A Genealogist’s Historical Timeline for Delaware, 1497-1787

The following is excerpted from William Dollarhide’s new book, Delaware Name Lists, 1609-1992, with a selection of National Name Lists, 1600s – Present, an annotated bibliography of published and online name lists.

For genealogical research in Delaware, the following timeline of events should help any genealogist understand the area with an historical and genealogical point of view:

1497-1498. Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) is commonly held to be the first European to visit North America, landing in 1497 on the island now called Newfoundland. In 1498, the ships log and published reports from Cabot’s second trip to North America seem to confirm that he had visited the coast of present New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Cabot was the first of many European explorers seeking the Northwest Passage to the Pacific. He was commissioned by the English King, Henry VII.

1524 French Exploration. Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian sailing for King Francis I of France, sailed past Delaware Bay, but did not note the event. He then kept moving north up the present New Jersey coast, entered present New York harbor, then headed north to become the first European to see present Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine.

1603 England. James I (James VI of Scotland since 1566), became King of England, the first monarch to rule both England and Scotland. He was also the first English King to publicly assert that he was blessed with “the divine right of Kings,” meaning he was the voice of God on earth, at least in England and Scotland. Although James I was most remembered for commissioning a Bible translation, during his reign, the first permanent British colonies of North America were established in Virginia and New England.

1606. James I chartered two joint stock companies for the purpose of settlement in North America. The two companies, called the “Virginia Company of London” and the “Virginia Company of Plymouth” were granted territory from present North Carolina to Maine, with the Long Island Sound as the approximate dividing line.

1607 May. The first permanent English settlement of Jamestown was founded on the James River, a few miles from its mouth on Chesapeake Bay. Over the next few months, English Capt. John Smith (of Jamestown) explored much of Chesapeake Bay, and up the Atlantic coast as far north as present Maine.

1607. Englishman Henry Hudson sailed in search of a northwest passage to Asia. He sailed into present New York harbor and later lent his name to the river there.

1609. Henry Hudson, now sailing for the Dutch East India Company, discovered what was to become known as Delaware Bay.

1610 Delaware Bay and River. Samuel Argall, an English sea captain who led a supply mission to Jamestown, named the bay and river after Thomas West, the 3rd Baron De La Warr, and the first governor of the Virginia Colony.

1625 England. Charles I became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Charles believed in the same principles his father, James I had espoused, i.e., that as King, he was the infallible interpreter of God’s will on earth. Soon after taking office, Charles began to note a large number of non-conformists among his subjects. Along with his Archbishop, William Laud, he began a campaign to purge his church of the largest group of non-conformists, the so-called Puritans, a militant Calvinist religious sect attempting to purify the Church of England. Unfortunately, Charles I took on a job that led to civil war in England as well as the loss of his head. But, his campaign can be credited as the main cause for the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England.

1631. Dutch colonists settled Zwaanendael, site of present-day Lewes, Delaware. After a year of constant Indian attacks, the colonists were all wiped out.

1632. The Maryland Charter was granted to Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore, by King Charles I.

1638. Peter Minuet led a group of Swedes to the Delaware and established Fort Christina (now Wilmington), the first permanent settlement on the Delaware and the founding of the New Sweden Colony.

1651. Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch governor of New Netherland, built Fort Casimir (now New Castle) just a few miles south of Fort Christina on the Delaware, but the Swedes were not pleased with the Dutch intrusion.

1654. The Swedes captured Fort Casimir and renamed it Fort Trinity.

1655. The Dutch overran the Swedes, captured Fort Trinity and Fort Christina, and ended the New Sweden colony. The Swedish settlements on the Delaware (from present New Castle to present Philadelphia) then became part of New Netherland under Governor Peter Stuyvesant. But, Stuyvesant permitted the Swedish communities to continue as a “Swedish Nation” and to be governed by a court of their choosing. They were also allowed to be free to practice their religion, organize their own militia, retain their land holdings and continue trading with the native people. The independent Swedish communities continued under the Dutch until 1682, when William Penn was granted the area of present Delaware by the Duke of York.

1660 England. Charles II was restored to the throne as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He had lived in exile after the execution of his father, Charles I. In 1649, the Scots had proclaimed Charles the king of Scotland. But the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell defeated his army in 1651, and Charles fled to France. After Cromwell died in 1658, the English people became increasingly dissatisfied with the government that Cromwell had established. In 1660, Parliament invited Charles to return and declared him king. He ruled until his death in 1685, and during his reign, the British colonials forced out the remaining pockets of Atlantic settlements made earlier by the Dutch, Swedes, Danes and French. Charles II saw the Atlantic colonies as a source of trade and commerce, supported development, and granted several more charters for settlement (including one to William Penn
in 1681). All of the British colonies thrived as a result.

1664. Sir Robert Carr successfully drove the Dutch off the Delaware and claimed the land for James, Duke of York. Delaware then became an English colony for the first time.

