Delaware Colony — History, Facts, and Timeline

1609–1763

Delaware Colony history facts, and timeline. Delaware was one of the 13 Original Colonies that declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 and founded the United States of America.

William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, Illustration, NYPL

William Penn played a significant role in Delaware during the Colonial Era. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Delaware Colony Summary

The history of the Three Lower Counties on the Delaware — one of the official names given to Delaware in its early days, was heavily influenced by Swedish, Dutch, and English colonists. Delaware was first settled as Dutch territory, then was part of New Sweden before returning to Dutch control. In the 1660s, the English finally took control, making it part of the Province of New York. When William Penn needed access to the Atlantic Ocean for his city of Philadelphia, he gained control of the three counties along the Delaware River and eventually granted them a separate government in 1701. 

New Amsterdam, Arrival of English Ships, 1664
This illustration depicts English ships approaching New York City in 1664. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Delaware Colony Facts

  1. Delaware was one of the Middle Colonies in Colonial America.
  2. The territory was originally inhabited by Native American Indians.
  3. European exploration of the Delaware River Valley started in the early 1600s.
  4. Various European groups claimed control of the territory during the Colonial Era, including the Dutch, Swedes, and English.
  5. Indian tribes and European colonists were involved in the Fur Trade.
  6. The first black man in Delaware, Antoni Swart, who was called “Black Anthony,” arrived in 1630.
  7. England first took control of Delaware in 1664, and it was part of the Province of New York.
  8. Delaware became a proprietary colony, under the control of William Penn, in 1682.
  9. Delaware was referred to as the Three Lower Counties on the Delaware until it declared independence from Great Britain in 1776.
  10. Delaware’s history is closely tied to Pennsylvania, because of William Penn.

Geography

The Three Counties on the Delaware

The Province of Delaware was the second smallest of the 13 Original Colonies, covering less than 2,000 square miles across three counties — New Castle, Sussex, and Kent. The northwest corner of Delaware, mainly New Castle County, was covered with rolling foothills, while Southern Delaware ran along the coast and was covered with wetlands.

The River and the Bay

The Delaware River and Delaware Bay dominated the landscape, flowing north to south and providing access to the Atlantic Ocean. European powers vied for control of the region because of access provided by the river and bay, which also made New Castle and Wilmington important port towns during the Colonial Era.

Native American Indians

Archaeological findings indicate that nomadic hunters and gatherers started living in the region — known as the Delmarva Peninsula — around 6500 B.C. From 1000 A.D. to 1300 A.D., the indigenous populations transitioned to more settled lifestyles, relying on hunting and basic agriculture for food.

In their villages, there were clear gender roles. Men hunted alone, and women farmed together. The significant exception was fall deer hunts, which included everyone.

The Delaware Tribes

In the early 17th century, the Delmarva Peninsula was home to three main tribes, even though European colonists referred to them collectively as the Delaware Indians.

  1. Lenope
  2. Lenape
  3. Nanticoke

The Lenope and Lenape were the most prominent, and spoke a dialect of the Algonquin language, although they became distinctly separate tribes around A.D. 1300 A.D. Both tribes lived near the Delaware River and Delaware Bay, relying on the seasonal migration of fish and game for food.

The Nanticoke lived in the southwest part of the peninsula, which later became Sussex County. 

Trade with Europeans

By the early 17th century, the Indians, primarily the Lenape, had enjoyed more than 50 years of friendly trade with Dutch and Swedish colonists. This beneficial trade relationship continued, even when Pennsylvania’s government controlled Delaware.

The Delaware tribes were often in conflict with other Indian nations, including the Iroquois Confederacy and the Susquehannocks. Threats from these nations encouraged the Delaware tribes to trade for European goods and move further inland.

Displacement of Indians

By the mid-18th century, three main factors that contributed to the displacement of Indians from their ancestral lands:

  1. European settlement on Native hunting grounds.
  2. The impact of European diseases on the non-immune Native American population.
  3. The growing European population. 

