A Tour of New Netherland

 

Delaware

Fort Christina


In 1638, one of the oddest episodes in American colonial history began, when the Swedish ships Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip sailed up the South River to a spot on the Minquas Kill tributary, and made anchor before a rocky outcropping that formed a natural dock. There, its captain-none other than Peter Minuit, who as leader of the Dutch province of New Netherland had bought the island of Manhattan from the local Indians in 1626-declared the river and the area around it the colony of New Sweden. After Minuit was dismissed by the directors of the West India Company from his post as director-general of New Netherland, he was quickly lured by the Swedes for their New World venture. Since the Dutch had claimed this land going back to Henry Hudson's voyage in 1609, the new claim meant in effect that New Sweden would be a province within a province.

Minuit chose the locale for his base, called Fort Christina after the queen of Sweden, carefully. It was at the point where the smaller river, which the Swedes named the Christina River, flowed into the South River, and thus the natural spot to which Indians bearing furs from the interior would arrive in their canoes.

The arrival of the Swedes set off a 17-year period of friction between the Dutch and Swedes, which would end with Peter Stuyvesant finally wresting control of the fort and surrounding territory. In that short time, however, the Swedish colony managed to make an imprint, both on the local area and on American history.

Perhaps the most tangible legacy was the log cabin. Desperate for settlers to clear the land of their new territory, the Swedes rounded up Finnish woodsmen and shipped them to their New World colony. These Finns employed an age-old "burn-beating" practice, in which they cut down an area of forest, burned the wood, and then farmed the enriched soil. But they were running out of burnable forest in Scandinavia, and, at the same time, the province of New Sweden was raw and wild and cried out for clearing. So the government sent an agent to search for would-be colonists, and he soon reported finding "a good many of those who dwelt in the large forests" who were ready to go. In addition to their land-clearing technology, the Finns brought their log cabin construction method. As New Sweden fell to the Dutch, and New Netherland fell to the English, these Finnish settlers remained, and later, especially in the period of 1725 to 1825, took part in the vast migration south and west, spreading into Appalachia and the midwest.

The spot where Minuit came ashore is today memorialized by a monument. The waterfront in Wilmington is also the home port of the reconstruction of the Kalmar Nyckel, Minuit's flag ship, which regularly plies East Coast waterways.

Wilmington today


About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More

 

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