THE STORY OF
DUTCH AND SWEDES ON THE DELAWARE RIVER
the failure of the Swaanendael venture of 1630, although no permanent
Dutch settlement was made by the Dutch on the South River before 1640,
their fur-traders were busy on the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, and
in that region, until an invasion, as they considered it, on a large scale,
from Sweden, called forth first their diplomacy, and then force.
Usselinx saw the
Swedish West India Company chartered as early as 1626. This was the year
that the Princess Christina (whose name ought to be that of the State
of Delaware) was born; but absorbed in the work of securing freedom of
conscience, Gustavus Adolphus had to postpone the work of building up
a New Sweden in America. Dying on the field of Lutzen, he left his darling
project of a colony in America, the jewel of his kingdom,
to his daughter, then a little girl of eleven, of masculine education.
Right royally did Queen Christina attempt to carry out her fathers
wish. Calling to her aid Peter Minuit, she bade him go and occupy the
deserted Delaware region, dispatching him late in 1637 with two ships
and fifty colonists to found New Sweden.
Just when the buds
were opening, Minuit arrived inside Delaware Bay, in April, 1638, and
began a settlement not far from Cape Henlopen and near Lewes in Delaware.
One of the first buildings erected after the fort was the Lutheran church,
the first in America. Rev. Reorus Torkillas was pastor of this Christian
Minuit also built
a fort at Minqua Kill, now within the limits of Wilmington, naming it
after Queen Christina. He not only bought from the Indians the lands which
the Swedes occupied, but he treated them with firmness and kindness, making
them his fast friends. Later, the Swedish claim extended inland to the
great falls of the Susquehanna River. With his garrison of soldiers and
ships of war Minuit laughed when, very soon after, he received notice
from Director Kieft on Manhattan, that he was a trespasser and must be
off. Kieft had no force to back his order, and was himself surprised at
the answer the Company sent to his request for ships and soldiers. Instead
of iron arguments, the Director was to use his eloquence of persuasion;
but failing to oust the intruders, was to live on as good terms with them
as possible. What a change in the temper of the great fighting corporation
that had swallowed up Spanish silver fleets and cities, very much as a
shark devours herrings!
The truth is that
this was a period of reaction in Holland against John Company.
The feeling soon expressed itself in the liberal charter of 1640, which
limited the West India Companys power and encouraged what was next
to impossible under the old régime, the growth of free village
communities in New Netherland. When well-loaded ships sailed home from
New Sweden, some enterprising Dutchmen, who hated the close corporation
in Amsterdam, united themselves in an independent enterprise, and sent
over a ship with colonists, well supplied, to settle on the Delaware.
These freemen, who
were opposed to patroons and manors, arrived just at the nick of time,
for the Swedes had not yet been reinforced. The first glow of excitement
was over, and trade was poor. Not having enough to eat, the colonists
from Sweden were about to move to Manhattan rather than starve. Everything
changed when the Dutch ship, supplies, and people arrived. The Netherlanders,
in hearty cooperation with the Scandinavians, settled a few miles farther
up the river. In the autumn, fresh reinforcements and provisions arrived
in three ships from Sweden. Leaving to the new officers his command, Minuit
left for the West Indies to develop trade. Even more hearty was the mutual
agreement of Dutch and Swedes as against the Yankees, when, in 1641, a
party from New Haven entered the river and settled on the Schuylkill and
at Salem on the Delaware. As they had promised, when warned by Kieft,
not to settle or trade in New Netherland, he garrisoned Fort Nassau, and
sent his agent Jansen in an armed ship to deport them. This was accomplished
without bloodshed. So two nations, instead of three, dominated the region.
