Before Delaware was settled by European colonists, the area was home to the Eastern Algonquian tribes known as the Unami Lenape, or Delaware, who lived mostly along the coast, and the Nanticoke who occupied much of the southern Delmarva Peninsula. John Smith also shows two Iroquoian tribes, the Kuskarawock and Tockwogh, living north of the Nanticoke—they may have held small portions of land in the western part of the state before migrating across the Chesapeake Bay. The Kuskarawocks were most likely the Tuscarora.
The Unami Lenape in the Delaware Valley were closely related to Munsee Lenape tribes along the Hudson River. They had a settled hunting and agricultural society, and they rapidly became middlemen in an increasingly frantic fur trade with their ancient enemy, the Minqua or Susquehannock. With the loss of their lands on the Delaware River and the destruction of the Minqua by the Iroquois of the Five Nations in the 1670s, the remnants of the Lenape who wished to remain identified as such left the region and moved over the Alleghany Mountains by the mid-18th century. Generally, those who did not relocate out of the state of Delaware were baptized, became Christian and were grouped together with other persons of color in official records and in the minds of their non-Native American neighbors.
Main articles: New Netherland, New Sweden, and Delaware Colony
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in present-day Delaware in the middle region by establishing a trading post at Zwaanendael, near the site of Lewes in 1631. Within a year all the settlers were killed in a dispute with area Native American tribes. In 1638 New Sweden, a Swedish trading post and colony, was established at Fort Christina (now in Wilmington) by Peter Minuit at the head of a group of Swedes, Finns and Dutch. The colony of New Sweden lasted 17 years. In 1651 the Dutch, reinvigorated by the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant, established a fort at present-day New Castle, and in 1655 they conquered the New Sweden colony, annexing it into the Dutch New Netherland. Only nine years later, in 1664, the Dutch were conquered by a fleet of English ships by Sir Robert Carr under the direction of James, the Duke of York. Fighting off a prior claim by Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, Proprietor of Maryland, the Duke passed his somewhat dubious ownership on to William Penn in 1682. Penn strongly desired access to the sea for his Pennsylvania province and leased what then came to be known as the "Lower Counties on the Delaware" from the Duke.
Penn established representative government and briefly combined his two possessions under one General Assembly in 1682. However, by 1704 the Province of Pennsylvania had grown so large their representatives wanted to make decisions without the assent of the Lower Counties, and the two groups of representatives began meeting on their own, one at Philadelphia, and the other at New Castle. Penn and his heirs remained proprietors of both and always appointed the same person Governor for their Province of Pennsylvania and their territory of the Lower Counties. The fact that Delaware and Pennsylvania shared the same governor was not unique. From 1703 to 1738 New York and New Jersey shared a governor. Massachusetts and New Hampshire also shared a governor for some time.
Dependent in early years on indentured labor, Delaware imported more slaves as the number of English immigrants decreased with better economic conditions in England. The colony became a slave society and cultivated tobacco as a cash crop, although English immigrants continued to arrive.
Main articles: American Revolutionary War, Lee Resolution, United States Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia campaign, Articles of Confederation § Ratification, Treaty of Paris (1783), Constitutional Convention (United States), Admission to the Union, and List of U.S. states by date of admission to the Union
Like the other middle colonies, the Lower Counties on the Delaware initially showed little enthusiasm for a break with Britain. The citizenry had a good relationship with the Proprietary government, and generally were allowed more independence of action in their Colonial Assembly than in other colonies. Merchants at the port of Wilmington had trading ties with the British.
So it was that New Castle lawyer Thomas McKean denounced the Stamp Act in the strongest terms, and Kent County native John Dickinson became the "Penman of the Revolution." Anticipating the Declaration of Independence, Patriot leaders Thomas McKean and Caesar Rodney convinced the Colonial Assembly to declare itself separated from British and Pennsylvania rule on June 15, 1776. The person best representing Delaware's majority, George Read, could not bring himself to vote for a Declaration of Independence. Only the dramatic overnight ride of Caesar Rodney gave the delegation the votes needed to cast Delaware's vote for independence.
Initially led by John Haslet, Delaware provided one of the premier regiments in the Continental Army, known as the "Delaware Blues" and nicknamed the "Blue Hen's Chicks". In August 1777 General Sir William Howe led a British army through Delaware on his way to a victory at the Battle of Brandywine and capture of the city of Philadelphia. The only real engagement on Delaware soil was the Battle of Cooch's Bridge, fought on September 3, 1777, at Cooch's Bridge in New Castle County, although there was a minor Loyalist rebellion in 1778.
Following the Battle of Brandywine, Wilmington was occupied by the British, and State President John McKinly was taken prisoner. The British remained in control of the Delaware River for much of the rest of the war, disrupting commerce and providing encouragement to an active Loyalist portion of the population, particularly in Sussex County. Because the British promised slaves of rebels freedom for fighting with them, escaped slaves flocked north to join their lines.
Following the American Revolution, statesmen from Delaware were among the leading proponents of a strong central United States with equal representation for each state.
Slavery and race
Many colonial settlers came to Delaware from Maryland and Virginia, where the population had been increasing rapidly. The economies of these colonies were chiefly based on labor-intensive tobacco and increasingly dependent on African slaves because of a decline in working class immigrants from England. Most of the English colonists had arrived as indentured servants (contracted for a fixed period to pay for their passage), and in the early years the line between servant and slave was fluid.
