Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

New Sweden

The advent of Sweden in the valley of the Delaware was due to three causes: jealousy of the growth of Holland as a commercial world power, desire to establish colonies as a manifestation of Swedish nationalization under the rule of Gustavus Adolphus, and the shrewdness of Willem Usselinx, merchant, of Antwerp and founder of the Dutch West India Company. In this movement colonization for the purpose of securing religious freedom played a distinctively subsidiary part.

In its incipiency the effort of Sweden to secure a foothold in the New World took the form of a commercial company. Its animating spirit was Usselinx, who, having disagreed in a matter of salary with his patrons in Holland, offered his services as colonizer to the Swedish crown. Stimulated by the prompt approval of Gustavus Adolphus, who, in 1624, issued a manifest creating a general commercial society, the plan to extend the sphere of Swedish influence caught the favor of the people. The Australian Company, trading in Africa, Asia, and America, appeared as a solicitant for subscriptions, and, having received a liberal charter, was heartily supported by royalty, the nobility, the army, the church, municipal officers, and the commonalty. It was the voice of united Sweden calling for a share in the trade of the Indies, of China, of the Gold Coast, and of the far North, with the wide world, but half explored, from which to choose. Under such favorable auspices the Australian Company commenced a career somewhat romantic and ultimately illstarred.

To further aid the project, the Ship Company, a corporation controlled by Swedish cities, was merged, in 1630, into the Australian Company, which gave to Sweden's cause of colonization and trade sixteen ships. The voyages of these vessels were generally disastrous, which, coupled with Sweden's wars on the continent and the death of Gustavus Adolphus on the battlefield of Ltzen, cast a shadow upon the enterprise, so auspiciously inaugurated. But temporary embarrassment seemed to lend additional fire to the persistency of Usselinx. Shifting the base of operations from Sweden to the continent, unavailing appeals were made to men of wealth in Germany, France, Hanse Towns, States General, and even England.

Failure to secure the support of these governments gave a wide latitude for the injection of distinctively personal elements into the future history of the Australian, or South, Company. There appear as actively interested in the project in 1635 the Swedish Chancellor, Oxenstjerna; Samuel Blomm‘rt, of the Dutch West India Company, who, in 1630, had secured a patronship, Swaanendale, at Cape May; Peter Spiring, a confidential representative; and Peter Minuit, director-general of New Netherland from 1626 to 1632, the latter, like Usselinx, a disgruntled employee of the Hollanders. After a period of delay this Swedish-Dutch company, a distinctively commercial enterprise, sent out its first venture to America, in December, 1637.

It was not later than March, 1638, that Peter Minuit, with the man-of-war "Kalmar Nyckel" and the sloop "Gripen," entered Zuydt Riviere--the Delaware. Dr. Gregory B. Keen, in Windsor's "Narrative and Critical History of America," quoting from the Swedish historian, Campanius, says that the founders of New Sweden landed at Murderkill Creek in the southern part of the State of Delaware. From the Indians the Swedes purchased, in 1638, all the land lying between Bombay Hook and the Schuylkill, no western limits being assigned.

At Wilmington Minuit immediately built Fort Christina. He sent the "Gripen" to Jamestown, which led the Virginians to protest to the English crown that the Swedes were intruders. The "Gripen" then sailed up the river as far as Fort Nassau, a Dutch post at the mouth of Big Timber Creek, where the vessel was challenged and the actions of Minuit reported to the authorities in New Netherland and in Holland. Careless or indifferent as to the claims of both nations, Minuit garrisoned and equipped his fort and accompanied the "Kalmar Nyckel" and the "Gripen" to the West Indies, where he lost his life in a storm. The vessels eventually returned to Sweden, in 1639, laden with tobacco and furs. Again, in 1640, the "Kalmar Nyckel" voyaged to the New World under a Dutch crew, in that, in spite of the efforts of Queen Christina, few Swedes would either go as men before the mast or as colonists. Even the second governor of New Sweden was probably a Hollander.

