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The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


Swedish Colonies in the Americas (New Sweden)
AD 1638 - 1655

New Sweden was founded late in the race for territory in the Americas. Peter Minuit, the former director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, had been dismissed from service, but was then drawn to the Swedish efforts to start a colony. During the early seventeenth century the Swedes were a dominant power in Northern Europe, controlling an empire which encompassed much of the northern and eastern Baltic Sea.

Either in 1636 or 1637, the Swedish government agreed to help create the first Finno-Swedish colony, locating it on the lower Delaware River (now Wilmington, Delaware). This was within territory which had been claimed although apparently not settled by the Dutch. Instead it was still largely occupied by Native North American tribes.

Swedish, Dutch, and German stockholders formed the New Sweden Company in 1637 to trade for furs and tobacco in North America. Under the command of Peter Minuit, the company's first expedition sailed from Sweden late in 1637 in two ships, the Kalmar Nyckel and the Fogel Grip, arriving in the Americas early in 1638. The administration of the colony was placed in the hands of Lieutenant Kling, until the next governor was selected and sent over from Sweden two years later. The capital was Fort Christina, although the first full governor used Fort New Gothenborg on Tinicom Island as his headquarters.

In the end, Swedish efforts proved to be too insignificant to withstand the sometimes brutal race for dominance in the New World. When they made the mistake of capturing the Dutch fort of Casimir, the Dutch brought in an army from New Netherland (roughly 140 kilometres to the north-east) and captured Fort Christina.

This was the main Swedish settlement, and with few other resources available to offer any chance of freeing it the Swedes had no choice but to give up. Their colony was absorbed into New Netherland which itself would soon be conquered and absorbed into the far more widespread and powerful British Colonies.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Robert Beverly (1705), James Mooney (1907), Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), from Colonial America to 1763 (Almanacs of American Life), Thomas L Purvis & Richard Balkin, from The Indian Tribes of North America, John R Swanton, and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Historic Jamestowne, and Colonial - A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, and Access Genealogy, and Maps of United States Indians by State, and Native American Research, and The Swedish Colonial Society.)


Peter Minuit

Director and colony founder, 29 Mar-15 Jun.


The first wave of Swedish and Finnish settlers arrive under the leadership of Peter Minuit (former director-general of New Netherland). They create New Sweden when they settle land on the lower Delaware (claimed by the Dutch) and build Fort Christina.

The land is claimed to have been purchased from the local Delaware and Susquehannock, although they counter the claim with accusations of land theft.

Fort Christina
Founded by the first settlers of New Sweden, Fort Christina on the lower Delaware was named in honour of Queen Christina of Sweden

By now the Delaware are entirely subject to the Susquehannock and need their permission and two 'Minqua' to be present at the signing of any treaties. The Minqua attend the Swedish land purchase as required.

1638 - 1640

Måns Nilsson Kling


1640 - 1643

Peter Hollander Ridder



New Sweden provides firearms to the Munsee who are allies of the Susquehannock in their war against against the Iroquois. The Susquehannock allow the Lenape to hunt to the west of the river as long as they pay their tribute. Meanwhile, English traders try to lure the Mohawk away from the Dutch with offers of firearms.

FeatureTo counter this, the Dutch reverse their previous policy and begin selling large guns and ammunition to the Mohawk and Mahican to whatever amount they want. Not only does this dramatically escalate the violence in the Beaver Wars (otherwise known as the Iroquois Wars - see feature link) in the St Lawrence Valley and Great Lakes, it also upsets the balance of power along the lower Hudson.

Map of the Susquehannock AD 1600
The Susquehannock territories were centred around the river which bore their name, but extended far to the east, towards Lake Erie where they abutted the generally peaceful Erie people and north to the Iroquois nations, who certainly were not peaceful (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1643 - 1645

The colony is expanded inland in 1643, following the course of the river as it extends to the north-east (the river now forms the border between the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania).

During this period the English of Maryland have ceased trading with the Susquehannock thanks to continued disagreements about territorial holdings, but in 1645 the Susquehannock end their hostilities with Maryland and sign a treaty which cedes their claims in Maryland between the Choptank and Patuxent rivers.

The Susquehannock hardly notice the brief interruption of trade with the English because the settlers of New Sweden have more than made up the difference. The Susquehannock are also able to continue to trade with New Netherland by using the portages between the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Hudson rivers to New Amsterdam.

1643 - 1653

Johan Björnsson Printz

Governor. Extended colony to greatest extent, but autocratic.

1651 - 1656

War breaks out along the upper Susquehanna River, between the Susquehannock and the Mohawk. Although New Sweden supplies them with arms, the Susquehannock are relatively few in number and, as the war drags on for five years, they are forced to call upon their Munsee and Lenape allies.

Dutch traders
Although the Dutch colonial administration initially pursued a policy of not arming the natives with ammunition and guns, the realities of the Beaver Wars eventually made them realise that there was no other option

Support for the Mohawk from New Netherland in this conflict adds to the tension with the Lenape and Munsee along the lower Hudson. War and epidemic via the advent of smallpox in 1654 combine to cause a rapid drop in the Lenape population.

1653 - 1654

Johan Papegoya

Son-in-law and successor as governor.

1654 - 1655

Johan Classon Rising

Governor. Defeated and surrendered the colony.

1654 - 1655

The Dutch fort of Casimir is captured from New Netherland by the Swedes. In retaliation, the Dutch bring an army down from New Netherland (roughly 140 kilometres to the north-east).

In 1655, New Sweden's main settlement at Fort Christina is captured, which also forces the surrender of the Munsee and Susquehannock in their war with the Mohawk, as they can no longer access a supply of arms - the equally exhausted Mohawk readily agree.

Susquehannock warriors
Their height and deep voices, plus the variety of Susquehannock weapons, made a deep impression on the early Europeans who met them, notably John Smith in 1608 and the first Swedish settlers a generation later

Swedish attempts at colonising the New World have been brought to an end. The colony is absorbed into New Netherland, although the settlers are allowed a certain degree of self-government.

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