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Delaware History

As visitors travel along the Delaware History Trail, they will explore the proud heritage of the First State. Below is a timeline featuring historic events from the 1400s to present day. These events helped form the state that started the nation.

1400 The Lenni Lenape, Native Americans of the Algonkians, settle along the Delaware. 

1600 Minquas, from the Susquehanna River Valley, began to attack the villages of the Lenni Lenape. 

1609 Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Dutch East India Company, discovers Delaware Bay and River. 1610 Captain Samuel Argall, an English sea captain,  names the bay and river after Lord De La Warr, the governor of Virginia. 

1631 Dutch colonists settle at Zwaanendael (site of present-day Lewes). 

1632 Settlement at Zwaanendael is destroyed and all colonists killed in dispute with Native Americans. 

1638 Peter Minuet leads a group of Swedes to the Delaware and establishes Fort Christina (now Wilmington), the first permanent settlement on the Delaware and the beginnings of the New Sweden Colony. 

1639 The first African on the Delaware, Black Anthony, is brought from the Caribbean to Fort Christina. 

1640 The first Lutheran minister in America, the Reverend Reorus Torkillus, arrives at Fort Christina. 

1643 Johan Printz becomes governor of the New Sweden Colony. 

1651 Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch governor of New Netherland, builds Fort Casimir (now New Castle) just a few miles south of Fort Christina on the Delaware. 

1654 The Swedes capture Fort Casimir and rename it Fort Trinity. 

1659 Lewes is founded. 

1655 The Dutch defeat the Swedes on the Delaware, ending the New Sweden Colony.  Delaware becomes a part of New Netherland. 

1664 Sir Robert Carr drives the Dutch off the Delaware and claims the land for James, Duke of York.  Delaware becomes an English colony. 

1673 The Dutch regain control of the Delaware. 

1674 The English regain the Delaware 

1682 The Duke of York transfers control of the Delaware Colony to English Quaker William Penn. 

1698 Holy Trinity, Old Swedes Church, is built in Wilmington. 

1698-1700  Pirates including Captain Kidd sail along the Delaware. 

1704 Delaware's first assembly of the Three Lower Counties Upon Delaware, separate from Pennsylvania, meets at New Castle.

1717 Town of Dover laid out. 

1731 Thomas Willing founds Willingtown. 

1739 Willingtown receives royal charter and is renamed Wilmington. 

1742 Oliver Canby builds flour mill on Brandywine River at Wilmington, beginning large commercial flour milling industry. 

1761 James Adams sets up first printing press in Delaware at Wilmington.

1764 Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon survey Delaware's western boundary.

1765 Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean represent Delaware at the Stamp Act Congress.

1767-68 John Dickinson writes Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, an influential protest against British policies towards the colonies.

1774 Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read represent Delaware at the First Continental Congress.

1776 June 15: Delaware Assembly declares independence from England. This is the origin of the holiday called Separation Day. July 1-2: Caesar Rodney makes heroic overnight ride from Dover to Philadelphia to cast the vote that put Delaware on the side of independence. Delaware adopts its first state constitution. 

1777 Dover replaces New Castle as state capital. Late August-early September: British and American armies are in northern New Castle County. September 3: Battle of Cooch's Bridge near Newark, only engagement of the war in Delaware. September 12-British capture Delaware state documents, funds, and President John McKinly after winning the Battle of the Brandywine, then occupy Wilmington until mid October. 

1779 Delaware Assembly ratifies Articles of Confederation. 

1784 Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury meet at Barratt's Chapel in Frederica, establishing the Methodist Church as a separate denomination in the U.S. 

1785 Oliver Evans builds prototype automatic flour mill in Newport. Delaware Gazette, state's first newspaper, begins publication. 

1786 Delaware is one of 5 states to send delegates to Annapolis Convention, which hoped to revise the Articles of Confederation. 

1787 December 7: Delaware is the first state to ratify the new U.S. Constitution. 

1788-89 Abolition societies established in Dover and Wilmington. 

1791 The county seat of Sussex County is moved from Lewes to Georgetown. 

1792 Delaware adopts second state constitution. 

1795 Bank of Delaware, the state's first bank, founded in Wilmington. 

1798 British ship DeBraak sinks off Lewes. Yellow fever epidemic spreads from Philadelphia to Wilmington. 

1802  Du Pont Company is founded when Eleuthère Irénée duPont de Nemours begins manufacturing gunpowder along the Brandywine River near Wilmington. 