In 1640 the northern boundary of New Sweden, as the colony was now generally called, was extended, by purchase from the Indians, to a point opposite Trenton, and thence, indefinitely, due west. Once again the gun of Fort Nassau was trained, without effect, upon the Swedish commander. The fertility of the lower Delaware Valley and the struggling for precedence between Sweden and Holland led the English to assert their claim to the river and the bay. In 1640 a certain Captain Nathaniel Turner, agent of the New Haven Colony, is mentioned as a purchaser from the Lenni-Lenap‚ of lands on the east and west banks of the stream, while in 1641 George Lamberton also secured lands from the Indians. A part of the English purchase extending from Cape May to Raccoon Creek (Narraticons Kil) had been but recently transferred to the Swedish by the same Indian sachem who sold the land to the English. To confirm the title sixty individuals settled at Salem Creek (Varken's Kil), and on August 30, 1641, the Salem "plantations" were declared to be a part and parcel of the New Haven government.

In 1642 the English erected a trading house on the Schuylkill. Under the instigation of the Dutch, to which movement the Swedes lent ready aid, the English were driven from the vicinity of Philadelphia, and it is said the Salem community was broken up. Some of the settlers were sent to New Amsterdam and thence to New Haven, Lamberton was arrested, and in 1642, according to the testimony of Governor Winthrop, of Massachusetts, the New Haven colony was "dissolved" owing to summer "sickness and mortality." A truer reason may be found in the inability of the New Haven people to sustain themselves, in view of the distance from Connecticut, and the superior force of the Swedes and Dutch.

While the English were asserting title to the Delaware a third expedition was in transit to the shores of that river. Receiving the support of the government, the Dutch interests were eliminated by purchase, and, with a large proportion of Finns, the "Kalmar Nyckel" and a companion ship, the "Charitas," in 1641, led the third venture to America. An awakened interest in New Sweden led to the formation of a new corporation variously called the West India, American, or New Sweden Company, to which the South Company, the crown, and leading merchants contributed.

The fourth expedition, in 1642, took a new governor, John Printz, the most conspicuous of all Sweden's governors in the New World. What the purposes of the crown were in the valley of the Delaware are best shown by his "Instructions," dated August 15, 1652, signed by the guardians of Queen Christina. The territory under his authority extended on the west side of the Delaware from Cape Henlopen to a point opposite Trenton, and on the New Jersey side of the river and bay from Cape May to Raccoon Creek. Commercially, Governor Printz was directed to preserve the fur trade monopoly, to stimulate the cultivation of tobacco, to foster grazing, arboriculture, viniculture, silk and salt production, and fishing. To his care was left the maintenance of the Swedish Lutheran religion, the education of the youth, and the christianization of the Indians. With the Dutch at New Netherland and Fort Nassau relations of an independent but friendly character were to be observed, but "force was to be repelled by force" should belligerent measures be necessary. Governor Printz arrived in the Delaware in January, 1643, sailed up the river as far as Trenton, and erected a house (Printz hof) on Tinicum Island, midway between Chester and Philadelphia. Upon the New Jersey side of the river, between Salem and Alloway's Creek, Fort Nya Elfsborg was constructed in 1643. Printz also took other means of strengthening his colony. In 1644 came the fifth expedition to New Sweden, bearing among other emigrants Johan Papegaja, who subsequently became lieutenant-governor of the colony and married Printz's daughter Armgott.

Evil times now befell the colony of scarce two hundred souls. In 1645 the fort, New Gottenburg, on Tinicum Island, was destroyed by fire, while during the following year occurred an open rupture between the Dutch and the Swedes. First, permission to trade was refused by Printz to a Dutch sloop, the Hollanders were restrained from hunting for minerals in the vicinity of Trenton, and the arms of the Dutch West India Company were pulled down by Swedish officials in the limits of Philadelphia. For a time the trouble was patched up, and in 1646 and 1647 the sixth and seventh expeditions reached the Delaware.

Again the Dutch attempted to strengthen their position on the river. Doughty Peter Stuyvesant, succeeding Kieft at New Amsterdam, asserted the claims of Holland to the Delaware, which action met with equal show of right on the part of Printz. Stuyvesant, among other matters, had granted to a Dutch colonist the privilege of settling near Mantua Creek, whereupon Printz demanded the allegiance of the settler, purchased from the Lenni-Lenap‚ all lands between Raccoon and Mantua Creeks, and endeavored to secure Indian title to soil around Fort Nassau. In this Printz was frustrated by the Dutch, who secured title around Fort Nassau in 1649.

