Historical Markers
New Sweden Historical Marker
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New Sweden

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Governor Printz Park, 2nd Street & Taylor Avenue, Essington

Dedication Date:
April 9, 1988

Behind the Marker

Thomas Campanius Holm, frontpiece to Swedes and Indians in New Sweden, 1702.
Thomas Campanius Holm, frontpiece to Description of the Province of New Sweden,...
The smell of pine filled the air and the landscape was a brilliant tapestry of green grass and leaves, punctuated by pink and white blossoms. In late March 1638, two Swedish ships, the Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip, sailed up the Delaware River into the homeland of the Lenape people.

Led by Peter Minuit, the Swedes came to establish a commercial colony for the New Sweden Company. The people on board, like the investors and officials back in Europe, envisioned great riches from the furs that they hoped the Lenape would provide. The Swedes knew that this was a risky venture, but they did not realize the depth of the risk.

After finding no signs of other Europeans in the river valley, Minuit and his party met with some Lenape who were anxious to trade with them. On March 29, sachems -the Lenape name for their leaders - and Swedes signed an agreement by which the newcomers received land on the western side of the river. The settlers and soldiers built a log house and stockade, which they named after their Queen, Christina.

Novae Sveciae Tabula, from Kort abeskrifning om beskrifning om provincien Nya...
From its beginning, the colony of New Sweden was plagued by problems. No more than two dozen people - a mix of Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and one African slave named Antonius - formed the original settlement, and although the colony grew in size and population over the next seventeen years, it always remained small compared to the Dutch or English colonies in North America.

Unable to attract settlers, or keep them once they arrived, the Swedish government transported convicts to the colony as punishment for their crimes. Once there, many of the convicts and other colonists fled the remote, struggling settlement for the English colony of Maryland or the Dutch city of New Amsterdam. At its height in 1655, when New Sweden stretched across southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and all of Delaware, no more than 500 settlers lived in New Sweden.

New Sweden was never self-sufficient. Farmers barely raised enough food to feed themselves and their families, even when harvests were good. As time went on the people in New Sweden relied increasingly on supplies from home, and when those supplies stopped coming, they relied upon corn and other food provided by the Lenape. Since the colony had very few skilled craftsmen, the governors of New Sweden were forced to purchase supplies from English and Dutch traders.
Oil on wood. Dressed in armor,  shown head and shoulders
Peter Stuyvesant, attributed to Hendrick Couturier, circa 1660.

The Swedes also had difficulty maintaining cordial relations with the Lenape, who did not provide large quantities of valuable furs that they hoped would make them rich. Warning Swedish officials that the Lenape were "a lot of poor rascals," markerGovernor Printz in 1644 requested a couple of hundred soldiers so that "with the help of God not a single savage would be allowed to live in this river."

The Lenape were becoming unhappy with the Swedes, whose poor trade goods made them to be lousy trading partners. More importantly, the Lenape were angry that the Swedes had stopped providing them with annual gifts of appreciation for permitting them to live in Lenape country.  In 1654 Lenape sachem Mattahorn and other Indian leaders discussed the complete destruction of the colony, but held off in expectation of the arrival of a new supply ship from Europe. That same year, Printz returned to Sweden.

The Swedes also had to contend with the Dutch, who since 1638 had claimed the entire region as part of New Netherland. Realizing their nation's claim to the region was weak, Swedish governors in the colony worked diligently to fortify their right of possession by purchasing land directly from the Lenape. The Dutch countered by increasing their trade with the Lenape, building new trading posts, and also buying land.

After the Swedes became more active in the fur trade and seized a Dutch fort, the Dutch sent a fleet of seven ships and more than three hundred soldiers to conquer New Sweden. On August 27, 1655, Dutch troops landed near Fort Christina and burned and pillaged farms up and down the western side of the river. Two weeks later, Swedish governor Johan Risingh negotiated the surrender of his devastated colony to the Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant.

On September 15, 1655, New Sweden ceased to exist.
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