In the mid-18th century, the Lenape moved to western Pennsylvania where they continued to participate in the Fur Trade. Over time, they moved further west, relocating to Ohio, Canada, and even west of the Mississippi River into present-day Oklahoma.

European Control of Delaware

Control of the Delaware Colony shifted between England, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In 1664, England finally took control of Delaware, when a fleet of English ships took over New Netherland.

Henry Hudson

In 1609, Henry Hudson, an English explorer working for the Dutch, explored the Delmarva Peninsula, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. He sailed up the Delaware River, which he called the “South River,” and claimed the region for the Dutch.

Henry Hudson, Half Moon, Hudson River, AHC, Original
Henry Hudson and his ship, the Half Moon, on the Hudson River. Image Source: American History Central digital illustration.

Zwaanendael Colony

However, the Dutch did not establish a permanent settlement until 1631. That year, a group of about 30 colonists established Zwaanendael — also spelled Swanendael — at Cape Henlopen on Lewes Creek to hunt whales and produce whale oil.

Unfortunately, the settlement lasted less than a year when the colonists clashed with local Indians. According to most accounts, the Indians stole a piece of tin, intending to use it to make tobacco pipes. The incident escalated, and nearly all of the colonists were killed. The only survivors were two boys, Pierre and Hendrick Wiltsee.

It took the Dutch another 24 years before they attempted to resettle in the Delaware region.

New Sweden

In 1638, the New Sweden Company founded a settlement on Minquan Kil, which was later renamed Christiana River in honor of the Queen of Sweden. 

Delaware Colony, New Sweden Mural, Painting
This detail from a mural at the American Swedish Historical Museum depicts colonists interacting with Indians. Image Source: American Swedish Historical Museum.

During this period, the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was taking place in Europe, and Sweden sought to establish itself as a colonial power. Sweden permitted Dutch merchants to create settlements and trading posts along the west bank of the Delaware River, which formed New Sweden. However, New Sweden struggled for most of the time it existed, although there was limited success under the administration of Governor Johan Printz.

In the early 1650s, officials from New Sweden and New Netherland argued over territorial claims, but neither group had the military resources needed to enforce their claims. However, during the Second Northern War (1665–1660), the conflict spilled over to North America and Dutch forces took control of New Sweden, making it part of New Netherland.

Swiss Log Cabin, Pennsylvania
This photograph shows a Swedish log cabin in Pennsylvania. Image Source: Wikipedia.

During the time of Swedish and Dutch control, Delaware had a small population of a few thousand Indians and less than 1,000 Europeans who were Swedes, Dutch, and Finns. There were also around 100 African slaves and servants. 

It is also estimated that around 1,000 Europeans — Swedes, Dutch, and Finns — and Africans were living along the Delaware River Valley. These people were located in trading settlements that went as far north as present-day Burlington, New Jersey.

Delaware Under the Control of New York

In 1664, King Charles II of England issued a charter to his brother James, the Duke of York, granting him the territory between the Delaware River and the Connecticut River. This grant included Dutch territory in New Netherland, including the settlement at New Amsterdam.

King Charles II, Crowned at Westminster Abbey
King Charles II. Image Source: Wikipedia.

James sent a fleet of ships to take control of New Amsterdam, which was surrendered by the Governor, Peter Stuyvesant, without a fight. With New Netherland under English control, it was renamed the Province of New York and New Amsterdam was renamed New York City.

A smaller fleet, led by Sir Robert Carr, attacked the Dutch stronghold at New Amstel in northern Delaware, which was renamed New Castle.

English officials paid little attention to Delaware when it was part of New York.

King James II of England, Portrait
James Stuart, the Duke of York. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Lower Three Counties

Delaware was part of New York until 1682, when William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, requested control from the Duke of York. Penn needed access to the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and Atlantic Ocean for Philadelphia. The Duke of York responded by leasing the three counties in Delaware to Penn.

Penn decided to keep the name New Castle for the northern county, but he renamed the two southern counties, calling them Kent and Sussex.

The three counties remained part of Pennsylvania and were not independent. The colony was known as the “Government of the Counties of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex on Delaware” or simply the “Lower Counties.” 

