State of Delaware: History & Facts

Instructor: Jeremy Battista
The state of Delaware is one of the smaller states in the nation, yet as important as any other. In this lesson, we will look at a brief history of Delaware as well as learn some interesting facts about it.

Pre-Colonial Delaware

Delaware, was named after the Delaware River, which in turn got its name from Sir Thomas West (Lord De la Warr), first governor of the Virgina Company. Like much of the United States, Delaware was at one time settled and controlled solely by the Native Americans living there. Many of the Native Americans in this area were cast out, or destroyed by rival tribes, before the colonists even arrived. After European settlers began to colonize Delaware, the remaining tribes were generally baptized Christian and grouped similarly together.

Colonial Delaware

Delaware saw its first white settlers in the year 1631. The Dutch initially founded a settlement near the water, close to what is now Lewes, Delaware. They called their settlement Zwaanendael (Swan Valley) and it lasted for about a year. Unfortunately for the Dutch, and as was common at the time, a dispute with local Native American tribes ended badly. All of the settlers were killed and Zwaanendael was burnt to the ground.

Some years later, in 1638, Swedish settlers arrived and founded Fort Christina near present day Wilmington. There was relative peace until the Dutch arrived and eventually conquered the Swedes, effectively wresting control of the area. They remained in control until 1664 when the English took over Delaware. The Duke of York then controlled Delaware until passing it onto William Penn, of Pennsylvania fame.

During the American Revolution, much of southern Delaware had no desire to become independent. It took some work, and convincing of the General Assembly, for Delaware to be declared as free and join the other colonies in the revolution. After the American Revolution, when it came time to vote on a way to govern these new 'free states,' Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution, giving it the distinction of being nicknamed 'The First State.'

State flag of Delaware. Notice the date? That was the ratification of the Constitution.
Delaware Flag

Delaware also broke with neighboring Maryland and voted to remain with the Union during the American Civil War. Many of Delaware's farms were free of slaves at the prompting of their Quaker population. When it came time to vote whether or not to secede, Delaware stayed in the Union, making it a border state during the war.

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