Most of the free African-American families in Delaware before the Revolution had migrated from Maryland to find more affordable land. They were descendants chiefly of relationships or marriages between white servant women and enslaved, servant or free African or African-American men. Under slavery law, children took the social status of their mothers, so children born to white women were free, regardless of their paternity, just as children born to enslaved women were born into slavery. As the flow of indentured laborers to the colony decreased with improving economic conditions in England, more slaves were imported for labor and the caste lines hardened.
By the end of the colonial period, the number of enslaved people in Delaware began to decline. Shifts in the agriculture economy from tobacco to mixed farming resulted in less need for slaves' labor. In addition local Methodists and Quakers encouraged slaveholders to free their slaves following the American Revolution, and many did so in a surge of individual manumissions for idealistic reasons. By 1810 three-quarters of all blacks in Delaware were free. When John Dickinson freed his slaves in 1777, he was Delaware's largest slave owner with 37 slaves. By 1860, the largest slaveholder owned 16 slaves.
Although attempts to abolish slavery failed by narrow margins in the legislature, in practical terms the state had mostly ended the practice. By the 1860 census on the verge of the Civil War, 91.7% of the black population were free; 1,798 were slaves, as compared to 19,829 "free colored persons".
An independent black denomination was chartered in 1813 by freed slave Peter Spencer as the "Union Church of Africans". This followed the 1793 establishment in Philadelphia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church by Richard Allen, which had ties to the Methodist Episcopal Church until 1816. Spencer built a church in Wilmington for the new denomination. This was renamed as the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church and Connection, more commonly known as the A.U.M.P. Church. In 1814, Spencer called for the first annual gathering, known as the Big August Quarterly, which continues to draw members of this denomination and their descendants together in a religious and cultural festival.
Delaware voted against secession on January 3, 1861, and so remained in the Union. While most Delaware citizens who fought in the war served in the regiments of the state, some served in companies on the Confederate side in Maryland and Virginia Regiments. Delaware is notable for being the only slave state from which no Confederate regiments or militia groups were assembled. Delaware essentially freed the few slaves who were still in bondage shortly after the Civil War[further explanation needed] but rejected the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution; the 13th Amendment was rejected on February 8, 1865, the 14th Amendment was rejected on February 8, 1867, and the 15th Amendment was rejected on March 18, 1869. Delaware officially ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments on February 12, 1901.
Reconstruction and industrialization
After the Civil War, Democratic governments led by the state's Bourbon aristocracy continued to dominate the state and imposed an explicitly white supremacist regime in the state. The Democratic legislatures declared blacks second-class citizens in 1866 and restricted their voting rights despite the Fifteenth Amendment, ensuring continued Democratic success throughout most of the nineteenth century.
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the Wilmington area grew into a manufacturing center. Investment in manufacturing in the city grew from $5.5 million in 1860 to $44 million in 1900. The most notable manufacturer in the state was the Du Pont Company. Because of Wilmington's growth, local politicians from the city and New Castle County pressured the state government to adopt a new constitution providing the north with more representation. However, the subsequent 1897 constitution did not proportionally represent the north and continued to give the southern counties disproportionate influence.
As manufacturing expanded, businesses became major players in state affairs and funders of politicians through families such as the Du Ponts. Republican John Addicks attempted to buy a US Senate seat multiple times in a rivalry with the Du Ponts until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment. The allegiance of industries with the Republican party allowed them to gain control of the state's governorship throughout most of the twentieth century. The GOP ensured blacks could vote because of their general support for Republicans and thus undid restrictions on black suffrage.
Delaware benefited greatly from World War I because of the state's large gunpowder industry. The Du Pont Company, the most dominant business in the state by WWI, produced an estimated 40% of all gunpowder used by the Allies during the war. It produced nylon in the state after the war and began investments into General Motors. Additionally, the company invested heavily in the expansion of public schools in the state and colleges such as the University of Delaware in the 1910s and 1920s. This included primary and secondary schools for blacks and women. Delaware suffered less during the Great Depression than other states, but the depression spurred further migration from the rural south to urban areas.
World War II to present
Like in World War I, the state enjoyed a big stimulus to its gunpowder and shipyard industries in World War II. New job opportunities during and after the war in the Wilmington area coaxed African Americans from the southern counties to move to the city. The proportion of blacks constituting the city's population rose from 15% in 1950 to over 50% by 1980. The surge of black migrants to the north sparked white flight in which middle class whites moved from the city to suburban areas, leading to general segregation of Delaware's society. In the 1940s and 1950s, the state attempted to integrate its schools. The University of Delaware admitted its first black student in 1948, and local courts ruled that primary schools had to be integrated. Delaware's integration efforts partially inspired the US Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
However, integration only encouraged more white flight, and poor economic conditions for the black population led to some violence during the 1960s. Riots broke out in Wilmington in 1967 and again in 1968 in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr after which the National Guard occupied the city for nine months to prevent further violence.
Since WWII, the state has been generally economically prosperous and enjoyed relatively high per capita income because of its location between major cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC. Its population grew rapidly, particularly in the suburbs in the north where New Castle county became an extension of the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Americans, including migrants from Puerto Rico, and immigrants from Latin America flocked to the state. By 1990, only 50% of Delaware's population consisted of natives to the state.