In December 1682, Penn and the First General Assembly of Pennsylvania convened to enact laws. On December 4, the “Act of the Union of the Province and Territories” was enacted, which joined Pennsylvania and the Lower Counties under one government. A second act, naturalized all “foreigners then residing within the province and territories.”

Penn proposed his Frame of Government, which ensured residents of the Lower Counties had equal representation in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. As part of the shared government, meetings of the General Assembly were shared between the two colonies, alternating between Philadelphia and New Castle.

William Penn, Landing in Pennsylvania, 1682
This painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris depicts the arrival of William Penn in Pennsylvania in 1682. Image Source: Library of Congress.

In 1701, Penn and the Assembly agreed to the 1701 Charter of Privileges, which allowed Delaware to establish its own General Assembly. As part of the agreement, Delaware agreed to remain under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Pennsylvania, who was appointed by Penn.

The Delaware General Assembly held its first independent meeting in New Castle in 1704. The two colonies shared the same Governor for the remained of the Colonial Era until the Lower Counties declared independence from Great Britain and adopted the name “Delaware.”

Population and Immigration

As New England and the Middle Colonies developed, colonists migrated to Delaware, including Quakers. As Europe continued to be plagued by wars over religion and monarchies, more people emigrated to the English Colonies.

In Northern Delaware, New Castle was the largest settlement and attracted artisans and merchants. The surrounding countryside was populated with small farms owned by Swedes, Dutch, and English. Some of those farms relied on slave labor and nearly all of them were focused on the production of grain, which could be easily shipped to Philadelphia and sold.

Along the waterways that branched off of the Christiana River and Delaware River, mills were built around the town of Wilmington to process corn and wheat into flour. By the 1740s, Wilmington was a leader in the production of flour.

In Southern Delaware, the counties of Kent and Sussex were similar to Maryland, which lay to the south and west. It was in those areas where slavery gained a foothold in Delaware.

Most white families in Southern Delaware were involved in farming, using family labor alongside indentured servants and sometimes as many as two African slaves. However, it was the large plantation owners, who had 20 or more slaves, who dominated society, politics, and the economy of the southern counties.

Slavery in Delaware

During Swedish control of Delaware from 1638 to 1655, only a small number of captured Africans were brought to Delaware as slaves, partly due to the limited resources of the New Sweden Company.

When New Sweden was taken over by the Dutch, settlers in Delaware had access to the slave trade through the Dutch West Indian Company, which contributed to an increase in the number of enslaved Africans in the colony. It is estimated that roughly 20 percent of the population of Delaware was made up of enslaved people by 1664.

While early economies of nearby colonies like Virginia and Maryland relied on Indentured Servants from England to drive the workforce, Delaware’s access to the slave trade contributed to slavery becoming the primary way to acquire workers. Over time, both Virginia and Maryland shifted to slavery, especially after Bacon’s Rebellion took place.

By the early 1700s, around 30 percent of the people in Delaware were enslaved, while that number reached anywhere from 40 to 60 percent in Virginia and Maryland.

After Pennsylvania was founded and unified with the Lower Counties, there was a significant influx of Scots-Irish into Delaware. Many of them arrived as Indentured Servants, brought their families with them, and settled in New Castle County. It is estimated that from the 1720s to the 1760s the number of Indentured Servants was about the same as the enslaved population, roughly 30 percent.

Black Anthony

In 1639, the first documented black man arrived in present-day Delaware. Known as “Black Anthony,” he arrived from the West Indies on the ship Fogel Grip. According to some accounts, he had been kidnapped by the captain of the ship. His real name was Antoni Swart and he eventually became a free man, who found employment with Governor Johan Printz.

Economy

Leading up to the 1750s, Delaware’s agricultural economy was focused on tobacco, corn, and wheat. However, in the 1750s, tobacco became an unprofitable crop, leading planters and farmers to develop trade connections with Philadelphia merchants and transition their focus from tobacco to grain production.

