The Story of New Netherland/Chapter 14

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The Story of New Netherland by William Elliot Griffis
Chapter XIV: Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware River

AV the failure of the Swaanendael venture of 1630, although no permanent Dutch settlement was made by the Dutch on the South River before 1640, their fur-traders were busy on the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, and in that region, until an invasion, as they considered it, on a large scale, from Sweden, called forth first their diplomacy, and then force.

Usselinx saw the Swedish West India Company chartered as early as 1626. This was the year that the Princess Christina (whose name ought to be that of the State of Delaware) was born; but absorbed in the work of securing freedom of conscience, Gustavus Adolphus had to postpone the work of building up a New Sweden in America. Dying on the field of Lutzen, he left his darling project of a colony in America, “the jewel of his kingdom,” to his daughter, then a little girl of eleven, of masculine education. Right royally did Queen Christina attempt to carry out her father’s wish. Calling to her aid Peter Minuit, she bade him go and occupy the deserted Delaware region, dispatching him late in 1637 with two ships and fifty colonists to found New Sweden.

Just when the buds were opening, Minuit arrived inside Delaware Bay, in April, 1638, and began a settlement not far from Cape Henlopen and near Lewes in Delaware. One of the first buildings erected after the fort was the Lutheran church, the first in America. Rev. Reorus Torkillas was pastor of this Christian congregation.

Minuit also built a fort at Minqua Kill, now within the limits of Wilmington, naming it after Queen Christina. He not only bought from the Indians the lands which the Swedes occupied, but he treated them with firmness and kindness, making them his fast friends. Later, the Swedish claim extended inland to the great falls of the Susquehanna River. With his garrison of soldiers and ships of war Minuit laughed when, very soon after, he received notice from Director Kieft on Manhattan, that he was a trespasser and must be off. Kieft had no force to back his order, and was himself surprised at the answer the Company sent to his request for ships and soldiers. Instead of iron arguments, the Director was to use his eloquence of persuasion; but failing to oust the intruders, was to live on as good terms with them as possible. What a change in the temper of the great fighting corporation that had swallowed up Spanish silver fleets and cities, very much as a shark devours herrings!

The truth is that this was a period of reaction in Holland against “John Company.” The feeling soon expressed itself in the liberal charter of 1640, which limited the West India Company’s power and encouraged what was next to impossible under the old régime, the growth of free village communities in New Netherland. When well-loaded ships sailed home from New Sweden, some enterprising Dutchmen, who hated the close corporation in Amsterdam, united themselves in an independent enterprise, and sent over a ship with colonists, well supplied, to settle on the Delaware.

These freemen, who were opposed to patroons and manors, arrived just at the nick of time, for the Swedes had not yet been reinforced. The first glow of excitement was over, and trade was poor. Not having enough to eat, the colonists from Sweden were about to move to Manhattan rather than starve. Everything changed when the Dutch ship, supplies, and people arrived. The Netherlanders, in hearty coöperation with the Scandinavians, settled a few miles farther up the river. In the autumn, fresh reinforcements and provisions arrived in three ships from Sweden. Leaving to the new officers his command, Minuit left for the West Indies to develop trade. Even more hearty was the mutual agreement of Dutch and Swedes as against the Yankees, when, in 1641, a party from New Haven entered the river and settled on the Schuylkill and at Salem on the Delaware. As they had promised, when warned by Kieft, not to settle or trade in New Netherland, he garrisoned Fort Nassau, and sent his agent Jansen in an armed ship to deport them. This was accomplished without bloodshed. So two nations, instead of three, dominated the region.

In the West Indies, Minuit, while dining on a friend’s ship, was caught in a storm and lost his life. In February, 1643, the second Swedish colony arrived, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Printz, an officer of great activity, but hardly, if Swedish critics judge aright, of brilliant military reputation. His avoirdupois was greater than his soldierly record. His weight was four hundred pounds. He settled Tinicum, building a fort on the island, and calling the place New Gottenburg, which soon became like a bustling little city. In 1644 he built Fort Elsingburg on Salem Creek, on the other side of the river, where for a while the New Haven people had lived. All this was done in accordance with his orders from home to shut up the river. Printz ruled over his domain, which extended from the ocean to the falls where Trenton now is. Even the Dutch were compelled to strike their flag in passing, and no further settlements by them were permitted.

On the intellectual side, the Swedes were quite equal to New Englanders or Dutchmen, and the catechism of the Lutheran Church was the first Protestant book to be translated into an Indian tongue, being put into Algonquin by the chaplain, Rev. John Campanius, who served from 1643 to 1649 in his church on Tinicum Island, which was the first house of worship within the limits of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the printing of the catechism was delayed until 1696. In the Lord’s Prayer, the initial petition, instead of for “daily bread,” is for plenty of corn and venison, — as best suiting an Indian.

According to orders from Manhattan, Andries Hudde, a Dutchman, bought from the Indians in 1642 the site of Philadelphia, and set up a pole, nailing on it the Company’s arms. This Printz removed, tearing up Hudde’s note of remonstrance and sending his messenger flying. Others who followed the first came back bruised and bloody. Yet Governor Kieft, having no force, could do nothing. Printz built a palisaded house on the Schuylkill; but the Indians, now opposed to the Swedes, helped Hudde to build “Fort” Beversvrede.

When Printz sent twenty men to destroy the Dutch stronghold, the Indians compelled them to retire. Then, to spite Hudde, Printz built a house right in front of Fort Nassau, shutting out the view of the river. Hudde was helpless. With only six men to garrison two forts, many miles apart, he could do nothing.