In the West Indies,
Minuit, while dining on a friends ship, was caught in a storm and
lost his life. In February, 1643, the second Swedish colony arrived, commanded
by Lieutenant-Colonel John Printz, an officer of great activity, but hardly,
if Swedish critics judge aright, of brilliant military reputation. His
avoirdupois was greater than his soldierly record. His weight was four
hundred pounds. He settled Tinicum, building a fort on the island, and
calling the place New Gottenburg, which soon became like a bustling little
city. In 1644 he built Fort Elsingburg on Salem Creek, on the other side
of the river, where for a while the New Haven people had lived. All this
was done in accordance with his orders from home to shut up the river.
Printz ruled over his domain, which extended from the ocean to the falls
where Trenton now is. Even the Dutch were compelled to strike their flag
in passing, and no further settlements by them were permitted.
On the intellectual
side, the Swedes were quite equal to New Englanders or Dutchmen, and the
catechism of the Lutheran Church was the first Protestant book to be translated
into an Indian tongue, being put into Algonquin by the chaplain, Rev.
John Campanius, who served from 1643 to 1649 in his church on Tinicum
Island, which was the first house of worship within the limits of Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the printing of the catechism was delayed until 1696. In
the Lords Prayer, the initial petition, instead of for daily
bread, is for plenty of corn and venison, as best suiting
According to orders
from Manhattan, Andries Hudde, a Dutchman, bought from the Indians in
1642 the site of Philadelphia, and set up a pole, nailing on it the Companys
arms. This Printz removed, tearing up Huddes note of remonstrance
and sending his messenger flying. Others who followed the first came back
bruised and bloody. Yet Governor Kieft, having no force, could do nothing.
Printz built a palisaded house on the Schuylkill; but the Indians, now
opposed to the Swedes, helped Hudde to build Fort Beversvrede.
When Printz sent
twenty men to destroy the Dutch stronghold, the Indians compelled them
to retire. Then, to spite Hudde, Printz built a house right in front of
Fort Nassau, shutting out the view of the river. Hudde was helpless. With
only six men to garrison two forts, many miles apart, he could do nothing.
Stuyvesant at last
found time to attend to Printz and to investigate the claims of Sweden.
He first headed off and turned back another party of fifty poachers in
two ships from New Haven, and then, in July, 1651, started for Fort Nassau
with a retinue and a chaplain, Samuel Megapolensis, son of the elder Domine.
Meeting Printz, he demanded evidences of ownership and documents of sale.
The answer was that these might be in Stockholm, but were not there and
then accessible. Stuyvesant thereupon bought of the sachems all the land
on both sides of the river to the bay, except Fort Christina, which the
Indians had sold to Minuit. Despite the protests of Printz, he built Fort
Casimir on the site of the present Newcastle, four miles below the Swedish
Fort Christina, naming it after his former commander, the Stadtholder
of Friesland, and paying the Indians for the land.
After this Printz,
left without resources, was quiet. Two years later he went back to Sweden,
leaving his daughters husband, Poppegoya, in command. As the Swedish
colonists were not reinforced they were discouraged, until in May, 1654,
Governor Johan Rysingh arrived with two hundred colonists, a force of
soldiers, and a chaplain.
On Trinity Sunday,
1654, the Swedes surprised and captured Fort Casimir, which had no powder
in its magazine, and named it Fort Trinity. Stuyvesant, after reporting
to the Company the infamous surrender, was ordered to retake
the fort and drive out the Swedes. Having an expected attack from New
England to provide for, he postponed his expedition until the warships
King Solomon, Great Christopher, and the Balance, with a French privateer,
the Hope, had come over from Amsterdam. Then on Manhattan the drum beat
for volunteers, and every ship and house furnished men. Three river yachts
joined the little squadron. On the first Sunday in September, after sermon
and worship, the seven vessels, with seven hundred men, probably
one third of all the able-bodied males in New Netherland, and possibly
the largest host of white men yet gathered for war on American soil, moved
down the bay in gala array of flags and streamers. They made a picture
worthy of a painter. Nevertheless, the wily savages did not fail to note
the absence of the fighting men.
