Map of the Discovery of the U.S. Coast And Geodetic Survey

Early Events in the Settlement of the Atlantic Coast

Early events in the settlement of the Atlantic coast are here briefly related for the purpose of comparison of dates, in order that the reader may properly place the first settlement of what later became Chester County among other movements of the kind. The first settlement in Virginia was made at Jamestown in 1607, and in 1609 the famous navigator, Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of the Dutch East India Company, discovered the great river which has, for most of the time since then, borne his name, and which at other times has been, or rather was called, the North River, the present Delaware River being called, to distinguish it, the “South River.” The bay into which the Delaware River flows was discovered by Henry Hudson on August 28, 1609, when he was in latitude 39 degrees 5 minutes north. This bay was in 1610 visited by Lord De la Ware, and named Delaware Bay in honor of that nobleman.

Inasmuch as Henry Hudson was in the service of the Dutch, that nation laid claim to the territory on either side of the Hudson River and to that on either side of both Delaware Bay and Dela-ware River, thus claiming an extensive territory along the Atlantic coast for a considerable distance north and south. The Delaware: River, one of the noblest of those flowing directly into the Atlantic Ocean, was known in the early history of the country by various names, particularly among the Indians, who called it “Pautaxat,” “Mariskitton,” “Makerish-kiskeu,” and “Lenape-Whittuck.” By the Dutch it was named the “Zuyt,” or South River, Nassau River, Prince Hendrick River and Charles River. By the Swedes it was known as New Swedeland stream; by Ileylin, in his “Cosmography,” it was called “Arastapha,” and finally by the English it was named the Delaware River; and as the English finally triumphed over their enemies or rivals in the settlement of the Atlantic coast, the name given by them to this fine stream has been retained.

Delaware Bay had at least two names applied to it before its present name became the permanent one, these two names being Newport Mey and Godyn’s Bay.

The States General of Holland, on March 27, 1611, granted a general charter securing “the exclusive privileges of trade during four voyages to the discoverers of any new courses, havens, countries or places, under which charter the merchants of Amsterdam fitted out five vessels, one of which was named the “Fortune.” It belonged to the city of Hoorn, was commanded by Captain Cornelis Jacobson Mey, and arrived at the mouth of Delaware Bay. Its capes were named after himself, Cornelis and Mey. Another vessel commanded by Captain Adrian Block was burned at the mouth of “Manhattan River,” and immediately afterward Captain Block built a small vessel, sometimes called a yacht, which was 44 1/2 feet long and 11 1/2 feet wide, which he named the “Unrest,” or Restless, this being the first vessel built by Europeans in North America. In this small vessel Captain Cornells, Hendrickson made further explorations and expeditions up the Delaware River, and even went as far up it, it has been said, as the mouth of the Schuylkill. But whether this statement is correct or not, the extent and value of the discoveries made by Captain Hendrickson may be judged to some degree by the report he made to the States General, which report will be found of special interest, as it throws a great deal of light upon the condition of the country in this immediate vicinity at the time of his visit. This report is as follows :

“Report of Captain Cornells Hendrickson of Mennickendam to the High and Mighty Lords States General of the free United Netherland Provinces, made the XVIIIth August, Ad. 1616, of the country, bay and three rivers, situated in latitude from 38 to 40 degrees, by him discovered and found for and to the behoof of his owners and directors of New Netherlands, by name, Gerrit Jacob Witzen, burgomaster at Aurit, Jonas Witzen, Lambreht Van Tweenhuysen, Palas Pelgrom and others of their company.

“First, he hath discovered for his aforesaid Masters and Directors, certain lands, a bay and three rivers, situated between 38 and 40 degrees.

“And did there trade with the inhabitants; that trade consisting of sables, furs, robes and other skins.

“He hath found the said country full of trees, to wit.: oaks, hickory and pines, which trees were in some places covered with vines.

“He hath seen in said country bucks and does, turkeys and partridges.

“He hath found the climate of said country, very temperate, judging it to be as temperate as this country (Holland).

“He also traded for and bought from the Inhabitants, the Minguas, three persons, being people belonging to this company, which three persons were employed in the service of the Mohawks and Machicans, giving for them kettles, beads and merchandise.

