New Sweden Colony, Delaware River, 1638-1655

New Sweden Colony 1638-1655New Sweden Colony, Delaware River, 1638-1655

The Kingdom of Sweden authorized the New Sweden Company to establish the colony of New Sweden along the Delaware River.

Peter Minuit was the commander of the first two ships and became the first governor. He landed with 50 colonists in the Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip in March 1638.

The colonists built Fort Christina (now Wilmington, Delaware), named for their Queen, followed by several more forts, and also captured Dutch forts along the South River (Delaware River) in areas previously claimed by the Dutch.  The Hudson River was known as the North River.

New Sweden Kalmar Nyckel

Minuit is most remembered for purchasing the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans for $24 in trade goods when he worked previously for the Dutch in their colony of New Netherland, now New York.

After a dispute with the Dutch, Minuit’s employment was terminated. Because of his experience in the region, he was chosen to lead the New Sweden Company expedition to establish a North American colony, primarily for trading beaver furs and tobacco.

New Sweden mapNew Sweden Company

The company, also known as the South Company, was under the special protection of the Swedish government. The King of Sweden appointed a council comprised of the most prominent shareholders.

At government expense, the company was authorized to found cities and towns, build and garrison all fortifications necessary, establish courts of justice, write good laws, appoint governors, commanders, and other officers, and settle disputes between the colonists and the natives.

Peter Minuit died in 1638 during a hurricane at St. Christopher (St. Kitts) in the West Indies, after picking up a load of tobacco for a return trip to Sweden.  He was visiting a Dutch ship, the Flying Deer, in port, when it was among twenty ships swept out to sea and damaged by a violent hurricane. The ship was never seen again.

Legal System

The first written constitution, the Instrument of Government of Sweden, was adopted in 1634.  The law of Sweden is a civil law system, dependent on statutory law founded on the German model of classical Roman law, rather than the Napoleonic Code model.

Notaries and Records in New Sweden

The colonists were Swedes, Finns, and Dutch, so documents were written in several different languages. Records indicate that most of the soldiers and colonists could read and write.  Some kept their own personal journals. Others signed documents with only their initials or mark.

Many written records of New Sweden have been lost, damaged, or destroyed, including the deed for the land purchased from the Native Americans. The colony was short-lived with only about 600 total immigrants arriving in 12 expeditions.

New Sweden landing postage stampPeter Lindstrom, a military engineer and court clerk, wrote many letters and reports, kept a journal and made detailed maps and drawings that provide valuable information about the colony.

Lindstrom’s journal was originally published in Swedish in 1691 as Geographia Americae and later translated into English by Amandus Johnson of the Swedish Colonial Society in 1925.

Note: In my research to date, I have not found any names of Swedish notaries or examples of their notary seals.

Their history mentions cases of colonists taking an oath of allegiance before the council.  Maybe a member of the council was an officer with the power to administer an oath.  There were also court cases with sworn testimony and affidavits made under oath.

According to Civil Procedure in Sweden, 1965, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anders Bruzelius, unlike civil law notaries in other countries and U.S. notaries, the notaries in Sweden (notarius publicus) do not have the authority to administer oaths. That power is reserved only to the courts.  Also, the Swedish notary does not prepare wills, corporate charters, real estate conveyances, or other legal instruments designed to give effect to transactions.

The Swedish notary powers include the certification of signatures, transcripts, copies of documents and statements describing the contents of written instruments, authentication of transcripts of testimony, and protesting notes and bills of exchange.

An itemized budget for Governor Printz in 1642 listed pay for military officers and privates and the civilian list included the positions of a preacher, clerk, surgeon, provost, and hangman.  Note: Perhaps the clerk was also a notary.

Some record books and journals from the colony, including Lindstroms’s journal, are stored at the Archives of the Exchequer or in the Royal Archives in Stockholm.

Dutch records for New Netherland include information on the Swedish colony.  Dutch notaries were appointed by the Director-General for their colony.  Some of their records are found in old Amsterdam and at the New York State Library in Albany.

Governor Johan Printz signature sealGovernor’s Seal

The governors kept and used their personal coat-of-arms seals on important documents.

Governor Johan Risingh signature seal

See images for examples from Governor Johan Printz, 1643, and Governor Johan Rising (Risingh), 1655.


End of the Swedish Colony

Eventually, the Dutch did not tolerate the Swedish intrusion.  In 1655, Director-General Peter Stuyvesant used an armed squadron of ships to regain possession of all forts and territory for the Dutch.  The colonists were allowed to remain and keep their land and customs if they swore a new oath of allegiance.  Many stayed on and were assimilated into New Netherland.

Section 3 of the conditions of capitulation signed by Governor Rising and Governor Stuyvesant in September 1655 states:  All writings, letters, instructions, and acts, belonging to the Crown of Sweden, the South Company, or private persons, which are found in Fort Christina, shall remain in the Governor’s hands, to take away at his pleasure, without being searched or examined.

Governor Rising returned to Sweden, so the records probably went with him.  Rising’s journal in the Royal Archives was greatly damaged by mold.  He became a notary public at Gottenburg.

Lindstrom was a witness to the capitulation and wrote a detailed account of the event in his journal.

In 1664, the British acquired the Dutch colony. It was renamed New York and the capital was renamed from New Amsterdam to New York.

Today there are still Swedish place names, attractions, events, and historical and heritage societies in the region in remembrance of the Swedish colony.  A replica of the first ship, Kalmar Nyckel, is a tourist and student attraction with sailing tours in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Swedes on the Delaware 1638-64 by Amandus Johnson, Swedish Colonial Society, Philadelphia, 1915

Image Credits
1. Peter Minuit portrait, cropped, Wikimedia Commons, public domain {PD-US-expired}
2. Peter Minuit landing in 1638, oil painting
3. Johan Printz portrait, cropped, Wikimedia Commons, public domain {PD-US-expired}
4. Oil painting of Kalmar Nyckel by Jacob Hägg (1839-1931), 1922, Wikimedia Commons, public domain {PD-US-expired}
5. Map of New Sweden, cropped, Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
6. Swedish Landing, 300th-anniversary postage stamp, 1938
7. Governor Printz signature and seal, 1643
8. Governor Rising signature and seal, 1655

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