The production of corn and wheat was less labor-intensive than tobacco, which reduced the need for labor in Delaware over the long term. The influx of Indentured Servants supplied enough workers, which helped keep slavery from growing at the rate it did in Virginia and Maryland.

Government and Politics

The “Hundred” was a unique political unit in between Pennsylvania’s townships and Maryland’s counties, and served as the foundation for government and community in Delaware.  They were essentially unincorporated subdivisions of the counties. 

The first Hundreds were established in 1682. There were five Hundreds in New Castle County, five in Kent County, and two in Sussex County. As the population grew, so did the number of Hundreds

In the southern counties, political life was dominated by wealthy planters who sought the support of middle-class property holders. In northern New Castle County, where there were fewer slaves and planters, both merchants and farmers had more active, equal roles in politics.

Across Delaware, freeholders elected local officials, while the governor, following the assembly’s recommendations, appointed judges and justices of the peace. In each county, voters elected tax assessors and sheriffs. These officials worked with the justices of the peace to govern the three counties.

Society

In Northern Delaware, where there was a larger Quaker community, there was little emphasis on social hierarchy and subordination of the lower classes, including enslaved people and indentured servants. Women also held more authority within their families and in community institutions like churches.

In Southern Delaware, where there was a significant population of slaves and indentured servants, relationships were built around social hierarchy and subordination. Plantation owners were responsible for governing and caring for the people living on their lands, which could include: gentry planters, yeoman farmers, free white people who did not own property, white indentured servants, and enslaved Africans.

Timeline and Chronology

Before the arrival of Europeans, most Indians along the Delaware River identified as Lenni Lenapes, meaning “original people.” They spoke an Algonquian dialect and lived in loosely connected villages. The villages were situated between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Susquehannock, resulting in conflicts between the Delaware tribes and the larger nations.

1609 — Henry Hudson, an Englishman in command of the Dutch ship Half Moon, visited Delaware Bay while searching for the Northwest Passage. His reports increased the interest of both the Dutch and English in the Delaware River Valley.

1610 — Captain Samuel Argall, an Englishman working for the Virginia Company, named Delaware Bay after Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, the governor of Virginia Colony.

1614 — The Dutch identified the whole mid-Atlantic region, from Jamestown to Quebec, as New Netherland. Their goal was to profit from the Fur Trade and fishing in and around Delaware Bay.

1614 — Captain Cornelis Mey explored Delaware Bay, naming Fenwick’s Island and Cape Hindlopen. He also gives present-day Cape Henlopen, across from Cape Mey, the name Cape Cornelis

1615 — Captain Cornelis Hendrkksen explored the Delaware River up to Schuylkill

1621 — The Dutch States-General granted the Dutch West India Company a trade monopoly, including commerce with Africa’s west coast and the Americas. The company established the earliest European settlements in the Delaware River Valley, although they were mostly trading posts and not permanent.

1623 — Captain Mey sailed up Prince Hendricks River and built a Dutch trading post, Fort Nassau, at present-day Gloucester, New Jersey.

1629 — The States-General approved the “Freedoms and Exemptions” charter, which granted independent settlers the right to as much land as they could cultivate. It also allowed stockholders in the West India Company to become patroons by settling 50 adults in New Netherland. 

This “Patroon System” also allowed the stockholders to pass the land to their heirs. Patroonships initially included 16 miles of riverfront land and extended inland as far as possible. 

Land at Cape Henlopen was granted to Samuel Godyn, Samuel Blommaers, and David de Vries, making them Patroons.

1631 — Samuel Godyn commissioned a group of 28 men, led by Captain Peter Heycs, to establish the first European settlement in present-day Delaware on Noorn Kill. It was called Zwaanendael or Swanendael because of the number of swans living in the area. Today, the area is part of Lewes, Delaware.

Delaware Colony, New Sweden, Landing at Swaanendael, Painting
The Landing of the DeVries Colony at Swaanendael. Image Source: University of Delaware.

1632 — Capt. David Pieterssen De Vries visited Zwaanendael. He found the colony destroyed and all but two boys were killed by Indians.

1637 — The New Sweden company was organized. The first expedition set sail from Gothenburg, Sweden in two ships, the Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar) and the Fogel Grip (Bird Griffin).

