Delaware History Timeline

Important Dates, Events, and Milestones in Delaware History

Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in Delaware history.

Delaware was inhabited nearly 10,000 years ago, and a succession of various cultures occupied the area until the first European contact. At that time, the Leni-Lenape (Delaware) Indians occupied northern Delaware, while several tribes, including the Nanticoke and Assateague, inhabited southern Delaware.

The Lenape, culturally organized bands of Native Americans, settle along the Delaware River circa 1400. In 1600, the Minquas (named after the Lenape word for "treacherous") from the Susquehanna River Valley attack their villages. Two groups of Native Americans are present in the Delaware region by the turn of the 16th century: the Lenape and the Nanticoke.

The first of the original 13 states to ratify the federal Constitution, Delaware occupies a small niche in the Boston-Washington, D.C., urban corridor along the Middle Atlantic seaboard. It is the second smallest state in the country and one of the most densely populated.

15th Century Delaware History Timeline

1400 - The Lenni Lenape, Native Americans of the Algonkians, settle along the Delaware.

17th Century Delaware History Timeline

1600 - Minquas, from the Susquehanna River Valley, began to attack the villages of the Lenni Lenape.

1609 - Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Dutch East India Company, discovers Delaware Bay and River.

1610 - Captain Samuel Argall, an English sea captain, names the bay and river after Lord De La Warr, the governor of Virginia.

1631 - Dutch colonists settle at Zwaanendael (site of present-day Lewes).

1632 - Settlement at Zwaanendael is destroyed and all colonists killed in dispute with Native Americans.

1638 - Peter Minuet leads a group of Swedes to the Delaware and establishes Fort Christina (now Wilmington), the first permanent settlement on the Delaware and the beginnings of the New Sweden Colony.

1639 - The first African on the Delaware, Black Anthony, is brought from the Caribbean to Fort Christina.

1640 - The first Lutheran minister in America, the Reverend Reorus Torkillus, arrives at Fort Christina.

1643 - Johan Printz becomes governor of the New Sweden Colony.

1651 - Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch governor of New Netherland, builds Fort Casimir (now New Castle) just a few miles south of Fort Christina on the Delaware.

1654 - The Swedes capture Fort Casimir and rename it Fort Trinity.

1659 - Lewes is founded.

1655 - The Dutch defeat the Swedes on the Delaware, ending the New Sweden Colony. Delaware becomes a part of New Netherland.

1664 - Expedition led by Colonel Sir Richard Nicolls, one of four Commissioners appointed by the Crown to carry out military acquisition of the Dutch territories in America. Nicolls selected Sir Robert Carr to subdue the Dutch on the South (Delaware) River. Sir Robert Carr drives the Dutch off the Delaware and claims the land for James, Duke of York. Delaware becomes an English colony.

1673 - The Dutch regain control of the Delaware.

1674 - The English regain the Delaware

1681 - William Penn was granted land from England, that included Delaware, and established the colony of Pennsylvania.

1682 - The Duke of York transfers control of the Delaware Colony to English Quaker William Penn.

1698 - Holy Trinity, Old Swedes Church, is built in Wilmington.

1698-1700 - Pirates including Captain Kidd sail along the Delaware.

18th Century Delaware History Timeline

1704 - Delaware's first assembly of the Three Lower Counties Upon Delaware, separate from Pennsylvania, meets at New Castle.

1717 - Town of Dover laid out.

1731 - Thomas Willing founds Willingtown.

1739 - Willingtown receives royal charter and is renamed Wilmington.

1742 - Oliver Canby builds flour mill on Brandywine River at Wilmington, beginning large commercial flour milling industry.

1760 - 35,000 people lived in the Delaware region.

1761 - James Adams sets up first printing press in Delaware at Wilmington.

1763 - The French and Indian War ends in 1763 and Great Britain gains controls of all lands previously held by France. England pays for the war by increasing taxes on its American Colonies. Restrictions on the colonists eventually lead to a fight for independence from the crown.

