Delaware History Timeline

By | May 12, 2022

Long before European settlers arrived, it was the ancestral homeland of many Algonquian Indian tribes. All would eventually lose their lands and those who survived the brutality of colonial expansion fled west over the Alleghenies.

The earliest explorations of the coastal zone were organized by the Dutch, the Portuguese and the Spanish. In 1609, unsuccessfully seeking a navigational passage to the wealth of China and the Far East, Henry Hudson sailed into these waters.

In 1610 Sir Samuel Argol, returning to the Colony of Virginia with supplies from England, was apparently blown off course and sailed into a large bay. He named it after Lord De la Warr, then governor of the Colony of Virginia – thus the name Delaware.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to actually settle in Delaware; they established a small trading post at Zwaanendael under modern Lewes in 1631. Within a year their settlement was burned down and everyone was dead; killed by the Indians.

  • Topschoolsintheusa: Guides to study in Delaware, including geography, climate, economy, and tourism of the state.
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In 1638 the Swedes established a permanent colony at Fort Christina (now Wilmington) and several additional forts along the Delaware Bay . By 1655 the Dutch had taken control of the newfangled Swedish colony, incorporating it into their Colony of New Netherland.

James, Duke of York financed the 1664 expedition to the Delaware Bay and the dealt with Dutch were quickly released by the British. Eighteen years later, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania – the need for access to the sea – reached an agreement with the Duke, leased Delaware land and annexed him to his province.

These “Lower Counties” (Delaware) were now administered by the Province of Pennsylvania . As its economy grew and fewer and fewer immigrants arrived from England, Delaware needed labor and it began to import large numbers of African slaves.

At the dawn of the 18th century, growing factions in Pennsylvania and the “Lower Counties” desired autonomy, with both willing to make decisions without others agreeing. Although part of the much larger Province of Pennsylvania, Delaware’s desire to become a separate, stand-alone entity continued to simmer.

In the 1770s, restrictions and high taxes imposed by King George of England and his Parliament did not sit well with the citizens and merchants in the colonies. Though mostly opposed to a break from Britain, Delaware decided to send representatives to a meeting in Philadelphia to help find a solution.

In 1774 that meeting, or the First Continental Congress, took place. In June 1776 a special committee of the Second Continental Congress was formed to draft a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain ; the freedom bell was ringing and the Revolutionary War was just around the corner.

On July 1, 1776, Caesar Rodney , a Delaware patriot leader and member of that Continental Congress, was in Dover for an important meeting. There he was informed that the forthcoming vote on the Declaration of Independence would, of course, be deadlocked.

To break that bond, Rodney rode his horse eighty miles that night to Philadelphia – arriving as the voting was just getting started. At the end he was throwing a decision, vote in favor of American independence.

Delaware timeline


  • (1609) Englishman, Henry Hudson, discovered Delaware Bay, river
  • (1610) An English sea captain, Samuel Argol, named the bay and river after Lord De la Warr, Governor of Virginia
  • (1613) Explorer, Cornelius Jacobsen May arrived in the area sold with the Indians
  • (1631) Dutch colonists founded Zwaanendael (present day Lewis)
  • (1632) Zwaanendael destroyed by Indians; all colonists killed
  • (1638) Dutch settlers, led by Peter Minuet, established Fort Christina, (now Wilmington)
  • (1639) First African slave brought to Delaware
  • (1644) England took over the area, Delaware became part of the New York colony
  • (1651) Peter Stuyvesant, New York governor, established Fort Casimir
  • (1654) Fort Casimir, captured by Swedish colonists, renamed Fort Trinity
  • (1655) The Dutch took over all of New Sweden, made part of New Netherland
  • (1664) Sir Robert Carr of England, expelled Dutch from Delaware, claimed land for James, Duke of York; Delaware became an English colony
  • (1673) Dutch administration restored
  • (1674) Dutch lands returned to England
  • (1682) James, Duke of York, gave control of the Delaware Colony to William Penn; Penn made it part of the Pennsylvania colony and established a representative form of government.
  • (1683) Penn expounded the city plan of Dover
  • (1698 – 1700) Pirates, including Captain Kidd, sailed along the Delaware


  • (1701) Delaware area became known as the Three Lower Counties, separate legislature from Pennsylvania
  • (1704) First meeting of the Three Lower Counties on the Delaware met at Newcastle
  • (1731) Willington founded by Thomas Willing
  • (1739) Willington renamed Wilmington
  • (1754 – 1763) French and Indian War took place
  • (1763) French and Indian War ended; Great Britain gained control over all the lands owned by France; England increased taxes on colonies to pay for the war
  • (1764) Charles Mason, Jeremiah Dixon surveyed the western frontier of the Delaware
  • (1765) Stamp Act Congress held in protest of English taxation, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean represented Delaware
  • (1774) Delaware sent Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, George Read to the First Continental Congress
  • (1775) Revolutionary War began
  • (1776) Delaware Assembly declares independence from England; Caesar Rodney, suffering from cancer and asthma, traveled from Dover to Philadelphia to vote for independence; Three Lower Counties adopted a constitution, became the State of Delaware
  • (1777) John McKinley became the first governor of Delaware; Delaware signed the Articles of Confederation; British troops marched through the Delaware to Philadelphia; American troops retreated from the British at Cooch’s Bridge; British busy Wilmington; capital moved from Newcastle to Dover
  • (1779) Delaware Assembly ratified the Articles of Confederation
  • (1784) Thomas Coke, Francis Asbury founded the Methodist Church as a separate denomination in the USA.
  • (1787) Delaware ratified the American constitution; became the nation’s first state
  • (1788 – 1789) Abolitionist societies established at Wilmington, Dover
  • (1792) Second state constitution adopted; name changed to Delaware; the public school foundation established by the state legislature; State House at Dover finished
  • (1798) British ship, DeBraak, sunk off Lewes; the spread of the yellow fever epidemic in Wilmington


  • (1802) DuPont gunpowder factory established along the Brandywine River near Wilmington
  • (1807) President Thomas Jefferson named Caesar’s Attorney General Rodney W.S.
  • (1812 – 1814) War of 1812 took place
  • (1814) Captain Thomas McDonough of Delaware, defeated British at Lake Champlain (turning point of war); James Bayard of Delaware one of the signers of the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812
  • (1828) Steamboat line between Newcastle and Philadelphia opened
  • (1829) Delaware Canal opened; the state legislature established the public education system
  • (1832) Delaware adopted third state constitution; first peach orchard installed
  • (1838) Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore Railroad opened
  • (1844) America’s first iron-refined propeller steamer, Bangor, launched at Wilmington
  • (1847) Proposed Senate action to abolish slavery defeated by one vote
  • (1855) Statewide Prohibition Act enacted
  • (1857) Prohibition Act nullified
  • (1861 – 1865) civil war occurred; more than 12,000 troops from Delaware joined the Union army; several hundred joined Federal Army,
  • (1861) Delaware declined an invitation to join the Confederacy; troops from Philadelphia stationed troops at Fort Delaware
  • (1862) Delaware troops distinguished themselves at the Battle of Antietam; due to their reputation as fighters, they were called the “Blue Hens” due to the bluish limbs they had with them during campaigns
  • (1863) Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln; slaves not freed like Delaware fought for the Union
  • (1865) 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery; Delaware freed the slaves
  • (1868) Delaware Legislature voted against the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which guaranteed equal protection for all races

Delaware History