1638 — Fort Christina, the first permanent European settlement in present-day Delaware and the entire Delaware River Valley was established by the New Sweden Company, a joint Dutch-Swedish trading corporation, led by Peter Minuet. 

The first colonists were 23 men, including Minuet, Captain Mans Kling, and Hendrick Huygen, the commissary. Minuet and his expedition disembarked at The Rocks

Fort Christina was initially funded by the Dutch but most of the colonists were Swedes. By 1641, Swedish investors bought out the Dutch stockholders. 

Fort Christina was located along Minquas Kill (Christina River) at present-day Wilmington, Delaware.

1639 — The first documented African in Delaware, known as “Black Anthony,” arrived at Fort Christina.

Delaware Colony, 1639, Map of Settlements, LOC
This map shows the settlements along the Delaware River, circa 1639. Attributed to Joan Vinckeboons. Image Source: Library of Congress.

1640 — The second and third expeditions arrived at New Sweden. Some of the new colonists included Governor Peter Hollandaer and Reverend Reorus Torkillus, the first clergyman. Torkillus was also the first Lutheran minister in America.

1641 — The fourth expedition arrived with 35 new colonists, including Herr Christoffer, a clergyman. Many of the colonists were from Finland.

1643 — The fifth expedition arrived, carrying Lieutenant Colonel Johan Printz, the new Governor of New Sweden. 

Under the leadership of Printz, New Sweden had its most successful years. He oversaw the construction of Fort Elfsborg at Varckens Kill, New Jersey., Fort New Gothenburg at Tinicum, Pennsylvania. and a blockhouse at Upland (present-day Chester, Pennsylvania). He also established a tobacco plantation on the Schuylkill River.

By 1643, the population of New Sweden was 118 people.

1644 — The sixth Swedish expedition arrived. Due to deaths and some colonists returning the Europe, the population dropped to 98.

1646 — The seventh expedition arrived, carrying goods, but only a few new colonists.

1649 — A supply ship, The Kattan (The Cat), wrecked near Puerto Rico.

1651 — Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam took control of the Fur Trade from New Sweden. He sailed with a fleet of 11 ships to the Delaware River, marched overland with 120 soldiers, and occupied Sandhook (present-day New Castle). He built Fort Casimir, giving the Dutch control of the river. 

1653 — Printz resigned as Governor and returned to Sweden. The population of New Sweden continued to fall, while 36 families were living at the Dutch settlement at Fort Casimir.

1654 — An expedition arrived, carrying Governor Johan Rising and new colonists, boosting the population to 368. Rising captured Fort Casimir, renamed it Fort Trefaldighet and left a garrison of Swedish troops.

In taking the fort, New Sweden regained control of the river. This allowed Rising to make improvements to the colony’s infrastructure, including new roads, farms, and a village near Fort Christina called Christianahamn. 

Another expedition followed but failed to land at Delaware Bay. It arrived at New Amsterdam, where it was seized by Peter Stuyvesant.

1655 — Stuyvesant led another military expedition against New Sweden. With 7 ships and 300 men under his command, he forced the garrison at Fort Trefaldighet to surrender. The fort was renamed Fort Casimir.  

Stuyvesant led his forces to Fort Christina, where he laid siege to the fort and burned the town of Christinahamn. After 12 days, the Swedes surrendered.

The Dutch had control of the Delaware River and New Sweden. The New Sweden Colony came to an end and became part of New Netherland.

Although some Swedes returned to Europe, many remained and accepted Dutch rule, because they were granted religious freedom.

1656 — A supply ship, the Mercurius arrived from Sweden with 110 new settlers. Jean Paul Jacquet, Dutch Vice-Director and Chief Magistrate of the South River, refused to permit them to land, but they disembarked at Tinicum.

1657 — The territory of Delaware was divided. Fort Altena (formerly Fort Christina) was the seat of government for the northern region. Fort Casimir and its adjoining town, New Amstel, were the seat of government for the southern region.

