Before the European settlers discovered Delaware, the land was occupied by Native American tribes. Lenape were one of the tribes who predominately stayed in Delaware valley. It is not documented when the Lenape tribe came to Delaware Valley but some historians who have been able to work the history of non-Indian settlers have traced the reference of their existence in fifteenth century. But it is possible that the tribe might have come centuries before these European explorations began. A reference to the tribe can be found in the works of Giovanni Da Verrazano, famous Italian explorer who tried to kidnap some members of Lenape tribes.
It was William Penn who had received the island as gift from British crown who achieved the friendship of tribe when he made the deal for peaceful settlement in the state. During his life time there were around 10,000 and 12,000 Lenape Indians in Delaware Valley. There were around 30 to 40 communities of Indians settled in the valley. But by mid-eighteenth century the number of tribes had dwindled greatly due to susceptibility to infectious disease and warfare between tribes. Currently most of the tribe members stay on reservation in Oklahoma and in Ontario, Canada.
The tribe is said to belong to Algonkian language group. The name itself means Ordinary people. The tribe stayed on riverbank of Delaware valley which they called “Lenapewihittuk,” which means River of the Lenape.
The original settlers of the valley were gentle folks, somewhat curious but shy and were non aggressive and non-interested in warfare and acquiring lands or increasing their political influence. They were peace living and tried to maintain harmony with others. They were great believers in Great Spirit or Great Manito which they considered to be present in all living beings. They had deep respect for nature and environment and the tribes lived a simple life and were generally content.
One of the feature about the tribe is the authority was non-central and both elders in tribe and chief shared the task of making decision. They had no affiliations with other tribes except the land they shared. This was one of the reasons why they got into troubles when they made treaties with European settlers which were not shared with other tribes.
There are three division of Lenape based on their totem symbols and dialect.
Minsi, whose totem is wolf, lived in upper Delaware. The famous known village is Minisink which can be found in eastern bank of Delaware Water Gap. They were different than others as they were more involved in warfare than others.
Unami, whose totem is turtle, lived in what is known today as Bucks county in PA. The famous village is located at Shackamaxo. The tribal chief was one of the most respected Lenape chief.
Unalachtigo, whose totem is turkey, lived near oceans and lived mostly in area which is today’s Wilmington and New Jersey.
One of the greatest points of between Lenape and Europeans was that they thought the land to be free and not a commodity. They were mostly migratory and were even hunters and fishermen before they became farmers.
Lenape men and women shared the duties. The tribe is also known to be of matrilineal descent where women had lion shares of respect as the line was passed through mother’s side rather than father’s side. There was no concept of corporal punishment and children were rarely punished.
Lenape tribe used animal pelts, feather and animal fibers to make clothing. They were also known to paint their faces during festivals and ceremonial dances. The habit of tattooing is seen in both the sexes. They lived in small houses built around Long House that was used as meeting house during tribal functions. The lodging was known as Sweat Lodge as there were separate lodges for men and women. Their houses were rarely fortified. They mostly liked to travel by land but used birch bark canoes to cross the river.
After relatively peaceful existence, the tribe left the state in late 1600 after receiving much abuse from Iroquois tribe members and European settlers. Not much is documented regarding the tribe since the tribe had no written language.
If you are planning to visit Delaware and you are history buff, you are in luck. The state is steeped with rich history and culture. The state was the first one to declare its allegiance to independent United States and hence is one of the 13 colonies that were placed in form of stripes and stars on first flag of United State. The flag that was said to have made its first appearance in battle on Coor’s Bridge.
There is Delaware Memorial Bridge which is considered to be one of the longest twin set of span suspension bridge which was built in memory of those who fell in battle in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War and who came from states of New Jersey and Delaware. The sheer pleasure of the travel across the bridge and vista that it provides is enough to make the trip worthwhile. There is some toll that has to paid which used by Delaware authority to maintain the bridge.
If you are into nautical history, do not miss the opportunity to visit Kalmar NycKel, also called the tallest ship of Delaware. The ship was used by Swedish between 1637-1638 to cross the seas and enter the port of Delaware. Visitors can feel the history come to live while they walk on the deck or they can shop around the harbor. While the ship is docked in Delaware, there is a chance the ship could be moving across the country. Call them before you plan to visit it.
There is Barratt’s Chapel which is heritage landmark or visit Wilmington and Western Railroad which provides a ride on ancient steam driven train through the breath taking Red clay Valley area. There is Cooch’s Bridge where historical war against British was fought. Or visit the Amstel House that was built by John Finney, where some of the original signers of American Declaration of Independence stayed.
If you are planning to be outdoors and walking down the trails, you can go visit Fort Delaware State Park. This civil War era fortress was prison to around 30,000 Confederate, Federal and political prisoners during the war. If you had enough of history, go visit Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge which is one of the largest mass of tidal salt marsh in the cross-Atlantic region. Or go visit Cape Henlopen State Park where you have choice of swimming or trekking across 3 mile long trail on the park. You can also take Jolly Trolley on Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach which has been in use since 1970. You can even take Cape May – Lewes ferry that binds New Jersey and Delaware.
