Delaware -- the nation's second smallest state -- also has the distinction of having become the first state, since it was the first to ratified the United States Constitution. The history of Delaware during colonial period involves European settlers -- mainly fur traders -- indigenous Native American tribes and some of the American Revolutionary War's greatest heroes.
The colony of Delaware was named for the Delaware Bay which, in turn, was named for Lord De La Warr, an English explorer and Lord Governor of Virginia, who died while on an expedition exploring the bay.
The first inhabitants of the area now known as Delaware include the Nanticoke tribe, whose name means people of the tidewaters, and the Lenape tribe. The Nanticoke were responsible for guiding English explorer John Smith through the area in 1608. The Lenape tribe (renamed the Delaware tribe by European settlers) traded furs with the Dutch settlers until the Treaty of Easton in 1766 moved them westward away from the colonies.
European settlements began to spring up in Delaware in 1631. Swedish settlers founded the colony of New Sweden in 1638, and it became the first European colony to survive in Delaware. The colony's leader Peter Minuit, later became governor of New York. The settlers and their descendants built what is now known as the Old Swedes Church in 1698. The building, located in present day Wilmington, is one of the oldest churches in the country still in use today. The colony of Delaware received its name from the Delaware Bay which, in turn, received its name from explorer, Captain General and Lord Governor of Virginia named Lord De La Warr, who died while on an expedition exploring the bay.
Delaware produced Revolutionary War figures including John Dickinson, whose essays extorted the virtues of liberty and freedom from the British, earning him the name "the Penman of the Revolution."Today, visitors can see his home, which is preserved in its original state in the city of Dover. (See Reference 2) One of Delaware's many nicknames includes the Blue Hen State, in honor of the Blue Hen Chicken, which officially became the state bird in 1939, and was the mascot of Delaware's soldiers in the Revolutionary War.
Although officially known as "The First State," a moniker it earned by when it became the first to ratify the Constitution on December 7, 1787, Delaware is also know as the Diamond State, a nickname that many believe was coined by Thomas Jefferson, who once called Delaware a "jewel among the states" due to its seaport location and its value as a trading port to the young country.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images