Chronicles of America 

The English Conquest of Delaware

It is a curious fact that the ancestor of the numerous Beekman family in New York, after whom Beekman Street is named, was for a time one of the Dutch governors on the Delaware who afterwards became the sheriff of Esopus, New York. His successor on the Delaware had some thoughts of removing the capital down to Odessa on the Appoquinimink, when an event long dreaded happened. In 1664, war broke out between England and Holland, long rivals in trade and commerce, and all the Dutch possessions in the New World fell an easy prey to English conquerors. A British fleet took possession of New Amsterdam, which surrendered without a struggle. But when two British men of war under Sir Robert Carr appeared before New Amstel on the Delaware, Governor D'Hinoyossa unwisely resisted; and his untenable fort was quickly subdued by a few broadsides and a storming party. This opposition gave the conquering party, according to the custom of the times, the right to plunder; and it must be confessed that the English soldiers made full use of their opportunity. They plundered the town and confiscated the land of prominent citizens for the benefit of the officers of the expedition.

After the English conquest on the Delaware, not a few of the Dutch migrated to Maryland, where their descendants, it is said, are still to be found. Some in later years returned to the Delaware, where on the whole, notwithstanding the early confiscations, English rule seemed to promise well. The very first documents, the terms of surrender both on the Delaware and on the Hudson, breathed an air of Anglo-Saxon freedom. Everybody was at liberty to come and go at will. Hollanders could migrate to the Delaware or to New York as much as before. The Dutch soldiers in the country, if they wished to remain, were to have fifty acres of land apiece. This generous settlement seemed in striking contrast to the pinching, narrow interference with trade and individual rights, the seizures and confiscations for private gain, all under pretense of punishment, bad enough on the Delaware but worse at New Amsterdam, which had characterized the rule of the Dutch.

The Duke of York, to whom Delaware was given, introduced trial by jury, settled private titles, and left undisturbed the religion and local customs of the people. But the political rule of the Duke was absolute as became a Stuart. He arbitrarily taxed exports and imports. Executive, judicial, and legislative powers were all vested in his deputy governor at New York or in creatures appointed and controlled by him. It was the sort of government the Duke hoped to impose upon all Great Britain when he should come to the throne, and he was trying his 'prentice hand in the colonies. A political rebellion against this despotism was started on the Delaware by a man named Konigsmarke, or the Long Finn, aided by an Englishman, Henry Coleman. They were captured and tried for treason, their property was confiscated, and the Long Finn branded with the letter R, and sold as a slave in the Barbados. They might be called the first martyrs to foreshadow the English Revolution of 1688 which ended forever the despotic reign of the Stuarts.

The Swedes continued to form the main body of people on the Delaware under the regime of the Duke of York, and at the time when William Penn took possession of the country in 1682 their settlements extended from New Castle up through Christina, Marcus Hook, Upland (now Chester), Tinicum, Kingsessing in the modern West Philadelphia, Passyunk, Wicaco, both in modern Philadelphia, and as far up the river as Frankford and Pennypack. They had their churches at Christina, Tinicum, Kingsessing, and Wicaco. The last, when absorbed by Philadelphia, was a pretty little hamlet on the river shore, its farms belonging to a Swedish family called Swanson whose name is now borne by one of the city's streets. Across the river in New Jersey, opposite Chester, the Swedes had settlements on Raccoon Creek and round Swedesboro. These river settlements constituted an interesting and from all accounts a very attractive Scandinavian community. Their strongest bond of union seems to have been their interest in their Lutheran churches on the river. They spread very little into the interior, made few roads, and lived almost exclusively on the river or on its navigable tributaries. One reason they gave for this preference was that it was easier to reach the different churches by boat.

There were only about a thousand Swedes along the Delaware and possibly five hundred of Dutch and mixed blood, together with a few English, all living a life of abundance on a fine river amid pleasing scenery, with good supplies of fish and game, a fertile soil, and a wilderness of opportunity to the west of them. All were well pleased to be relieved from the stagnant despotism of the Duke of York and to take part in the free popular government of William Penn in Pennsylvania. They became magistrates and officials, members of the council and of the legislature. They soon found that all their avenues of trade and life were quickened. They passed from mere farmers supplying their own needs to exporters of the products of their farms.

Descendants of the Swedes and Dutch still form the basis of the population of Delaware.* There were some Finns at Marcus Hook, which was called Finland; and it may be noted in passing that there were not a few French among the Dutch, as among the Germans in Pennsylvania, Huguenots who had fled from religious persecution in France. The name Jaquette, well known in Delaware, marks one of these families, whose immigrant ancestor was one of the Dutch governors. In the ten or dozen generations since the English conquest intermarriage has in many instances inextricably mixed up Swede, Dutch, and French, as well as the English stock, so that many persons with Dutch names are of Swedish or French descent and vice versa, and some with English names like Oldham are of Dutch descent. There has been apparently much more intermarriage among the different nationalities in the province and less standing aloof than among the alien divisions of Pennsylvania.

