American History29 Apr 2008 02:32 am
We are all familiar with the oft-repeated maxim that the United States of America is country of immigrants, but when we consider non-English speaking immigrants, our thoughts start their descent somewhere near the turn of 19th C. And while the Louisiana Purchase and earlier French ownership of the lands it included are well-known, the identity of the Atlantic coastal states (the Thirteen Colonies) is closely associated with Anglophone settlement: that the English integrity of the area was ever in doubt is suggested only by a whiff of the exotic in occasional place names such as Brooklyn or Peekskill.
Students of the earliest colonial days in North America will, of course, be aware that the first European settlers in the mid-Atlantic region—roughly, parts of contemporary New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania—were the Dutch, whose colony of New Netherland lasted nearly forty years, until its final cessation to the English following the the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–74). Though Dutch linguistic custom lingered on for just a short while, forty years of political administration, it would seem, was a long enough time for the New Netherlanders to inscribe their signature on the American geographic memory. Moreover, a class of aristocratic landowners (patroons) whose antecedents were settlers of New Netherland managed to produce two influential American Presidents, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.
Less cartographically and presidentially successful was the colony of New Sweden, or Nya Sverige, founded along the banks of the Schuylkill river, which runs through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Sweden had risen to great international prominence in the middle of the 17th C, a time commonly referred to today as “The Golden Age of Sweden,” and in the 1630s, the young northern power actively pursued a colonial foothold in the growing North American market (particularly the tobacco market). The Swedish government found for itself just the kind of colony-founder it was looking for in one Peter Minuit, a Walloon from Wesel in the Duchy of Cleves.
Minuit was a former Director-General of New Netherland—he was the visionary who finagled the legendary trade of Manhattan for glass beads with the Canarsee—and was thus privy to the fact that the colony owned “deeds” only to lands on the eastern banks of the Schuylkill river. Although the Dutch had claimed the lands on both sides of the river and the establishment of New Sweden in 1638 was tantamount to an invasion of New Netherlandish territory, Minuit further exploited his knowledge of his former employer’s organizational limits when he capitalized on a time of Dutch military unpreparedness and successfully negotiated with the Delawares for “deeds” to lands west of the river.
The initial success of Minuit’s brazen gambit proved short-lived. For a decade and a half, New Sweden grew steadily, only to be decisively defeated by the Dutch following an ill-considered attempt at further territorial expansion in 1654. Though the Swedish (and Finnish) settlers were permitted local autonomy until their eventual incorporation into English territory and legal jurisdiction in the 1680s, they failed to entrench themselves in the same way as their Dutch counterparts. The capital of New Sweden, Fort Christina, is much better known today as Wilmington, DE, and while this is in keeping with such re-christenings as the one that turned New Amsterdam into New York, there is no similar preponderance of strangely named suburban communities that preserve New Sweden’s glory for the ages.
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