“Read, August 19, 1616.”

Dr. Smith, in his History of Delaware County, observes that it cannot be inferred from this report that Captain Hendrickson had discovered the Schuylkill, but he does not attempt to determine what three rivers were discovered by the Captain. He adds that if any knowledge of the Schuylkill River, or even of the Delaware River, was obtained it was probably from the tJiree Indians pur-chased, or from the Indian tribes in general, which supposition appeal’s to be strengthened by the fact that the States General refused to grant, or at least did not grant, the trading privileges to these applicants; and the trade to New Netherland, which was regarded by the Dutch as extending beyond the Delaware, was thrown open in a measure to individual competition.

There are writers, however, who do not agree with Dr. Smith on this point, Sydney George Fisher, in his “Making of Pennsylvania,” says:

“The first person who conquered the shoals and really explored the river was a Dutchman, Captain Hendrickson. In the year 1616 he penetrated as far as the Schuylkill, just below the present site of Philadelphia. He had a small yacht, the ‘Unrest,’ or ‘Restless,’ only forty-five feet long, which had been built at New York after the loss of his larger ship. in using this boat he may have been influenced by Juet’s [ref]This was Robert Juet, Henry Wilson’s mate, who was with him in his explorations of the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, and also Hudson’s Bay, and was also one of the mutineers, who put Hudson and his son on a boat, leaving: them to their fate.[/ref] warning that it would require a vessel of light draft to explore thoroughly that great bay.” [ref]I can find no reference to this quotation within the available manuscript entitled “The making of Pennsylvania; an analysis of the elements of the population and the formative influences that created one of the greatest of the American states” by Sydney George Fisher, published in 1908. The manuscript states it was the 8th edition. Perhaps an earlier or later edition had this quote?[/ref]

Up to this time it would appear that discoveries for the purposes of colonization had not been thought of by the Dutch, and that their attention was engrossed wholly by the extension of trade. But now a proposition was made which, in its execution, changed the current of history. This proposition was made by the Directors of the New Netherland Trading Company, for the emigration to America of a certain English preacher versed in the language of the Dutch, then residing at Leyden, together with more than four hundred families from both Holland and England, whom he had assured the petitioners he could induce to accompany him. These petitioners also asked that the ships of war might be dispatched “for the preservation of the country’s rights, and that the aforesaid minister and the four hundred families might be taken under the protection of the government; alleging that His Majesty of Great Britain would be disposed to people the aforesaid lands with the English nation.”

This petition did not meet with a favorable reception. But the preacher referred to, the Rev. Mr. Robinson, and a portion of the four hundred families, did embark for America — started from Delft in the Mayflower and Speedwell, July 16, 1620, and as is well known, though they were destined for the Hudson River, yet they landed at Plymouth, Mass., and became the pioneers of the renowned Pilgrim Fathers.

The Dutch West India Company, though incorporated in 1621, did not go into operation until 1623. Then, having taken possession of the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, they sent out a vessel under the command of Captain Cornelis Jacobson Mey and Captain Adriaen Joris Trenpont, the former of whom, passing up the Delaware River, erected Fort Nassau, near, as has since been ascertained, the mouth of Little Timber Creek, the date of its erection having been 1624. The seat of government of New Netherlands was fixed upon Manhattan Island, and Peter Minuit made governor, or director, as he was more properly called. This settlement on the Delaware, however, was of short duration, being vacated in 1625, for the purpose of strengthening the colony on Manhattan Island. But later, in order to maintain their possessions on the Delaware, the Dutch sent out two of the directors of the West India Company, Samuel Gideon and Samuel Blomaert, to purchase a large tract of land at the mouth of the bay, which purchase was confirmed July 16, 1630. A small colony on Lewes Creek was cut off by Indians, and a colony of English from Connecticut attempted in 1635 to settle on the Delaware, but were taken prisoners by the Dutch and sent to Manhattan.

