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Trip Planner Travel Guide

Delaware History

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07/10/2012

As one of the original 13 colonies and the first state to ratify the United States Constitution, Delaware is rich in culture and history.

Delaware was first inhabited by Native Americans before Swedish settlers explored its coastline during the 16th century. Later, the First State became a cradle for inventiveness, artistry and ingenuity and a forerunner in both the Industrial and Agricultural revolutions. It also played a pivotal role during the American Revolution, the Civil War, and defending the home front during World War II.

Originally, Nanticoke and Lenni Lenape tribes used the land’s rich soil for agriculture and waterways as a means for trading. In the 16th Century, Dutch traders established Zwaanendael, Delaware’s first settlement in Lewes; and in 1682, William Penn’s land inheritance led to the infamous land survey that created Delaware’s unique shape and the Mason-Dixon Line.

Delaware is also home to Caesar Rodney, a Dover-bred lawyer, politician and Continental Congressman. On July 1, 1776, upon hearing that Delaware’s delegation to the Congress was split on voting for independence from Britain, Rodney embarked on a dramatic overnight ride from Dover to Philadelphia to cast the tiebreaking vote that paved the way for passage of the Declaration of Independence. A statue of Rodney stands in Wilmington’s Rodney Square.

During the American Revolution, the battle of Cooch’s Bridge in Delaware was the first time Betsy Ross’ famous 13-star flag was flown and on December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States. Although Delaware was a slave state, by 1810 three-quarters of all African Americans in the state were free. At the time, the Governor said, “Delaware had been the first state to embrace the Union and would be the last to leave it.” During the Civil War, Delaware’s unique location and waterways served as paths to safety for many on the Underground Railroad. In addition, Fort Delaware, an island off Delaware City, was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers and political prisoners of war. Years later during World War II, observation towers were built along Delaware’s coastline to watch for enemy submarines.

Take a flight through history with planes from World War II and other conflicts at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, the only museum dedicated to airlift and air refueling airplanes and history and is part of the National Museum of the United States Air Force's field museum system.

The First State’s heritage is intricately woven into the history of America’s fight for liberty and freedom. Delaware’s legacy has been preserved for new generations to discover through the Delaware History Trail, a 36-site trail of exploration that weaves throughout the state, which includes one-of-a-kind museums, charming small towns, designated State Parks and recognized historic sites.

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99 Kings Highway • Dover, DE 19901 • 1-866-284-7483
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