Map of New Sweden ca. 1650
by Amandus Johnson
|Common languages||Swedish, Finnish, Munsee, Unami|
|Religion||Church of Sweden|
Native American religion
|Monarch of Sweden|
|Charles X Gustav|
|Måns Nilsson Kling|
|Peter Hollander Ridder|
|Johan Björnsson Printz|
|Historical era||Colonial period|
|Today part of||United States|
New Sweden (Swedish: Nya Sverige; Finnish: Uusi Ruotsi; Latin: Nova Svecia) was a Swedish colony along the lower reaches of the Delaware River in America from 1638 to 1655, established during the Thirty Years' War when Sweden was a great military power. New Sweden was part of Swedish colonization efforts in the Americas. Settlements were established on both sides of the Delaware Valley in the region of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, often in places where Swedish traders had been visiting since about 1610.Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware was the first settlement, named after the reigning Swedish monarch. The settlers were Swedes, Finns, and a number of Dutch. New Sweden was conquered by the Dutch Republic in 1655 during the Second Northern War and incorporated into the Dutch colony of New Netherland.
By the middle of the 17th century, the Realm of Sweden had reached its greatest territorial extent and was one of the great powers of Europe. Sweden then included Finland and Estonia, along with parts of modern Russia, Poland, Germany, and Latvia under King Gustavus Adolphus and later Christina, Queen of Sweden. The Swedes sought to expand their influence by creating an agricultural (tobacco) and fur-trading colony to circumvent French and English merchants.
The Swedish South Company was founded in 1626 with a mandate to establish colonies between Florida and Newfoundland for the purposes of trade, particularly along the Delaware River. Its charter included Swedish, Dutch, and German stockholders led by directors of the New Sweden Company, including Samuel Blommaert. The company sponsored 11 expeditions in 14 separate voyages to Delaware between 1638 and 1655; two did not survive.
The first Swedish expedition to America sailed from the port of Gothenburg in late 1637, organized and overseen by Clas Fleming, a Swedish admiral from Finland. Flemish Dutch Samuel Blommaert assisted the fitting-out and appointed Peter Minuit (the former Governor of New Amsterdam) to lead the expedition. The expedition sailed into Delaware Bay aboard the Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel, which lay within the territory claimed by the Dutch. They passed Cape May and Cape Henlopen in late March 1638 and anchored on March 29 at a rocky point on the Minquas Kill that is known today as Swedes' Landing. They built a fort in Wilmington which they named Fort Christina after Queen Christina.
In the following years, the area was settled by 600 Swedes and Finns, a number of Dutchmen, a few Germans, a Dane, and at least one Estonian, and Minuit became the first governor of the colony of New Sweden. He had been the third Director of New Amsterdam, and he knew that the Dutch claimed the area south to the Delaware River and its bay. The Dutch, however, had pulled back their settlers from the area after several years in order to concentrate on the settlement on Manhattan Island.
Governor Minuit landed on the west bank of the river and gathered the sachems of the Delawares and Susquehannocks. They held a conclave in Minuit's cabin on the Kalmar Nyckel, and he persuaded them to sign deeds which he had prepared to solve any issue with the Dutch. The Swedes claimed that the purchased land included land on the west side of the South River from just below the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and coastal Maryland. Delaware sachem Mattahoon later claimed that the purchase only included as much land as was contained within an area marked by "six trees", and the rest of the land occupied by the Swedes was stolen.
Kieft objected to the Swedes landing, but Minuit ignored him since he knew that the Dutch were militarily weak at the moment. Minuit completed Fort Christina in 1638, then sailed for Stockholm to bring the second group of settlers. He made a detour to the Caribbean to pick up a shipment of tobacco to sell in Europe in order to make the voyage profitable. However, he died on this voyage during a hurricane at St. Christopher in the Caribbean. The official duties of the governor of New Sweden were carried out by Captain Måns Nilsson Kling, until a new governor was selected and arrived from Sweden two years later.
The company expanded along the river from Fort Christina under the leadership of Johan Björnsson Printz, governor from 1643 to 1653. They established Fort Nya Elfsborg on the east bank of the Delaware near Salem, New Jersey and Fort Nya Gothenborg on Tinicum Island to the immediate southwest of Philadelphia. He also built his manor house The Printzhof at Fort Nya Gothenborg, and the Swedish colony prospered for a time. In 1644, New Sweden supported the Susquehannocks in their war against English colonists in the Province of Maryland. In May 1654, soldiers from New Sweden led by Governor Johan Risingh captured Fort Casimir and renamed it Fort Trinity (Trefaldigheten in Swedish).
Sweden opened the Second Northern War in the Baltic by attacking the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Dutch sent an armed squadron of ships under Director-General Peter Stuyvesant to seize New Sweden. In the summer of 1655, the Dutch marched an army to the Delaware River, easily capturing Fort Trinity and Fort Christina. The Swedish settlement was formally incorporated into Dutch New Netherland on September 15, 1655, although the Swedish and Finnish settlers were allowed local autonomy. They retained their own militia, religion, court, and lands. This lasted until the English conquest of New Netherland, launched on June 24, 1664. The Duke of York sold New Jersey to John Berkeley and George Carteret to become a proprietary colony, separate from the projected colony of New York. The invasion began on August 29, 1664 with the capture of New Amsterdam and ended with the capture of Fort Casimir (New Castle, Delaware) in October. This took place at the beginning of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
New Sweden continued to exist unofficially, and some immigration and expansion continued. The first settlement at Wicaco began with a Swedish log blockhouse located on Society Hill in Philadelphia in 1669. It was later used as a church until about 1700, when Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church of Philadelphia was built on the site. New Sweden finally came to an end when its land was included in William Penn's charter for Pennsylvania on August 24, 1682.
