A Brief History of the Delaware Colony

Portrait of Peter Minuit.
Peter Minuit, leader of the New Sweden Company. Public Domain

During the 17th century, the Dutch were involved in establishing many trading posts and colonies around the world including in North America. Henry Hudson had been hired by the Dutch to explore the New World in 1609 and had 'discovered' and named the Hudson River. By 1611, the Dutch had set up fur trading with the Native Americans along the Delaware River. However, permanent settlement as New Netherland was not made until 1624 with the arrival of the first Dutch settlers with the Dutch West India Company. 

Year Delaware Colony Founded: 1638

Founded By: Peter Minuit and the New Sweden Company

Important People:

Peter Minuit and the New Sweden Company

In 1637, Swedish explorers and stockholders created the New Sweden Company to explore and trade in the New World. They were led by Peter Minuit. Previously, Minuit had been the governor of New Netherland from 1626 to 1631. They landed in what is now Wilmington, Delaware and founded their colony there.

New Sweden Becomes Part of New Netherland

While the Dutch and Swedes coexisted for some time, the incursion of the Dutch into New Sweden territory saw its leader, Johan Rising, move against some Dutch settlements. Peter Stuyvesant, New Netherland's governor, sent armed ships to New Sweden. The colony surrendered without a fight. Thus, the area that was once New Sweden then became part of New Netherland. 

Annexation of New Netherland by the British

The British and Dutch were direct competitors during the 17th century. England felt they had a claim to the prosperous New Netherland territory due to the explorations by John Cabot made in 1498. In 1660, the Dutch feared the British would attack their territory with the restoration of Charles II to the throne. Therefore, they created an alliance with the French against the British. In response, Charles II gave his brother, James, the Duke of York, New Netherland in March 1664.

This 'annexation' of New Netherland required a show of force. James sent a fleet of ships to New Netherland to demand its surrender. Peter Stuyvesant agreed. While the northern part of the New Netherland was named New York, the lower part was leased to William Penn as the 'lower counties on the Delaware'. Penn wanted access to the sea from Pennsylvania. Thus, the territory was part of Pennsylvania until 1703. In addition, Delaware was governed by the same individual as Pennsylvania until the Revolutionary War even though it had its own representative assembly. 

Significant Events in the History of the Delaware Colony

  • New Sweden surrendered to join New Netherland and Peter Stuyvesant in 1655. 
  • James, Duke of York annexed the area in 1664 and leased it to William Penn. 
  • Delaware was a part of Pennsylvania until 1703.
  • The colony was governed by Pennsylvania until the Revolutionary War.
  • Delaware was captured by the British and remained under their control through most of the Revolutionary War.