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New Sweden ( , ) was a Swedishmarker colony along the Delaware River on the Mid-Atlantic coast of North America from 1638 to 1655. It was centered at Fort Christinamarker, now in Wilmingtonmarker, Delawaremarker, and included parts of the present-day Americanmarker states of Delawaremarker, New Yorkmarker, New Jerseymarker, and Pennsylvaniamarker. Along with Swedes and Finns, a number of the settlers were Dutch. Some Germans also came to the colony as soldiers in the Swedish army.


The relative locations of New Netherland and New Sweden in eastern North America.
By the middle of the 17th century, the Realm of Sweden had reached its greatest territorial extent and was one of the great powers of Europe. Sweden then included Finland and Estoniamarker along with parts of modern Russia, Polandmarker, Germany and Latviamarker. The Swedes sought to expand their influence by creating an agricultural (tobacco) and fur-trading colony to bypass Frenchmarker and Britishmarker merchants. The New Sweden Company was chartered and included Swedish, Dutch and German stockholders.

The first Swedish expedition to North America embarked from the port of Gothenburgmarker in late 1637. It was organized and overseen by Clas Fleming, a Swedish Admiral from Finlandmarker. A Dutchman, Samuel Blommaert, assisted the fitting-out and appointed Peter Minuit to lead the expedition. The members of the expedition, aboard the ships Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel, sailed into Delaware Baymarker, which lay within the territory claimed by the Dutchmarker, passing Cape Maymarker and Cape Henlopenmarker in late March 1638, and anchored at a rocky point on the Minquas Kill that is known today as Swedes' Landing on March 29, 1638. They built a fort on the present site of the city of Wilmingtonmarker, which they named Fort Christinamarker, after Queen Christina of Sweden.

In the following years, 600 Swedes and Finns, the latter group mainly Forest Finns from central Sweden (and also a number of Dutchmen and Germans in Swedish service) settled in the area. The settlement constituted an invasion of New Netherland, since the river and the land in question had previously been explored and claimed for that colony.

Peter Minuit was to become the first governor of the newly established colony of New Sweden. Having been the Director of the Dutch West India Company, and the predecessor of then-Director William Kieft, Minuit knew the status of the lands on either side of the Delaware River at that time. He knew that the Dutch had established deeds for the lands east of the river (New Jerseymarker), but not for the lands to the west (Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania).This was mainly stationed in Delaware.

Minuit made good on his appointment by landing on the west bank of the river and gathered the sachems of the local Delawares tribe. Sachems of the Susquehannocks were also present. They held a conclave in his cabin on the Kalmar Nyckel, and persuaded the sachems to sign some deeds he had prepared for the purpose to solve any issue with the Dutch. This deed has not survived. The Swedes said the segment of land purchased included the land on the west side of the South River from just below the Schuylkill; in other words, today's Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker, southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. The Delaware sachem Mattahorn, who was one of the participants in the transaction, stated that only as much land as was contained within "six trees" was purchased and the rest of the land occupied by the Swedes was stolen.

Director Kieft objected to the landing of the Swedes, but Minuit ignored his missive because he knew that the Dutch were militarily impotent at the moment. Minuit finished Fort Christina during 1638, then departed to return to Stockholmmarker for a second load, and made a side trip to the Caribbeanmarker to pick up a shipment of tobacco for resale in Europe to make the voyage profitable. Minuit died while on this voyage during a hurricane at St. Christophermarker in the Caribbean. The official duties of the first governor of New Sweden were carried out by Lieutenant (then raised to the rank of Captain) Måns Nilsson Kling, until the next governor was chosen and brought in from the mainland Sweden, two years later.

Under Johan Björnsson Printz (governor from 1643 until 1653), the company expanded along the river from Fort Christina, establishing Fort Nya Elfsborg on the east bank of the Delaware near present-day Salem, New Jerseymarker and Fort Nya Gothenborg on Tinicum Island (to the immediate Southwest of today's Philadelphia), where he also built his own manor house which he called The Printzhofmarker. Under his rule the Swedish colony initially prospered. In 1644, New Sweden supported the Susquehannocks in their victory in a war against the English Province of Maryland. In May 1654, the Dutch Fort Casimir was captured by soldiers from the New Sweden colony led by governor Johan Risingh. The fort was taken without a fight because its garrison had no gunpowder, and the fort was renamed Fort Trinity (in Swedish, Trefaldigheten).

