Dutch, with a few English and French.

Besides Peter Alrichs, his associates and servants, a community of Dutch Mennonites, established in 1663 by Pieter Cornelis Plockhoy under Dutch protection, was settled at the Hoerekill along with other Dutch settlers, and perhaps a few Swedish, who had gone there after 1655.

Duke of York’s Province

The land of present Delaware was not included in the grant made early in 1664, by which James, Duke of York, received from his brother, Charles II, territory in America extending from the St. Croix River to the east side of the Delaware. But because a powerful group in England, to which the Duke belonged, coveted the whole of the Dutch trade and colonies in America, it was decided to reduce to “submission and obedience” the Delaware Colony as well as New Amsterdam. This was easily accomplished when the impetuous Sir Robert Carr, representing the Duke’s Deputy Governor, Colonel Richard Nicolls, appeared with two war vessels before the weak little fort at New Amstel (see the town of NEW CASTLE in Part 2 of this book, Cities & Towns).

D’Hinoyossa, the officers Peter Alrichs and Gerritt Van Sweringen, and the soldiers were made prisoners. Their property was confiscated, and the soldiers and some of the Negroes belonging to the officers and other inhabitants were sold as slaves to the English in Virginia and Maryland. Other Negroes, together with the plantations of the Dutch officers and soldiers, were divided among Carr’s men.

D’Hinoyossa and the officers were later released, the former going to Maryland, where he unsuccessfully sought aid toward recovering his property. Alrichs signed the oath of allegiance and before long was appointed to public office and recovered most of his property. He was permitted to trade at the Whorekill and returned there in 1665 with six horses and a servant.

Other parts of the river were quickly made subject to the Duke’s proprietorship. But Carr’s harsh and autocratic control of this territory, without advice from New York, brought Deputy Governor Nicolls in person to enforce his authority and make peace with the colonists. He changed the name of New Amstel to New Castle, made Captain John Carr (son of Sir Robert) commander on the Delaware, and promised redress of grievances, tenure of lands, and new grants.

By the Duke’s orders the existing government was authorized to continue until further instructions were given.

English from Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, as well as from New York and Europe, came to settle among the Swedes and Dutch, and gradually made up in numbers for the loss of those who departed during D’Hinoyossa’s rule and following the depredations under Sir Robert Carr. They settled also in the previously unoccupied territory from Bombay Hook south to Indian River.

Trade developed again at the Whorekill, where Sir Robert had destroyed the houses of the Mennonites as part of his subjection of the whole settlement to the Duke’s rule.

Trade regulations under the Duke’s government interfered at first with the opportunities of traders and farmers alike to barter in many articles.

Governor Lovelace, who succeeded Nicolls in 1668, put a duty of 10 percent on exports and imports.

The quit-rent in wheat charged for their lands was objected to by the Swedes, and many of them, because of the cost of survey, failed to have their titles to the land they cultivated confirmed.

Owing to continuing dissatisfaction, aggravated by rumors that Sweden was sending ships to recapture the South River, many Swedes listened to a fomenter of rebellion who proposed an uprising against the English when the ships should appear. The arch-plotter, Marcus Jacobsen, who claimed to be a son of the Swedish General Konigsmarke and was known as “the Long Finn,” was trapped by a Swedish officer and turned over to the Commandant.

After the Long Finn’s conviction in 1669 with a drastic sentence, and the fining of those who had given him aid and comfort, protests seem to have been limited to formal and informal complaint and petition. Smuggling increased, however, and the next year the tax on trade was removed.

Two years later, by order of the governor and council at New York, New Castle was incorporated a “bailiwick” and the government on the Delaware was strengthened by a centralized authority there over the whole river. This was vested in a high sheriff, the English Edmund Cantwell, and a bailiff or chief magistrate, the Dutch Peter Alrichs, with six assistant magistrates.

Both Governor Nicolls and Governor Lovelace had shown every disposition to carry out the Duke of York’s injunction to treat the people “with all humanity and gentleness that can consist with the honor and safety” of the government.

Map showing historic areas of Delaware. Click button for larger version (shows town locations better) which will appear in a new browser tab or window.
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While Lovelace was reorganizing the government on the Delaware in 1672, war was begun against Holland by France and England. In July of the next year, the Dutch Admiral Evertsen, successful on the seas, came to New York with a fleet and recovered the whole of the previous Dutch territory of New Netherland. Peter Alrichs was made commander on the Delaware.

The government was otherwise undisturbed, the people being allowed to keep their property if they took the oath of allegiance—which they did.

