New Sweden

New Sweden (Swedish: Nya Sverige)[1] was a Swedish colony along the lower reaches of the Delaware River in what is now the United States from 1638 to 1655,[2] established during the Thirty Years' War when Sweden was a great military power. New Sweden formed part of the Swedish efforts to colonize the Americas. Settlements were established on both sides of the Delaware Valley in the region of Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, often in places where Swedish traders had been visiting since about 1610.[3] 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.

New Sweden
Nya Sverige
Map of New Sweden, c. 1650
by Amandus Johnson
StatusSwedish colony
CapitalFort Christina
Common languagesSwedish, Finnish, Munsee, Unami
Church of Sweden
Native American religion
Monarch of Sweden 
Charles X Gustav
Peter Minuit
Måns Nilsson Kling
Peter Hollander Ridder
Johan Björnsson Printz
Johan Papegoja
Johan Risingh
Historical eraColonial period
CurrencySwedish riksdaler
Preceded by
Succeeded by
New Netherland
New Netherland
Today part ofUnited States


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; it was the stormaktstiden ("age of greatness" or "great power period").[4] Sweden then included Finland and Estonia, along with parts of modern Russia, Poland, Germany, and Latvia under King Gustavus Adolphus and later Queen Christina. Other northern European nations were establishing colonies in the New World and building successful trading empires at this time. The Swedes sought to expand their influence by creating their own plantation (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.[5][6] 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 Larsson 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[7] 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 their Queen.[8]

The relative locations of New Netherland (magenta) and New Sweden (blue) in America; modern state boundaries and postal abbreviations are shown

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,[9] 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.[10]

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 (Delaware) 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.[11]

Willem 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.[12]

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. Printz 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 Maryland colonists.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

In 1669, New Sweden was under British rule, but most of the population was still Swedish. A man named Marcus Jacobsson, posing as a member of the Königsmarck family, attempted to instigate a rebellion against the British to return New Sweden to Swedish rule.[16] The rebellion, known as the Revolt of the Long Swede due to Jacobsson's height, failed. Jacobsson was sold into slavery in the Caribbean and the families that had supported him were fined for their participation in the revolt.[17]

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.[18] New Sweden finally came to an end when its land was included in William Penn's charter for Pennsylvania on August 24, 1682.

Hoarkill, New Amstel, and Upland

The C. A. Nothnagle Log House in Gibbstown, New Jersey, built in 1638, the oldest house in New Jersey

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 capture, and codified it in the establishment of three counties: Hoarkill County,[19] New Amstel County,[19] and Upland County, which was later partitioned between New Castle County, Delaware, and the Colony of Pennsylvania.[19] 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 second period of Dutch control and required them to return all of New Netherland to the English on June 29, including the three counties which they created.[20] 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 Province of New York, including the three Counties.[21] This declaration was followed by a declaration that renamed New Amstel as New Castle. The other counties retained their Dutch names.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

Swedish explorer and botanist Pehr Kalm visited the descendants of the early Swedish immigrants to New Sweden in the mid-18th century and documented their experiences with the Native American Indians who resided in those parts, in a book entitled Travels into North America.[27]

Significance and legacy

US Postage stamp commemorating the founding of Wilmington, Delaware (1938)

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,[28] 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".[29] Christiana, Delaware, is one of the few settlements in the area retaining 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. Swedeland, Pennsylvania, is part of Upper Merion Township in Montgomery County. The American Swedish Historical Museum in South Philadelphia houses many exhibits, documents, and artifacts from the New Sweden colony.[30]

Perhaps the greatest contribution of New Sweden to the development of the New World is the log 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 commonly thought of as an American structure.[31][32] 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.[33][34]

Finnish influence

The settlers came from all over the Swedish realm. The percentage of Finns in New Sweden grew especially towards the end of the period of colonization.[35] Finns composed 22 percent of the population during Swedish rule, and rose to about 50 percent after the colony came under Dutch rule.[36] 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.[37]

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[38] which was better suited to pioneering agriculture in vast forest areas. This was also the farming method used by the American Indians of Delaware.


Permanent settlements

Rivers and creeks

  • Delaware River: "South River" (Södre Rivier; as opposed to the Hudson), "Swedish River" (Swenskes Rivier), "New Sweden River" (Nya Sweriges Rivier)[46]
  • Schuylkill River: "Schuyl Creek" (Schuylen Kÿl)[46] meaning hidden river
  • Brandywine Creek: "Fish Creek" (Fiske Kÿl)
  • Christina River: "Susquehanna" (Minquas) or "Christina Creek" (Christina Kÿl)
  • Raccoon Creek: "Narraticon" (Lenape) meaning Raccoon[52][53]
  • Salem River: Varkens Kill (Hogg Creek)
  • Mullica River, named for an early Finnish settler, Eric Pålsson Mullica