Together, Fort Casimir and New Amstel were referred to as “City Colony.”

1657 — An expedition carrying Jacob Alrichs, the new Director, and 125 Dutch settlers, including Evert Pietersen, first schoolmaster, arrived at New Amstel. The increase in population increased the number of homes in New Amstel to around 100.

1659 — A trading post was established at Hoorn Kill, which is present-day Lewes.

1659 — The population of New Amstel was devastated by famine and disease, and roughly 30 families remained. The Calvert Family claimed ownership of the western shore of Delaware. Stuyvesant responded by sending Augustine Herrman and Resolved Waldron to discuss the situation with Lieutenant-General Josias Fendall, the 4th Proprietary Governor of Maryland. However, no resolution is reached.

1662 — A Mennonite colony was established at Cape Henlopen by Peter Plockhoy.

1663 — City Colony, was a diverse community of Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish settlers. The northern settlements, or the Upper Colony, were still largely Swedish. In 1663, the two colonies were merged under one government.

1664 — King Charles II of England granted his brother, James, Duke of York, a substantial portion of the American coast, which included the Dutch territory of New Netherland. 

James sent an expedition under the command of Sir Richard Nicolls to take possession of the Dutch territories. New Netherland tried to defend itself but was surprised when four ships and 450 soldiers arrived.

Two English ships, under the command of Robert Carr, took possession of the Upper Colony without a fight. However, Fort Casimir resisted, leading the English to storm the fort and capture it. The name was changed to New Castle.

With the victory, the English controlled the Delaware River. 

Carr also destroyed the Plockhoy’s Quaker colony.

1667 — Sir Francis Lovelace was named Governor of the Duke of York’s territory. Carr was named Deputy Governor over the Delaware settlements.

1669 — The Long Finn Rebellion took place, led by Marcus Jacobson who was known as the “Long Finn.” The rebellion failed and Jacobson was banished to Barbados.

1673 — Courts were established at Upland, New Castle, and Hoorn Kill.

1673 — During the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch briefly regained control of the Delaware River Valley. However, the 1674 Treaty of Westminster returned the region to English control. 

1674 — Edmund Andros was appointed as Governor of New York and its territories, including Delaware.

1676 — Andros applies the Duke’s Laws to Delaware.

1680 — The southern region, Hoornkill County, was divided into St. Jones County (Kent) and Deal County (Sussex). 

The first court was held in St. Jones County.

Authorization was given to build a log Courthouse at Hoornkill. The budget was set at 5,000 pounds of tobacco.

1681 — William Penn was granted the charter for Pennsylvania from King Charles II.

1682 — Penn was granted the western portion of New York, running across the Delaware River, by the Duke of York. 

1682 — Penn arrived in America on the ship Welcome

He disembarked at New Castle and officially took control on October 27. 

Penn’s deputy, William Markham, was given control of the two southern counties in Delaware, which were renamed by Penn.

William Penn's Treaty with the Delaware, Illustration
This illustration depicts Penn negotiating a treaty with the Lenni Lenape. Image Source: University of Michigan William Clements Library.

1682 — The first General Assembly of “Province of Pennsylvania and Three Lower Counties on the Delaware” met at Upland in December.

1682 — Delaware representatives voted to join with Pennsylvania, however, this created a dispute between Penn and Lord Baltimore, the proprietor of Maryland, over the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware.

1684 — The Calvert Family continued to claim their charter included the territory of southern and western Delaware. Maryland dispatched Colonel George Talbot who built a small fort near the town of Christiana.

1688–1689 — The Glorious Revolution took place in England. King James II, formerly the Duke of York and a close friend of Penn, fled the country in the wake of a Dutch invasion. William of Orange and Mary took the throne of England. Several of James II’s friends and political allies, including Penn, faced imprisonment. Penn was eventually released, but during his absence, Delaware essentially separated from Pennsylvania for three years. In response, Penn appointed a separate governor for the Lower Counties, which had developed differently from Pennsylvania and had a higher percentage of Anglicans.

Coronation of William and Mary, 1689, Painting, Rochussen
This painting depicts the coronation of William and Mary. Image Source: Amsterdam Museum.