1764 - Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon survey Delaware's western boundary.

1765 - Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean represent Delaware at the Stamp Act Congress.

1767-68 - John Dickinson writes Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, an influential protest against British policies towards the colonies.

1774 - Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read represent Delaware at the First Continental Congress.

1775 - Revolutionary War began

1776 -

  • June 15 - Delaware Assembly declares independence from England. This is the origin of the holiday called Separation Day.
  • July 1-2 -Caesar Rodney makes heroic overnight ride from Dover to Philadelphia to cast the vote that put Delaware on the side of independence.
  • Three Lower Counties had broken away from Pennsylvania They adopted a constitution and became the Delaware State, the first of all the colonies to call themselves a state.

1777 -

  • Dover replaces New Castle as state capital.
  • Late August-early September: British and American armies are in northern New Castle County.
  • September 3: Battle of Cooch's Bridge near Newark, only engagement of the war in Delaware.
  • September 12-British capture Delaware state documents, funds, and President John McKinly after winning the Battle of the Brandywine, then occupy Wilmington until mid October.

1779 - Delaware Assembly ratifies Articles of Confederation.

1784 - Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury meet at Barratt's Chapel in Frederica, establishing the Methodist Church as a separate denomination in the US

1785 - Oliver Evans builds prototype automatic flour mill in Newport.
Delaware Gazette, state's first newspaper, begins publication.

1786 - Delaware is one of 5 states to send delegates to Annapolis Convention, which hoped to revise the Articles of Confederation.

1787 - Dec. 7 - Delaware ratified the United States Constitution and became the 1st state in the Union.

1788-89 - Abolition societies established in Dover and Wilmington.

1791 - The county seat of Sussex County is moved from Lewes to Georgetown.

1792 - Delaware adopts second state constitution and changed its name to the State of Delaware.

1795 - Bank of Delaware, the state's first bank, founded in Wilmington.

1798 -

  • British ship DeBraak sinks off Lewes.
  • Yellow fever epidemic spreads from Philadelphia to Wilmington.

19th Century Delaware History Timeline

1802 - Frenchman eleuthere Irenee du Pont founded a gunpowder mill near Wilmington.
duPont de Nemours begins manufacturing gunpowder along the Brandywine River near Wilmington.

1805 - First Methodist camp meeting held near Smyrna.

1807 - Caesar A. Rodney named Attorney General of the United States by President Thomas Jefferson.

1808 - Newport and Gap Turnpike becomes first toll road in Delaware.

1812-13 - Peter Spencer founds the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. AUMP is the first denomination in the nation controlled entirely by African-Americans.

1813 -

  • The British bombard Lewes during War of 1812.
  • Dr. James Tilton appointed Surgeon General of the US Army.

1814 -

  • Commodore Thomas Macdonough defeats British on Lake Champlain.
  • James A. Bayard is one of American signers of the Treaty of Ghent, ending War of 1812.
  • Big Quarterly, or August Quarterly, started by Peter Spencer, founder of African Union Methodist Protestant Church, in Wilmington. America's first major black religious festival continues in the 21st century.

1818 - Construction begins on the mile-long Delaware Breakwater, completed in 1835.

1828 - Steamboat line opens between Philadelphia and New Castle.

1829 -

  • Chesapeake and Delaware Canal opens.
  • Delaware Free School Act passes in legislature creating first public schools in the state.
  • Louis McLane appointed Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

1832 -

  • New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad opens. Covering one and a half miles at first, it used horse cars for nearly a year before switching over to steam service in 1832.
  • Delaware adopts third constitution.
  • First peach orchard planted in Delaware. State soon becomes major commercial producer of peaches.

1833 -

  • The University of Delaware is founded as Newark College.
  • Louis McLane appointed Secretary of State of the United States.

1838 - Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad opens.

1844 - The Bangor, America's first iron-hulled propeller steamship, launched in Wilmington.

