Before the arrival of Europeans, the area that is today the state of Delaware was home to the Unami League (also known as “Delaware”) and Nanticoke Native American groups. The Unami League lived in a settled agricultural and hunting society.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to arrive in present day Delaware, and established a trading post near Lewesin 1633. However, all the settlers were wiped out within a year following a dispute with the Native Americans. In 1638, a Swedish colony was established near Wilmington. In 1651, tbe Dutch returned, established a new fort near the site of present day New Castle, and in 1655 absorbed the entire Swedish colony.
In 1664, the Dutch were evicted by the British under James, the Duke of York. William Penn wanted an outlet to the sea for his Pennsylvania province, so leased the ” Lower Counties on the Delaware” from the Duke. As a result, from 1682 to 1704, Delaware and Pennsylvania had a combined General Assembly. Even after 1704, Penn and his heirs remained the Proprietors of both Delaware and Pennsylvania, and always appointed the same person as Governor for both colonies.
During the American Revolution (1775 to 1783), Delaware was initially reluctant to break with Britain. Delaware did however provide one of the premier regiments of the Continental Army, known as the “Delaware Blues” and nicknamed the “Blue Hen Chickens”. Following the Revolution, Delaware was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
Delaware was founded as a slave state. Various local attempts were made to abolish slavery in the state, but all failed even though there were relatively few slaves in Delaware. Nevertheless, despite being a slave site, Delaware remained in the Union during the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), and was the only slave state not to assemble Confederate regiments or militia groups (although some of Delaware’s citizens did fight on the Confederate side in Maryland or Virginia regiments).
Slavery was finally abolished in Delaware at the same time it was abolished in the country as a whole: when the 13th Amendment took effect in December 1865. After the abolition of slavery, the state legislature adopted a policy of segregation including poll tax and Jim Crow laws. Only in the mid 1950s did these restrictions begin to disappear, with the integration of the school system.
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