On the following
Friday, in the Delaware, a review was held and the building of batteries
begun. By the 25th of September both Swedish forts were in the hands of
the Dutch, by surrender, and without the shedding of a drop of blood.
The Swedish flag was hauled down, and the tricolor of the Republic run
up. The most honorable and generous terms were granted the Swedes. They
could remain as settlers under the Company, or be repatriated.
Nearly all the Swedes
remained in their homes to add their gifts and graces of character to
the building up of the commonwealths which became Delaware, Pennsylvania,
and New Jersey. If they longed for revenge, they had only to wait nine
years, before the English, whom they looked on to redress their wrongs,
hoisted the flag of St. George. Gradually their form of worship and government
The Old Swedes Church at Wecaco in Philadelphia
and Trinity Church at Wilmington became Episcopal and their speech
changed to English. Holy Trinity Church, so rich in the memorials of Old
and New Sweden in Delaware, was rebuilt of brick in 1698, and is probably
the oldest church edifice in continuous use in the United States. Its
historic graveyard includes the site of one of Stuyvesants three-gun
A few Netherlanders
from time to time reinforced their brethren on the South River. The land,
after being quarreled over by the Duke of York and Lord Baltimore, was
purchased by William Penn.
The Dutch settlement
was named New Amstel, after Patrias chief city, on the river of
this name. On his way to Long Island, in 1654, the Rev. Johannes Theodorus
Polhemus, the Swiss ancestor of the great clan of Americans of that name,
stopped at New Amstel. This Domine, long settled in the Palatine, whence
he had been driven out by persecution, had served eighteen years in Brazil.
He organized a Reformed church at New Amstel, and was the first to propose
an association of Dutch American ministers and churches. Then Domine Welius
followed, serving for two years. The congregation called a young man,
Warnerus Hadson, who was duly ordained, but he died on the ocean passage.
Then followed the ever popular Tassemacher, who labored here from 1679
In 1888 our Swedish
fellow citizens in the East and West, who, especially since 1830, have
enriched our national composite with their virtues, energies, and industry,
celebrated the quarter millennial of the first settlement of their countrymen
within the United States.
Small as is the State
of Delaware, it has long and honorable history. Many landings of famous
men and nationalities have been made on its shores, which face the ocean
and a noble bay and river. The Dutch, the Swedes, the Cavalier English,
the Quakers May and Verhulsten, Peter Minuit, George Holmes, and William
Penn, stepped in succession on the soil. The descendants of the original
cosmopolitan population were bitterly opposed to British rule, and were
ready at the Revolution to assert and maintain independence. The regiment
of Continentals raised in the Diamond State the Blue Hens
Chickens made a noble record in battle and campaigns.
To-day the trans-Atlantic
suggestions and survivals in Delaware are Swedish rather than Netherlandish.
At Wilmington, Delawares chief city, and especially in the old Trinity
Church and burying-ground, is this impressively so. Inquiring in one place
for the Dutch colonial documents, I found that many of these papers in
an unknown tongue had long since been used to light office fires. Yet
there were and there are Delaware Dutch, who annually, on
January 23, celebrate ancestral virtues and triumphs with the Netherlands
Society of Philadelphia.
A womans club
for culture and a miniature Holland Society to recover and preserve Dutch
history take their names from Swaanendael. In 1905 the landing-place of
the Dutch in the State of Delaware, the site of Fort Casimir, at New Castle,
built in 1657, was marked by the unveiling of a granite monument, in the
presence of many people from the four Middle States, which now occupy
the area of New Netherland. The Delaware branch of the Society of Colonial
Dames reared this reminder of the republicans who planted the orange,
white, and blue flag on their soil.
It is to the original
settlement of the Dutch on her soil, and to their skillful diplomacy at
the surrender of 1664, that Delaware owes her existence as a separate
state. We shall see, also, that here dwelt the father of modern
socialism, Peter Cornelius Plockhoy, whose English writings during
the Commonwealth, in a later century, inspired the Brook Farm experiment
in New England.