One major event during the interval of Dutch control, which lasted less than a year, was the establishment by Governor Colve of district courts at Upland (Chester), New Castle, and the Whorekill (Lewes). This laid the foundation for the counties of Delaware, and was a significant contribution toward the development of this small stretch of territory as a separate colony.

By the treaty of Westminster, which ended the Dutch and English war in 1674, each country gave back its conquests. In October of that year the Delaware Colony, used to sudden changes of sovereignty, swore allegiance to the English king. The local government was continued as it had existed before the interruption, except that the new English Governor of the Duke of York’s province refused for a while to restore Peter Alrichs to office. No governor on the Delaware could long resist Peter’s charm and ability, however, and by the next year he was back in favor and in office.

In 1676 Governor Edmund Andros re-established the courts set up by Colve, and affairs on the Delaware, better recorded from this time on, assumed the characteristics dominant throughout the Colonial and early State period.

It was a sparsely settled community of individualists of differing ideas and temperaments. Everybody knew everybody else, each fellow spoke his mind, quarreled and protested when he believed his rights interfered with, accepted the established social order without being a truckler or much of a respecter of persons, and joined his dearest enemies in defense of the right of this small strip of territory to exist as an indivisible entity. The frequent changes of absentee ownership seemed only to cement this local conception of a special and peculiar privilege and destiny.

In 1680 the inhabitants of the upper part of the Whorekill court district or county petitioned Governor Andros for a separate court. This was granted, and the court and county of “St. Jones” was established with territory extending between Duck Creek and Cedar Creek in the center of the State. Among the first recorded motions of the magistrates of the new court was the disciplining of Thomas Williams, who had said he did not see why the Duke of York had been such a fool as to make them the judges.

In this same year, the magistrates at the Whorekill petitioned for a change of name. Governor Andros complied by giving court and county the name Deal, after which both appear in records as “New Deal alias Whorekills” and “the Whorekill now New Deal.”

In this period a good many of the inhabitants who lived south and southwest of the Whorekill held their land (to the extent of 19,000 acres by 1682) under grants from Lord Baltimore, in territory claimed by Maryland (now lower Sussex, Delaware). The territory of New Deal alias Whorekill county was not at that time more definitely defined than “from Cedar Creek downwards.”

Leipsic on Little Duck Creek by John Moll, 1937.

Three Counties under Penn

The inhabitants of the Delaware Colony seem to have been fairly prosperous and contented when the English ship, the ’Welcome,’ appeared off New Castle on October 27, 1682. A messenger was sent ashore to announce the arrival from England of William Penn, newly made true and absolute proprietor of their land.

Son of Admiral William Penn, whose service in the British Navy and in other public and personal offices had endeared him to Charles II and to his brother James, Duke of York, the younger Penn had not been saved thereby from prosecution and imprisonment for his active proselyting in the Quaker faith.

Along with a considerable estate, Penn inherited a credit of £16,ooo due the elder Penn from Charles II. The esteem in which his father was held and the royal indebtedness combined to produce a favorable answer to Penn’s petition for a province in America. In this province Penn’s “holy experiment” was to offer liberty of conscience and the peaceful pursuit of a livelihood in an ideal environment, under mild and just laws adopted with the consent of the freemen.

That he came as lord of the soil, to receive quit-rents from the land and profit from commercial developments, was inherent in the proprietary system and consistent, in Penn’s background, with his sincere and uncommon generosity toward all the inhabitants.

Penn had little doubt that his fair principles would meet with cooperation from the liberty-loving Swedes, the independent Dutch, and the courageous English, Scottish, and French Protestants who made up the population of the Duke’s former Colony. But in these qualities and in the large degree of personal, political, and religious liberty that had long been enjoyed here (with and without legal or official sanction) lay the seeds of a new dissent.

Penn had in his possession two leases and two deeds of feoffment from the Duke of York, giving him all the territory within a twelve-mile circle about New Castle and from the circle south to Cape Henlopen—a stretch of territory “otherwise called Delaware.” John Moll, the chief magistrate at New Castle, who with Ephraim Herman had been made the Duke’s attorney conducted the ceremony of livery of seisin at the fort on the Market Square. This was for the land within the twelve-mile circle only.

To William Markham, Penn’s cousin and his deputy- governor for Pennsylvania who had been on the Delaware since July of the previous year, Penn gave power of attorney to receive for him the lower counties as soon as the magistrates there could be visited. The delivery took place on November 7 at the home of Edmund Cantwell at Appoquinimy (Odessa).

