Before Pennsylvania was Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley was New Sweden.
When, on March 4, 1682 Charles II of England granted a charter for the colony that would become Pennsylvania, William Penn would be taking over an existing colony—one that had been colonized for forty years. This colony was New Sweden.
In April 1638, two ships, the Kalmar Nyckel and the Fogel Grip, which had sailed from Sweden the previous autumn, arrived in the Delaware Valley, and after exploring, founded New Sweden and settled in Wilmington, Delaware.
By 1644, the Swedish colony had expanded to the Schuylkill River, where Governor Johan Björnsson Printz established a capital on what is now Tinicum Island. Here, he built the first permanent seat of government in the Keystone state.
How did New Sweden come to be?
Following Columbus’ 1492 discovery of the Western Hemisphere, Spanish, French and British explorers sailed the coast of America—but there is no record of their actually landing in the Delaware Valley.
In 1609, sailing for the Dutch West India Company, British Captain Henry Hudson explored the Hudson and Delaware Valleys. Hudson was arrested for sailing for a foreign flag. He was released and allowed to sail under a British flag. He discovered Hudson Bay where his ship became trapped in the ice. His crew mutinied and set him adrift in a small boat, never to be seen again.
Using this voyage as a claim of possession, in 1624 the Dutch West India Company established a trading post at Burlington Island, near Bristol, Pennsylvania. In 1626, the man who purchased Manhattan Island, Peter Minuit, became the third Dutch Director-General.
In 1631, after being recalled by the Dutch, Minuit joined the New Sweden Company and in 1638, led the two Swedish ships that established a trading post at Fort Christina, now in Wilmington, Delaware, and claimed possession of the western side of the Delaware River. Minuit died in a hurricane on his way home for a second voyage.
After establishing a capital below current Philadelphia, in 1655, the Dutch, under Peter Stuyvesant annexed New Sweden. In 1664, the British under James – the Duke of York and brother of King Charles II, took the land from the Dutch. In 1682, in settlement for a large loan given Charles by William Penn’s late father, Sir William Penn. Penn called the colony Sylvania. Charles changed the name to Pennsylvania to honor Sir William.
Though short in terms of years, New Sweden contributed three ideals that helped form Pennsylvania. First, there was no slavery in New Sweden. Pennsylvania would become among the strongest of abolitionist states. Second, New Sweden established a policy of treating native peoples fairly and of purchasing land from them.
Third, New Sweden had a policy of religious liberty. When William Penn was just a boy, eleven expeditions had settled in New Sweden and when he sailed up the Delaware, he is said to have passed five Swedish Lutheran Churches on the way.
New Sweden was the result of Sweden’s emergence as a world power in the 1600s due to success by King Gustav II Adolph, in the Thirty Years’ War. King Gustav II Adolph, wanting to create a trading empire, chartered the New Sweden Company to set-up colonies in the new world.
Gustav died in battle in 1632, just after underwriting Peter Minuit’s first voyage. The Swedish crown was passed to his twelve-year-old daughter, Christina. When Minuit landed at Wilmington, the first settlement, Fort Christina, was named in her honor.
For further information about the Swedish role in Pennsylvania’s history, here are some places you can visit:
The American Swedish Historical Museum in South Philadelphia (www.americanswedish.org) – founded in 1926, is the oldest Swedish Museum in the United States. The Museum is located on land that was once part of a 17th-century land grant from Queen Christina of Sweden to colonist Sven Skute. Three of the Museum’s 12 galleries are devoted to the history of the New Sweden Colony
Kalmar Nyckel (www.kalmarnyckel.org) in Wilmington Delaware is a recreation of the tall ship that brought settlers to New Sweden.
New Sweden Farmstead Museum in Bridgeton, NJ (www.co.cumberland.nj.us/tourism/new_sweden_farmstead_museum) – offers a re-creation of a New Sweden farm.
The Swedish Cabin (www.swedishcabin.org) – a log cabin built in the period of New Sweden 1638-1655.