Stories from PA History
The Vision of William Penn
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The Vision of William Penn
Chapter One: Europeans Before Penn

Novae Sveciae Tabula, from Kort abeskrifning om beskrifning om provincien Nya...
Before William Penn's arrival in 1682, Swedish, Dutch, and English immigrants sailed into the Delaware River and settled in present-day southeastern Pennsylvania. Europeans had first arrived in the land of the Lenape in 1609, when English navigator Henry Hudson sailed into the Delaware Bay while exploring the coast of North America for the Dutch. Seven years later, Dutch explorer Cornelius Hendrickson sailed up the Delaware to the Schuylkill River, searching for a site to establish a trading post for the Dutch West India Company. Not until 1640, however, did the Dutch establish their first trading post at Fort Nassau (near present-day Gloucester City, New Jersey), which soon developed a fairly prosperous exchange of Dutch cloths, pots and axes for Indian beaver pelts.

The Swedes, too, were eager to establish their own colony in the New World and foothold in the Indian trade. In 1638, Peter Minuit, the former governor of New Netherlands, purchased land on the west side of the Delaware River from the Lenape to establish a small colony of Swedes near present-day Wilmington, Delaware. Known as markerNew Sweden the tiny settlement was built around a fort and the adjoining river, both of which were named Christina in honor of Sweden's young queen. Here Swedish and Finnish settlers sustained themselves by farming and trading fur until a new governor named Johan Printz arrived in 1643.

A portrait of Governor Johan Printz.
Governor Johan Printz of New Sweden, circa 1650.
Printz, a former colonel in the armies of King Gustavus Adolphus, relocated the capital of the colony up the river to markerTinicum Island, about twenty miles south of present-day Philadelphia. There he directed a rough band of conscripts, army deserters, and debtors to build new blockhouses and log cabins. Not far from Tinicum Swedish settlers built the markerLower Swedish Cabin on Darby Creek, one of a few remaining structures of its kind.

The crown jewel of this new construction frenzy was Fort New Gothenburg, which served as Printz's headquarters. Four copper cannons aimed at the Dutch trading station on the river's eastern bank served as a reminder that the Swedes also intended to barter for furs from the Lenape and Minquas. Destroyed by fire in 1645, Fort New Gothenburg was soon replaced by another fortified structure called both Printzhoff and Printzdorp (dorp/dorf is the Dutch word for "town"), the site of the first permanent European settlement in Pennsylvania and the present-day markerGovernor Printz Park.

In the 1640s, Holland and Sweden were at peace. But competition for the fur trade created on-going tensions between Printz and his Dutch counterpart, Peter Stuyvesant. After Stockholm ignored his repeated appeals for manpower and ammunition, Printz was forced to stand idly by when the Dutch constructed Fort Casimir at Sand Hook (present-day New Castle, Delaware in 1651). Unable to establish an extensive trade in furs, the Swedes concentrated on farming.

"New Sweden is a remarkably beautiful country with all the glories that a person could wish on earth," wrote Printz in his description of the colony. "It is adorned by all kinds of fruit trees. The soil is suitable for planting and sowing." Faced with settlers who were unhappy with his rule and insufficient support from the mother country, Printz returned to Sweden in 1652 to secure greater support for the small colony. He left his son-in-law Johan Papegoja to preside over the remaining 100 or so colonists until a new governor could arrive.

The following year a new governor, Johan Classon Risingh, arrived from Sweden with 350 colonists and more supplies than the colony had ever enjoyed. Ignoring his country's truce with the Dutch, Risingh captured Fort Casimir. Not to be outdone, Stuyvesant dispatched 700 troops to recapture Casimir, take Fort Christina, and destroy New Sweden, in September 1655. The Dutch offensive was swift and brutal.

The terms of the surrender allowed the Swedes to remain on the property they owned and to retain their membership in the Lutheran Church, rather than join the Dutch Reformed religion. All but thirty-seven of the Swedes decided to stay and many more continued to settle in the region, even under Dutch rule, making the Swedes the largest nationality in Pennsylvania until the arrival of the English with William Penn in 1681.
The log cabin, commonly considered a uniquely American form of housing, is actually Scandinavian in design and origin. The Lower Swedish Cabin, shown here, was built by Swedish colonists around 1640 and is still standing today.
Swedish Log House, Drexel Hill, PA, circa 1938.

Pennsylvania's Dutch population of less than 100 settlers lived and worked together peaceably with the Swedes and a small group of Finns, who established markerFinland, a settlement on land along the Delaware River from Marcus Hook to Chester River. Together the three groups established an effective legal system that punished crimes based on fines rather than imprisonment.

In 1664, when King Charles II of England gave all the land between Connecticut and Maryland to his brother, James, Duke of York, the Dutch seized the Hudson and Delaware Valleys, in spite of English claims to these regions. During the war that followed, the British captured New Amsterdam, whose name they changed to New York, and the forts along the South River that they now insisted be called Delaware.

When William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, the Swedes were still the largest nationality in the region, which included lesser numbers of Dutch, Finns, German, French, Welsh and English settlers. All these groups readily gave their allegiance to his proprietorship and Penn reciprocated by granting them land in his New World colony.

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