Delaware:  the very beginning


¨=Fort Nassau          ¨ =Fort Christina

¨ =Fort Casimir         ¨ =Swaanendael

In 1609, Henry Hudson piloted the ship Half Moon into the Delaware Bay, in search of a passage through the New World to the East Indies.  He was the first European to explore and document the bay.  Although he was English, he was working for the Dutch at the time.  The Dutch originally had no interest in settling the area –they were much more interested in trading.  However, competition with the other European nations convinced Holland that they needed a foothold in the New World.  To that end they formed the Dutch West India Company.  They settled Manhattan Island and named it New Amsterdam, which became the seat of government for what would become known as New Netherland –all the land from Cape Henlopen to Cape Cod, extending without limit to the west.

          The first structure that the Dutch built on the Delaware River was Fort Nassau, in the present city of Gloucester, New Jersey, in 1626.  It was a strategic blunder to put it on the east side of the river since the best pelts were on the west side.  Also, the Minquas would have to cross the river to trade furs with the Dutch.  Fort Nassau served primarily as a storehouse and trading post, but was only inhabited regularly in the winter, when the best pelts could be found.  In 1631, the Dutch built a permanent settlement (Swaanendael) in the present town of Lewes, which turned out to be “not-so-permanent”.  After six months, the settlement was destroyed by Indians and all of the people were massacred.  It took seven years before another settlement was attempted, and that was by the Swedes with Fort Christina in 1638.  This fort was built on the west side of the river, and quickly usurped trade with the Minquas.  In retaliation for the Swedish encroachment on their land, and realizing the need for a better position on the Delaware River, the Dutch erected Fort Casimir in 1651 in present-day New Castle.  With the construction of Fort Casimir, Fort Nassau was dismantled.  Relations disintegrated between the Swedes and the Dutch, erupting into open hostility.  The new fort went back and forth a few times between the two parties.  Eventually, it ended up in the hands of the English, who changed the name to New Castle.  After 1664, most of the Dutch strongholds on the Delaware River had been transferred to the English.


-Researched by: Jenn

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