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New Sweden Colony

In the 17th century, Sweden was a "Great Power" in Europe. By mid-century, the kingdom included part of Norway, all of Finland, and parts of Russia. Sweden's control of portions of modern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Germany made the Baltic Sea essentially a Swedish lake.

Perhaps inspired by the riches that other Great Powers gathered from overseas colonies, Sweden sought to extend its influence to the New World. In 1637, Swedish, Dutch, and German stockholders formed the New Sweden Company to trade for furs and tobacco in North America. The company's first expedition sailed from Sweden under the command of Peter Minuit, a former governor of the Dutch colony, New Netherland, centered on Manhattan Island.

The Swedish ships reached Delaware Bay in March 1638, and the settlers began to build a fort at the site of present-day Wilmington. Named Fort Christina, in honor of Sweden's 12-year-old queen, it became the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley.

During the next 17 years, 12 more Swedish expeditions ventured to New Sweden. Eleven vessels and some 600 Swedes and Finns reached the colony, which consisted of farms and small settlements along the Delaware River in modern Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

New Sweden rose to great heights during the governorship of Johan Printz (1643–1653). He extended settlement northward from Fort Christina along both sides of the Delaware River and built Fort Elfsborg (near present-day Salem, New Jersey) to seal the river against English and Dutch ships, improving the colony's military and commercial prospects.

Despite these steps, the Swedish and Finnish colonists lived peacefully with their Dutch and Native American neighbors. Unfortunately, Printz's autocratic rule left many settlers dissatisfied. They signed a petition for reform, branded a "mutiny," and succeeded in driving Printz back to Sweden.

In 1654, Johan Rising became the colony's last governor. Soon after arriving, Rising attempted to remove the Dutch from New Sweden by seizing Fort Casimir (present-day New Castle, Delaware). With no gunpowder, the fort surrendered without a shot and was renamed Fort Trinity.

Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the Dutch capitol of New Amsterdam, retaliated the following summer, sending seven armed Dutch ships and 317 soldiers appeared into the Delaware River. The vastly outnumbered Swedes immediately surrendered Fort Trinity, and Rising surrendered Fort Christina two weeks later.

Although Swedish sovereignty in New Sweden was at an end, the Swedish and Finnish presence was still in evidence. Stuyvesant permitted the colonists to continue as a "Swedish Nation," governed by a court of their choosing, and allowed them to practice their religion, organize their own militia, retain their land holdings, and continue trading with Native Americans. This independent Swedish Nation continued until 1681, when Englishman William Penn received a charter for Pennsylvania and the three lower counties (present-day Delaware).

Source: Swedish Colonial Society (