How Delaware Came to Be

The history of this small state called Delaware began in 1609 when Henry Hudson, in search of a northwest passage to the East Indies, sailed the Half Moon past what is now Cape Henlopen on Delaware Bay. Because the bay seemed too shallow for his vessel, he continued sailing up the Atlantic Coast. One year later another English captain,

Samuel Argall, sailed north from the Virginia Colony into the bay. He named the point of land Cape La Warre, for Lord de la Warr, the governor of Virginia, and the name eventually came to be applied to the bay, the river, and the land along them. For the next few years Dutch captains explored the Delaware waters. The first land in the area was bought in 1630 by the Dutch West India Company, which allowed its patroons (owners of lands) to rule like great lords. The land was bought to establish a whaling colony. The next year the Zwaanendael colony was started by 28 Dutchmen who settled on Blommaert’s Kill (now Lewes). The settlement was soon wiped out by one of the neighboring Indian tribes.

Several Dutchmen withdrew their support of the Dutch West India Company and offered it to Sweden. With their help a Swedish colony was set up in 1638 at present-day Wilmington. The first permanent white settlement in Delaware was called Fort Christina, and the area was called New Sweden. Although the Swedes had many setbacks, their homes were sturdy and they generally prospered. The first log cabins in America were built by the Swedish pioneers in Delaware. In 1655 the Dutch captured Fort Christina, and the Swedes were forced to give up New Sweden. The Dutch did not stay in power long, however, for in 1664 the English seized all the Dutch territory in America.

Delaware became part of the province granted to the Duke of York by his brother, Charles II. Marcus Jacobsen led some Swedes in a revolt, which was put down, and then the Dutch regained control for a year. The colony reverted to English hands in 1674. In 1682 the Duke of York gave Delaware, then called the Three Lower Counties, to William Penn, and the land became part of Pennsylvania Province. In 1704 the Delaware counties left the Pennsylvania assembly to form their own assembly, but remained under the rule of the Pennsylvania governor. The village of Willingtown was laid out on the north bank of the Christina; a few years later the name became Wilmington, and in 1740 it was officially chartered as a borough.

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