1805 First Methodist camp meeting held near Smyrna. 

1807 Caesar A. Rodney named Attorney General of the United States by President Thomas Jefferson. 

1808 Newport and Gap Turnpike becomes first toll road in Delaware. 

1812-13 Peter Spencer founds the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. AUMP is the first denomination in the nation controlled entirely by African-Americans. 

1813 The British bombard Lewes during War of 1812. Dr. James Tilton appointed Surgeon General of the U.S. Army. 

1814 Commodore Thomas Macdonough defeats British on Lake Champlain. James A. Bayard is one of American signers of the Treaty of Ghent, ending War of 1812.   Big Quarterly, or August Quarterly, started by Peter Spencer, founder of African Union Methodist Protestant Church, in Wilmington. America's first major black religious festival continues in the 21st century. 

1818 Construction begins on the mile-long Delaware Breakwater, completed in 1835. 

1828 Steamboat line opens between Philadelphia and New Castle. 

1829 Chesapeake and Delaware Canal opens. Delaware Free School Act passes in legislature creating first public schools in the state.   Louis McLane appointed Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. 

1832 New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad opens. Covering one and a half miles at first, it used horse cars for nearly a year before switching over to steam service in 1832. Delaware adopts third constitution.   First peach orchard planted in Delaware. State soon becomes major commercial producer of peaches. 

1833 The University of Delaware is founded as Newark College. Louis McLane appointed Secretary of State of the United States. 

1838 Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad opens. 

1844 The Bangor, America's first iron-hulled propeller steamship, launched in Wilmington. 

1847 Delaware Senate considers an act to abolish slavery. The act is defeated by one vote. 

1849 John M. Clayton appointed Secretary of State of the United States. 

1852 Delaware Railroad Company organized. 

1855 State-wide prohibition law enacted; repealed, 1857. 

1856 Delaware Railroad completed to Seaford; to Delmar in 1859. 

1861 Although a slaveholding state, Delaware rejects invitation to join Confederacy.    Peace convention at Dover favors peaceable recognition of Confederacy. Troops from Philadelphia garrison Fort Delaware, which becomes prison camp. 

1862 Delaware legislature rejects President Lincoln’s offer to buy its slaves. 

1861-65 More than 12,000 troops from Delaware join Union forces; a small number join the Confederate Army. 

1865 Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery.   The Delaware legislature votes against the amendment. 

1867 Howard High School, Delaware’s first high school for African-Americans, established. 

1868 The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection for all races under the law.  The Delaware legislature votes against the amendment. 

1869 First woman suffrage convention in Delaware 

1870 First ocean resort opens at Rehoboth Beach. The Fifteenth Amendment guarantees blacks the right to vote.  The Delaware legislature votes against the amendment.   Wilmington's African American community honors Thomas Garrett for his work as a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. 

1872 Coeducation introduced at Delaware College, discontinued in 1885. 

1875 State legislature creates separate schools with separate funding for white children and African American children. 

1876 Indian River Lifesaving Station is built, the nation’s oldest station still on its original site. 

1878 First telephone line installed in Wilmington. 

1880 Dynamite and nitroglycerine manufactured by DuPont Company. Rehoboth Beach holds what some claim is the first beauty contest in the nation. 

1881 County seat of New Castle County moves from New Castle to Wilmington. First organized Jewish religious service in Delaware. 

1882 First electric street lights installed in Wilmington. 

1883-86 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad extends through Delaware. 

1885 Thomas F. Bayard appointed Secretary of State of the United States. 

1887 Volunteer, a steel-hulled racing yacht, built in Wilmington, defeats Thistle to win America’s Cup. 

1888 Electric street cars begin to replace horse cars in Wilmington. 

1889 Law passes prohibiting punishment of women at whipping post or pillory. 

1891 State College for Colored Students (now Delaware State University) chartered; opened in 1892. Delmar nearly destroyed by fire. 

1893 Thomas F. Bayard appointed first United States Ambassador to Great Britain. Delaware receives "The Wedge," a small piece of land, in boundary dispute with Maryland. 

