After that the magnanimous Genoese Christopher Columbus, had, at the expense of Ferdinand, King of Spain, in the year 1492, discovered the Western hemisphere, and the illustrious Florentine, Americus Vespucius, sent out by King Emanuel of Portugal, in the year 1502, to make a further exploration of its coasts, had had the good fortune to give the country his name, the European powers have, from time to time, sought to promote their several interests there. Our Swedes and Goths were the less backward in such expeditions, as they had always been the first therein. They had already, in the year 996 after the birth of Christ, visited America, had named it Vinland the Good, and also Skrællinga Land, and had called its inhabitants "the Skrællings of Vinland." It is therefore evident that the Northmen had visited some part of North America before the Spaniards and Portuguese went to South America. . . .

From that time until 1623, when the West India Company obtained its charter, their trade with the Indians was conducted almost entirely on shipboard, and they made no attempts to build any house or fortress until 1629. Now, whether that was done with or without the permission of England, the town of New Amsterdam was built and fortified, as also the place Aurania, Orange, now called Albany, having since had three general-governors, one after the other. But that was not yet enough. They wished to extend their power to the river Delaware also, and erected on its shores two or three small forts, which were, however, soon after destroyed by the natives of the country.

It now came in order for Sweden also to take part in this enterprise. William Usselinx,2 a Hollander, born at Antwerp in Brabant, presented himself to King Gustaf Adolph, and laid before him a proposition for a Trading Company, to be established in Sweden, and to extend its operations to Asia, Africa, and Magellan's Land (Terra Magellanica), with the assurance that this would be a great source of revenue to the kingdom. Full power was given him to carry out this important project; and thereupon a contract of trade was drawn up, to which the Company was to agree and subscribe it. Usselinx published explanations of this contract, wherein he also particularly directed attention to the country on the Delaware, its fertility, convenience, and all its imaginable resources. To strengthen the matter, a charter (octroy) was secured for the Company, and especially to Usselinx, who was to receive a royalty of one thousandth upon all articles bought or sold by the Company.

The powerful king, whose zeal for the honor of God was not less ardent than for the welfare of his subjects, availed himself of this opportunity to extend the doctrines of Christ among the heathen, as well as to establish his own power in other parts of the world. To this end he sent forth Letters Patent, dated at Stockholm on the 2d of July, 1626, wherein all, both high and low, were invited to contribute something to the Company, according to their means. The work was completed in the Diet of the following year, 1627, when the estates of the realm gave their assent, and confirmed the measure. . . .

But when these arrangements were now in full progress, and duly provided for, the German war and the king's death occurred, which caused this important work to be laid aside. The Trading Company was dissolved, its subscriptions nullified, and the whole project seemed about to die with the king. But, just as it appeared to be at its end, it received new life. Another Hollander by the name of Peter Menewe, sometimes called Menuet,3 made his appearance in Sweden.

As a good beginning, the first colony was sent off; and Peter Menewe was placed over it, as being best acquainted in those regions. They set sail from Götheborg, in a ship-of-war called the Key of Colmar, followed by a smaller vessel bearing the name of the Bird Griffin, both laden with people, provisions, ammunition, and merchandise, suitable for traffic and gifts to the Indians. The ships successfully reached their place of destination. The high expectations which our emigrants had of that new land were well met by the first views which they had of it. They made their first landing on the bay or entrance to the river Poutaxat, which they called the river of New Sweden; and the place where they landed they called Paradise Point.4

A purchase of land was immediately made from the Indians; and it was determined that all the land on the western side of the river, from the point called Cape Inlopen or Hinlopen,5 up to the fall called Santickan, and all the country inland, as much as was ceded, should belong to the Swedish crown forever. Posts were driven into the ground as landmarks, which were still seen in their places sixty years afterward. A deed was drawn up for the land thus purchased. This was written in Dutch, because no Swede was yet able to interpret the language of the heathen. The Indians subscribed their hands and marks. The writing was sent home to Sweden to be preserved in the royal archives. Mans Kling was the surveyor. He laid out the land and made a map of the whole river, with its tributaries, islands, and points, which is still to be found in the royal archives in Sweden. Their clergyman was Reorus Torkillus of East Gothland.

The first abode of the newly arrived emigrants was at a place called by the Indians Hopokahacking. There, in the year 1638, Peter Menuet built a fortress which he named Fort Christina, after the reigning queen of Sweden.6 The place, situated upon the west side of the river, was probably chosen so as to be out of the way of the Hollanders, who claimed the eastern side,--a measure of prudence, until the arrival of a greater force from Sweden. The fort was built upon an eligible site, not far from the mouth of the creek, so as to secure them in the navigable water of the Maniquas, which was afterward called Christina Kihl, or creek.

Peter Menuet made a good beginning for the settlement of the Swedish colony in America. He gruarded his little fort for over three years, and the Hollanders neither attempted nor were able to overthrow it. After some years of faithful service he died at Christina. In his place followed Peter Hollendare, a native Swede, who did not remain at the head of its affairs more than a year and a half. He returned home to Sweden, and was a major at Skkepsholm, in Stockholm, in the year 1655.