1690 — The first “Hundreds” were established.

1691 — The Lords of Trade proposed placing Pennsylvania under royal control. The government of the Delaware counties was separated from Pennsylvania and William Markham was named Deputy Governor.

1692 — King William III suspended Penn’s charter and took control of Pennsylvania. Colonel Benjamin Fletcher was appointed Governor. The charter was suspended over accusations the colony was not adequately prepared to defend itself against France, during King William’s War.

1693 — Fletcher, who was also the Governor of New York, arrived in April and appointed William Markham as his Lieutenant Governor. Fletcher was unpopular from the start. He increased the size of the Provincial Council and reduced the size of the Provincial Assembly. He created more controversy when he suggested raising money through a property tax to help the Province of New York Colony defend itself against the French.

1694 — Penn regained influence with the Crown, and requested the return of control of Pennsylvania. His request was granted in July, but Penn was required to accept the laws enacted during Fletcher’s administration. Penn also had to pledge loyalty to King William III and Queen Mary II and acknowledge that William Markham would continue to govern Pennsylvania until he could assume the role himself.

King William III, Portrait
King William III. Image Source: Wikipedia.

1696 — The General Assembly and Governor’s Council forced Markham to agree to a new Frame of Government, which is known as “Markham’s Frame.” Pennsylvania and Delaware operated under it until 1700.

1697 — A second courthouse was built in Kent County at Dover on the site of the present-day State House. Three Lutheran missionaries, Erick Biork, Andreas Rudman, and Jonas Aureen arrived from from Sweden.

1698 — The town of Lewes was attacked by pirates, who also captured a ship near New Castle. One of the pirates was Captain William Kidd.

1698 — Old Swedes Church was built at what would become the town of Willington.

1699 — Penn returned to Pennsylvania, however, he found the government divided and there were questions about the legality of any laws that were passed in his absence.

1700 — At Penn’s request, the Assembly convened in New Castle. During the meetings, more than 100 laws, known as the “New Castle Laws,” were enacted. Unfortunately, Penn and the Assembly were unable to reach an agreement on a new structure for the government.

1701 — The Assembly convened to address instructions from the Crown regarding the reinforcement of colonial defenses along the New York frontier. Delegates from the Delaware River Valley were upset because they did not have forts, yet they were being asked to pay for forts to protect another colony, which they opposed. Further, their economic interests and safety were at risk and they wanted protection. The Delaware delegates were also concerned that pacifist Quaker policies put them at risk.

1701 — During the Assembly meetings, some delegates questioned whether laws passed at sessions held in Delaware legally applied to Pennsylvania. Delaware argued if that was the case, then laws passed in Pennsylvania could not apply to Delaware. The Delaware delegates walked out of the meetings.

1701 — Penn resolved the issues by agreeing to the Constitution of 1701, which is also known as “The Charter of Privileges.” Penn agreed to allow Delaware to establish its own Assembly, which was allowed to propose laws and approve legislation specifically for Delaware.

1701 — Two surveyors, Isaac Taylor and Thomas Pierson, established the 12 Mile Circle Boundary, which formed most of the boundary between Delaware and Pennsylvania.

1703 — A group of Welsh Baptists settled between Newark and Glasgow.

1704 — In November, the first Delaware Assembly met at New Castle. William Rodney of Kent was the speaker. Each county sent four representatives. The Assembly reaffirmed all the previous joint assembly laws and increased each county’s delegation to six representatives. Despite the success of passing laws, there was tension between New Castle and the Southern Counties. New Castle wanted to establish itself as the main commercial center for Delaware, due to its proximity and economic ties to Philadelphia.

1707 — A new fort was built at New Castle, which required all ships to report to the commander when they passed. This was protested by a group of merchants in Philadelphia.

1709 — A group of men from the Delaware Assembly petitioned the Crown for complete separation from Pennsylvania.

1712 — Faced with financial problems, Penn attempted to sell his governing rights over Pennsylvania and Delaware to the Crown. He eventually agreed to sell the rights for £12,000 but retained ownership of the land. Unfortunately, Penn suffered a severe stroke, from which he never fully recovered.

