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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark FORT CHRISTINA

Location: New Castle County, near foot of East 7th Street, on Christina River, Wilmington.

Ownership and Administration. State of Delaware; Delaware State Museum.

Significance. The first Swedish expedition to the New World landed at this site about March 29, 1638. It erected the first fortification in New Sweden, Fort Christina, around which grew the first permanent white settlement in the Delaware River Valley and the nucleus of Swedish settlement. Peter Minuit, formerly of New Netherland, headed the expedition of the New Sweden Company, which sent him from Sweden in December 1637 to establish a Swedish foothold in the New World. His assigned destination was the Minquas Kill, which on his arrival he renamed the Christina River in honor of Sweden's young Queen. The expedition of 50 men, in two vessels, landed at a natural wharf of rocks that jutted into the Minquas Kill about 2 miles above its confluence with the Delaware. Near the rocks, Minuit erected Fort Christina to guard the settlement and serve as the administrative and commercial center of the colony.

Designed by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, this monument stands on the site of Fort Christina, the first settlement in New Sweden, and commemorates the activities of Swedish colonists in the Delaware Valley. The ship at the top of the monument represents the Kalmar Nyckel, one of two vessels that brought the first Swedish colonists to America.

The fort remained the principal center of Swedish settlement even during the period 1643-53, when Gov. Johan Bjornsson Printz ruled from his headquarters on Tiicum Island, some 15 miles north on the Delaware River. When New Sweden fell to the Dutch in the bloodless conquest of 1655, the Dutch posted a few soldiers at Fort Christina, which they called "Altena." Their relations with the Swedish colonists were amicable, but during the peaceful occupation the fort fell into disrepair until Gov. Peter Stuyvesant ordered it repaired for use as the New World headquarters of the Dutch West India Company. The settlement around Fort Christina remained predominantly Swedish despite the annexation to New Netherland. In 1664, when the Delaware Valley fell to the English, English soldiers garrisoned the fort, but the Swedish settlement remained the heart of the village that spread along the banks of the Christina and became the city of Wilmington.

Present Appearance. The 2 acres comprising Fort Christina State Park include the wharf of rocks that was the site of the first landing and near which was the heart of the first Swedish settlement in North America. The ledge of rocks is still partially visible, although much of the natural formation is covered by a plaza that surrounds a striking monument. The monument is a shaft designed by the late Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. It is constructed of black Swedish granite and surmounted by a stylized representation of the Kalmar Nyckel (the Key of Kalmar), one of the two ships used by the Minuit expedition.

Treatment of the park is formal. The high brick walls located on two sides, iron fence and ornamental iron gateway on the third, and the Christina River on the fourth separate the site from the surrounding industrial development. Archeological investigation is needed to establish specific information about the fort and surrounding buildings. The park is open to the public throughout the year. [13]

NHL Designation: 11/05/61

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005