History of Brandywine Valley

Rolling hills with a house to the right on a bright sunny day.
Rolling hills with a house to the right on a bright sunny day.

Brandywine Valley was home the Lenape village of Queonemysing, which was occupied seasonally to catch fish for the village. The village serves as an example of the changes that occurred as Europeans claimed and occupied the area. The Swedish and Dutch traders were primarily focused on the larger waterways that allowed navigation, which left the Lenape village of Queonemysing almost undisturbed as it sat farther away.  It was not until English colonists, primarily Quakers, began to penetrate the interior drainage's that the Lenape village felt the impact. 

Seven years after the English took over New Sweden from the Dutch, King Charles II granted approximately 45,000 square miles of land to William Penn as repayment for a loan made to the Crown by his father. King Charles II did not want to encroach upon land owned by his brother, the Duke of York, so he determined that the southern boundary of Pennsylvania would be a twelve-mile arc from New Castle. However, Penn feared that the lands of Pennsylvania might become landlocked over time, and petitioned the British Crown and the Duke of York to add the “Lower Counties” (New Castle, Kent, and Sussex) to his patent.

After the land was granted Penn established two colonial assemblies one for the “Upper Counties” and one for the “Lower Counties”. In order to clarify boundaries of the two assemblies Penn ordered a survey of the arc to be completed. The twelve-mile circle runs directly through Brandywine Valley, crossing a farm. The survey line was measured multiple times before it was demarcated with stone markers, or merestones, between 1892 and 1893.

In 1684, William Penn reportedly identified an area of land encompassing the length of the Brandywine Creek and extending one mile on either side of which the Brandywine Lenape retained exclusive use. This agreement provided for the Lenape’s continued seasonal occupation of Queonemysing as well as land to the south located in Penn’s Proprietary Manor of Rockland on the east side of the lower Brandywine. Unlike the Dutch and Swedish colonial settlers who engaged in extensive trade with the Lenape, Penn was interested in selling the land for profit. In time, however, the European settlers encroached upon the Lenape's Brandywine Creek reservation breaking their trust and resulting in an unwillingly removal. In 1699, Penn sold 2,000 acres of the Brandywine Hundred to the Pennsylvania Land Company, which in turn sold the land to settlers, predominantly Quakers, who had begun to settle in the area in the late seventeenth century.

In the early eighteenth century, first and second generation Quaker immigrants established farms and built mills bordering creeks, as they provided irrigation for fields, power for the mills, and transportation routes. Moving outwards from the creek banks, they cleared land and built stone farmhouses similar in size, materials, layouts, and vernacular styles of their former British Homeland. By the mid 1800’s farmers cultivated the best agricultural land in the valley, and produced wool, cloth finishing, paper, and clover seeds for planting. By the second half of the nineteenth century, water powered mills along the Creek were becoming outdated, and by the early twentieth century the mills were stopped and fell into ruin.

Beginning in 1906, William Poole Bancroft began to purchase property in the Brandywine Valley from farmers and small-scale industrialists to hold in reserve for the health and well-being of the public. Heir to the Bancroft textile mills on the Brandywine, Bancroft eventually amassed over 1,300 acres, including the 1,100 that would become the Brandywine Valley tract of First State National Historical Park. He formed the Woodlawn Company in 1919, later renamed the Woodlawn Trustees Inc., to create affordable housing and the acquire land for parkland and open space. Since then, it served as a privately-owned park until donated to the National Park Service in 2013.


Last updated: August 15, 2022

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New Castle Court House Museum
Attn: First State NHP
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New Castle, DE 19720


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