By this time the failure of a new expedition sent from Sweden, and the activity of the Dutch, made the situation of New Sweden more precarious. Needed articles of husbandry, ammunition and guns were required to prevent the encroachments of Holland. In May, 1651, an armed Dutch ship appeared off Cape May, and in June of that year Stuyvesant came with one hundred and twenty men over the wilderness of New Jersey from New Amsterdam and met a small naval force at Fort Nassau. He built Fort Casimir, near New Castle, Delaware, razed Fort Nassau, and practically took command of the bay and river.

From this date the fortunes of Sweden in the New World slowly waned. New Haven renewed its interest, the Dutch were continually aggressive, and finally, in August, 1655, the crisis came. Stuyvesant in command of a war vessel, with a galiot, flyboat, and two yachts reached the Delaware.

Sailing northward, the Swedish commander, Captain Schulte, owing to desertions and recognizing the inadequacy of his force, surrendered, and after further negotiations the territory of New Sweden passed under the domination of Holland, remaining under its jurisdiction until 1664. A change of masters changed but little the character of the settlement, the alterations being of a purely political character.

So far as the limits of the State of New Jersey are concerned the political influence of New Sweden was of a negative character. Few if any permanent settlements were made during this period, the Swedes in West Jersey being descendants of those adventurers who settled in Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The town of Swedesboro is the most striking evidence of the occupancy of the Scandinavians. Upon a map made by Gregory B. Keen there are preserved some curious place names given by the small farmers and peltry traders to points in West Jersey. Some of these place names are of Indian derivation. Thus, Maurice River was known as the Assveticons, while Sepa Hackingh was immediately south of Bridgeton. Alloway's Creek was known as Korten Revier (Short River), while the land between Alloway's and Salem Creeks was called Oitsessingh. Here stood Fort Nya Elfsborg (Elsingboro Point), while Salem was known as Asamo Hackingh. Between Salem Creek and the Delaware was Obissquasoit. In Oldman's Creek the easy transformation from Alderman's Kil is seen. Narraticon (Raccoon), Mantees (Mantua), Rode Udden (Red Bank), and Timmer (Big Timber) Creeks are easily recognizable. East of Big Timber Creek lay Arwames and Tekoke, while between Big Timber and Cooper Creeks, the latter called Hjorte, lay Sassa‰ Kon. Pensauken Creek was called Strut's Creek, its headwaters rising in the regions of Sinsessingh and Poenpissingh. Rancocas is apparently of Swedish origin, while Beverly and its vicinity was known as Marachonsicka. Tinneconck Island, directly above Burlington City, retains its name, while in the vicinity of White Hill the Swedes claim to have found silver. This was probably mica, which led to a like error of the English settlers of Virginia, who mistook iron pyrites for gold. The meadows between Bordentown and Trenton were known as Alummingh, and Trenton Falls as the Falls of the Assunpink.

Of these various places the Swedes were to be found nearest Tinicum Island and Wilmington. These points were Salem and the creeks of Camden and Gloucester Counties. Traders unquestionably went to the sites of Burlington and Trenton, and possibly made settlements at both places.

At best New Jersey, in the history of New Sweden, played a subordinate part. Few if any traces of occupancy remain, and except for the occasional visit of the hunter and trader no attempt was made to occupy the territory, much less to cultivate the soil, to establish a permanent government, or to civilize the Lenni-Lenap. But it fell to the lot of the Swedes to demonstrate the possibilities of the Delaware Valley as a place for permanent settlement, and to prove, by their own misfortunes, that no northwest passage lay between the site of Trenton and China and that no winning of the wilderness could be accomplished except by unremitting toil and unity of action.

The Swedish settlements on the east bank of the Delaware were too remote one from another, as well as from a common center, to geographically impress the later history of the State. The effects of Swedish life and character appear in physical and mental constitutions of individuals rather than in any general political or social movements. From their incipiency the generous but utopian projects of Gustavus Adolphus had been ill-starred. The varying fortunes of the Swedish crown early left its colony upon the Delaware to its own devices, or to be the prey in turn of semi-hostile Indians, of Holland, and of England. Beneath the royal enthusiasm concerning the settlement, the earnestness of the clergy, the brave hopes of the emigrants, there was a vein of sadness, and over all hung the pall of ultimate defeat.