The start of the Third Anglo-Dutch War resulted in the Dutch recapture of New Netherland in August 1673. They restored the status which predated the English invasion, and codified it in the establishment of three counties: Hoarkill County,New Amstel County, and Upland County, which was later partitioned between New Castle County, Delaware, and the Colony of Pennsylvania. The three counties were created on September 12, 1673, the first two on the west shore of the Delaware River and the third on both sides of the river.
The Treaty of Westminster of 1674 ended the Dutch effort and required them to return all of New Netherland to the English on June 29, including the three counties which they created. After taking stock, the English declared on November 11 that settlements on the west side of the Delaware River and Delaware Bay were to be dependent on the Colony of New York, including the three Counties. This declaration was followed by a declaration that renamed New Amstel as New Castle. The other counties retained their Dutch names for the duration.
The next step in the assimilation of New Sweden into New York was the extension of the Duke's laws into the region on September 22, 1676. This was followed by the partition of some Upland Counties to conform to the borders of Pennsylvania and Delaware, with most of the Delaware portion going to New Castle County on November 12, 1678. The remainder of Upland continued in place under the same name. On June 21, 1680, New Castle and Hoarkill Counties were partitioned to produce St. Jones County.
On March 4, 1681, what had been the colony of New Sweden was formally partitioned into the colonies of Delaware and Pennsylvania. The border was established 12 miles north of New Castle, and the northern limit of Pennsylvania was set at 42 degrees north latitude. The eastern limit was the border with New Jersey at the Delaware River, while the western limit was undefined. In June 1681, Upland ceased to exist as the result of the reorganization of the Colony of Pennsylvania, with the Upland government becoming the government of Chester County, Pennsylvania.
On August 24, 1682, the Duke of York transferred the western Delaware River region to William Penn, including Delaware, thus transferring Deale County and St. Jones County from New York to Delaware. St. Jones County was renamed Kent County, Deale County was renamed Sussex County, and New Castle County retained its name.
Historian H. Arnold Barton has suggested that the greatest significance of New Sweden was the strong and lasting interest in America that the colony generated in Sweden, although major Swedish immigration did not occur until the late 19th century. From 1870 to 1910, more than one million Swedes arrived in America, settling particularly in Minnesota and other states of the Upper Midwest. Traces of New Sweden persist in the lower Delaware Valley, including Holy Trinity Church in Wilmington, Delaware, Gloria Dei Church and St. James Kingsessing Church in Philadelphia, Trinity Episcopal Church in Swedesboro, New Jersey, and Christ Church in Swedesburg, Pennsylvania. All of those churches are commonly known as "Old Swedes' Church".Christiana, Delaware is one of the few settlements in the area with a Swedish name, and Upland survives as Upland, Pennsylvania. Swedesford Road is still found in Chester and Montgomery Counties, Pennsylvania, although Swedesford has long since become Norristown. The American Swedish Historical Museum in South Philadelphia houses many exhibits, documents, and artifacts from the New Sweden colony.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of New Sweden to the development of the New World is the traditional Finnish forest house building technique. The colonists of New Sweden brought with them the log cabin, which became such an icon of the American frontier that it is thought of as an American structure. The C. A. Nothnagle Log House on Swedesboro-Paulsboro Road in Gibbstown, New Jersey is one of the oldest surviving log houses in the United States.
The settlers came from all over the Swedish realm. The percentage of Finns in New Sweden grew especially towards the end of the colonization; they composed 22-percent of the population during Swedish rule but rose to about 50-percent after the colony came under Dutch rule. A contingent of 140 Finns arrived in 1664. The ship Mercurius sailed to the colony in 1665, and 92 of the 106 passengers were listed as Finns. Memory of the early Finnish settlement lived on in place names near the Delaware River such as Finland (Marcus Hook), Torne, Lapland, Finns Point, Mullica Hill, and Mullica River.
A portion of these Finns were known as Forest Finns, people of Finnish descent who had been living in the forest areas of Central Sweden. The Forest Finns had moved from Savonia in Eastern Finland to Dalarna, Bergslagen and other provinces in central Sweden during the late-16th to mid-17th century. Their relocation had started as part of an effort by Swedish King Gustav Vasa to expand agriculture to these uninhabited parts of the country. The Finns in Savonia traditionally farmed with a slash-and-burn method which was better suited to pioneering agriculture in vast forest areas. This was also the farming method used by the American Indians of Delaware.
In 1641, some English families, (probably emigrants from New Haven, Conn.,) embracing about 60 persons, settled on Ferken's creek (now Salem.) About this period, the Swedes bought of the Indians the whole district from Cape May to Raccoon creek; and, in order to unite these English with the Swedes, the Swedish governor, Printz, who arrived from Sweden the year after, (1642,) was to "act kindly and faithfully toward them; and as these English expected soon, by further arrivals, to increase their numbers to several hundreds, and seemed also willing to be subjects of the Swedish government, he was to receive them under allegiance, though not without endeavoring to effect their removal."