Swedes and Dutch in the American Mold

WITH the coming of a Swedish colony to the Delaware in 1638, all the important river mouths between the Kennebec and the James were occupied by colonists. Straggling settlements, from Maine to Virginia, formed a thin and ragged fringe for 800 miles of the Atlantic coast.

Just as Asia and Africa were partitioned among the more aggressive Powers of Europe in the 19th Century, all the more militant European Nations that fronted the Atlantic in the 17th Century insisted upon having a slice of America. After Spain, Portugal, France, England and Holland had staked out their claims, Gustavus Adolphus claimed a share for Sweden, which he had brought to the climax of her martial power in the Thirty Years War. Only six years after that great King had fallen on the battlefield of Lutzen, and in the opening years of the reign of his little daughter, who took the title of King Christina, the Key of Kalmar, with half a hundred colonists aboard, sailed from Gothenberg and anchored in the Delaware.

The Dutch of New Netherlands, the Yankees of Connecticut and Lord Baltimore of Maryland all claimed the territory, and Pennsylvania also laid claim to it when she came into existence. The vague delimitations of those colonies in their charters led to a boundary quarrel, which grew so serious in the course of a hundred years and more that England intervened.

Two English surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, settled the question; but only to have their demarcation unsettle the whole country 50 years afterward, when the Congress of the United States extended it across the entire continent. By the Missouri compromise, that Mason and Dixon line was made the boundary between free soil and slave soil. That led to a boundary quarrel which could not be settled by a surveyor's chain and a lead pencil.

The Dutch had registered their claim to the Delaware country on a bit of tin, bearing the arms of Holland, which they tacked on a pole. When they returned to occupy the country, the tin was gone—to make a tobacco pipe for an Indian chief. They protested so earnestly that the Indians themselves, in order to appease the rage of the whites, killed the chief. Thereupon his friends killed all the Dutch. And thus the Swedes found the place a wilderness.

Although there may never have been more than 300 Swedes and Finns in the Delaware colony, they claimed all the land between the site of the city of Trenton and the present boundary of Maryland, including the ground on which Philadelphia stands today. Those big pretensions were disputed on every hand. Expedition after expedition from New Amsterdam assailed the Scandinavian squatters, but only with words.

The Swedes were fortunate in the most critical juncture of their affairs to have an invincible chieftain, who "weighted above 400 pounds and drank three drinks at every meal." Sheltered behind that burly figure of Gov John Printz and the guns of Fort Christina, they dwelt in safety while they scattered over the opening pages of Delaware history the names of Lindstrom, Holm, Amundsen, Swen, Johansson, Paulson, Peterson and Anderson. A signer of the Declaration, Morton, was a descendant of a Scandinavian settler in New Sweden.

As New Sweden struggled to rise between its jealous neighbors, old Sweden declined for awhile in military spirit and resources. The Government at Stockholm left the colony undefended against New Netherland, which annexed it in 1655. The conqueror's own days were numbered, and his conquest of the Swedes only served to enable England to kill two birds with one stone when she snatched away all the possessions of the Dutch in 1664.

Freedom was the only fertilizer that would grow the colonies in the New World soil. The Dutch colonists were too much governed at home and did not develop the vigor to maintain themselves against their self-governed, self-reliant English neighbors. Wedged in between and splitting apart the colonies of England, they claimed everything from the Connecticut to the Delaware; but never with more than 10,000 people to make good their big claim.

Cast a glance backward at New Amsterdam, under the last of the Dutch Governors, when it had risen to a population of 2500. See Peter Stuyvesant stamping about on his peg-leg, studded with silver nails. Listen to him raging his threat to make any and every critic of his rule "one foot shorter." Watch him come out of his stone "White Hall" by the Battery, with its unwarlike windmills. Follow him with the mind's eye along the "great white way" when it stretched out to the boweries, or farms, of upper Manhattan.

Up a Broadway of steep Dutch roofs, a Dutch "settle" by each Dutch "stoop" and a long Dutch pipe puffing from each settler, "Old Silvernails" thumps his way to oversee the building of a stockade against the oncoming tide of pushful Yankees. In vain; that stockade will not avail to stop the invaders. But it will give a name to Wall Street!

The New Englanders already had pushed the Dutch out of Connecticut and half off Long Island itself. Then along came Mother England pulled out entirely the Dutch wedge between her colonies.

Brittania's ships, as they swooped down upon Manhattan, found the udderful Holsteins of thrifty burghers browsing on the grassy ramparts of the neglected, helpless fort. Without lifting a hand to ward off the attack and hardly batting an eye, New Amsterdam calmly went on smoking its pipe while town and province were made over into New York, with the King's brother, the Duke of York, proprietor of all the country lying between the Connecticut and the Delaware Rivers.

The forces that shape the destinies of Nations already were binding together the infant colonies. The colonists now were all gathered under the English flag, but only the more readily to be molded by their New World environment into a new people.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Nov 8, 1927, p. 20