Not everything you do in Delaware has to be historical or sport driven. Delaware is shopping haven for the shop-alcoholics who will find gems of stores hidden in the state. And best news is shopping is tax free. You can visit the Tanger outlet or walk on Riverfront in Wilmington who boasts of having marvelous harbor shopping area where you can walk on the bridge breathing the river air and shop.
Apart from the places that you can visit in the state, it also provides you with affordable rentals if you plan to visit the neighboring states. A noticeable important distinction when one considers the geographical proximity that this state shares with some of the more expensive states that boast popular tourist attraction. You can use this state as base while visiting neighboring states.
Delaware is sandwiched between some of the most popular destination in United State of America. There is Maryland in the south which houses the capital and is home to some of famous museums and buildings including White House. On the side there is Pennsylvania which is home to Elmo, Hershey and many more. And in the north is New Jersey with its beaches and Atlantic City entertainment. Delaware will help provide you with fun filled vacation.
Delaware has proud distinction of having long and glorious history. On Dec 7, 1787, Delaware became part of newly independent United States, thereby earning the distinction of becoming the first state of the country. It occurred after Americans who had once been British colonist declared themselves to be independent of British rule in 1776, with Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular notion, Delaware is not an Indian name. The state is named after Sir Thomas West, who was third lord of De LA Warr and first governor of Virginia by Captain Samuel Argail. The governor was said to be unimpressed by his name sake state and did not visit it in his life time. But the state remained named as Delaware.
The recorded history of the state starts with the visit of Giovanni Da Verrazano, Italian navigator who worked for France. His name is immortalized today by Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn in New York City at The Narrows. The bridge is currently used by millions of people and was once considered to be longest span bridge in the world. The navigator was said to have entered the country through New York harbor where he met Lenape, a friendly Indian tribes who were resident of the Delaware region. The tribe was curious and friendly and would have remained the same except when he tried to kidnap few members. To say the least the tribe was not all that pleased by this attempt.
Various attempts were made in the next few years to enslave the tribe members who learned to stay away from European ships and Europeans whom they had dubbed as “Swannuken” or salt water people. The next European who was designated to make official contact with Lenape was Henry Hudson who had been employed by Dutch East India Company. The year was 1609 and the company was trying to explore Delaware Bay in search of Northwest Passage. Rather than making attempt to search for the passage, he continued along the New Jersey coast towards mouth of Hudson River where his journey ended.
It is said that Dutch were first Europeans to establish colony in Delaware by establishing port near Lewes in 1631 but were most of the settlers were killed by Indian tribes. It was then captured by Swedish, in 1638, and they opened a Swedish trading post and colony called New Sweden at Fort Christina which is now in Wilmington. 1651 saw resurgence of Dutch under leadership of Peter Stuyvesant but were ultimately captured by British troops in 1664.
It was in 1682, Delaware was separated from Pennsylvania by border line drawn when the land was granted to William Penn by Charles II. William Penn had gained notoriety for his Quaker beliefs. In what is termed, “the one treaty that white did not break” as described by Voltaire, the treaty was signed between Penn and Lenape. Penn who had acquired Pennsylvania and Delaware established a single general assembly for two states. This later proved to be cause of dissent between the heirs of Penn and Lord Baltimore who owned land in Pennsylvania.
Under the rule of William Penn, trading began between Delaware and British which fostered good relation between two nations. This amicable relation between British and Delaware started souring when the traders from Delaware realized that there was dependency on Pennsylvania who was big and held more power in eyes of British. Also there was the dissentious relation between the heirs of two states which led to even bitter relations. By 1775, the wave of Independence was moving across the country and Delaware was caught in its spell.
It was in year 1638 that a handful of Europeans sailed from Sweden to New World in search of better place to live and established a living colony in Delaware Valley in present day Wilmington, Delaware. The ship that carried them was Kalmar Nyckel and today in its honor a namesake has been built that is exact replica of original ship. The original ship was said to have made four round trips between 1637-1638, much more than any other ships in those days. There were 24 members who crossed in the maiden voyage to United States, people of Finnish, Swedish, Dutch and German descent who then made their home in the valley. They were eventually joined by black freedman who had sailed in ship Fogel Grip.
The original ship was said to be remarkable ship and was jewel of Swedish navy. It was said to be heavily armed and could hold large cargo. And it was nimble and was easy to maneuver than other large ships that were of same size. It was part of Swedish dream to become a great colonial power. At the time of first voyage that ship took, King Gustavus Adolphus II who was king of Sweden had earned nickname of Lion of North for his military power and country was aspiring to spread its wings throughout the world. He had already captured some part of Europe including Finland and significant portion of Germany, Russia and Poland. When he was told about the New World (as United States was known then) and possibilities in the country he turned his eyes towards this new place.
