Published On: Sun, Sep 3rd, 2017

The Swedes Had a Settlement in America?

Since we were only staying one night in Wilmington, Delaware, once we checked out the hotel, we had to maximize our time before heading back home.  We did a quick search and found out about the first Swedish settlement in America.  I mean, who knew?  The Swedes were globetrotters like the other European powers?  Settling in far away lands, establishing colonies?  And they landed in what would become Wilmington?

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

We got lucky that this was the last weekend that the park was open to the public.  Even more lucky that the weather cooperated, the sun even poking out from the clouds as the day went on.

Before you enter into the park, there’s this massive mural across the street that depicts the story of the area.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

The park itself isn’t very big; then again, the settlement wasn’t that big either.  I was still amazed that the Swedes actually sent explorers out to colonize.  We learned that a long time ago, back in the 1630s, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden sent explorers out to establish a Swedish colony in North America.  They landed in Delaware Bay.

Following plans by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to establish a Swedish colony in North America, the Swedes arrived in Delaware Bay on March 29, 1638 aboard the ships Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip under the command of Peter Minuit, the former director of the New Netherland colony. They landed at a spot along the Christina River at a stone outcropping which formed a natural wharf, known as “The Rocks.” Minuit selected the site on the Christina River near the Delaware as being optimal for trade in beaver pelts with the local Lenape. He also considered the site easily defensible, and he ordered the construction of an earthwork fort around the Rocks.

At the time, the Dutch had claimed the area south to the Delaware (then called “South River”). The Swedes claimed an area for the Realm of Sweden on the south side of the Delaware that encompassed much of the present-day U.S. state of Delaware, eventually including parts of present-day southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey on the north side of the river.

The Swedish colony and the Dutch didn’t get along too well.  In 1651, the Dutch built Fort Casimir not even 10 miles away from Fort Christina, to give the Swedes a hard time.  But that didn’t work out too well.  The Swedes captures Fort Casimir three years after the Dutch built it.

But sure enough, the next year, led by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch came back with an attitude problem.  After a 10-day siege, the Swedes surrendered to the Dutch and that was the end of any Swedish colonial presence in the new world.  The Dutch were cordial enough to allow the Swedes to stick around, live their life as usual, only they would be doing so under the Dutch’s rule of law.  The first order of business was to rename Fort Christina, named after the Swedish queen, to Fort Altena.

Long story short, though, the English showed up and decided they wanted it, too.  So, they invaded in 1664 and that was the end of New Netherland on the Rocks.

Historic Park

Anyway, the area is now a historic park.

There’s a scavenger hunt activity for kids, something that always works to keep a kid’s attention.  It was a bingo-style game, and one of the items to find was the name of the guide.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Another item for the scavenger hunt was the seed from the sweetgum tree.

The park is essentially a monument at the end of a walk through the trees.  Along the way are some plaques that tell about the park.

The monument was a gift given by Prince Bertil in 1930s when the park was created to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Swedish colonization of the area.  The dedication was also attended by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Crown Prince Gustav Adolf, and Crown Princess Louise.  Atop the monument is a replica of the Kalmar Nyckel, one of the ships that brought the Swedes to the new world.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

Carved into the granite monument are these images of the voyage here.  Many of the images were part of Najwa’s scavenger hunt.  We didn’t find the beaver though, thinking that there were actual beavers in the area.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

Around the perimeter of where the monument stands is a brick wall.  Embedded into the wall is a piece of “The Rocks.”  That’s what they called the stone outcropping that formed a natural wharf along the Christina River where the Swedes settled.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

Just down the river, as in right around the corner, was a replica of the Kalmar Nyckel.  We would go on to visit the Kalmar Nyckel Museum next.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

Najwa continued her scavenger hunt.  That made her more curious of everything, including reading the plaques and signs.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

This sign [below] tells the story of Anthony, a black man who was among the first permanent settlers of New Sweden.  He came over from the West Indies aboard the Vogel Grip.

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

It’s a small park but with a very fascinating and unknown story.  I mean, who knew that the Swedes settled in America?  Or that they explored far from home in the first place?

Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware
Fort Christina - Wilmington, Delaware

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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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