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Delaware is a state of the eastern United States on the Atlantic Ocean. It was admitted as the first of the original Thirteen Colonies in 1787. Settled by the Dutch in 1631 and by Swedes in 1638, the region passed to England in 1664. It was part of William Penn's Pennsylvania grant from 1682 until 1776. Dover is the capital and Wilmington the largest city. Population: 843,000.
Native Inhabitants and European Claims
Long before Europeans explored the Delaware area, it was inhabited by several Native American groups of the Delaware—notably the Nanticoke in the south and the Minqua in the north. In 1609, Henry Hudson, in the service of the Dutch East India Company, sailed into Delaware Bay. A year later the British captain Sir Samuel Argall, bound for the colony of Virginia, also sailed into the bay. Argall named one of the capes Cape La Warre after the governor of Virginia, Thomas West, Baron De la Warr.
From the time of its discovery, the region was contested by the Dutch and English. The first settlement was established by Dutch patroons, or proprietors, in partnership with the Dutch navigator David Pietersen de Vries; it was called Swanendael and was established (1631) on the site of the town of Lewes. However, within a year it was destroyed by a Native American attack. This attack notwithstanding, the Native Americans were generally friendly and willing to trade with the newcomers.
The Dutch West India Company, organized in 1623, was more interested in trade on the South River, as the Delaware was called at that time, than in settlement (the North River was the Hudson, in the Dutch colony of New Netherland). Several Dutchmen, interested in settling the area, put their services at the disposal of Sweden and colonized the area for that country. The best known of these was Peter Minuit, who had been governor of New Amsterdam (later New York). In 1637–38 Minuit directed the colonizing expedition for the Swedes that organized New Sweden. Fort Christina was founded in 1638 on the site of Wilmington and was named in honor of the queen of Sweden. The colony grew with the arrival of Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch settlers.
English colonists from Connecticut tried to establish trading posts in the Delaware River region and failed, but Dutch interests in the area were not disposed of as easily. Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Netherland, sailed to the Delaware region in 1651 and established Fort Casimir on the Delaware shore at the site of present-day New Castle. The Swedes captured the fort by surprise in 1654, but their triumph was brief; Stuyvesant returned with an expedition in 1655 and conquered all New Sweden. The Dutch West India Company sold part of New Sweden to the Dutch city of Amsterdam in 1656 and the rest in 1663.
In 1664 the English seized the Dutch holdings on the Delaware. The Dutch recaptured the colony in 1673 and although they held Delaware only briefly, they set up three district courts that marked the beginning of Delaware's division into three counties. The colony was returned to England in 1674 and remained in its hands until the American Revolution.
The Three Lower Counties
The English Duke of York (later James II) annexed the region to New York, land granted him earlier by Charles II. In 1682 the duke transferred the claim to William Penn, who wanted to secure a navigable water route from his new colony of Pennsylvania to the ocean. The three counties of Delaware thus became the Three Lower Counties (or Territories, as Penn called them) of Pennsylvania. The individual counties were called New Castle, Kent (formerly St. Jones), and Sussex (formerly Hoornkill, also known as Whorekill, and Deale). The English proprietors of Maryland contested Penn's claim to Delaware, and the boundary dispute was not fully settled until 1750.
The inhabitants of the Delaware counties were at first unwilling to be joined to the radical Quaker colony of Pennsylvania or to have their affairs settled in Philadelphia. They finally accepted the Penn charter of 1701 after provisions were added giving the Three Lower Counties the right to a separate assembly, which first met in 1704. Delaware maintained quasi-autonomy until the American Revolution. The two colonies maintained strong ties, however, and two of Delaware's leading statesmen during the Revolution—Thomas McKean and John Dickinson—were also prominent in Pennsylvania affairs.
Revolution and Statehood
Although there were many Loyalists in Delaware just prior to the American Revolution, Delaware supported independence, with two of its three delegates to the Continental Congress—Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean—voting for independence. George Read, the third Delaware delegate, voted against independence, fearing that Loyalist sentiment was too strong in the colonies. However, Read subsequently signed the Declaration of Independence.
