Long before European settlers arrived, this was the ancestral homeland of many Algonquian Indian tribes. All would eventually lose their lands, and those who survived the brutalities of colonial expansion, fled west over the Allegheny Mountains.
The earliest explorations of the coastal area were organized by the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. In 1609, while unsuccessfully looking for a nautical passageway to the riches of China and the Far East, Henry Hudson sailed into these waters.
In 1610, Sir Samuel Argall, returning to the Virginia Colony with supplies from England, was apparently blown off course and sailed into a large bay. He named it in honor of Lord De La Warr, then governor of the Virginia Colony - thus the name Delaware.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to actually settle in Delaware; they established a small trading post at Zwaanendael, near present-day Lewes in 1631. Within a year their settlement was burned to the ground and all were dead; killed by Indians.
In 1638, the Swedes established a permanent colony at Fort Christina (now Wilmington), and a few additional forts along the Delaware Bay. By 1655, the Dutch took control of the upstart Swedish colony, incorporating it into their Colony of New Netherlands.
James, the Duke of York, financed a 1664 expedition into Delaware Bay, and the overmatched Dutch were quickly extricated by the British. Eighteen years later, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, needing access to the sea and struck a deal with the Duke, leased the Delaware land and annexed it into his province.
These "Lower Counties" (Delaware) were now governed by the Province of Pennsylvania. As its economy grew, and less and less immigrants arrived from England, Delaware needed a labor force and it began to import large numbers of African slaves.
At the dawn of the 18th century, growing factions in Pennsylvania and the "Lower Counties" desired autonomy, with both wanting to make decisions without the others' consent. Though part of the much larger Province of Pennsylvania, Delaware's desire to become a separate, stand-alone entity continued to simmer.
In the 1770's, restrictions and high taxes imposed by England's King George and his Parliament did not sit well with the citizens and merchants in the colonies. Though mostly opposed to a break from Britain, Delaware decided to send representatives to a meeting in Philadelphia to help find a solution.
That meeting, or the First Continental Congress, occurred in 1774. In June of 1776, a special committee of the Second Continental Congress was formed to draft a Declaration of Independence from Britain; freedom's bell was ringing and the Revolutionary War was just around the corner.
On July 1, 1776, Caesar Rodney, Delaware patriot leader and member of that Continental Congress, was in Dover at an important meeting. There he was informed that the upcoming vote on the Declaration of Independence would surely be deadlocked.
To break that tie, Rodney rode his horse eighty miles that night to Philadelphia - arriving as the voting was just beginning. In the end he cast the deciding vote in favor of America's independence.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, Delaware not only declared itself free from the British Empire, but also formed its own government, one separate from Pennsylvania. On December 7, 1787, Delaware, was the first state to ratify the United States Constitution - thus becoming the "First State."
Though small in size, nearly 4,000 of its men joined the Continental Army. The only Revolutionary War engagement fought on Delaware soil was the battle of Cooch's Bridge, near Newark, on September 3, 1777. What is believed to be the original Stars and Stripes - the 13-star flag sewn by Betsy Ross - was first flown during that battle.
At war's end, Delaware's flimsy economy still revolved around the production of tobacco, fueled by slave labor. However, in 1802, Frenchman Éleuthére Irénée du Pont founded a gunpowder mill near Wilmington and The Du Pont Company would soon establish Wilmington as the "Chemical Capital of the World."
Paper production and ship building expanded; these new industries brought jobs, and with less emphasis placed on tobacco, slave labor decreased. All internal attempts to abolish slavery failed, but by 1860, most of Delaware's black population were already free.
States' rights, and the continuation of slavery within the southern states were the primary catalysts for America's bloody Civil War (1861–1865); the deadliest war in American history. Delaware (still considered a slave state) remained in the Union during the war; thousands of its citizens fought for the North while a handful fought for the South. At the end of the war, all slaves were freed by Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
In the early 1900's, in what would prove to be a clever, landmark decision, the state dramatically lowered its corporate tax, making it much easier (and more profitable) to open a business in Delaware. In response, numerous corporations opened and the additional tax monies generated helped the state improve its educational and transportation systems.
During World War I (1917-1918) the state economy continued to prosper, but then the Great Depression of the 1930's caused thousands of Delawareans to lose their jobs. In the end, it was World War II that sparked the state's 20th century economic engine; Delaware manufactured and supplied gunpowder, parachutes and ships, and provided more than its share of soldiers for the war effort.
Although originally a slave state (to its credit) Delaware began to desegregate its schools in the early 1950's, long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted. In fact, segregation of all Delaware public facilities ended in 1963.
Delaware's economy grew rapidly during the mid-20th century; new bridges and highways were built; large international companies moved in; tens of thousands of jobs were created and the population exploded. Today over 50% of US publicly-traded corporations and almost 60% of Fortune 500 companies are now incorporated within its borders.
Lacking in physical size, Delaware has a courageous and distinguished history. This inventive and productive industrial complex, is at the same time, a quiet place.
Tourism continues to increase as its protected beaches, pristine countryside and charming cities and towns offers idyllic recreational areas for all to enjoy.