1847 - Delaware Senate considers an act to abolish slavery. The act is defeated by one vote.

1849 - John M. Clayton appointed Secretary of State of the United States.

1852 - Delaware Railroad Company organized.

1855 - State-wide prohibition law enacted; repealed, 1857.

1856 - Delaware Railroad completed to Seaford; to Delmar in 1859.

1861 -

  • Although a slaveholding state, Delaware rejects invitation to join Confederacy.
  • Peace convention at Dover favors peaceable recognition of Confederacy.
  • Troops from Philadelphia garrison Fort Delaware, which becomes prison camp.

1862 - Delaware legislature rejects President Lincoln's offer to buy its slaves.

1861-65 - Delaware remained in the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865). More than 12,000 Delawareans fought for the North and a few hundred fought for the South. At the end of the war, all slaves were freed.

1865 - Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolishes slavery. The Delaware legislature votes against the amendment.

1867 - Howard High School, Delaware's first high school for African-Americans, established.

1868 - The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees equal protection for all races under the law. The Delaware legislature votes against the amendment.

1869 - First woman suffrage convention in Delaware

1870 -

  • First ocean resort opens at Rehoboth Beach.
  • The Fifteenth Amendment guarantees blacks the right to vote. The Delaware legislature votes against the amendment.
  • Wilmington's African American community honors Thomas Garrett for his work as a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad.

1872 - Coeducation introduced at Delaware College, discontinued in 1885.

1875 -State legislature creates separate schools with separate funding for white children and African American children.

1876 - Indian River Lifesaving Station is built, the nation's oldest station still on its original site.

1878 - First telephone line installed in Wilmington.

1880 -

  • Dynamite and nitroglycerine manufactured by DuPont Company.
  • Rehoboth Beach holds what some claim is the first beauty contest in the nation.

1881 -

  • County seat of New Castle County moves from New Castle to Wilmington.
  • First organized Jewish religious service in Delaware.

1882 - First electric street lights installed in Wilmington.

1883-86 - Baltimore and Ohio Railroad extends through Delaware.

1885 - Thomas F. Bayard appointed Secretary of State of the United States.

1887 - Volunteer, a steel-hulled racing yacht, built in Wilmington, defeats Thistle to win America's Cup.

1888 - Electric street cars begin to replace horse cars in Wilmington.

1889 - Law passes prohibiting punishment of women at whipping post or pillory.

1891 -

  • State College for Colored Students (now Delaware State University) chartered; opened in 1892.
  • Delmar nearly destroyed by fire.

1893 -

  • Thomas F. Bayard appointed first United States Ambassador to Great Britain.
  • Delaware receives "The Wedge," a small piece of land, in boundary dispute with Maryland.

1897 -

  • New state constitution adopted; still in effect today.
  • Property qualifications for voter registration abolished.

1899 - The Delaware Corporation Law is passed. In time this law will make it easier for businesses to incorporate in Delaware than in other states.

20th Century Delaware History Timeline

1900 -

  • Illustrator Howard Pyle opens his art school in Wilmington.
  • Frank Stephens purchases 163 acres near Grubbs Corner to found single tax community of Arden.

1901 - Legislature ratifies 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution.

1905 - Delaware becomes last state to abolish use of the pillory.

1907 -

  • First automobile licensed in state.
  • Delawarean Emily Bissell introduces Christmas Seal into America.

1909 -

  • State House restored and enlarged.
  • Ownership of Chesapeake and Delaware Canal transferred to federal government.

1911-24 - T. Coleman du Pont builds a highway running the length of the state and gives to State of Delaware.

1911 - Upton Sinclair and Scott Nearing, along with others, arrested at Arden for playing games on Sunday.

1913 -

  • Women's College founded at Newark.
  • Hotel Du Pont and Playhouse open.
  • Wilson Line ferry begins ferry service between Wilmington and Pennsville, N.J.

1914 - Women's College opens in Newark.