* Swedish names anglicized are now found everywhere. Gostafsson has become Justison and Justis. Bond has become Boon; Hoppman, Hoffman; Kalsberg, Colesberry; Wihler, Wheeler; Joccom, Yocum; Dahlbo, Dalbow; Konigh, King; Kyn, Keen; and so on. Then there are also such names as Wallraven, Hendrickson, Stedham, Peterson, Matson, Talley, Anderson, and the omnipresent Rambo, which have suffered little, if any, change. Dutch names are also numerous, such as Lockermans, Vandever, Van Dyke, Vangezel, Vandegrift, Alricks, Statts, Van Zandt, Hyatt, Cochran (originally Kolchman), Vance, and Blackstone (originally Blackenstein).

After the English conquest some Irish Presbyterians or Scotch-Irish entered Delaware. Finally came the Quakers, comparatively few in colonial times but more numerous after the Revolution, especially in Wilmington and its neighborhood. True to their characteristics, they left descendants who have become the most prominent and useful citizens down into our own time. At present Wilmington has become almost as distinctive a Quaker town as Philadelphia. "Thee" and "thou" are frequently heard in the streets, and a surprisingly large proportion of the people of prominence and importance are Quakers or of Quaker descent. Many of the neat and pleasant characteristics of the town are distinctly of Quaker origin; and these characteristics are found wherever Quaker influence prevails.

Wilmington was founded about 1731 by Thomas Willing, an Englishman, who had married into the Swedish family of Justison. He laid out a few streets on his wife's land on the hill behind the site of old Fort Christina, in close imitation of the plan of Philadelphia, and from that small beginning the present city grew, and was at first called Willingtown.* William Shipley, a Pennsylvania Quaker born in England, bought land in it in 1735, and having more capital than Willing, pushed the fortunes of the town more rapidly. He probably had not a little to do with bringing Quakers to Wilmington; indeed, their first meetings were held in a house belonging to him until they could build a meeting house of their own in 1738.

* Some years later in a borough charter granted by Penn, the name was changed to Wilmington in honor of the Earl of Wilmington.

Both Shipley and Willing had been impressed with the natural beauty of the situation, the wide view over the level moorland and green marsh and across the broad river to the Jersey shore, as well as by the natural conveniences of the place for trade and commerce. Wilmington has ever since profited by its excellent situation, with the level moorland for industry, the river for traffic, and the first terraces or hills of the Piedmont for residence; and, for scenery, the Brandywine tumbling through rocks and bowlders in a long series of rapids.

The custom still surviving in Wilmington of punishing certain classes of criminals by whipping appears to have originated in the days of Willing and Shipley, about the year 1740, when a cage, stocks, and whipping-post were erected. They were placed in the most conspicuous part of the town, and there the culprit, in addition to his legal punishment, was also disciplined at the discretion of passers-by with rotten eggs and other equally potent encouragements to reform. These gratuitous inflictions, not mentioned in the statute, as well as the public exhibition of the prisoner were abolished in later times and in this modified form the method of correction was extended to the two other counties. Sometimes a cat-o'nine-tails was used, sometimes a rawhide whip, and sometimes a switch cut from a tree. Nowadays, however, all the whipping for the State is done in Wilmington, where all prisoners sentenced to whipping in the State are sent. This punishment is found to be so efficacious that its infliction a second time on the same person is exceedingly rare.

The most striking relic of the old Swedish days in Wilmington is the brick and stone church of good proportions and no small beauty, and today one of the very ancient relics of America. It was built by the Swedes in 1698 to replace their old wooden church, which was on the lower land, and the Swedish language was used in the services down to the year 1800, when the building was turned over to the Church of England. Old Peter Minuit, the first Swedish governor, may possibly have been buried there. The Swedes built another pretty chapel--Gloria Dei, as it was called--at the village of Wicaco, on the shore of the Delaware where Philadelphia afterwards was established. The original building was taken down in 1700, and the present one was erected on its site partly with materials from the church at Tinicum. It remained Swedish Lutheran until 1831, when, like all the Swedish chapels, it became the property of the Church of England, between which and the Swedish Lutheran body there was a close affinity, if not in doctrine, at least in episcopal organization.* The old brick church dating from 1740, on the main street of Wilmington, is an interesting relic of the colonial Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in Delaware, and is now carefully preserved as the home of the Historical Society.

* Clay's "Annals of the Swedes", pp. 143, 153-4.

