Fort Christina

U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark

Fort Christina (later renamed Fort Altena) was the first Swedish settlement in North America
and the principal settlement of the New Sweden colony. Built in 1638 and named after Queen
Christina of Sweden, it was located approximately 1 mi (1.6 km) east of the present
downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at the confluence of the Brandywine Creek and the
Christina River, approximately 2 mi (3 km) upstream from the mouth of the Christina on the
Delaware River.


The Dutch, as part of the New Netherland colony, maintained a presence at Fort Nassau. A
settlement along south side of Delaware Bay at Zwaanendael (near present-day Lewes) was
attempted in 1631, but the colony was been massacred the following year by Native
Americans. Following plans by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to establish a Swedish
colony in North America, the Swedes arrived in Delaware Bay on March 29, 1638 aboard the
ships Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip under the command of Peter Minuit, the former director
general of the New Netherland colony. They landed at a spot along the Christina River at the
present site of Old Swedes Church in Wilmington. Minuit selected the site on the Christina
River near the Delaware as being optimal for trade in beaver pelts with the local Lenape.
At the time, the Dutch had claimed the area south to the Delaware (then called "South
River"). The Swedes claimed an area for the Realm of Sweden on the south side of the
Delaware that encompassed much of the present-day U.S. State of Delaware, eventually
including parts of present-day southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey on the
north side of the river.

The colony remained in constant friction with the Dutch. In 1651, the Dutch under Peter
Stuyvesant established
Fort Casimir at present-day New Castle, only 7 mi (12 km) south of
Fort Christina, in order to menace the Swedish settlement. In 1654, the Swedes captured Fort
Casimir, but the following year in 1655, the Dutch took control of New Sweden, ending the
official Swedish colonial presence in North America and renaming the fort 'Fort Altena'. The
land remained as part of New Netherland until it became part of the British Empire when an
English fleet invaded the area in 1664.

As Delaware prepared for the War of 1812 the Rocks was once again fortified. The Niles
Register reported, “At Wilmington the general measures of defense appear submitted by
common consent to Colonel Allen McLane, a “seventy-sixer”, and as true as steel. To aid him
in his operations all the men of other years , a veteran band of gallant hearts, are on the alert
assisting”. The fort on the Christiana River at “the Rocks” in Wilmington was ordered
completed by a committee sent to investigate defensive conditions in the three counties.  An
appropriation was made to finish the fort, known as Fort Union, and keep a body of militia
posted there.  Senator James A. Bayard was personally active in the preparations. Clad in the
“garb of a laborer with ditcher’s boots, and a shovel on his shoulder, he marched with the
mass to achieve their muddy work” and labored with others to restore the redoubt with
rebuilt earthworks and cannon.  

Batteries are erected below New Castle on the Delaware, and on the Christiana River that
leads by Wilmington. The former is much exposed to the enemy; but the latter may be
defended if the people are true to themselves, as they appear to be.

The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. It is now preserved as Fort
Christina State Park on E. 7th Street in Wilmington, along with a replica of the Kalmar
Nyckel. The Fort Christina monument, designed by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, stands on
the site.[2][3]

Location:        East 7th St. at the Christina River, Wilmington, Delaware
Coordinates:        39°44′13.64″N 75°32′18.46″WCoordinates: 39°44′13.64″N 75°32′18.46″W
Built:        1638


"National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park
Service. 2007-01-23.

a b "Fort Christina". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service.
Retrieved 2007-09-27.

Richard Greenwood (July 21, 1975) (PDF). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-
Nomination: Fort Christina. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-06-22 and Accompanying
2 photos, from 1975PDF (685 KB)

Additional reading

Johnson, Amandus. The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware 1638-1664 Volume I (1911)
Johnson, Amandus. The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware 1638-1664, Volume II (1927)
Delaware Military History