In the Beginning
Henry Hudson first saw the Delaware Bay in 1609, but he was discouraged by the dangerous shoals and turned north to discover the Hudson River. Another Englishman, Samuel Argall, came the next year, but determined that he'd made a mistake, named the bay the Delaware -- after the governor of Virginia, Thomas West, Lord de La Warr -- and headed south to his original destination of Virginia.
Dutch fishermen arrived in 1631 to settle on a tiny cape of land lying between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean -- they called it Zwaanendael, the Valley of the Swans. It didn't last. A dispute arose between the settlers and the Leni-Lenape tribes, and the Dutch were massacred.
Swedish settlers came next. In 1637, the Kalmar Nyckel and Vogel Grip sailed into the Delaware Bay and headed north to a narrow river the settlers called the Christina, after their queen. They built a fortress and log cabins -- the first built in the New World -- and called their settlement New Sweden. The Swedes adapted well to their new home. They raised livestock and grew corn, a staple introduced to them by their Native American neighbors.
The settlement prospered, but it wasn't long before the Dutch returned to claim the land. In 1655, a group of settlers under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant, established Fort Casimir, 7 miles south of New Sweden. Hungry for more land, the Dutch sent troops to the Swedish settlement and forced their surrender. The Swedish settlers were allowed to remain in the newly renamed New Amstel, under Dutch governance.
Change would come again in 1664 when King Charles II of England granted this land to the duke of York, thus giving England control of most of the Atlantic seaboard. The settlement became known as New Castle and soon became Delaware's first capital and a major Colonial seaport. During this first English rule, a Colonial court was established and the streets were resurveyed. The town developed into a seat of government and Delaware's first capital.
The Dutch returned to power briefly in 1673 but in 1684, William Penn arrived with his Quaker followers to take possession of the Pennsylvania colony granted to him. He arrived first in New Castle before sailing up the Delaware River to establish Philadelphia. Penn, who had been given Delaware as part of Pennsylvania, divided the lands south of Philadelphia into the counties of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex. By 1704, residents of the counties of Delaware became dissatisfied with Pennsylvania, and Penn granted them the right to form their own assembly.
The colony of Delaware flourished. New colonists arrived to develop Wilmington on the site of Fort Christina, and Dover was plotted in 1717 according to a street plan of Penn's devising. Sixty years later, the capital was moved to this city in the center of the state.
The First State
Although Delaware is tiny in size, its people played important roles in the establishment of a free United States. Look at a Delaware quarter, and you'll see an image of a man on horseback. This commemorates the ride of Caesar Rodney of Kent County, who broke a deadlock on the vote for independence in 1776 in Philadelphia. Though he was suffering from cancer, he rode 80 miles on horseback through the night to Philadelphia so he could cast his crucial vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence.
To meet the English redcoats in battle, Delaware raised an army of 4,000 soldiers clad in blue coats who became known for the blue hens they carried with them.
The Revolution bypassed Delaware except for a skirmish at Cooch's Bridge near Newark. From here, the British would meet George Washington's army at the Battle of Brandywine, just north of Delaware, in one of the largest battles of the Revolutionary War.
Delaware had one more crucial role to play in the formation of the new nation. When the Constitution was brought before the state legislature December 7, 1787, Delaware voted aye and became "The First State," the first to ratify the document.
Of Transportation & Chemicals
Delaware's location along the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean, downstream from powerful Philadelphia, made it ideal for industrial development, especially with the coming of the railroad and the steamboat to ship these new products as well as crops from Delaware's fertile farmlands. The 1829 construction of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal offered shippers a shortcut from the Chesapeake Bay (and Baltimore, Washington, and points south) to the Atlantic Ocean. With that, Wilmington grew in size and stature.
The arrival of a French aristocrat, E.I. du Pont, would bring great change to Delaware. He established his black powder mill on the banks of the Brandywine River in 1802. This endeavor grew as the du Pont family extended their research into a wide variety of chemical products used by the military, aerospace industry, and homeowner alike as du Pont became the largest chemical manufacturer in America.
The chemical industries of DuPont continue to pump millions of dollars into the Delaware economy. DuPont money is also responsible for the famous "châteaux" of the Brandywine Valley that visitors flock to each year: Winterthur, Nemours, and Longwood Gardens, as well as Hagley, home of the original powder mill.
With an eye on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the city planners of Wilmington have developed the Riverfront in the past decade in an effort to revive the downtown district. Museums, restaurants, a new stadium, and tall residential buildings have changed the waterfront significantly.
Tourists come to Delaware for many other reasons, as well. Slots at Delaware Park, Harrington, and Dover Downs have made the state a gambling mecca. Twice a year, NASCAR fans descend on Dover by the tens of thousands. Sales-tax-free shopping makes the Rehoboth outlets even better. And then there are the beaches: The quiet resorts of Fenwick and Bethany, the party known as Dewey, and the towns of Rehoboth and Lewes not only have lovely beaches but attractive small-town charm as well. Add the outdoor delights of a network of great state parks -- though not even one national park -- and you've got lots of fun things to choose from.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.