The closest ties bound the mother country and her colony--ties of language, of blood relationship, of religious faith; and while Sweden had her power the far cry of her little band over sea never fell upon neglectful ears. But when the meteoric light of the C‘sar of the North was plunged into the gloom of war, internal strife, and dismemberment of empire, New Sweden had none to succor and to save. Disheartened, indifferent either to their own future or the future of old Sweden, the colonists on the Delaware became worse than static. Even the clergy, who tried to rekindle the waning fires of patriotism and awaken the flame of industry, education, and love for their church, found their efforts but ill repaid.

Small wonder was it that the Swedish settlements made so feeble a resistance to the Dutch in 1655, for a change of masters meant but little to colonists, whose past had been blasted by the failure of paternalism, whose present was but a political existence--almost a chimera,--and whose future was well nigh hopeless.

The transition from Swedish to Dutch rule was so easily accomplished as to excite but little interest except to the nations concerned, and had no direct bearing of any moment upon European politics. The outward form of the political institutions of the Dutch and Swedes in America were sufficiently similar to occasion no need of drastic reform, and Holland was entirely content to permit the Swedes to continue the establishment of the Lutheran faith. In fact the idea of the Dutch was not so much the gratification of lust for war as it was the control of the Delaware and the commercial subjugation of territory, which, from its natural fertility and its Indian trade, promised an increase in revenue and the economic advancement of Holland. True, both the Hudson and Delaware Valleys passed under the administration of the Dutch, and Holland was the better enabled to strike north at New England or south at Maryland and Virginia, or to protect herself in homogeneous territory in case of attack. But her American relations to England were of less importance to her than the development of agricultural and commercial enterprises upon the Delaware. This at once secured the Swedes, so long as they paid taxes and acknowledged the authority of the Dutch officials, liberty of action.

The Swedes in New Jersey early amalgamated with both the Dutch and the English, particularly with the latter. Unlike the Hollanders in East Jersey, who married and intermarried, preserving racial traits and language beyond the Revolutionary period, the Swede almost immediately merged into the dominant race. After 1725, in such church records as have been preserved, it is quite rare to find the union of Swedish men and women of the pure stock. While in 1700 there were many in West Jersey who spoke Swedish; by the middle of the century the tongue was almost forgotten; and by 1800, except for the retention of a few words, Swedish was a dead language upon the New Jersey shore of the Delaware.

The decline of the mission churches in West Jersey, the shifting of the Swedes to the Society of Friends or to Episcopalianism, was the effect rather than a cause of their loss of nationality. With their language, their literature, and their church eradicated from West Jersey, and but weakly sustained in Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania, racial pride was scarce a name even among themselves.

But the physical impress of the Scandinavian was more enduring, and remains to this day a fact as visibly evident as it is genealogically provable. In Salem City, in Swedesboro, and among old settled families in the Maurice River Valley the course of this blood has held its way for over two centuries as permanent as the Lenni-Lenap‚ strain of equal antiquity, if not always of equal value.

Mentally, the Swedes gave to the English settlers additional strength. The range of this particular influence was never broader than Burlington on the north and Maurice River on the south, and was practically centered in Western Gloucester and Salem Counties. But from this section came men famous in colonial merchant marine, men who had to a large degree Swedish blood in their veins, and who went down to the sea in their ships, driven by impulses which sent their Viking ancestors into the unknown ocean from the cold shores of the old home under the midnight sun. Small wonder is it that the early vessel captains of the Delaware were a hardy, honest race of men who commanded the respect of opulent Philadelphia merchants, and amassed for their patrons and themselves fortunes in adventures projected from Labrador to the Indies.

In colonial politics Swedish names are of as infrequent occurrence as those of the French Huguenot of Monmouth. Neither, apparently, had political ambitions, or, if such were possessed, lacked the adaptability necessary to secure recognition. Fortunately both Swedes and French recognized the futility of the injection of racial characteristics into administrative affairs, and left to the English the management of their own province.

Of all the settlements within the limits of the United States by nations other than England no one attempt possesses a more curious and less recognized field for historical investigation than that of the Swedes upon the banks of the Delaware.

New Jersey as a Colony and as a State, One of the Original Thirteen, by Francis Bazley Lee, Associate Board of Editors William S. Stryker, LL.D.: William Nelson, A.M., Garret D. W. Vroom: Ernest C. Richardson, PH. D.; Volume One; The Publishing Society of New Jersey New York MDCCCCII (1902) transcribed by Fred Kunchick

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