After Delaware had been eighteen years under the Duke of York, William Penn felt a need of the west side of the river all the way down to the sea to strengthen his ownership of Pennsylvania. He also wanted to offset the ambitions of Lord Baltimore to extend Maryland northward. Penn accordingly persuaded his friend James, the Duke of York, to give him a grant of Delaware, which Penn thereupon annexed to Pennsylvania under the name of the Territories or Three Lower Counties. The three counties, New Castle, Kent, and Sussex,* are still the counties of Delaware, each one extending across the State and filling its whole length from the hills of the Brandywine on the Pennsylvania border to the sands of Sussex at Cape Henlopen. The term "Territory" has ever since been used in America to describe an outlying province not yet given the privileges of a State. Instead of townships, the three Delaware counties were divided into "hundreds," an old Anglo-Saxon county method of division going back beyond the times of Alfred the Great. Delaware is the only State in the Union that retains this name for county divisions. The Three Lower Counties were allowed to send representatives to the Pennsylvania Assembly; and the Quakers of Delaware have always been part of the Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia.

* The original names were New Castle, Jones's, and Hoerekill, as it was called by the Dutch, or Deal.

In 1703, after having been a part of Pennsylvania for twenty years, the Three Lower Counties were given home rule and a legislature of their own; but they remained under the Governor of Pennsylvania until the Revolution of 1776. They then became an entirely separate community and one of the thirteen original States. Delaware was the first State to adopt the National Constitution, and Rhode Island, its fellow small State, the last. Having been first to adopt the Constitution, the people of Delaware claim that on all national occasions or ceremonies they are entitled to the privilege of precedence. They have every reason to be proud of the representative men they sent to the Continental Congress, and to the Senate in later times. Agriculture has, of course, always been the principal occupation on the level fertile land of Delaware; and it is agriculture of a high class, for the soil, especially in certain localities, is particularly adapted to wheat, corn, and timothy grass, as well as small fruits. That section of land crossing the State in the region of Delaware City and Middleton is one of the show regions in America, for crops of wheat and corn. Farther south, grain growing is combined with small fruits and vegetables with a success seldom attained elsewhere. Agriculturally there is no division of land of similar size quite equal to Delaware in fertility. Its sand and gravel base with vegetable mold above is somewhat like the southern Jersey formation, but it is more productive from having a larger deposit of decayed vegetation.

The people of Delaware have, indeed, very little land that is not tillable. The problems of poverty, crowding, great cities, and excessive wealth in few hands are practically unknown among them. The foreign commerce of Wilmington began in 1740 with the building of a brig named after the town, and was continued successfully for a hundred years. At Wilmington there has always been a strong manufacturing interest, beginning with the famous colonial flour mills at the falls of the Brandywine, and the breadstuffs industry at Newport on the Christina. With the Brandywine so admirably suited to the water-power machinery of those days and the Christina deep enough for the ships, Wilmington seemed in colonial times to possess an ideal combination of advantages for manufacturing and commerce. The flour mills were followed in 1802 by the Du Pont Powder Works, which are known all over the world, and which furnished powder for all American wars since the Revolution, for the Crimean War in Europe, and for the Allies in the Great War.

"From the hills of Brandywine to the sands of Sussex" is an expression the people of Delaware use to indicate the whole length of their little State. The beautiful cluster of hills at the northern end dropping into park-like pastures along the shores of the rippling Red Clay and White Clay creeks which form the deep Christina with its border of green reedy marshes, is in striking contrast to the wild waste of sands at Cape Henlopen. Yet in one way the Brandywine Hills are closely connected with those sands, for from these very hills have been quarried the hard rocks for the great breakwater at the Cape, behind which the fleets of merchant vessels take refuge in storms.

The great sand dunes behind the lighthouse at the cape have their equal nowhere else on the coast. Blown by the ocean winds, the dunes work inland, overwhelming a pine forest to the tree tops and filling swamps in their course. The beach is strewn with every type of wreckage of man's vain attempts to conquer the sea. The Life Saving Service men have strange tales to tell and show their collections of coins found along the sand. The old pilots live snugly in their neat houses in Pilot Row, waiting their turns to take the great ships up through the shoals and sands which were so baffling to Henry Hudson and his mate one hot August day of the year 1609.

The Indians of the northern part of Delaware are said to have been mostly Minquas who lived along the Christiana and Brandywine, and are supposed to have had a fort on Iron Hill. The rest of the State was inhabited by the Nanticokes, who extended their habitations far down the peninsula, where a river is named after them. They were a division or clan of the Delawares or Leni Lenapes. In the early days they gave some trouble; but shortly before the Revolution all left the peninsula in strange and dramatic fashion. Digging up the bones of their dead chiefs in 1748, they bore them away to new abodes in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. Some appear to have traveled by land up the Delaware to the Lehigh, which they followed to its source not far from the Wyoming Valley. Others went in canoes, starting far down the peninsula at the Nanticoke River and following along the wild shore of the Chesapeake to the Susquehanna, up which they went by its eastern branch straight into the Wyoming Valley. It was a grand canoe trip--a weird procession of tawny, black-haired fellows swinging their paddles day after day, with their freight of ancient bones, leaving the sunny fishing grounds of the Nanticoke and the Choptank to seek a refuge from the detested white man in the cold mountains of Pennsylvania.

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