As reprisal, the Dutch — led by governor Peter Stuyvesant — moved an army to the Delaware River in the late summer of 1655, leading to the immediate surrender of Fort Trinity and Fort Christina. Thus the settlement was incorporated into Dutchmarker New Netherland on September 15, 1655. The Swedish and Finnish settlers continued to enjoy a degree of local autonomy, having their own militia, religion, court, and lands.

This status lasted officially until the Englishmarker conquest of the New Netherland colony was launched on June 24, 1664, when the Duke of York sold the area that is today New Jerseymarker to John Berkeley and George Carteret for a proprietary colony, separate from the projected New Yorkmarker. The actual invasion started on August 29, 1664 with the capture of New Amsterdam. The invasion continued, and was concluded with the capture of Fort Casimir (New Castle, Delawaremarker) in October 1664. The invasion was one of the things that was contested in the start of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

The status continued unofficially until the area was included in William Penn's charter for Pennsylvania, on August 24, 1682. During this later period some immigration and expansion continued. The first settlement at Wicaco, a Swedish settlers' log blockhouse located below Society Hill, was built in Philadelphia in 1669. It was later used as a church until about 1700, when the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes Church) of Philadelphia was built on the site.

Hoarkill, New Amstel, and Upland

The start of the Third Anglo-Dutch War resulted in the recapture of New Netherland by the Dutch in August 1673. The Dutch restored the status that pre-dated the British invasion, and codified it in the establishment of three Counties in what had been New Sweden. They were Hoarkill County, which today is Sussex County, Delawaremarker; New Amstel County, which is today New Castle County, Delawaremarker; and Upland County, which was later partitioned between New Castle County, Delawaremarker and the new Colony of Pennsylvaniamarker. The three counties were created on September 12, 1673, the first two on the west shore of the Delaware River, and the third on both sides of the river.

The signing of the Treaty of Westminster of 1674 ended the Dutch effort, and required them to return all of New Netherland to the British, including the three counties they created. That handover took place on June 29, 1674

After taking stock, the British declared on November 11, 1674 that settlements on the west side of the Delaware River and Delaware Baymarker (in present day Delawaremarker and Pennsylvaniamarker) to be dependent on the Colony of New Yorkmarker, including the three Counties. This declaration was followed on November 11 by a new declaration that renamed New Amstel as New Castlemarker. The other counties retained their Dutch names for the duration.

The next step in the assimilation of New Sweden into New York was the extension of the Duke’s laws into the region. This took place on September 22, 1676 . This was followed by the partitioning of the Counties to conform to the borders of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The first move was to partition Upland between Delaware and Pennsylvania, with most of the Delaware portion going to New Castle County. This was accomplished on November 12, 1678 The remainder of Upland continued in place under the same name.

On June 21, 1680, New Castle and Hoarkill Counties were partitioned to produce St. Jones County

On March 4, 1681 what had been the colony of New Sweden was formally partitioned into the colonies of Delaware and Pennsylvania. The border was established 12 miles north of New Castlemarker, and the northern limit of Pennsylvania was set at 42 degrees north latitude. The eastern limit was the current border with New Jersey at the Delaware River, while the western limit was undefined. Pennsylvania immediately started to reorganize the lands of the former New Sweden within the limits of Pennsylvania. In June of 1681, Upland ceased to exist as the result of the reorganization of the Colony of Pennsylvaniamarker, with the Upland government becoming the government of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

On August 24, 1682, the Duke of York transferred the western Delaware River region, including modern day Delaware to William Penn, thus transferring Dealemarker and St. Jonesmarker from New Yorkmarker to Delawaremarker. St. Jones County was renamed as Kent Countymarker; Deale County was renamed Sussex Countymarker; New Castle County retained its name.

Significance and legacy

Founding of Wilmington.
The historian H. Arnold Barton has suggested that the greatest significance of New Sweden was the strong and long-lasting interest in North America that the colony generated in Sweden.

