Dutch Colony

Zwaanendael or Swaanendael was a short lived Dutch colonial settlement in Delaware. It was built
in 1631. The name is archaic Dutch spelling for "swan valley". The site of the settlement later became
the town of Lewes, Delaware.


Two directors of the Amsterdam chamber of the Dutch West India Company, Samuel Blommaert and
Samuel Godyn, bargained with the natives for a tract of land reaching from Cape Henlopen to the
mouth of Delaware River. This was in 1629, three years before the charter of Maryland, and is the
oldest deed for land in Delaware. Its water-front nearly coincides with the coast of Kent and Sussex
Counties. The purchase was ratified in 1630 by Peter Minuit and his council at Fort Amsterdam.

A company including, besides the two original proprietors, Kiliaen van Rensselaer (Patroon of
Rensselaerswyck), Johannes De Laet (the geographer), and David Pietersen de Vries was formed to
colonize the tract. A ship of eighteen guns was fitted out to bring over the colonists and
subsequently defend the coast, with incidental whaling to help defray expenses. A colony of more
than thirty people was planted on Lewes creek, a little north of Cape Henlopen, and its governorship
was entrusted to Gillis Hosset. This settlement antedated by several years any in Pennsylvania, and
the colony at Lewes practically laid the foundation and defined the singularly limited area of the state
of Delaware, the major part of which was included in the purchase.

A palisaded fort was built, with the "red lion, rampant," of Holland affixed to its gate, and the
country was named Swaanendael or Zwaanendael Colony, while the water was called Godyn's bay.
The estate was further extended, on May 5, 1630, by the purchase of a tract twelve miles square on
the coast of Cape May opposite, and the transaction was duly attested at Fort Amsterdam.

The existence of the little colony was short, for the Indians came down upon it in revenge for an
arbitrary act on the part of Hosset, and it was destroyed, with no Dutch escaping to tell the tale. The
details of the attack were recounted to Dutch observers by Nanticoke Indians:

"He then showed us the place where our people had set up a column to which was fastened a piece of tin, whereon
the arms of Holland were painted. One of their chiefs took this off, for the purpose of making tobacco-pipes, not
knowing that he was doing amiss. Those in command at the house made such an ado about it that the Indians, not
knowing how it was, went away and slew the chief who had done it, and brought a token of the dead to the house
to those in command, who told them that they wished that they had not done it; that they should have brought him
to them, as they wished to have forbidden him not to do the like again. They went away, and the friends of the
murdered chief incited their friends, as they are a people like the Indians, who are very revengeful, to set about the
work of vengeance. Observing our people out of the house, each one at his work, that there was not more than one
inside, who was lying sick, and a large mastiff, who was chained, - had he been loose they would not have dared
to approach the house, - and the man who had command standing near the house, three of the stoutest Indians,
who were to do the deed, bringing a lot of bear-skins with them to exchange, sought to enter the house. The man in
charge went in with them to make the barter, which being done, he went to the loft where the stores lay, and in
descending the stairs one of the Indians seized an axe and cleft his head so that he fell down dead. They also
relieved the sick man of life, and shot into the dog, who was chained fast, and whom they most feared, twenty-five
arrows before they could dispatch him. They then proceeded towards the rest of the men, who were at work, and,
going amongst them with pretensions of friendship, struck them down. Thus was our young colony destroyed,
causing us serious loss."

In 1633, de Vries negotiated a treaty with the Indians and sailed up the Delaware River, attempting to
trade for beans and corn. Failing his objective there, de Vries sailed to Virginia, where was successful
in obtaining provisions for the colonists in Zwaanendael, to which he returned. He subsequently
took the colonists to New Amsterdam.

Later Blommaert assisted with the fitting out of the first Swedish expedition to New Sweden in 1637
and engaged Peter Minuit to command it.

Franciscus van den Enden had drawn up charter for a utopian society (that included equal
education of all classes, joint owership of property, and a democratically elected government. Pieter
Corneliszoon Plockhoy attempted such a settlement near the site of Zwaanendael, but it soon expired
under English rule.


Project Gutenberg Narrative New Netherland, by J.F. Jameson, Ed - http://www.ibiblio.
org/gutenberg/etext02/nwnth10.txt - includes a footnote about Blommaert.
America's Historylands: Landmarks of Liberty, National Geographic Press, 1967
Delaware: A Guide To The First State, ed. Jeanette Eckman, Hastings House Press; New York, 1955  

Fort of 1812, Lewes Delaware

Hurling Shot and Shell in 1813
byMichael Morgan

   Residents of Pilottown watched anxiously as a small British boat skidded to a halt on the sands of
Lewes beach. Several sailors hopped out of the boat and held it steady for the red-coated British
officers, who disembarked with little fanfare. A short distance away, 50 men from the Delaware
militia stood in formation on the Delaware sand. After a brief exchange of formalities, the citizen-
soldiers of the militia escorted the officers from the strongest nation in the world across Lewes Beach
to meet with Colonel Samuel B. Davis, the commander of the forces defending Lewes.

