“New Sweden was the last of the European colonial empires to be founded in North America,” the historian Hildor Arnold Barton has written, “as well as the smallest, least populous, and shortest-lived.” The colony never boasted more than a few hundred residents at any given time, and it only lasted for some 17 years before being conquered by the Dutch.
Yet despite being a mere footnote to American colonization, New Sweden’s settlers made several contributions to history.
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In the midst of this frenzy of colonization, the Kingdom of Sweden looked to carve out a piece of the New World for itself.
The result was one of the most peculiar overseas ventures of the Age of Discovery.
When the fort was completed, the colonists hoisted the Swedish flag, fired celebratory cannon shots and christened it Fort Christina after the adolescent Queen of Sweden.
Painting of the Kalmar Nyckel, a Dutch-built armed merchant ship famed for carrying Swedish settlers to North America in 1638 to establish the colony of New Sweden.
Most Americans are familiar with France, Spain, Holland and England’s colonial history in the United States, but lesser-known is New Sweden, a Swedish holding that once spanned parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The upstart settlement dates to the early 17th century, when the great powers of Europe were all scrambling to plant their flags in North America.
Shortly after his arrival, the Swedes reinforced Fort Christina and established Fort Elfsborg and Fort New Gothenburg, two additional bastions on the Delaware River.
They also increased their trade with the Indians and began growing food and tobacco crops on plantations.
Minuit took great care in selecting the location of Sweden’s first settlement in North America.
Not only was it built in prime territory for trading with the natives, it was also situated in an area not yet occupied by other Europeans.
By March 1638, the vessels had traveled up the Delaware River and dropped anchor near modern-day Wilmington, Delaware.