1897 New state constitution adopted; still in effect today. Property qualifications for voter registration abolished. 

1899 The Delaware Corporation Law is passed. In time this law will make it easier for businesses to incorporate in Delaware than in other states. 

1900 Illustrator Howard Pyle opens his art school in Wilmington. Frank Stephens purchases 163 acres near Grubbs Corner to found single tax community of Arden. 

1901 Legislature ratifies 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. 

1905 Delaware becomes last state to abolish use of the pillory. 

1907 First automobile licensed in state. Delawarean Emily Bissell introduces Christmas Seal into America. 

1909 State House restored and enlarged. Ownership of Chesapeake and Delaware Canal transferred to federal government. 

1911-24 T. Coleman du Pont builds a highway running the length of the state and gives to State of Delaware. 

1911 Upton Sinclair and Scott Nearing, along with others, arrested at Arden for playing games on Sunday. 

1913 Women’s College founded at Newark. Hotel Du Pont and Playhouse open. Wilson Line ferry begins ferry service between Wilmington and Pennsville, N.J. 

1914 Women's College opens in Newark. 

1915 Child Labor Law passes. State Labor Commission created. 

1917-18 Nearly 10,000 Delawareans serve in World War I. 

1920 Woman suffrage amendment narrowly fails adoption in legislature. 

1921 Construction begins on Wilmington Marine Terminal, completed 1923. 

1923 Cecile Steele begins Delaware’s broiler chicken industry. 

1926 Cape Henlopen Lighthouse collapses. 

1929 Louis L. Redding becomes first African-American lawyer in state. 

1933 Legislative Hall completed. Legislature votes to repeal prohibition amendment. 

1934 United States Supreme Court confirms Delaware’s claim to control Delaware River. 

1935 U.S. Supreme Court rules that twelve mile arc that defines the Pennsylvania-Delaware line should be extended into the Delaware River, giving Delaware a few uninhabited acres attached to New Jersey. Dr. Wallace Carothers, working at the DuPont Experimental Station, discovers Fiber 66, the first synthetic fiber. 

1937 Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge organized. Delaware Park race track opens. 

1938 Tercentenary Celebration of landing of Swedes in Wilmington. 

1939 DuPont Company opens first nylon plant in Seaford and nylon stockings exhibits at World Fairs in San Francisco and New York. 

1941-45 30,000 Delaware men and women serve in armed forces in World War II. 

1942 Fort Miles created between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.
Major air bases created at New Castle and Dover. 

1945 Women’s College merges with University of Delaware. 

1949 First annual Delmarva Chicken Festival held. 

1950 Delaware Court of Chancery orders University of Delaware to end segregation. 

1951 Delaware Memorial Bridge opens first span linking Delaware to New Jersey. 

1952 Chancellor Collins J. Seitz deemed Delaware's segregated schools to be separate and unequal, a position upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.   Last public whipping; this form of punishment was abolished in Delaware in 1972. 

1963 Delaware General Assembly outlaws racial segregation in public accommodations. President John F. Kennedy opens Delaware Turnpike (Interstate 95; now John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) completing a non-stop highway between Boston and Washington D.C.  This was one of Kennedy's last public appearances. 

1964 Cape May- Lewes Ferry begins operation. 

1968 Riots break out in Wilmington following assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., prompting 10-month occupation of city by National Guard, the longest occupation in the country. Second span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge dedicated. 

1969 Richard Petty wins the first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Dover Downs. 

1971 The Delaware Coastal Zone Act prohibits construction of industrial plants on coastal areas. 

1975 William "Judy" Johnson, a former Negro League baseball player, becomes state’s first player elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

2002 “The First State” becomes the official nickname for Delaware

2002 Horseshow crab was designated as Delaware’s official marine animal

2005 Stonefly became official state macro invertebrate

2008 Joe Biden was elected as Delaware’s 1st  Vice President of the U.S. and 1st Roman Catholic to hold office

2008 Joe Flacco became first player in Delaware football history to be selected in the 1st round of NFL draft

2009 Delaware legalizes football sports betting

2009 Peach Pie was designated as Delaware’s official state dessert

2010 Strawberry became the official state fruit

2010 Grey Fox becomes state wildlife animal

2011 Delaware passes Civil Unions Bill 

 

99 Kings Highway | Dover, DE 19901
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