1915 -

  • Child Labor Law passes.
  • State Labor Commission created.

1917-18 - Nearly 10,000 Delawareans serve in World War I.

1920 - Woman suffrage amendment narrowly fails adoption in legislature.

1921 - Construction begins on Wilmington Marine Terminal, completed 1923.

1923 - Cecile Steele begins Delaware's broiler chicken industry.

1926 - Cape Henlopen Lighthouse collapses.

1929 - Louis L. Redding becomes first African-American lawyer in state.

1933 -

  • Legislative Hall completed.
  • Legislature votes to repeal prohibition amendment.

1934 - United States Supreme Court confirms Delaware's claim to control Delaware River.

1935 -

  • US Supreme Court rules that twelve mile arc that defines the Pennsylvania-Delaware line should be extended into the Delaware River, giving Delaware a few uninhabited acres attached to New Jersey.
  • Dr. Wallace Carothers, working at the DuPont Experimental Station, discovers Fiber 66, the first synthetic fiber.

1937 -

  • Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge organized.
  • Delaware Park race track opens.

1938 - Tercentenary Celebration of landing of Swedes in Wilmington.

1939 - DuPont Company opens first nylon plant in Seaford and nylon stockings exhibits at World Fairs in San Francisco and New York.

1941-45 - 30,000 Delaware men and women serve in armed forces in World War II.

1942 - Fort Miles created between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.
Major air bases created at New Castle and Dover.

1945 - Women's College merges with University of Delaware.

1949 - First annual Delmarva Chicken Festival held.

1950 - Delaware Court of Chancery orders University of Delaware to end segregation.

1951 - Delaware Memorial Bridge opens first span linking Delaware to New Jersey.

1952 -

  • Chancellor Collins J. Seitz deemed Delaware's segregated schools to be separate and unequal, a position upheld by the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Last public whipping; this form of punishment was abolished in Delaware in 1972.

1963 -

  • Delaware General Assembly outlaws racial segregation in public accommodations.
  • President John F. Kennedy opens Delaware Turnpike (Interstate 95; now John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) completing a non-stop highway between Boston and Washington D.C. This was one of Kennedy's last public appearances.

1964 - Cape May- Lewes Ferry begins operation.

1968 -

  • Riots break out in Wilmington following assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., prompting 10-month occupation of city by National Guard, the longest occupation in the country.
  • Second span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge dedicated.

1969 - Richard Petty wins the first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Dover Downs.

1971 - The Delaware Coastal Zone Act prohibits construction of industrial plants on coastal areas.

1975 - William "Judy" Johnson, a former Negro League baseball player, becomes state's first player elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

1978 - Daniel Nathans wins the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work with molecular hormones.

1981 - The Financial Center Development Act passes, encouraging out-of-state banks to move headquarters to Delaware.

1984 - S.B. Woo elected lieutenant governor, becoming the highest-ranking Asian-American official in the United States.

1995 -

  • Legislature approves use of slot machines at Dover Downs, Harrington, and Delaware Park.
  • Route 1 bridge over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal opens.

1999 - Jacqueline Jones, a native of Christiana, wins prestigious MacArthur Genius Award.

21st Century Delaware History Timeline

2000 - Ruth Ann Minner elected Delaware's first woman governor.

2002 -

  • "The First State"becomes the official nickname for Delaware
  • Horseshow crab was designated as Delaware's official marine animal

2005 - Stonefly became official state macro invertebrate

2008 -

  • Joe Biden was elected as Delaware's 1st Vice President of the U.S. and 1st Roman Catholic to hold office
  • Joe Flacco became first player in Delaware football history to be selected in the 1st round of NFL draft

2009 -

  • Delaware legalizes football sports betting
  • Peach Pie was designated as Delaware's official state dessert

2010 -

  • Strawberry became the official state fruit
  • Grey Fox becomes state wildlife animal

2011 - Delaware passes Civil Unions Bill

Source: The Historical Society of Delaware

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