The New Sweden Company which was re-organized over and over again and had different names in their life time like Swedish West Indian Company were the first trading companies who approached the king with the plan. Due to military war, the king had nothing to spare but money was raised to build the ship. There were some setbacks but the company members who wanted a fresh start in life were very keen and they overcame the difficulties and the ship Kalmar Nyckel was acquired.
Kalmar Nyckel was originally built as merchant ship in 1620’s with unidentified name. It was said to have entered the Swedish service in 1629 in order to help defend the city of Kalmar which was a major port in Baltic Sea. Here the ship acquired name of Kalmar Nyckel, which loosely translates to Key of Kalmar or Key of Calmar. On entering Delaware Valley, the name “Calmare Nyckel” was registered on the port. In 1634 owing to the fact that Swedish crown could not pay for the ship it was given to private trading company. It was Peter Minuit who acquired the ship and made it possible for the voyage across the sea to New World.
When the ship entered the harbor it waited for the Indian tribes and it was on the ship board that the historical agreement was signed between Lenape and the ship members that allowed transfer of ownership of western side of Delaware to Kingdom of Sweden. This was remarkable achievement for the Swedish crown as none of the European settlers had been able to able to stay in that part of the land.
The present day replica is the homage to the courage and spirit of the individual who made this crossing in mid-winter. The ship has been part of State’s outreach program since 1998 and has been used as catalyst for many economic and social developments. It has also served as venue for diplomatic and government functions and is owned by non-profit organization called Kalmar Nyckel foundation.
There are tours and sailing trips available on tidal Christina River and one can visit Sail Loft Museum for maritime exhibits and gift shops.
Before planning a trip it is essential to find out if the ship is in harbor as it makes rounds throughout the country.
As the relations between British and Americans turned sour, so did the wind of freedom gathered strength throughout the country. Delaware which was then known as Delaware colony was caught in this fight and became one of the first colonies to take up the cause of independence.
Thomas McKean, a new Delaware Lawyer became first to denounce the Stamp Act. The tax was direct tax imposed by the British Parliament to America. The argument was that colonies were receiving military protection from troops who had led and won Seven year’s war. It was required for the colony to pay in British currency. This forced many printed material including legal documents and newspaper be printed on material printed from London. This tax was opposed bitterly from colonial who believed they had no proper delegation who could provide support to fight against this kind of tax. The Act was repealed on March 18, 1766 but it had laid the foundation to American Revolution. The growing concerns amongst colonist regarding lack of representation and gave birth to Continental Congress.
As delegate to Continental Congress, during the time of American Revolution, Thomas Kean signed the United States Declaration of Independence. He also served term as President of Congress. He proposed that during voting procedure each colony – big or small in size or population should have one vote. The impact of that proposal is even felt today, as it formed the basis of United State senate who accepted the principle of state equality, which is continued even today. Another notable leader from Delaware was John Dickinson, lawyer – politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware wrote Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, which was conferred him title of “Penman of the Revolution” by President Thomas Jefferson, upon his death.
Declaration of Independence was casted with help of Caesar Rodney who worked with Thomas Kean to convince Colonial assembly including George Read, who was president of Delaware, to sign Declaration of Independence. It is generally believed that George Read had opposed the declaration and it was Caesar Rodney who broke the deadlock by riding at night and arriving to cast the vote. But once the document was signed, he read the document thereby earning his place in history as the president of first State who declared Independence from British rule.
It led to forming of Delaware regiment known as Delaware Blues led by John Haslet. He was probably one of the best soldiers in history that Delaware offered and his regiment remained best till they were destroyed at Battle of Camden in 1780. But it is Battle of Cooch’s bridge in 1777 that holds distinction of being the only battle that was fought on Delaware soil. The participants were the British army under rule of General Howe and colonial troops under General Washington. It is believed that this was first battle where American flag of Stars and Stripes made its first appearance.
Though the colonial troops conceded defeat to British troops, it was not easy for British to hold the state. Under leadership of Caesar Rodney, the state provided enough troubles to British. There were 13 US colonies that first participated in the American Revolution. Delaware was one of the thirteen colonies who fought for the freedom and was honored on the first flag that consisted of 13 stars and stripes that signified union of these colonies. The period between 1775 and 1783 saw Americans fighting against British in American War of Independence (also called American Revolutionary War) where British navy could defeat Americans due to superior naval power but unable to extend that victory on land where they had less army personnel.
By July 1776 the Congress had rejected all ties to British monarchy and declared themselves independent and had issue United States Declaration of Independence claiming their own sovereignty. The colonies received help from other European powers such as French and Spanish who provided support to colonial army thereby helping Americans gain freedom. It was in 1783, that treaty of Paris was signed and the country became free of British rule thereby earning sovereignty over area that extended from Canada in North to Florida in south and Mississippi River in West.
Delaware history is history of small state, which had lion’s share in the fight for independence against injustice and oppression.