Delaware River

From its source in east-central New York, the Delaware River flows southward from mountainous terrain to the gentle hills of the lower Delaware Valley and then into Delaware Bay. Navigable by oceangoing vessels to Trenton, the river forms boundaries between Pennsylvania and New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and New Jersey and Delaware. The colonies of the Delaware River Valley grew and prospered during the eighteenth century, and the river served as an important avenue of commerce in colonial America. By the mid-1700s, Philadelphia had emerged as one of the leading commercial centers in the colonial Atlantic world, while the population of the Delaware Valley had grown in both size and diversity. In 1610, Captain Samuel Argall, an Englishmen who sailed into Delaware Bay while searching for supplies for the fledgling Virginia colony, named the bay for Lord de la Warr, governor of the Virginia colony. It would not be until the 1680s, however, that the English began to settle along the river in large numbers. In the intervening years, the region’s native population, the Lenni Lenape, engaged in trade with the Dutch and Swedes, who erected several small trading settlements along the lower Delaware. The Lenni Lenape relied on trading, mixed farming, and the Delaware River Valley’s abundant fish and wildlife. After the English conquest of the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1665, King Charles II began issuing charters that would establish the colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In 1682, a group of Quaker investors purchased West New Jersey from an English nobleman. In that same year, Charles II granted William Penn a charter for the lands on the west bank of the Delaware River. The Quaker presence profoundly impacted the historical development of the Delaware River Valley. Quakers believed in the spiritual equality of all people before God, and Penn insisted that Quakers recognize Native American land claims and negotiate with them fairly. In 1682, the 5,000 or so Lenni Lenape remaining in the lower Delaware Valley agreed to sell Penn large amounts of land in southeastern Pennsylvania. In 1771, painter Benjamin West immortalized Quaker-Native American relations in William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians. Hostilities with other Native Americans and Europeans, along with the effects of overhunting and disease, had weakened the Lenni Lenape over the previous half century. In order to gain security for their remaining lands, as well as European goods, the Lenni Lenape sold Penn large tracts of land in eastern Pennsylvania. In later treaties, colonists, in conjunction with the powerful Iroquois, were far less scrupulous in their dealings with the native peoples of the Delaware Valley. As the European population of Pennsylvania continued to grow, Penn’s heirs negotiated the infamous Walking Purchase treaty of 1737, which forced the Lenni Lenape to cede much of their remaining lands on the west bank of the River. By midcentury the rapid growth of the European population had forced most of the native peoples of the Delaware Valley inland to the Susquehanna and Ohio valleys. Penn’s promise of religious toleration, good government, and generous land terms attracted numerous European emigrants to the region. In addition to large numbers of English and Welsh Quakers, Protestants from present-day Germany and French Huguenots also settled in the region, joining the Dutch, Scandinavians, and non-Quaker English who tended to settle along the lower Delaware. In the 1720s, Scots-Irish Presbyterians began moving to the region in large numbers. Ethnic and religious diversity, if not tolerance, became the defining feature of the colonies of the Delaware River Valley. The climate of the region favored the production of grain and livestock over the more profitable but far more labor-intensive tobacco, which dominated the Chesapeake colonies. Except in the lower counties of Delaware, the settlers of the Delaware Valley failed to develop a plantation economy, and with it the more pronounced differences in wealth and freedom characteristic of the South. Family farms dominated the rural economy of the region. Still, farmers, along with merchants and artisans, used the labor of indentured European servants and African slaves. Merchants dominated the commercial centers of the river: Philadelphia, Wilmington in Delaware, and Burlington in West Jersey. During the eighteenth century, Delaware Valley merchants became the prime suppliers of lumber, grain, and salted fish and meat for the plantation colonies in the Caribbean. Trade with England and continental Europe was equally brisk. The abundance of timber along the upper Delaware allowed Philadelphia to become an important shipbuilding center in the British Empire. The furnaces along the upper Delaware, like those at Durham, became important sources of pig iron. The colonial economies of the Delaware River Valley thrived under protective British mercantilism. The American Revolution brought important changes to the Delaware River Valley. As pacifists, many Quakers refused to participate in colonial resistance against British policy, or the war that followed. Consequently, Quakers lost much of their political power in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to groups such as the Scots-Irish, who had come to resent Quaker dominance. After American independence was won, the two dominant features of the colonial Delaware River Valley, ethnic diversity and phenomenal economic growth, continued to define the region. John Craig Hammond See also: Delaware; Delaware (Chronology); New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Philadelphia. Bibliography Bridenbaugh, Carl. “The Old and New Societies of the Delaware Valley in the Seventeenth Century.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 100:2 (1792): 143 72. Fischer, David Hackett. Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Illick, Joseph. Colonial Pennsylvania: A History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976. Weslanger, C. A. The Delaware Indians: A History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972. Renewal Ahead for Delaware River, Newest Site of Urban Waters … Mapq8Upper Delaware River Trout Unlimited – Conserving coldwater … Mapq8Delaware River dredging Radio Times WHYY Mapq8

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