In 1776 the colony of Delaware became a state, with a president as its chief executive. Regiments from the state rendered valiant service to the patriot cause, especially the Delaware 1st Regiment, which was nicknamed the Blue Hen's Chickens—originally because they carried with them gamecocks bred by a famous hen of Kent and later because they themselves showed the fighting quality of gamecocks. Delaware was a leader in the movement for revision of the form of government under the Articles of Confederation and in 1787 became the first state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States. The state constitution of 1776 was superseded by a new constitution in 1792, which provided that the chief executive be a governor rather than a president.
The late 18th cent. also marked the beginning of industry in Delaware with the establishment of gristmills on the Brandywine and Christina rivers. Wilmington became a center for the manufacture of cloth, paper, and flour—products that helped to build the industrial economy of N Delaware that flourished in the 19th cent. Shortly thereafter, in 1802, Eleuthère Irénée Du Pont established a gunpowder mill on the Brandywine River.
Pro- and Anti-Slavery Factionalism
Prior to the Civil War, Delaware was a slave state, but in the early 19th cent. the number of slaves in the state declined, while the number of free blacks increased. Many citizens of Delaware favored manumission of slaves and belonged to the American Colonization Society, but there were few who sympathized with the growing abolitionist movement and there was strong sentiment for separation of whites and blacks. In the Civil War, Delaware remained loyal to the Union, but pro-Southern feeling increased rather than diminished during the course of the war. Delaware refused to accept an emancipation proposal made by Lincoln in 1861 and did not ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution until 1901. Delaware Democrats subsequently became divided, and the Republican Party emerged in 1905 to assume a leading political role for some years.
Maintaining a Rural–Urban Balance
A new state constitution in 1897 reflected the political strength as well as conservatism of Delaware's farmers through provisions that kept the political strength of Wilmington at a minimum and that of rural areas at a maximum. Many European immigrants came to the state in the late 19th and early 20th cent., settling in the Wilmington area. Southern Delaware's population continued to be made up largely of African Americans and persons of English origin.
Delaware's industries flourished during the 19th cent. as transportation facilities improved. Industry continued to expand in the 20th cent., especially during World Wars I and II. The chemical industry built up by the Du Pont family was broken up by a federal antitrust suit in 1912, but was nonetheless large enough to buy control of General Motors corporation in the 1920s and hold it for many years.
Racial tensions appeared in the state in the 1950s and 60s as Delaware's schools were racially integrated, and after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, rioting erupted in Wilmington. In the 1980s, Governor Pierre S. Du Pont fought to liberalize the state's usury laws and won. As a result, many large New York banks set up subsidiaries in Delaware (especially the Wilmington area), and thousands of jobs were created.
- Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States constitution. It did so on December 7, 1787.
- Delaware shares a semi-circular border with Pennsylvania. The border was drawn at the time of the original land grants to William Penn from King Charles II and the Duke of York.
- The nation's first scheduled steam railroad began in New Castle in 1831.
- The United States battleship Delaware was commissioned in 1910.
- Delaware is the only state without any National Park System units such as national parks, seashores, historic sites, battlefields, memorials, and monuments.
- Delmar is popularized as the little town too big for one state. The community has the distinction of being located partly in Delaware and partly in Maryland.
- The most historic site in Frederica is Barratt's Chapel east of town. The chapel is where the Methodist Church of America was organized in 1784.
- Today about 500 descendants of the original Nanticoke Indians reside in Delaware. They celebrate their heritage each September with the Nanticoke Indian Pow Wow.
- The log cabin originated in Finland. Finnish settlers arrived in Delaware in the mid-1600s and brought with them plans for the log cabin, one of the enduring symbols of the American pioneer. One of the cabins has been preserved and is on display at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover.
- John Dickinson was called the Penman of the Revolution for his writings on independence. His boyhood home is preserved in Dover.
- Tradition holds the first time Betsy Ross's famous flag was flown was at the Battle of Cooch's Bridge. This historic site is located on route 4 in Newark.
- The Blue Hen chicken is the official state bird. The hens were noted for their fighting ability. Delaware is sometimes referred to as the Blue Hen State.
- The Lady Bug is Delaware's official state bug.
- Eleven years after the landing of the English pilgrims the first white settlement was made on Delaware soil.
- In 1785 Oliver Evans of Newport invented the automatic flour-milling machinery that revolutionized the industry.
- "Our Delaware" is the official state song. The words are by George Hynson, music by William Brown.
- In total area Delaware ranks 49th in the nation. It contains 1,982 square miles. It is 96 miles long and varies from 9 to 35 miles in width.
