Area History

Kalmar Nyckel Full SailThe Delaware Valley's earliest permanent Old World settlement began here in 1638 when the Kalmar Nyckel, a Swedish warship, landed at "The Rocks," a natural wharf in the Minquas Kill (soon renamed the Christina River). On March 29, settlers under the command of Peter Minuit, former Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, met with local Lenni Lenape chiefs, signed a treaty, and founded the Colony of New Sweden. The Europeans gained rights to the land along the western bank of the Delaware River, approximately 30 miles north and south of the mouth of the Minquas Kill. The same day, they began construction of Fort Christina, which included the first two log cabins in the New World, a form of architecture used in Finland.

[Read America's Forgotten Swedish Colony at]

Today, you can turn the clock back by visiting that spot - Fort Christina State Park - and sail on board the full-size recreation of the 139-foot KALMAR NYCKEL, replete with ornate carving typical of 17th-century ships, seven working cannons and masts that reach 10 stories into the sky! The Kalmar Nyckel made a total of four documented round-trip Atlantic crossings, more than any other "settlers ship" of the period.

Agriculture and fur trading with Native American trappers were our first industries. By the end of the 1600s, the Brandywine Village had been established upstream along the swift-flowing Brandywine River, with mills for grinding corn and wheat. With our fertile land, abundant forests, and well-protected access to the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean, we became a center of milling, distribution and shipbuilding. "Brandywine Super Fine Flour" was famous throughout the Colonies, into the Caribbean and across the Atlantic to Europe.

New Sweden passed to Dutch and then to English control (1655) and finally became part of William Penn's Pennsylvania Colony (1681). Known as the three "Lower Counties of Pennsylvania," we established our own legislature in 1704, with the appointed governor of Pennsylvania simultaneously serving as governor of Delaware.

In 1731, about a mile upstream from the New Sweden/Fort Christina settlement, Thomas Willing laid out along the Christina River what he called "Willingtown." Soon Willing's influence was challenged by other settlers and the town was chartered by the Crown in 1739 as WILMINGTON, in honor of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, Lord President of King George II's Privy Council.

On June 15, 1776, Delaware declared independence from England and on July 2nd our Caesar Rodney cast the deciding vote that made the struggle of the 13 colonies unanimous.

After the war's end (1781) and the failure of the Articles of Confederation as America's first attempt at national governance, the new U.S. Constitution was written (1787). Delaware was the first state to ratify it (December 7, 1787) and, thus, became the First State of the brand new United States of America.

In the 1780s and '90s, paper and cotton mills were added to the Brandywine Village's existing flour mills. Fleeing the excesses of the French Revolution, E. I. du Pont de Nemours settled here in 1802, purchased the "HAGLEY" property along the Brandywine and opened his black powder "manufactory." From 1802 to 1921 these and other local mills produced gun and blasting powder for America's hunters, soldiers and construction projects, including the War of 1812, the Mexican War (1846-48), the Civil War (1861-65), the Transcontinental Railroad, the Spanish-American War (1898), and the Panama Canal.

With the advent of railroads in the 1830s our area became a major producer of fine passenger cars (including those you still ride on the narrow gauge Durango & Silverton in Colorado). That heritage continues today with Amtrak's National Operations Center and National Training Center located here, along with extensive passenger car and locomotive maintenance facilities.

Early in the 20th century, a business-friendly operating climate began to influence businesses to incorporate in Delaware. Today, the majority of Fortune 500 corporations are incorporated in The First State and the decisions of our state Court of Chancery wield national and international influence - a most unusual situation for a state-level court.

Fur trading, agriculture and milling, gunpowder and chemistry, ship and railroad car manufacture, modern electronic banking ... all have played starring roles in how we got to be the way we are! They form the foundation of our wealth of regionally, nationally and internationally recognized educational institutions and cultural attractions.