Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution in 1787, making it the first state in the new Union. It is the second smallest state in America and has only three counties: New Castle, Kent, and Sussex. All three were established by 1682. Despite its small size, it has a rich history that earned it a few nicknames such as First State (for obvious reasons), Diamond State, and Small Wonder.
Before the Europeans arrived, there were two main indigenous tribes living in the area: the Lenni-Lenape (also known as the Delaware), and the Nanticoke. These Native American peoples were hunters and farmers, growing crops such as beans, corn, and squash. Their homes were made from tree branches, grass, and mud, and were called wigwams.
In 1609, Henry Hudson explored the area while searching for a passageway to China, but he didn’t stay long. A year later, Sir Samuel Argall accidentally found the Delaware Bay after a storm knocked him off course. He named the land in honor of the governor of Virginia, De La Warr.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in the area, which they did in 1631. The group formed a trading company consisting of about 30 individuals. Their settlement, called Zwaanendael (Valley of Swans), was located near the present town of Lewes. The following year, in 1632, Captain David Pieterszen de Vries sailed into the area and found the Dutch settlers had been killed by the local Native Americans and their buildings burned.
The land was then settled by Swedish settlers in 1638 who built the first permanent settlement at Fort Christian, now known as Wilmington, the largest city in Delaware. The land became a tug-of-war prize as it changed hands between the Dutch and the English over the next few decades. In 1655, the Dutch had possession and the area became part of New Netherland. However, in 1664, a British fleet came into the area, conquered it, and named it New York. In 1682, Delaware became part of the Pennsylvania colony and was known as the “Lower Counties on the Delaware.”
The American Revolutionary War changed a lot for the small state. When the conflict began in 1775, the people were not sure if they wanted to risk splitting from England. Even the delegates were split on the notion; two in favor of seeking independence and one against it. In 1776, when it was time to vote for the Declaration of Independence, delegate Caesar Rodney knew his vote would be instrumental. The night before the vote was to take place, he was in the city of Dover and rode 70 miles through a thunderstorm during the night just so that he could reach Philadelphia and place his vote in favor of declaring independence from Britain.
Although Delaware was not a hot spot for battles during the Revolutionary War, many Delawareans served as soldiers in the Continental Army. They were known as fierce fighters and earned the nickname “Blue Hen Chicks” after the blue-feathered fighting gamebird. Later, the blue hen became the state bird.