Stuyvesant at last found time to attend to Printz and to investigate the claims of Sweden. He first headed off and turned back another party of fifty poachers in two ships from New Haven, and then, in July, 1651, started for Fort Nassau with a retinue and a chaplain, Samuel Megapolensis, son of the elder Domine. Meeting Printz, he demanded evidences of ownership and documents of sale. The answer was that these might be in Stockholm, but were not there and then accessible. Stuyvesant thereupon bought of the sachems all the land on both sides of the river to the bay, except Fort Christina, which the Indians had sold to Minuit. Despite the protests of Printz, he built Fort Casimir on the site of the present Newcastle, four miles below the Swedish Fort Christina, naming it after his former commander, the Stadtholder of Friesland, and paying the Indians for the land.

After this Printz, left without resources, was quiet. Two years later he went back to Sweden, leaving his daughter’s husband, Poppegoya, in command. As the Swedish colonists were not reinforced they were discouraged, until in May, 1654, Governor Johan Rysingh arrived with two hundred colonists, a force of soldiers, and a chaplain.

On Trinity Sunday, 1654, the Swedes surprised and captured Fort Casimir, which had no powder in its magazine, and named it Fort Trinity. Stuyvesant, after reporting to the Company the “infamous surrender,” was ordered to retake the fort and drive out the Swedes. Having an expected attack from New England to provide for, he postponed his expedition until the warships King Solomon, Great Christopher, and the Balance, with a French privateer, the Hope, had come over from Amsterdam. Then on Manhattan the drum beat for volunteers, and every ship and house furnished men. Three river yachts joined the little squadron. On the first Sunday in September, after sermon and worship, the seven vessels, with seven hundred men, — probably one third of all the able-bodied males in New Netherland, — and possibly the largest host of white men yet gathered for war on American soil, moved down the bay in gala array of flags and streamers. They made a picture worthy of a painter. Nevertheless, the wily savages did not fail to note the absence of the fighting men.

On the following Friday, in the Delaware, a review was held and the building of batteries begun. By the 25th of September both Swedish forts were in the hands of the Dutch, by surrender, and without the shedding of a drop of blood. The Swedish flag was hauled down, and the tricolor of the Republic run up. The most honorable and generous terms were granted the Swedes. They could remain as settlers under the Company, or be repatriated.

Nearly all the Swedes remained in their homes to add their gifts and graces of character to the building up of the commonwealths which became Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. If they longed for revenge, they had only to wait nine years, before the English, whom they looked on to redress their wrongs, hoisted the flag of St. George. Gradually their form of worship and government — “The Old Swedes’ Church” at Wecaco in Philadelphia and Trinity Church at Wilmington — became Episcopal and their speech changed to English. Holy Trinity Church, so rich in the memorials of Old and New Sweden in Delaware, was rebuilt of brick in 1698, and is probably the oldest church edifice in continuous use in the United States. Its historic graveyard includes the site of one of Stuyvesant’s three-gun batteries.

A few Netherlanders from time to time reinforced their brethren on the South River. The land, after being quarreled over by the Duke of York and Lord Baltimore, was purchased by William Penn.

The Dutch settlement was named New Amstel, after Patria’s chief city, on the river of this name. On his way to Long Island, in 1654, the Rev. Johannes Theodorus Polhemus, the Swiss ancestor of the great clan of Americans of that name, stopped at New Amstel. This Domine, long settled in the Palatine, whence he had been driven out by persecution, had served eighteen years in Brazil. He organized a Reformed church at New Amstel, and was the first to propose an association of Dutch American ministers and churches. Then Domine Welius followed, serving for two years. The congregation called a young man, Warnerus Hadson, who was duly ordained, but he died on the ocean passage. Then followed the ever popular Tassemacher, who labored here from 1679 to 1682.

In 1888 our Swedish fellow citizens in the East and West, who, especially since 1830, have enriched our national composite with their virtues, energies, and industry, celebrated the quarter millennial of the first settlement of their countrymen within the United States.

Small as is the State of Delaware, it has long and honorable history. Many landings of famous men and nationalities have been made on its shores, which face the ocean and a noble bay and river. The Dutch, the Swedes, the Cavalier English, the Quakers May and Verhulsten, Peter Minuit, George Holmes, and William Penn, stepped in succession on the soil. The descendants of the original cosmopolitan population were bitterly opposed to British rule, and were ready at the Revolution to assert and maintain independence. The regiment of Continentals raised in the Diamond State “the Blue Hen’s Chickens” — made a noble record in battle and campaigns.

To-day the trans-Atlantic suggestions and survivals in Delaware are Swedish rather than Netherlandish. At Wilmington, Delaware’s chief city, and especially in the old Trinity Church and burying-ground, is this impressively so. Inquiring in one place for the Dutch colonial documents, I found that many of these papers in an unknown tongue had long since been used to light office fires. Yet there were and there are “Delaware Dutch,” who annually, on January 23, celebrate ancestral virtues and triumphs with the “Netherlands Society of Philadelphia.”

A woman’s club for culture and a miniature Holland Society to recover and preserve Dutch history take their names from Swaanendael. In 1905 the landing-place of the Dutch in the State of Delaware, the site of Fort Casimir, at New Castle, built in 1657, was marked by the unveiling of a granite monument, in the presence of many people from the four Middle States, which now occupy the area of New Netherland. The Delaware branch of the Society of Colonial Dames reared this reminder of the republicans who planted the orange, white, and blue flag on their soil.

It is to the original settlement of the Dutch on her soil, and to their skillful diplomacy at the surrender of 1664, that Delaware owes her existence as a separate state. We shall see, also, that here dwelt “the father of modern socialism,” Peter Cornelius Plockhoy, whose English writings during the Commonwealth, in a later century, inspired the Brook Farm experiment in New England.