America was seen as the standard-bearer of enlightenment and freedom, and became the ideal of liberal Swedes. Admiration for America was combined with the notion of a past Swedish Golden Age, whose ancient Nordic ideals had supposedly been corrupted by foreign influences.Recovering the purity of these timeless values in the New World was a fundamental theme of Swedish, and later Swedish-American, discussion of America.

Since the imaginary Golden Age answered to shifting needs and ideals, the "timeless values" varied over time, and so did the Swedish idea of the new land. In the 17th and 18th centuries, North America stood for the rights of conscience and religious freedom.

In the political turmoil of 19th-century Europe, the focus of interest shifted to American respect for honest toil and to the virtues of republican government. In the early 20th century, the Swedish-American dream even embraced the welfare state ideal of a society responsible for the well-being of all its citizens. By contrast, America became later in the 20th century the symbol and dream of ultimate individualism.

Major Swedish immigration to the United States did not occur until the late 19th century. From 1870-1910, over one million Swedes arrived, settling particularly in Minnesotamarker and other states of the Upper Midwest. With the exceptions of Germanymarker, Irelandmarker and Norwaymarker, no other European country has had a higher percentage of its population move to North America.

Traces of New Sweden persist in the Delaware Valley to this day, including Holy Trinity Churchmarker in Wilmington, Gloria Dei Church in Philadelphia, and Trinity Episcopal Churchmarker in Swedesboro, New Jerseymarker, all commonly known as "Old Swedes' Church".

Perhaps the greatest contribution of New Sweden to the development of the New World is one that is not even thought of as Swedish. The colonists brought with them the log cabin, which became such an icon of the American frontier that it is thought of as an American structure.

Finnish influence

The colonists came from all over the Swedish realm. The percentage of the Finns in New Sweden grew especially towards the end of the colonization. The year 1664 saw the arrival of a contingent of 140 Finns. In 1655, when the ship Mercurius sailed to the colony 92 of the 106 passengers were listed as Finns. Memory of the early Finnish settlement lived on in place names near the Delaware River such as Finland (Marcus Hook), Torne, Lapland, Finns Point and Mullica.

A portion of them were known as Forest Finns, people of Finnish descent living in the forest areas of Central Sweden. The Forest Finns had principally immigrated from Savonia in Eastern Finland to Dalarnamarker, Bergslagen and other province in central Sweden during the late 16th and early to mid 17th centuries. Their relocation had started as part of an effort by Swedish king Gustav Vasa, to expand agriculture to these uninhabited parts of the country. The Finns in Savolax traditionally farmed with a slash-and-burn method which suited better for pioneering agriculture in vast forest areas. It is notable that this was the method used in farming by the native Indians of Delaware as well.


Permanent settlements

Rivers and creeks


See also


  • Barton, H. Arnold (1994). A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840—1940. (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis).
  • Jennings, Francis, (1984) The Ambiguous Iroquois, (New York: Norton) ISBN 0393017192
  • Johnson, Amandus (1927) The Swedes on the Delaware (International Printing Company, Philadelphia)
  • Munroe, John A. (1977) Colonial Delaware (Delaware Heritage Press, Wilmington)
  • Shorto, Russell (2004) The Island at the Center of the World (Doubleday, New York ) ISBN 0-385-50349-0
  • Weslager, C.A. (1990) A Man and his Ship, Peter Minuet and the Kalmar Nyckel (Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, Wilmington ) ISBN 0-9625563-1-9
  • Weslager, C. A. (1988) New Sweden on the Delaware 1638-1655 (The Middle Atlantic Press, Wilmington ) ISBN 0-912608-65-X
  • Weslager, C. A.(1987) The Swedes and Dutch at New Castle (The Middle Atlantic Press, Wilmington) ISBN 0-912608-50-1

Additional Reading

  • Mickley, Joseph J. Some Account of William Usselinx and Peter Minuit: Two individuals who were instrumental in establishing the first permanent colony in Delaware (The Historical Society of Delaware. 1881)
  • Jameson, J. Franklin Willem Usselinx: Founder of the Dutch and Swedish West India Companies (G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1887)
  • Myers, Albert Cook, ed. Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey, and Delaware, 1630-1707. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912)
  • Ward, Christopher Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware, 1609- 1664 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1930)

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