1717 — William Keith was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delaware, and Dover Green was laid out per an order issued by Penn in 1683.

1718 — Penn died, leaving his wife Hannah in charge of the proprietorship over the two colonies. She was in charge of executing Penn’s will and managed to retain the Penn family’s influence over Delaware for a few more years.

1720s — In the 1720s, while the Penn estate was being settled in England, Governor Keith started to act like a Royal Governor. He appointed new courts, introduced a new criminal code, and relocated to New Castle County, where he purchased an extensive tract known as Keithsborough and built an ironworks.

1724 — Governor Keith overstepped his authority by expanding the boundaries of New Castle and granting it a new city charter in the name of the King, without mentioning the Penn Family. 

1726 — Governor Keith was recalled and replaced by Major Patrick Gordon. However, Keith remained in Pennsylvania and worked against Gordon and his government.

1727 — Penn’s sons, John, Thomas, and Richard, became the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

1730 — During the 1730s, Delaware continued to exist as a distinct political entity despite various claims on its territory, including a claim made by Charles Calvert, the Fifth Lord Baltimore.

1731 — Thomas Willing founded Willingtown on land he was given by his father-in-law, Andrew Justinson. The first house was built in 1732.

1732 — A group of commissioners from Delaware and Maryland agreed to a boundary line.

1739 — The town of Wilmington, previously known as Willingtown, was chartered. Its layout was like that of Philadelphia, with a rectangular plan along the riverbanks. Wilmington’s population was 600 in 1739, and by the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, it grew to as many as 2,000.

1739 — During the First Great Awakening, Reverend George Whitefield traveled through Delaware, preaching to large crowds.

George Whitefield, Preacher, Great Awakening, NYPL
This illustration depicts George Whitefield. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

1742 — The flour milling industry started when Oliver Canby built a flour mill at Wilmington, on the banks of the Brandywine River.

1743 — New London Academy was founded by Reverend Francis Alison at New London, Pennsylvania. The school eventually became the University of Delaware.

1747 — During King George’s War, French and Spanish privateers carried out attacks along the Delaware River.

1748 — The Rocks was fortified to help defend Wilmington against privateers.

1748 — The Nanticoke Indians moved to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.

1751 — A seal was adopted that included the coat of arms of the King of England and the words, “Counties on the Delaware.”

1754 — The Delaware General Assembly agreed to raise a company of troops to join British forces for the French and Indian War, along with militia to defend the colony.

1761 — The first printing press was set up in Delaware, by James Adams, at Wilmington.

1763 — The Calverts and Penns agreed to hire Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to conduct a survey to establish the boundaries between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

APUSH Definition and Significance

Use the following links and videos to study Delaware, the Middle Colonies, and Colonial America for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

APUSH Definition

Delaware Colony for APUSH is defined as one of the original 13 American colonies established by European settlers during the 17th century. Originally settled by the Dutch in the early 17th century and later controlled by the Swedes and English, It was geographically and politically linked to Pennsylvania and shared the same governor for much of its early history. Delaware played a significant role in American independence, ratifying the U.S. Constitution in 1787 as the first state to do so, earning the nickname “The First State.” Its strategic location along the Delaware River, with access to Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, contributed to the economy and growth of Delaware during the Colonial Era.

APUSH Significance

The significance of the Delaware Colony for APUSH is that it was one of the early European settlements in North America and became one of the 13 Original Colonies that declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 and founded the United States of America.

APUSH Video

This video discusses the history of Delaware.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Delaware Colony — History, Facts, and Timeline
  • Date 1609–1763
  • Author
  • Keywords Delaware Colony, Three Lower Counties on the Delaware, William Penn, Duke of York, New Sweden, New Netherland, Geography, Native American Indians, Population, Immigration, Slavery, Black Anthony, Economy, Government, Politics, Society, Timeline, Chronology
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 3, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 29, 2023

Delaware Colony — History, Facts, and Timeline is Part of the Following on AHC