In March 1638, a contingency of Swedish colonists sailed into the mouth of the Delaware River, looking to establish a permanent settlement in the name of the tre kronor and Queen Christina. Landing in Joe Biden’s hometown, the Swedish colonists named their settlement Fort Christina – just a tad different from the native name for the area, Hopokahacking. Following (though unwittingly) in the footsteps of Leif Eriksson and their Old Norse ancestors, the Swedish colonists landed approximately 1000 miles south of the area Eriksson had called Vinland, planting their colony of New Sweden upon the shores of the Delaware.
Making their home in what is now Wilmington, the colonists of New Sweden came from all walks of life – nobles; the down-and-out hoping “to try their fortune” on the land their Queen had purchased from “the wild heathen”; and, of course, since we’re talking about colonial America, slaves.1 Unlike the other European colonial powers, the Swedes who came to the shores of the mid-Atlantic did not bring African slaves, but “malefactors and vicious people”, or, in other words, criminals.2
Spreading from Wilmington, to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, New Sweden colonists farmed and traded with their Susquehannock allies.3 The colony never quite became the cash cow the Swedish crown had hoped for, however. Numbering, at its peak, 600 Swedish and Finnish colonists, New Sweden did not have the numbers necessary to import large numbers of African slaves, or subdue the native populations – strategies that had, or would, be used by other powers to grow their empire on the back of others.
So, you have a colony. It makes some money from farming and acting as middlemen between Native American populations and European colonists. What to do now? Well, if you’re Sweden, the answer is abandon those poor people for six years.4 Embroiled in warfare, and trying desperately to keep their European empire (which included parts of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany) alive, the Swedes all but abandoned their colony, leaving those unwitting blondes stranded in Nya Sverige without supplies or information from the motherland.
Though the crown tried to get better, appointing Johan Printz to governor, who, by all accounts, did indeed help grow the colony, by 1655 the Dutch had ousted Sweden from the Delaware Valley. Overpowering the Swedish defenses with seven ships and some 300 soldiers (literally at least half as much as New Sweden’s entire colonial population!) the Dutch empire, cue the John Williams score, enveloped the Swedish territories, claiming them as their own.5 Sweden’s time as a trans-Atlantic power came to a bitter end 17 years after its establishment. RIP New Sweden, gone before it was old enough to buy porn, cigarettes, or lottery tickets. Only the good die ung.
1. Israel Aurelius, A History of New Sweden (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1966), xxxv
2. Aurelius, A History of New Sweden, 41-42
3. Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “Scandinavian Colonists Confront the New World,” in New Sweden in America, ed. Carol E. Hoffecker, Richard Waldron, Lorraine E. Williams, and Barbara E. Benson (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995), 105
4. Kupperman, “Scandinavian Colonists Confront the New World,” 94
5. “A Brief History of New Sweden in America,” The Colonial Swedish Society, colonialswedes.net/History/History.