The Swedish Attempts to Settle on the Delaware

Kartskiss över Nya Sverige
Kartskiss över Nya Sverige. This image was first published in the 1st (1876–1899), 2nd (1904–1926) or 3rd (1923–1937) edition of Nordisk familjebok

A Swedish West India Company was organized as early as 1630, for the purpose of colonization and commerce; but owing to the death, in 1632, of Gustavus Adolphus, nothing was accomplished until 1637, when a settlement was made, or rather projected, on the Delaware River. Two ships, named the “Kalmar Nyckel” and the “Gripen,” or, in other words, the “Key to Kalmar” and the “Griffin,” were placed under the command of Peter Minuit, Avlio will be remembered as a former director, or governor, of Manhattan Island, in the service of the Dutch, and with these two vessels he sailed from Gottenburg late in the year 1637. Some time during the following March Minuit purchased land on the west side of the Delaware River from the Indians, these lands lying on what these Indians called the Minquas River, to which river Minuit gave the name Christina, in honor of the Queen of Sweden, and upon these lands he erected a fort, which he named Fort Christina, about two and a half miles above the mouth of the river of the same name. While these proceedings of the Swedes were not pleasing to the Dutch, they did no more than to protest against them, and, according to Acrelius, the Swedes purchased lands of the Indians a long the western bank of the Delaware, as far up as the present site of the city of Trenton.

Upon the Delaware Minuit left twenty-three men under the command of Mans Kling and Henrick Huychens, the former being the military and the latter the civil governor of the colony.

The “Kalmar Nyckel,” in 1640, brought out reinforcements for the colony, and in 1641 the same vessel brought out a third expedition, being this time accompanied by the “Charitas.” Many of the colonists coming at this time were Finns. By permission of the Swedish government a colony of Hollanders was established below Christina. In 1642 a further expedition sailed from the old country in two vessels, the “Stoork” and the “Renown,” under command of John Printz, who, thinking that Fort Christina did not sufficiently command the river, erected a new fortress on the island of Tenneconk, or as it has been known for many years, Tinicum, this island at present being within the limits of Delaware County, but being a part of Chester County when this county was first established. It is separated from the mainland by Darby Creek.

This fortress on Tenneconk Island was named New Gottenburg, and in addition to the fort, Governor Printz erected a fine mansion for himself and his family, which he named “Printz Hall,” a very handsome and convenient home, which, after standing for about one hundred and sixty years, was accidentally destroyed by fire within the limits of the present century. Within eight months from the time of his arrival Governor Printz erected another fort, which he named Fort Elsinborg, upon which he mounted eight 12-pound brass cannon.

It will thus be seen that when Governor Printz arrived there were a few persons at Fort Nassau, a few at the Swedish colony at Christina, now Wilmington, Del., and also a few at the Dutch colony a short distance below Christina. Governor Printz brought out with him his wife and one daughter, a lieutenant-governor and secretary, a chaplain and a surgeon, twenty-four regular soldiers, and officers enough for a considerably larger force. The two vessels he commanded were well filled with stores and provisions, merchandise suitable for traffic with the Indians, and also a few settlers. This colony established by Governor Printz was the first one within the limits of Pennsylvania, and, of course, the first within the earlier limits of Chester County, that was successful.

The Swedes made such rapid progress in the settlement of the lower Delaware, in the State subsequently bearing the name of Delaware, and also in Pennsylvania, that the Dutch became somewhat alarmed lest they should lose the trade of the Indians. The extent and importance of this trade is indicated by the fact that in 1644 they had loaded two vessels, the “Kalmar Nyckel” and the “Fame,” with cargoes including 2,127 packages of beaver skins, and 70,421 pounds of tobacco. During the year 1646 they erected a church at Tinicum, which they dedicated on October 4, dedicating also at the same time the burying-ground in which the first body deposited was that of Catherine Hanson, daughter of Andrew Hanson, which was laid to rest October 28, 1646.

