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Two groups of Native Americans
lived in the Delaware region when European explorers first visited the
area. The Lenape lived along
the Delaware River; English settlers later called them the “Delaware.” The Nanticoke lived along the Nanticoke River in the
southwestern part of the state.
1610, an English ship sailed into the Delaware Bay from the colony of
Virginia. Captain Samuel
Argail named the bay after Virginia’s governor, Lord De La Warr. The bay, river, and land surrounding the region became known
as Delaware. One year
earlier, Henry Hudson had entered the Delaware Bay in search of a trade
route to the Far East for a Dutch company.
The Dutch tried to establish a settlement in 1631, but Indians
killed the settlers and destroyed the fort.
also made claims to Delaware. In
1638, colonists arrived and established Fort Christina (near present-day
Wilmington), the first permanent settlement in the region.
Sweden also claimed land from New Jersey and Pennsylvania and named
the entire colony New Sweden. During
this time, the Dutch had made claims to New York and New Jersey, calling
their land the New Netherland. In
1651, wanting to add Delaware to the New Netherland, they built Fort
Casimir at present-day New Castle. The
Dutch captured New Sweden in 1655, and Delaware became part of New
1644, England seized New Netherland and Delaware became part of the colony
of New York. In 1681, William
Penn was granted land from England, that included Delaware, and
established the colony of Pennsylvania.
Delaware then became known as the Three Lower Counties, because of
its position down the Delaware River from Pennsylvania.
As the population in Pennsylvania’s counties grew, representation
became unequal for the Three Lower Counties.
As a result, in 1704 Delaware was given its own legislature, but
continued with Pennsylvania governors until the Revolutionary War.
flourished under English rule. Newark,
Dover and Wilmington were all founded during the early 1700s.
The lumber industry brought thousands to work in sawmills built
along the Delaware River. By 1760, nearly 35,000 people lived in the Delaware region.
the 1760s, England forced severe taxes on the American colonies.
Delawareans and other colonists refused to pay these taxes.
In 1775, the Revolutionary War began.
Only one small battle took place in Delaware during the war.
British troops landed in Maryland and marched across Delaware
toward Philadelphia. American
troops met the British at Cooch’s Bridge on Sept. 3, 1777, but were
forced to retreat into Pennsylvania.
Three Lower Counties had broken away from Pennsylvania in June 1776.
They adopted a constitution and became the Delaware State, the
first of all the colonies to call themselves a state.
After the Revolutionary War, John Dickinson and George Read of
Delaware assisted in writing a constitution for the new nation.
On Dec. 7, 1787, Delaware ratified the United States Constitution
and became the 1st state in the Union.
In 1792, Delaware adopted a new state constitution and changed its
name to the State of Delaware.
industries grew in importance for Delaware following the war.
In 1795, the textile industry increased as a cotton mill was built
on Brandywine Creek. In 1802,
Frenchman Éleuthére Irénée du Pont founded a gunpowder mill near
Wilmington. The Du Pont
Company soon established Wilmington as the “Chemical Capital of the
World.” Thomas Gilpin built
the country’s first papermaking machine in 1817.
This industry grew tremendously in Delaware, as did shipbuilding.
Thousands migrated to Delaware for work.
By 1850, its population reached 91,532.
Delaware was considered a slave state, Quakers living in the state hated
slavery. Delaware, located
between the North and Deep South, freed thousands of slaves as they passed
through the state on the Underground Railroad.
Delaware remained in the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865).
More than 12,000 Delawareans fought for the North and a few hundred
fought for the South. At the
end of the war, all slaves were freed.
1899, the Delaware Corporation Law lowered corporate tax and made it
easier to create businesses in Delaware.
Several companies were established in Delaware during the early
1900s. Increased tax revenue
from these companies allowed the government to make improvements in
education, public welfare, and roadways.
The Du Pont Highway, the country’s first divided highway, was
begun in 1911. A state board of welfare, a state highway department, and a
state income tax were all introduced to Delaware during this time.
the Great Depression (1929-1939), thousands of Delawareans lost their
jobs. The federal government
provided jobs building roads and parks.
World War II (1939-1945) also helped end the Depression. Delaware provided soldiers, ships and gunpowder.
Du Pont chemist Wallace Carothers discovered nylon in 1938, which
was then used to produce parachutes.
economy grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1951, the Delaware Memorial Bridge opened making travel to
and from the state much easier. Many
factories expanded and large new corporations, such as Chrysler, General
Foods, and General Motors, moved into Delaware.
The state’s population also increased dramatically, reaching
almost 450,000 in 1960.
a southern state, Delaware began desegregation of schools before the
Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional in
1954. In 1950, black students
were allowed to attend the University of Delaware.
By 1952, black and white students began attending the same high
schools. All segregation of
restaurants and public facilities ended in 1963.
Many black people moved to Delaware during this time; several
settled in Wilmington.
improvements were made during the 1970s.
In 1971, the Coastal Zone Act was passed that banned construction
of industrial plants along the Delaware coastline. This protected beaches and helped to improve water and air
pollution. In 1973, about
1,500 abandoned homes in Wilmington were sold for a dollar, with the
requirement to fix up the building. Several
new homeowners moved back to the city.
Legislature districts were redrawn in 1971 and 1981.