- Ebright Road in New Castle County is the highest state elevation at 442 feet above sea level. The lowest elevation is along the coast at sea level.
- Thomas Garret lost his entire fortune in his battle against slavery. He was sued by a Maryland slave owner and fined for aiding a black family in flight. Over his lifetime, Garrett reportedly helped more than 2,000 fugitive slaves move through Delaware, an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
- Rehoboth Beach is the state's largest coastal resort town. Methodists who purchase the land for a summer camp and meeting place originally constructed it.
- The 87-foot Fenwick Island Lighthouse was painted in 1880 for a total cost of about $5.00.
- Twelve concrete observation towers along the coast were constructed during World War II to protect the state's coastal towns from German u-boat attacks.
- Fisher's popcorn is a famous coastal caramel corn. It has been ordered from as far away as Vietnam and Indonesia.
- The American holly is the official state tree. The tree can reach a maximum of 60 feet in height and a trunk diameter of 20 inches.
- The peach blossom is Delaware's official state flower and has prompted Delaware's nickname as the peach state.
- New Sweden was founded as a colony in 1638 and is recognized as the first permanent colony on Delaware soil.
- Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, six miles northwest of Wilmington features one of the world's finest naturalistic gardens.
- Hagley Museum was originally the du Pont black powder manufactory, estate, and gardens.
- The state's Coastal Heritage Greenway consists of a corridor of open space running along 90 miles of coast and spanning the area between Fox Point State Park and the state line at Fenwick Island.
- Thousand Acre Marsh is the largest freshwater tidal wetland in northern Delaware. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canals border the marsh.
- In 1812 Port Penn was considered the best port in Delaware.
- Augustine Beach was named for Augustine Hermann. He was a Bohemian adventurer who mapped the Delmarva Peninsula and surrounding areas in the mid-1600s.
- Odessa possesses one of the finest collections of late 18th- and early 19th-century architecture in the middle Atlantic region. The center of town is on the National Register of Historic Places and the entire town has been zoned as historic.
- Barratt's Chapel is known as the Cradle of Methodism. It was built in 1780 and is the oldest surviving church built by and for Methodists in the United States.
- The 80-food Great Dune is the state's highest. It is located at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes.
- The Maryland/Delaware boundary and the Mason-Dixon Line divide Delmar. A double crown stone marker was erected in 1768 as the southern end of the only North-South portion of the Mason-Dixon line.
- Horseshoe crabs may be viewed in large numbers up and down the Delaware shore in May. The crabs endure extremes of temperature and salinity. They can also go for a year without eating and have remained basically the same since the days of the dinosaur.
- The Du Pont Laboratories first produced nylon at its plant in Seaford. This earned the town the distinction of being the Nylon Capital of the World.
- In recognition of sportfishing's overall recreational and economic contributions to the state of Delaware and of the specific values of the weakfish (Cynoscion genus) as a game and food fish, the state Legislature adopted the weakfish as Delaware's State fish in 1981. This fish is also known as sea trout, gray trout, yellow mouth, yellow fin trout, squeteague, and tiderunner.
- Colonial blue and buff are Delaware's official state colors.
- Delaware was named for Lord de la Warr. He was the first governor of Virginia.
- The sheaf of wheat, ear of corn, and the ox on the state seal symbolize the farming activities of early Delaware.
- The Delaware Indians were one of the most advanced tribes of the eastern United States.
- New Castle County includes the largest population and smallest area of Delaware's three counties.
- Wilmington's Delaware History Center is housed in a renovated, art deco former Woolworth five-and-ten-cent store.
- America's newest tall ship is ten stories high and 139 feet long. The recreation is the Kalmar Nyckel that landed on the Christina River in 1638.
- Quaker merchant Thomas Garret is thought to be the model for a Quaker farmer in the novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Garret and famed abolitionist Harriett Tubman worked closely with Delaware's anti-slavery forces.
- The frying pan built in 1950 for use at the Delmarva Chicken Festival is 10 feet in diameter and holds 180 gallons of oil and 800 chicken quarters.
- The Delaware Breakwater at Cape Henlopen State Park was the first structure of its kind in the western hemisphere.
- The town of Milton was named after the English poet John Milton in 1807.
- Delaware.gov - Official website.