After receiving the allegiance of the people at New Castle, Penn reappointed the Duke of York’s officers and authorized continuance of the Duke’s laws for the time being.

William Penn had received his patent for Pennsylvania from Charles II on March 4, 1681, the leases and deeds for the Delaware counties on August 24, 1682, just before he set sail for America. The patent was a charter from the Crown, giving him wide powers of government as well as full proprietary rights of ownership in the soil.

The leases and deeds made no mention of government, and the former proprietor, the Duke of York, had no paper or legal title to the land, but only as his secretary, Sir John Werden, frankly said, “a claim.”

Although the Duke of York, on March 22, 1683, received a grant for the Delaware territory from King Charles, this legalization of his claim was not retroactive and left Penn’s title uncertain. In this defect of title the inhabitants of the lower counties, or “Territories” as Penn came to call the Delaware counties, found a convenient justification for the racial, religious, political, and temperamental incompatibility between them and Penn’s upper counties in the years between 1682 and 1704.

At Penn’s first assembly held at Upland (Chester) on December 6, 1682, the Delaware members in equal number with those of Pennsylvania accepted Penn’s frame of government, and “petitioned” for union with the Province (which James Logan of Pennsylvania later said Penn “prevailed” upon them to accept). They were pleased to support Penn’s naturalization of Swedes, Finns, and Dutch on the river and the confirmation of their land to all freeholders.

In 1683 the General Assembly of Penn’s government was organized, consisting of nine members elected from each county, six to serve in the assembly and three in the council. The council acted with Penn or with his deputy-governors in the appointment of magistrates, judges, and other officials, and in proposing legislation.

The assembly accepted or rejected the proposals but did not have the right of initiating legislation. From the first session, this restriction upon the assembly was resented by the representatives of all Penn’s counties and the effort to nullify this obstacle to self-government was at the root of a growing contention against proprietary control.

Penn strengthened the courts of the lower counties and provided a Provincial or Supreme Court. He changed the name of “Deal alias Whorekills” to Sussex for his own county in England, calling the county seat Lewes; and changed the name of St. Jones County to Kent.

Oyster Boats at Little Creek by John Moll, 1937.

One of the first open rifts between Penn’s government and the lower counties was the refusal of a group of Kent County planters to pay quit-rents. They claimed the rents belonged to the Duke of York, and that Penn had not kept his promise to treat the lower counties and the Province on equal terms.

Another grievance was Penn’s failure to protect the inhabitants along the southern and western parts of the lower counties from the depredations and attacks of Lord Baltimore’s agents, who claimed the soil, collected tithes at the pistol point, started ejectment suits, and even seized property and imprisoned the owners.

One other serious cause of resentment against the Quaker counties of the Province was the failure of the upper counties to provide a full share of means and men to protect the lower counties against the pirates who frequented the Delaware after 1685. Blackbeard (Teach), Avery, Canoot, Kidd, and many lesser characters brought terror to the inhabitants, as they rode at anchor off the capes or in the bay; and many unknown pirates and privateers plundered the inhabitants near the shores, and successfully preyed upon shipping in the bay and river.

James II, the former Duke of York, sent ships to defend the coast and offered pardons to pirates who would give themselves up, pay a forfeit as security for their good behavior, and henceforth follow honest callings.

Insufficient protection coupled with this policy created conditions easily imagined. Poor pirates who gave themselves up were jailed; those with stocks of treasure, especially gold, paid a large forfeit and went free, often to ply their trade again, or to settle in the respectable Quaker Colony as confederate informers to ships flying the black flag.

As the result of Penn’s efforts upon his return to Philadelphia in 1699 after fourteen years in Europe, pirates were cleared from the river for the next eight years. But the bad reputation given his government by the pirate menace and the open breach between his upper and lower counties discouraged thousands of prospective immigrants.

His right to govern the lower counties was called in question in England by the Board of Trade, and the Privy Council upheld a distinction between the Province and the lower counties, by which the lower counties were adjudged virtually a Royal Province. The governor of the Province and the governor of the counties might be the same person, but for the counties each governor had to be approved by the King.

The General Assembly for the Province and Territories had met at New Castle in 1684, in 1690, and again in 1700. In the latter year Penn reviewed the existing laws and put them in good form for printing so that the people might become familiar with them, and thus avoid the continual pleading of ignorance of the statutes.