From the time that the first Europeans landed near Cape Henlopen, the residents of Lewes were
fearful of an attack from the sea. For much of the early colonial era, Lewes was exposed to attacks by
pirates, who, on one occasion, spent several days ransacking the town. During the 18th century,
French privateers menaced American ships in the waters off Cape Henlopen. After the start of the
American Revolution, a British squadron, led by Captain Andrew Snape Hamond in the 44-gun ship
Roebuck, arrived off Lewes and kept the Delaware town under its guns for much of he war.
The British did not attack Lewes directly during the Revolution; but Captain Hamond’s squadron
was well-supplied. A generation later, during the War of 1812, a powerful British flotilla under the
command of Commodore James Beresford of the British 74-gun warship, Poiciters was short of
provisions; and on March 16, 1813, the British commodore decided that the people of Lewes should
supply his ships. With the British warships anchored in full view of the town, Beresford dispatched
a small boat with several officers aboard under a flag of truce to the Delaware beach.

When the officers reach
Colonel Davis, they presented him with an ultimatum: provide the British
squadron with beef, vegetables, and other provisions, or Lewes would be destroyed. A short time
later, the British officers were marched back across the beach to their small boat. A few minutes later,
they were making their way back to Commodore Beresford with the American reply to the British
demand: an emphatic no!

For the next three weeks, Beresford attempted to secure the needed supplies by raiding coastal
farmhouses; and at the same time, the people of Lewes prepared for the attack that seemed inevitable.
While hundreds of militia troops streamed into the Delaware town, the people of Lewes used logs,
sand and gravel to strengthen defensive works near the mouth of Lewes Creek and near the center of
town. Each of these rudimentary bastions contained several cannons, but these guns lacked the
range to reach the British ships.

On April 6, the British flotilla assembled off Lewes, and several small boats could be seen placing
buoys in the water leading to the Delaware town. After the British fired two shots over Lewes to get
the attention of the town’s defenders, a small boat was sent ashore under a flag of truce. The British
officers in this vessel repeated Beresford’s ultimatum: provide supplies or face destruction. Colonel
Davis again refused to comply. The British answered with a directive to evacuate the women and
children; and a short time later, the bombardment of Lewes began.

In his diary, Daniel Rodney of Lewes noted the first day of the bombardment: “The cannonade then
commenced and continued till 10—their shot pitched beyond the town and did but little Damage—
firing ceased until day light.”

Despite their lack of success, the British prepared an array of weapons to be used on a second day of
bombardment. All of the British warships were capable of firing solid shot that weighed up to 32
pounds apiece. These solid iron cannon balls could smash through the walls of the strongest
building in Lewes. In addition, some of the British ships were armed with mortars that could lob
exploding shells into the Delaware town. The explosion from a mortar “bomb” could demolish most
structures in Lewes. Finally, the British fired a number of Congreve rockets during the
bombardment. Shaped like oversized skyrockets, the tip of these projectiles contained a charge that
exploded with deadly impact.

On Wednesday, April 7, the British resumed the bombardment of Lewes with these fearsome
weapons. In his diary, Rodney noted that “…again began and continued [to] 5 or 6 last night. The
firing of Bombs 12, 18, & 32 shot and Rockets till 1 o’clock in which time 537 shot were sent against
the Town.”

After the second day’s attack failed to beat Lewes into submission, Beresford decided to call off the
attack. Although the sound and fury of the bombardment had been awesome, the results had been
negligible. A few buildings had sustained minor damage, and the only casualties were a dead chicken
and a wounded pig.  As the frustrated British squadron sailed, the relieved residents of Lewes began
to retrieve the debris of the shot and shell that littered the town. Rodney noted that: “…above 300
cannon balls besides bombs & rockets were picked up in town since the cannonade.”  

A small shot that lodged in the foundation of a building on Front Street earned the building the
nickname “Cannonball House”, and it is now owned by the Lewes Historical Society. In addition,
the battery near the center of town was preserved; and in 1879, the artist Howard Pyle wrote in
Harper’s Monthly: “[Lewes] possesses, among many points of interest, an old fort built in 1812 for
the defense of the town, which is still in a perfect state of preservation, which guns mounted
precisely as they originally were.” Early in the 20th century, the cannons were repositioned, and
others were added to the collection to create Memorial Park.

The Cannonball House and Memorial Park are tangible reminders of the days when a powerful
British squadron hurled shot and shell against the people of Lewes. On Lewes Beach, however, there
is nothing to mark the place on the sand where the militia escorted the British officers, who expected
the people of Delaware to humbly comply with their demand for provisions, and received a
resounding “no” by the defenders of Lewes.

Principal Sources:
C. H. B. Turner, ed., Daniel Rodney’s Diary and other Delaware Records, pp. 5-10
Thomas J. Scharf, History of Delaware, Vol. 1, pp. 286-288.
Howard Pyle, “A Peninsular Canaan,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, May, 1879,
    p. 208.
Delaware Military History