What is Delaware? Delaware - the First State - is a small state on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and one of the original 13 colonies. Its capital is Dover.

Delaware. More detailed maps can be found in the Delaware toolkit screen.
Delaware's state capitol in Dover. It was built in 1933.

Delaware is a coastal state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The state is named for the Delaware River, which in turn was named for the 3rd Baron De La Warr, an English nobleman and Virginia's first colonial governor. He was also the governor of the Colony of Virginia when the river was first explored by Europeans. The Europeans called the Lenape people 'Delaware Indians' because they lived in the Delaware Valley.

Delaware is the second smallest, the sixth least populous, but the sixth most densely populated of the 50 United States. It is home to under a million people and no town has over 100,000 people. Delaware has the fewest counties of any state. Their names are all English based: New Castle, Kent, and Sussex.

Delaware is quite tiny. It is just 96mi (154km) long and a maximum of 5mi (56km) across. Only Rhode Island is smaller. Delaware lies on the the Delmarva Peninsula, which stretches southwards down the Mid-Atlantic Coast.

The boundary between Delaware and Pennsylvania was first set out as an arc extending 12mi (19km) from the courthouse in the city of New Castle. The southern boundary is in the middle of the main channel of the Delaware River.

Delaware is a lowland state, mostly just a few tens of feet above sea level. Its highest point rises to some 450ft (140m). This high spot is part of the Piedmont Plateau region of the Atlantic coast with rolling hills. There is a sharp break in the landscape on the eastern edge of the Piedmont (just as there is on all Atlantic states) and this is called the fall line because it is the place where waterfalls are common.

Delaware is at the junction of northern and more subtropical kinds of vegetation. So, even though it is small, the north still has northern broad wood forests, while the most northerly subtropical cypresses grow along the south coast.

As with all other states, the original inhabitants were American Indians of the Eastern Algonquian nations, in particular, the Lenape and Nanticoke.

The Dutch were the first European colonists, arriving in 1631. they built a trading post where modern-day Lewes stands. But they were soon killed in fighting with the native peoples. Then, in 1638, Swedish colonists tried their hand. It was called New Sweden, with its town where Wilmington now stands. This lasted longer - seventeen years. Then the Dutch returned in 1651 and, under Peter Stuyvesant, built a fort at present-day New Castle. In 1655 they overwhelmed the New Sweden colony, making it part of New Netherland. But that, in turn, only lasted nine years before the English took it over, in part to give access to the sea for Pennsylvania. So ownership passed to William Penn in 1682. But as Pennsylvania grew, so the various parts wished to govern themselves and so the people of Delaware began to meet at New Castle, although Penn remained governor of the whole colony. Delaware needed people to work the tobacco fields and so imported slaves.

When some people in the northern colonies started to become angry with Britain for not allowing their voice to be heard in Parliament, the people in Delaware were not at first impressed because their trading conditions were better than some other colonies. But after a lot of agitation, the representatives changed their mind. But they wanted real independence, so they had to break not just with Britain, but with Pennsylvania, too. This they did on June 15, 1776.

During the American Revolutionary War, Delaware was in the hands of the British for most of the time, and only one battle took place on Delaware soil. Because the British promised slaves of rebels freedom for fighting with them, escaped slaves flocked north to join their lines.

But after the war, there was another problem. Delaware was tiny compared to some other states, so it was in their interests to push for each state having equal representation, and all under a strong central government.

Delaware was one of the 13 colonies of the American Revolution and became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States on December 7, 1787. It is for this reason it is known as The First State.

At the end of the colonial period, the number of slaves needed went down, as farming moved from tobacco to sell to Britain, to mixed farming to supply more local needs. At this time many slaves were freed. As a result, Delaware became a more or less slave-free state. Amongst other reasons, this encouraged Delaware to stay with the Union in 1861, while neighbouring Maryland and Virginia took different views.

Delaware is small and has almost no mineral resources. So it has had to look in other directions for its wealth and employment. It has enacted favourable tax systems that make it attractive for companies to be registered in the state. More than half of all U.S. publicly traded companies and 63% of the Fortune 500 are incorporated in Delaware. Taxes on Delaware corporations produce about a fifth of its state income.

Video: Dover.

Explore these further resources...

(These links take you to other parts of our web site, never to outside locations.)

You can search in these books:

You can broaden your search by looking within this topic:

© Curriculum Visions 2020