For weeks he labored, living in the little town, listening patiently to the long arguments of the Quakers from the upper counties and the conflicting ideas of the inhabitants of the lower ones. After this session, the Quaker Isaac Norris, member of Penn’s Assembly from Pennsylvania, who lacked Penn’s patience, expressed his relief at being home again from that “Frenchified, Scotchified, Dutchified place” (New Castle) where the delegates of the lower counties were “vociferous” and “teasing” in their demands.

The particular grievances and events which led to a separate assembly for the lower counties were interwoven with the long struggle between Penn’s council and his assembly over their respective powers and rights, and between these two bodies and Penn himself. Appointment of officers for the lower counties without consulting the wishes of their representatives was the cause of several breaks.

The Delawareans of that day left the General Assembly, and refused to return even when followed to New Castle with pleas and pledges; or they failed to elect members to the assembly under rules they objected to. In 1691 feeling ran so high over an arbitrary change in the method of making out commissions for the judges of the provincial court for the lower counties, that the minutes of both council and assembly for that year are believed to have been purposely destroyed.

The following year, to maintain his government in the lower counties, Penn was compelled to commission a separate governor for them—his cousin, William Markham. Among all Penn’s officers up to this time “Cosin Markham” was the choice and favorite in the lower counties. He understood the people by long association and keen perception and was their “next friend” in the handling of many grievances.

In the 1701 charter, granted by Penn, the right to elect members of the council was taken from the freemen and power of appointment given to the Governor. This did not eliminate from the council members from the lower counties—New Castle, Kent, and Sussex—for both Penn and his deputy-governors sought through wise appointments to this office a closer tie with them.

For three years these counties cleverly refused to accept the charter of 1701 (to which Penn had reluctantly added a postscript giving the upper and lower counties the right to have separate assemblies if either desired), and thus put the government of the province into the position of demanding their retirement to form their own assembly. The lower counties and the Province then parted with mutual satisfaction and, so far as personalities were concerned, mutual good will.

Arrogant and unreasonable as was much of the conduct of Delaware leaders, their actions were backed by the people and were grounded in the general trend of the times against proprietors and proprietary rights. They felt themselves entitled to self-government as subjects of the English Crown.

Because the Duke of York had conducted all formal government in the King’s name, they felt closer to the sovereignty they acknowledged under the Duke than under the personal proprietary control of Penn, however altruistic the latter’s spirit.

Practically, the inhabitants saw Penn’s claim to revenue from soil and trade as a wedge introduced between them and the Crown, and Penn’s development of richer and better populated counties to the north, with a fast-growing commercial center at Philadelphia, as a threat to their political and economic security.

The first separate assembly was held at New Castle in November 1704. No laws then or later were sent to England for confirmation. The counties accepted Penn’s governors because these men were required to be approved by the Crown, and conducted their affairs as a Colony of the Crown until the Revolution. Though without an official name, the Colony was included after 1696, under the regulations of the Privy Council and Government of England, as subject to all sovereign powers and regulations including those of trade.

Fireplace, Amstel House, New Castle.


The disputes over boundaries as well as the claims to the soil itself, which made up the “dramatic relation” of the Delaware counties to the surrounding Colonies, began actively upon the landing of the Swedes at the Minquas Kill in 1638. Before that time Dutch traders and explorers had been charged by the English at Jamestown with usurping His Majesty’s rights upon His Majesty’s territory, and the ’Grip,’ sent to Virginia by Minuit to trade, was refused entry on that account.

Governor Printz had been harassed by the efforts of English from New Haven to settle on the river at the same time that the Dutch Governor, Peter Stuyvesant was threatening to wrest control of the whole river from the Swedes.

Shortly after Stuyvesant made good his threat in 1655, the claims of Lord Baltimore of Maryland through Governor Fendall became aggressive. Colonel Charles Nathaniel Utie, representing Baltimore’s claim, appeared at New Amstel in 1659 demanding the allegiance of the settlers and threatening destruction of the Colony.

The Director at New Amstel, Jacob Alrichs, who had offered no very spirited defense of the Dutch claim, was sharply rebuked by Stuyvesant; soldiers were sent immediately from New Amsterdam to New Amstel and to the Hoerekill.

In the interest of the Dutch claim, Stuyvesant sent the astute emissaries, Resolved (or Roosevelt) Waldron and Augustine Herman, to confer with the officers of Lord Baltimore in Maryland.

