New Castle, Delaware arose from the conflict between three great powers – Netherlands, Sweden, and England. For 30 years, from 1651 to 1681, these nations vied for control of the Delaware Valley and the profitable trade in natural resources — beaver pelts, timber and tobacco — with the region’s American Indian inhabitants, the Lenni Lenape. It was a kind of cultural imperialism, a struggle to create and maintain unequal relationships between civilizations, favoring the more powerful civilization.
In 1638, the Swedes seized upon the lack of a Dutch presence in the Delaware Valley (most Dutch posts were further north) by constructing Fort Christina at present-day Wilmington, Delaware.
The three main characters in these ongoing campaigns were Peter Stuyvesant (Dutch), Captain Sven Skute (Swedish), and Sir Robert Carr (English).
The Dutch responded to this Swedish encroachment in 1651 by dispatching Peter Stuyvesant, the director-general of New Netherland, and his military force to build a new fortification, the timber and earthen Fort Casimir (1651-1654). A short five-mile distance downriver in today’s New Castle, it served as a military stronghold, courthouse and jail. Here, the Dutch sought to control shipping to the Swedish settlements upriver.
Fort Casimir was taken by the Swedes on Trinity Sunday, 1654, when the Swedish warship, The Eagle, fired four canon shots at Fort Casimir. Poorly manned and outgunned, the Dutch surrendered the fort to a landing party of 20 Swedish musketeers under the command of Captain Sven Skute. The victorious Swedes changed the name of the stronghold to Fort Trinity.
The Swedish occupation of Fort Trinity and Skute’s command were short-lived. The following year, in 1655, the Dutch retook their former fort and settlement. That same year, the Dutch force then moved upriver and took Fort Christina, thus ending Swedish rule in the Delaware Valley.
Stuyvesant, despite his orders, exhibited a benevolent attitude; he treated the Swedish and Finnish settlers well and wouldn’t imprison or exile them if they gave their allegiance to the Dutch government – which many did. Back under Dutch control, the settlement prospered and was renamed Fort Amstel.
Stuyvesant laid out The Strand (riverfront), the first streets and lot arrangements, and The Green (market green), a public square that has since served as a place for public forums, fairs, weekly markets, and other town activities. On this green stood the old jail and gallows. By 1659, New Amstel’s population had increased to 150 individuals and contained 110 structures including a brewery, bake house, forge and brick kiln.
In the end, the English prevailed in the struggle for dominance. In August of 1664, Peter Stuyvesant surrendered, dooming the Dutch settlements in the Delaware Valley. By October, two English warships with a force of 100 soldiers under the command of Sir Robert Carr approached New Amstel.
The English brought about a selection of changes and expanded the town, which they renamed New Castle. During this period, the town’s population increased. Its many historic houses are brick or frame and 2-3 stories; some have been in the same family for 3-4 generations.
The Duke of York’s Laws for the Government of the New York Colony were drafted in 1665 by the colonial governor, Richard Nicholls. This legal code aimed to bring a more uniform system of law to the territory, covering nearly every aspect of colonial life. It included things as diverse as the bounty to be paid on wolves, standards for weights and measures, restrictions on American Indians, social and domestic regulations, rules for the militia, and most lasting, the establishment of a court system including trial by jury.
The first recorded criminal jury trial under English law in Delaware took place in New Castle in December 1669. On trial was Marcus Jacobs, called “Long Finn” because he was unusually tall and spoke Finnish. He was charged for rebellion after he made a speech, making numerous false claims, calling for the overthrow of the English. He was arrested, tried and found guilty of rebellion by the jury. For his punishment, he was branded on the face with the letter “R” for rebellion and whipped in public. Ultimately, he was expelled from the colony and sold into slavery.
New Castle Common is part of a tract of one thousand acres set apart by William Penn in 1701 for the inhabitants of the town of New Castle. It was in 1682 that William Penn traveled to the New World landing in New Castle, exerting his Quaker influence on the town.
Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green was established in 1689, and built in 1703.
The military installments would eventually be lost to time. New Castle became a melting pot of people from many nations and ethnic groups, including Africans and American Indians. This multi-cultural influence endures today.
The New Castle Courthouse
The New Castle Courthouse was built in 1732 and served as the meeting place for the state’s colonial assembly from 1732-1777. It is here where the Delaware Assembly voted on June 15, 1776 to separate from England and from Pennsylvania, creating the “State of Delaware.”
The town was home to four signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 – George Read, Thomas McKean, George Ross, and Francis Hopkinson.