See also



  1. Finnish: Uusi Ruotsi; Latin: Nova Svecia
  2. "Delaware". World Statesmen. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  3. Copy the cite data from the New American Heritage book of Indians on Susquehannock.
  4. See, e.g., Jan Glete, The Swedish fiscal-military state and its navy, 1521–1721.
  5. "A Brief History of New Sweden in America". The Swedish Colonial Society.
  6. Mark L. Thompson (2013). The Contest for the Delaware Valley: Allegiance, Identity, and Empire in the Seventeenth Century. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-5060-3.
  7. McCormick, p. 12; Munroe, Colonial Delaware, p. 16.
  8. Thorne, Kathryn; Ford, Compiler; Long, John H., eds. (1993). New York Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. The Newbury Library. p. 5.
  9. "Estonians in North America, 1627–1896".
  10. Shorto, Russell (2004) The Island at the Center of the World New York: Vintage Press. pp. 43,58. ISBN 978-1-4000-7867-7
  11. Jennings, p. 117
  12. Shorto, Russell, The Island at the Center of the World, Part II; Chapter 6; Pages 115–117.
  13. Jennings, p. 120
  14. "Upland Court". West Jersey History Project.
  15. Munroe, History of Delaware, pp. 30–31
  16. "Chronology of Colonial Swedes on the Delaware 1638–1713". Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  17. Haefeli, Evan (2006). "The Revolt of the Long Swede: Transatlantic Hopes and Fears on the Delaware, 1669". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 130 (2): 137–180. ISSN 0031-4587. JSTOR 20093851.
  18. "Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church". National Park Service.
  19. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Vol. 12. pp. 507–508.
  20. Parry, Clive, ed. Consolidated Treaty Series.; Vol. 13, p. 136; Dobbs Ferry, New York; Oceana Publications, 1969–1981.
  21. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Vol. 12. p. 515.
  22. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Vol. 12. pp. 561–563.
  23. Armstrong, Edward (1860). Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: Volume 119; Record of the Court at Upland, in Pennsylvania, 1676 to 1681. Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania. p. 198.
  24. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Vol. 12. pp. 654, 664, 666–667.
  25. Armstrong, Edward (1860). Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: Volume 119; Record of the Court at Upland, in Pennsylvania, 1676 to 1681. Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania. p. 196.
  26. Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd series, Vol. 5: pp. 739–744.
  27. Kalm (1772), p. 345
  28. Barton, A Folk Divided, 5–7.
  29. Project Canterbury. Swedish Folk within Our Church (Thomas Burgess. New York: Foreign-Born Americans Division, Episcopal Diocese of New York. National Council, 1929)
  30. "Museum Galleries | American Swedish Historical Museum". Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  31. Henry C. Pitz, The Brandywine Tradition, Weathervane Books, 1968. pp. 4–5.
  32. Mary Trotter Kion, "New Sweden: The First Colony in Delaware". July 23, 2006; accessed 2010.03.10.
  33. "Nothnagle Log Cabin, Gibbstown". Art and Archtitecture of New Jersey. Richard Stokton College of New Jersey. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  34. Oldest – Log House in North America – Superlatives on. Retrieved on July 23, 2013.
  35. "".
  36. Wedin, Maud (October 2012). "Highlights of Research in Scandinavia on Forest Finns" (PDF). American-Swedish Organization. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 10, 2014. Retrieved November 7, 2012.
  37. Spiegel, Taru. "The Finns in America". European Reading Room. Library of Congress. Retrieved August 26, 2010.
  38. "Finland monument at Concord Avenue in Chester, Pennsylvania". Historical Markers. Retrieved August 26, 2010.
  39. The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware 1638–1664 Volume I (Amandus Johnson Reprint Services Corp. 1911)
  40. Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware 1630–1707 (ed. Albert Cook Myers. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1912)
  41. The Swedes and Finns in New Jersey (Federal Writers' Project of WPA. Bayonne, New Jersey: Jersey Printing Company, Inc. 1938)
  42. History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by Henry Graham Ashmead. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co. 1884
  43. Kingsessing: Swedish Settlement to Urban Blight, Elizabeth D. Day, University Archives and Records Center. University of Pennsylvania, October 10, 2005)
  44. History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Henry Graham Ashmead. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co. 1884
  45. "Site of Fort Casimir". Delaware Public Archives. State of Delaware. Archived from the original on August 21, 2010. Retrieved September 14, 2010.
  46. Johnson, Amandus. The Swedish settlements on the Delaware, 1638–1664.. Swedish Colonial Society, 1911.
  47. Chandler, Alfred N. (2000) [1945], Land Title Origins: A Tale of Force and Fraud, Beard Books, p. 242, ISBN 1-893122-89-1
  48. Sheridan, Janet L. (2007). "Their houses are some Built of timber": The colonial timber frame houses of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey. University of Michigan Ann Arbor. p. 182. ISBN 9780549186526. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  49. Howe, Henry; Barber, John W. (1844), Salem, NJ, New York: S. Tuttle, 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."
  50. Williams, Rev. Dr. Kim-Eric. "Trinity Episcopal Church". The Swedish Colonial Society. Archived from the original on January 15, 2008.
  51. "History: Early Settlement". Trinity Episcopal "Old Swedes" Church. Trinity Episcopal "Old Swedes" Church. Archived from the original on September 5, 2008.
  52. Roncace, Kelly (May 14, 2012). "What's in a Name? Raccoon Creek". South Jersey Times. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  53. "The Kepharts: Cohawkin, Raccoon Creek, Narraticon all names left by Lenni-Lenape in Gloucester County". November 7, 2010.


Further reading

  • Jameson, J. Franklin (1887) Willem Usselinx: Founder of the Dutch and Swedish West India Companies. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Mickley, Joseph J. (1881) Some Account of William Usselinx and Peter Minuit: Two individuals who were instrumental in establishing the first permanent colony in Delaware. The Historical Society of Delaware.
  • Myers, Albert Cook, ed. (1912) Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey, and Delaware, 1630–1707. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
  • Ward, Christopher (1930) Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware, 1609–1664. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

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