By an engaging reasonableness of manner they obtained for study a copy of the grant from King Charles I to Lord Baltimore’s father, made in 1632, the year following the unhappy first settlement by the Dutch at Swanendael. In the preamble of the charter, Herman and Waldron found the portentous words, hactenas incalta, limiting the lands granted to Baltimore to those previously uncultivated (by white men). Upon this point, with the same reasonableness of manner plus tenacity of purpose, they made their stand—the west shore of the Delaware had been cultivated, even though the colony had been short lived, therefore this territory was excluded from the King’s grant.

Stuyvesant made good use of the discovery of the “flaw” in Lord Baltimore’s grant. The conflict between Baltimore and the Dutch was well known in England and, if the issue had been fought out then, the lawyers for the Crown undoubtedly would have made short work of the "hactenus inculta" clause.

But when James, Duke of York, wished to attach the Delaware Colony to his province of New York in 1664, the phrase became a horse of a different color. In his instructions to the commissioners sent over to take the territory, the Duke said, in effect, that if Lord Baltimore made objection, they were to say that it was only to assure possession by the English until the king’s wishes could be known; but he added that Baltimore’s title was very doubtful.

Since the Duke of York’s control of the Delaware territory was by knowledge and consent of the king, the protests of Baltimore were not forcefully followed up, and they received slight attention at court. When part of William Penn’s Province and all of “the territories” (Delaware) were carved out of Baltimore’s express grant “unto that part of Delaware Bay on the north which lyeth under the fortieth Degree of Northerne Latitude,” the gorge of Charles Calvert (third Lord Baltimore) rose.

Unable to deal with Penn, Calvert went to England in 1684 (followed as he had wished by Penn) to make a vigorous appeal for justice from Charles II. The king’s death interrupted proceedings and put on the throne James II, who as Duke of York had been the original English invader of Baltimore’s territory.

Toward the end of 1685, the new king’s commissioners ordered that the land between the Delaware and the Chesapeake be divided into equal parts by a line from the latitude of Cape Henlopen to the “fortieth Degree of Northerne Latitude,” and that the eastern half “towards the Bay of Delaware be adjudged to belong to his Ma’ty.” Upon this followed Penn’s comment, “I endeavored to gett it, & have it, & will keep it if I can.”

The maps available at the time Penn’s charter for Pennsylvania was being drawn had enabled the lawyers for the Crown to make no better guess at the “fortieth Degree,” than twelve miles north of New Castle. This was more than eleven miles south of that latitude but it was at least an effort to avoid Baltimore’s bounds.

In the leases for the Delaware counties, bounds were based upon the possession of the soil by the Duke of York and upon the attitude of his secretary Sir John Werden that, since it was a matter of “claims,” the Duke probably had the better one.

Upon the death of William Penn in 1718 the boundary dispute was left to his heirs in conflict with the heirs of Charles Calvert, whose death had preceded Penn’s.

By 1732 the futile conflict had so far palled upon both sides that an agreement was reached with articles drawn and signed, stating that the parties were to abide by a line run west from Cape Henlopen to the exact middle of the Peninsula and from there northerly until it made a tangent point on the twelve-mile circle about New Castle, thence east by the arc of the circle.

The reproduction of a map originally prepared by Maryland surveyors was attached, to which Calvert’s representatives for Maryland paid little attention. On it Cape Henlopen was located at the old “false cape,” now Fenwick Island where the present south boundary line of the State touches the ocean.

When Lord Baltimore’s counsel charged the Penns with deceit in the effort to “hook in twenty miles more territory,” the Penns pointed to the origin of the map. The mistake might have been expected, for the name (Hinlopen) was originally attached to just this point, and what was then . Cape Henlopen, near Lewes, had been known by other names, Cape La Warre, Cape Cornelis, Cape James.

Another difficulty was presented by the circle about New Castle, especially in adjusting its western end where the boundaries of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware meet.

The fresh conflict resulting from these difficulties resolved itself into the case of Penn versus Lord Baltimore. A decree in favor of the Penns in 1750, assessing the costs against Lord Baltimore, did not settle the dispute, but it established that the lines were to be drawn on the basis of the agreement of 1732.

Later the bounds of Delaware were surveyed on the south line by John Watson (1750-1751) and by Mason and Dixon (1763-67) on the south and west lines. The center of the circle (“ye end of ye Horse Dyke at New Castle,” in the survey made for William Penn in 1701 by Taylor and Pierson) was changed to Court House spire. The difficult lines from the tangent point were temporarily adjusted, and the whole division of territory approved in 1769 by George III.

Going to Work. Animal drawn cart still in use.
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