Published On: Sun, Sep 3rd, 2017

Exploring the Kalmar Nyckel Museum in Delaware

Around the corner from our visit to Fort Christina Park is a museum, featuring the Kalmar Nyckel, but also a tribute to world exploration by boat.  The Kalmar Nyckel is the ship that first brought the Swedes to the new world where they had a settlement in Wilmington, Delaware, before it was called Wilmington, Delaware.

The Kalmar Nyckel was constructed in about 1625 and was of a design called a pinnace. The ship was originally named Sleutel (Dutch for key), and to distinguish it from several other ships called Key it was known by the name of the city of Kalmar, which purchased the ship in 1629 as its contribution to a state-sponsored trading company, Skeppskompaniet. It was later purchased into the Swedish Navy. When Sweden decided to establish a trading colony in the New World under the direction of Peter Minuit, the Kalmar Nyckel was chosen for the voyage. A smaller vessel, the Fogel Grip (Griffin Bird), accompanied her.

The ships sailed from Gothenburg in December 1637, commanded by Jan Hindriksen van der Water, but encountered a severe storm in the North Sea and had to divert to the Netherlands for repairs. They departed on New Year’s Day 1638, arriving in North America in March 1638. They built a fort on the present site of the city of Wilmington, which they named Fort Christina.

A second voyage, which departed on February 7, 1640, and arrived at Fort Christina on April 17, brought additional settlers for New Sweden. One of them was Reorus Torkillus, the first Lutheran clergyman in New Sweden. The Kalmar Nyckel made four successful round trips from Sweden to North America, a record unchallenged by any other colonial vessel.

Between colonial voyages, the ship was used by the navy as a transport and courier. She was sold out of Swedish service to Dutch merchants in 1651. At the outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War, she was employed as a fisheries protection vessel under Captain Dirk Vijgh. The ship was sunk off the coast of Scotland in action against Blake’s squadron on July 12, 1652.

Kalmar Nyckel museum in Wilmington, Delaware.
Kalmar Nyckel museum in Wilmington, Delaware.

Next to the museum is a cool looking building that houses The Challenge Project.

Challenge Program trainees gain on-the-job experience working on professional construction projects. We primarily rehabilitate low-income housing for local government and non-profit agencies. Periodically we work on select creative projects that conform with our mission and are willing to adapt to our training schedule.

In addition, we occasionally choose jobs that will give our trainees exposure to local contractors working on commercial construction sites. We generally do not do projects for individuals.

Challenge Program in Wilmington, Delaware

On the second level of the museum is a replica of being aboard the Kalmar Nyckel.

Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware
Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware
Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware
Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware

Throughout the museum are these little replicas of ships, from small fishing vessels to large ocean-faring works of art.

When the Swedes settled, they needed homes.  Where they settled was plenty of wood, but they needed someone to help them build their homes.  So, they called in their neighbors, the Finns.  The Finns were known for their artisan skills.  For some who were convicted of a crime, they had a choice: go to jail or go to the New Sweden and helps the Swedes build log cabins.

Their craftsmanship was known, the way they would carve up the logs so that they fit together, better sealed against the natural elements, providing cozy little homes.  As they say, “If it fits, it’s Finnish.”

Log cabin - Kalmar Nyckel Museum in Wilmington, Delaware
Log cabin - Kalmar Nyckel Museum in Wilmington, Delaware
Log cabin - Kalmar Nyckel Museum in Wilmington, Delaware

Out back on the river if the full size replica of the Kalmar Nyckel.  You can take a tour down the river in it for a few bucks, but we passed.  It is a beautiful boat, though; even if it took everything my imagination could muster to imagination sailing in it across the Atlantic Ocean.

Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware
Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware
Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware
Kalmar Nyckel in Wilmington, Delaware

When we first decided to visit Wilmington, Delaware, we had no idea of where to visit.  The Kalmar Nyckel museum was a pleasant surprise, the story behind the Swedes settlement in the New World, the stories about the ships, and so forth.

We asked, being intrigued about the Swedes’ attempt at colonizing, about restaurants in the area with authentic Swedish food.  Even tried to look up some on Yelp and Google.  Surprising, with such a rich Swedish history, we found none and no one knew of any.

Regardless, good visit.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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