During and on account of the controversies between the Swedes and the Dutch over the possession of this fertile territory. Governor Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam caused the erection of a fort at the present site of New Castle, Delaware, to which he gave the name of Fort Casimir. To the erection of this fort Governor Printz, although he protested against it for a time, ultimately became reconciled. But his successor, John Bysingh, who arrived and began his administration in 1654, captured the Dutch fort, Casimir, on Trinity Sunday, and called it, in honor of that day, Trefalldigheet. The Dutch in the vicinity of this fort then took the oath of allegiance to the Swedish government. This capture of Fort Casimir, as might have been expected, aroused the anger of the Dutch to such a degree that on September 5, 1655, Governor Stuyvesant, with seven men of war, and some 600 or 700 armed soldiers, sent over from Holland for the purpose, arrived in the Delaware River. The next day Fort Trefalldigheet surrendered to Governor Stuyvesant, and Fort Christina followed soon afterward, without bloodshed in either case, or a battle of any kind, the name of the former then becoming New Amstel, which name it retained until it came into possession of the English, who called it Newcastle, as it has since remained. The capture of these two forts terminated Swedish authority on the Delaware, which had extended up into Pennsylvania, their most northern settlements reaching to the present limits of Philadelphia.

But the Dutch did not long remain in possession of the territory they had conquered from the Swedes. Charles II having been restored to the throne of Great Britain, granted to his brother James, Duke of York, the territory embracing the whole of the States of New York and New Jersey, and afterward the State of Delaware. Articles were drawn up between the Dutch and English, which were signed by eight persons of each nationality, and approved by Colonel Richard Nicolls, Deputy Governor of New York, by the terms of which the Dutch surrendered to the English all their rights in New Netherlands, including the settlements on the Delaware, the date of the affixing of these signatures being August 27, 1664, old style. Soon afterward the English took possession of the Delaware, which they continued to hold with the exception of a short period in 1673 and 1674.

Special Court Held at New Castle

Passing over several important events of general importance, but which may be considered of minor interest as pertaining to the history of Chester County, it may be mentioned that in May, 1675, Governor Andros of New York visited the settlements on the Delaware, and on the 13th and 14th of that month held a special court at New Castle, at which it was ordered that “highways should be cleared from place to place within the precincts of the government.” It was also ordered that the church in the town should be regulated by the court, and that the meeting at Crane Hoeck should continue as previously; and also that the church at Tinicum Island should serve for Upland and the adjoining portions of that section of the country. The magistrates of Upland were ordered to have a church built at Wickegkoo, which should serve for the inhabitants of Passayunk and those higher up the river, and these magistrates were empowered to levy a tax for this purpose and to maintain a minister.

This is the earliest record of the proceedings of any court on the Delaware River, and the order with reference to the clearing of the roads from place to place was the first step taken for the establishment of roads in the States of Delaware and Pennsylvania, or in other words, was the first road law in either State.

By the Swedes the territory which afterward, in a somewhat remarkable manner, became Chester County, was organized, if it may be said to have been organized, as Upland County. The name was changed to Chester County by William Penn, or, in better words, William Penn permitted his friend, Thomas Pearson, so to name it in honor of the city of Chester, the county seat of Cheshire County, in the west of England. In this connection it may be interesting to note that the names of many towns in England have this word, Chester, as a part of their composition, as Chichester, for example, and that these places were originally Roman camps. The Roman word castra and the Saxon word ceaster, became in time the English word Chester.

From Dr. Smith’s “History of Delaware County,” published in 1862, the following paragraph is quoted with reference to this change of name:

“He (Penn) landed at Upland, but the place was to bear that familiar name no more forever. Without reflection Penn determined that the name of this place should be changed. Turning round to his friend Pearson, one of his own society, who had accompanied him in the ship Welcome, he said: ‘Providence has brought us here safe. Thou hast been the companion of my perils. What would thou that I should call this place?’ Pearson said: ‘Chester, in remembrance of that city from whence we came.’ William Penn replied that it should be called Chester, and that when he divided the land into counties, one of then should be called by the same name Thus, from a mere whim, the name of the oldest town; the name of the one settled part of the province; the name which would naturally have a place in the affections of a large majority of the inhabitants of the new province, was effaced, to gratify the caprice or vanity of a friend! All great men occasionally do little things.”

Source: Thomson, W., editor. Chester County and its people. Chicago and New York: The Union History Company, 1898.

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