The second emigration took place under Lieutenant Colonel John Printz, who went out with the appointment of Governor of New Sweden. He had a grant of four hundred rix dollars for his traveling expenses, and one thousand two hundred dollars silver as his annual salary. The Company was invested with the exclusive privilege of importing tobacco into Sweden, altho that article was even then regarded as unnecessary and injurious, altho indispensable since the establishment of the bad habit of its use. Upon the same occasion was also sent out Magister John Campanius Holm, who was called by their excellencies the Royal Council and Admiral Claes Flemming, to become the government chaplain, and watch over the Swedish congregation.

The ship on which they sailed was called the Fama. It went from Stockholm to Götheborg, and there took in its freight. Along with this went two other ships of the line, the Swan and the Charitas, laden with people, and other necessaries. Under Governor Printz, ships came to the colony in three distinct voyages. The first ship was the Black Cat, with ammunition, and merchandise for the Indians. Next, the ship Swan, on a second voyage, with emigrants, in the year 1647. Afterward, two other ships, called the Key and the Lamp. During these times the clergymen, Mr. Lawrence Charles Lockenius and Mr. Israel Holgh, were sent out to the colony. . . .

The voyage to New Sweden was at that time quite long. The watery way to the West was not yet well discovered, and, therefore, for fear of the sand-banks off Newfoundland, they kept their course to the east and south as far as to what were then called the Brazates. The ships which went under the command of Governor Printz sailed along the coast of Portugal, and down the coast of Africa, until they found the eastern passage, then directly over to America, leaving the Canaries high up to the north. They landed at Antigua, then continued their voyage northward, past Virginia and Maryland, to Cape Hinlopen. Yet, in view of the astonishingly long route which they took, the voyage was quick enough in six months' time,--from Stockholm on August 16, 1642, to the new fort of Christina, in New Sweden, on February 15, 1643.

The Swedes who emigrated to America belonged partly to a trading company, provided with a charter, who for their services, according to their condition of agreement, were to receive pay and monthly wages; a part of them also went on their own impulse to try their fortune. For these it was free to settle and live in the country as long as they pleased or to leave it, and they were therefore, by way of distinction from the others, called freemen. At first, also, malefactors and vicious people were sent over, who were used as slaves to labor upon the fortifications. They were kept in chains and not allowed to have intercourse with the other settlers; moreover, a separate place of abode was assigned to them. The neighboring people and country were dissatisfied that such wretches should come into the colony. It was also, in fact, very objectionable in regard to the heathen, who might be greatly offended by it. Whence it happened that, when such persons came over in Governor Printz's time, it was not permitted that one of them should set foot upon the shore, but they had all to be carried back again, whereupon a great part of them died during the voyage or perished in some other way. Afterward it was forbidden at home in Sweden, under a penalty, to take for the American voyage any persons of bad fame; nor was there ever any lack of good people for the colony.

Governor Printz was now in a position to put the government upon a safe footing to maintain the rights of the Swedes, and to put down the attempts of the Hollanders. They had lately, before his arrival, patched their little Fort Nassau. On this account he selected the island of Tenackong as his residence, which is sometimes also called Tutaeaenung and Tenicko, about three Swedish miles from Fort Christina. The convenient situation of the place suggested its selection as also the location of Fort Nassau,7 which lay some miles over against it, to which he could thus command the passage by water. The new fort, which was erected and provided with considerable armament, was called New Götheborg. His place of residence, which he adorned with orchards, gardens, a pleasure-house, etc., he named Printz Hall. A handsome wooden church was also built at the same place, which Magister Campanius consecrated, on the last great prayer-day which was celebrated in New Sweden, on the 4th of September, 1646. Upon that place also all the most prominent freemen had their residences and plantations.

1From Acrelius's "History of New Sweden." Printed in "Old South Leaflets." Acrelius from 1749 until 1756 was provost over Swedish Congregations in America and pastor of their church at Christina, now Wilmington, on the Delaware. His complete work is an exhaustive one, and covers not only the early but the later years of Swedish history on the Delaware. It has long been esteemed the best work we have on the subject.
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2Usselinx had proposed the formation of a company to trade in foreign countries, including America, as early as 1604.
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3Peter Minuit, the Governor of New Amsterdam, who purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for goods worth $24, is here referred to.
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4Paradise Point was near the present town of Lewes, in the State of Delaware. The site is near where the Bay merges in the ocean.
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5This name has been corrupted into Henlopen. The cape was named by Captain Cornelius Mey after a town in Friesland. Mey's name was given to the southern point of New Jersey now known as Cape May. He visited Delaware Bay in or about 1614.
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6Ft. Christina was within the limits of the present city of Wilmington. The ancient Swedish church, built in 1698 and still standing in Wilmington, marks the site of this, the original settlement of Swedes in Delaware.
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7Fort Nassau was on Delaware Bay at the mouth of Timber Creek, below Gloucester Point, in New Jersey.
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© 2002 by Lynn Waterman