1673. Dutch military forces took back New York and Delaware from the British.

1674. The British took back control of the Delaware colony.

1674. The Treaty of Westminster ended hostilities between the English and Dutch and officially returned all Dutch colonies in America to the English. This ended the Dutch presence in North America – but many of the Dutch settlements continued under British rule, particularly along the Hudson River, the Delaware river, East Jersey, and the Connecticut River.

1676 New York Royal Grant. Charles II granted to his brother, James, the Duke of York, the following: “…main land between the two rivers there, called or known by the several names of Conecticut or Hudsons river… and all the lands from the west side of Conecticut, to the east side of Delaware Bay.”

1681 Pennsylvania. William Penn was granted land in North America by Charles II and established the proprietary colony of Pennsylvania. The land grant was mostly from lands previously part of the Virginia Company of London’s grant of 1606. He arrived in October 1682 on the ship Welcome, visited Philadelphia, just laid out as the capital city, and soon after his arrival, summoned a General Assembly, called for uniting Delaware with Pennsylvania, and created the first three Pennsylvania counties of Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia.

1682 Delaware Colony. James, The Duke of York, transferred ownership of the Delaware Colony to English Quaker William Penn. The “Lower Counties on Delaware” remained part of Pennsylvania until their declaration of independence in 1775.

1685 England. After the death of Charles II, who died without issue, his brother, the Duke of York, became King James II. Parliament was suspicious of his religious beliefs, thought he was too tolerant with Catholics, and he was disposed in 1688. His daughter, Mary, was placed on the throne, and James fled to France, where he lived out his life and died in 1701.

1688. American colonies that had been given considerable religious tolerance after the Civil War in England, were now forced to purge Catholics from political office. The colony impacted the most by the edict was Maryland, founded by the Catholic Calvert family. Maryland was required to remove any Catholics from any county or provincial public office.

1689 England. Mary, daughter of James II, had married her first cousin, William of Orange, the sovereign of Holland. They were both staunch and outspoken protestants. In keeping with the anti-Catholic mind-set of the time, Parliament invited the two of them to become joint monarchs of England in 1689. During the reign of William III and Mary II, the American colonies grew rapidly, and the triangular trade route between the British Colonies, the Caribbean and England was established, making the American colonies more productive; while the introduction of African slaves to the American colonies proliferated. After Mary II died in 1694, William III ruled England alone until his death in 1702. William and Mary were childless, and were succeeded by Mary’s sister.

1702. Pennsylvania’s three lower counties (New Castle, Kent, and Sussex) gained a separate Assembly from the three upper counties (Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia), but both regions were ultimately administered by the proprietor, William Penn, who appointed a Governor shared by both regions.

1702 England. Anne, sister of Mary II was crowned Queen of England. She gave birth to several children, none of whom lived more than a few days. She ruled until her death in 1714, and Parliament, still overly concerned about any possible Catholic replacement, determined that her closest (protestant) heir was a German from Hanover.

1714 England. George I was the first of the House of Hanover to rule England, but a monarch who had little interest in living there. He took “British Holidays,” from time to time, but he never learned to speak English.

1727 England. George II became King of England, and during his 33-year reign, more than 200,000 so-called “Scots-Irish” left for the American colonies from the borderlands of England and Scotland and from Northern Ireland. The Scots-Irish were the largest group of British immigrants to America prior to the Revolutionary War. They outnumbered the combined total of the other main British immigrant groups, i.e., the Puritans, Quakers, and Cavaliers.

1760 England. George III was crowned King of England. He was the English Monarch who lost the British Colonies. He is credited with first sowing the seeds of revolution in his American colonies, when he issued the “Proclamation Line of 1763,” a line which set aside an Indian Reserve beginning at the Appalachian Mountains and west to the Mississippi River. Colonials were not allowed to migrate into the Indian Reserve, yet the demand for western expansion was already a powerful movement in America. Devoted to his German wife Charlotte, with whom he had 15 children, George III died in 1820, blind, deaf, and quite insane.

1764 Mason-Dixon Line. After years of arguments between the Penn Family and the Calvert Family, surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon marked the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware boundary which became known as the “Mason-Dixon Line.” It soon became the unofficial dividing line between the southern and northern British colonies. Along the length of the Mason-Dixon Line, stone monuments were erected every five miles, each with the engraved coat of arms of the Penn Family on the PA/DE side, the arms of the Calvert family on the MD side. For nearly one hundred years, all of the slave states south of the Mason-Dixon line became known informally as “Dixie.” But the Mason-Dixon line was not the dividing line between the Union and Confederate states in 1861, since the two slave states of Maryland and Delaware were to join the Union side, rather than the Confederate side.

1775 Delaware. The three “Lower Counties on Delaware” broke away from Pennsylvania. They adopted a constitution and became the “Delaware State,” the first of all the colonies to call themselves a state, and one of the thirteen to sign the Declaration of Independence.

1783. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, and the United States of America was officially recognized as an independent nation by Britain, France, and Spain.

1787. Dec. 7. As the first of the original thirteen colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Delaware became the first state in the Union.

For more important Delaware information, see: Delaware Name Lists, 1609-1992, with a selection of National Name Lists, 1600s – Present, an annotated bibliography of published and online name lists.

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