One of the building’s most famous federal proceedings was a series of trials in 1848. Prominent abolitionists and Underground Railroad conductors Thomas Garrett, a close friend and ally of Harriet Tubman, and John Hunn were found guilty of violating the Fugitive Slave Act and were issued hefty fines.
The Courthouse continued to hold regular state and federal proceedings until 1888.
In 1857, New Castle County constructed a new prison complex on this site. The Sheriff’s House provided a roomy residence for the County Sheriff and his family. The prison (to its right) could house as many as 40 inmates. The whipping post and pillory in the New Castle Prison Yard were adjacent; the last whipping was in 1952, but the state didn’t outlaw the practice until 1972.
The county seat moved to Wilmington in 1881, but the Sheriff’s House and County Jail remained in service until 1902. The jail was torn down in 1912. The Sheriff’s House continued to be used, most notably as the home of New Castle Club, and finally, as the city police headquarters until 1997. The National Park Service now manages the Sheriff’s House as part of First State National Historical Park.
The Old Library Museum is a hexagonal, Victorian-style brick building built in 1892 that features historical society collections.
Packet boats from Philadelphia met stagecoaches at Packet Alley bound for Frenchtown, Maryland, the chief line of communication from the North to Baltimore and the South. Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Louis Napoleon, Stonewall Jackson, and Indians (led by Osceola and Black Hawk) en route to visit “Great Father” in Washington – all passed this way.
George Read (1733-1798) was a Member of the Congress of the Revolution, the convention that framed the Constitution of the United States and of the first Senate under it; Judge of Admiralty, President and Chief Justice of Delaware, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His Federal Period house was destroyed by fire in April 1824.
The townspeople rebuilt the home and the second owner, William Cooper and his family added a formal garden that stretched back to Second Street. In the early 1900s, third owners, Philip and Lydia Laird, laid brick sidewalks throughout the garden and erected brick walls.
It was a pleasure to wander around these gardens on a warm summer day.
Old Swedes Church
After leaving New Castle, I made my way to Wilmington, where I stopped at Old Swedes Church, known as “the nation’s oldest church building still used for worship as originally built.” Upon arrival from Sweden in 1697, Paster Eric Björk began his quest to build a stone church to replace the decaying log structure on the south bank of the Christina River that had served the Swedish Lutheran congregation. Helga Trefaldigher Kyrcka (Holy Trinity Church) was consecrated on Trinity Sunday, 1699. Over the years, it has become affectionately known as Old Swedes.
It is located in what was the New Sweden Colony before Delaware fell to the English in 1664. The Swedish Government supported the building of the church for the love and community of its people, despite the fact that it was no longer a Swedish Colony. The Church is made from local blue granite and precedes the burial ground that surrounds it; the cemetery holds remains of over 8,000 individuals, a number of whom were significant to the history of Delaware, including the humblest Swedish settler, a Secretary of State of the United States, and military personnel.
The “M.B.” Stone is probably one of the oldest still visible in the churchyard. It is not known who M.B. was or when he or she died. The stone is typical of the simple rough markers of the late 1600s and early 1700s.
The Stidham Family was a prominent family in the early days of the New Sweden Colony and Old Swedes. Dr. Tymen Stidham arrived on the fourth voyage of the Kalmar Nyckel. The first physician in this area, he strictly enforced sanitary measures, leading to a healthy New Sweden colony.
Rev. Joseph Stidham fought in the Revolutionary War. There are four Stidham Revolutionary War veterans buried at Old Swedes.
Reparations to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the consecration of Old Swedes in 1998 produced some surprising results.
Painters removed dozens of coats of paint from the south doors in preparation for painting. They found carved graffiti dating back almost 300 years. It was decided to leave the graffiti rather than paint over it as had been done in the past. Much of the graffiti dates from the twelve year period the church was closed, 1830-1842. The earliest date found is 1711. In addition to the doors, some initials and dates have been carved into the portico stones.
Though the English were the apparent victors in the struggles for cultural imperialism in the Delaware Valley, the Swedes still managed to hang on to their community and cultural identity.
After leaving Old Swedes Church, I headed for the expansive and glamorous Nemours Estate, owned and developed by Alfred I. duPont (1864-1935).
*Thursday, June 6, 2019*
“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose. One of my intentions was to use five random nouns in my travel essay each day: 1)
attitude, 2) campaign, 3) pleasure, 4) selection, and 5) distance. √ I also chose a theme for today: cultural imperialism.
It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation. You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.
Include the link in the comments below by Monday, December 9 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, December 10, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!