Delaware was part of the 13 colonies, wasn’t it? A timeline of how Delaware came into being

The other day I happened to be watching a show on the History Channel all about how the States got their shapes. It was very interesting and it really got me thinking about what was the real story behind Delaware’s shape and how we came into being. I did a little digging in our research library and happened to come upon a booked titled, East of the Mason-Dixon Line, by Roger E. Nathan. One thing was pretty clear from this book, the colony, and later the State of Delaware, really had to fight hard to come into existence. It has really given me a new sense of pride in my little state and one I hope you will share with me after going through this timeline of events that shaped Delaware!


1629—Samuel Godyn & Samuel Blommaert of a Patroonship of the Dutch West India Company purchased land from the Native American in what is now the State of Delaware.

1631—First settlement on a creek called Hoornkill (Lewes) and called it Zwaanendael. This was gone within a year

April 15, 1632—Charter requested by Lord Baltimore was approved by King Charles I for a new colony which was eventually named Maryland for the King’s wife, Henriette Marie.  The land given was:

  • North—the land which lieth under the 40th parallel
  • East—the DE Bay and the Atlantic Ocean
  • South—The south bank of the Potomac and by a parallel through Watkins Point
  • West—a meridian through the source of the Potomac

 1638—Swedes landed at present site of Wilmington and established Fort Christina

1651-1655—Land from the Christina Creek to Bombay Hook (which was purchased from the Native American by the Dutch) was fought over and changed hands from Dutch to Swedes and back to Dutch again.

1652—England’s Parliament took control of Maryland, Charles II took the throne in 1660 and in 1662 Cecil Calvert was given control of Maryland

1659—The Dutch had owned the land along the Delaware River for a long time. That year Maryland sent Colonel Nathaniel Utie to New Amstel to notify the Dutch that they were in unlawaful possession of the land. The Dutch did not leave the area when they were informed this and even became aggressive in the Valley of the Connecticut River

March 12, 1664—King Charles II granted his brother, James the Duke of York, all the land between the Connecticut River and the Delaware River

September 8, 1664—The Duke led forces against the Dutch who soon surrendered, he then marched to New Amstel and took the land there too.

1680—William Penn, already owing Pennsylvania, petitioned King Charles II for a tract of land lying North of Maryland. His petition was based on the service his father had performed for the crown and the debts the king owed his father. Action on the petition for the land was held until all parties whose rights might have been affected were consulted. This included Lord Baltimore who did not object as long as the Penn Grant would be north of the 40th Parallel. Consideration was also given to the Duke of York who wanted to keep Penn away from New Castle. The Duke wanted a circle with a radius of 20 to 30 miles drawn around New Castle. Penn was able to have the radius reduced to 12 miles. Penn pushed for the 12 mile circle so that his grant would be closer to the Atlantic Ocean.

March 4, 1681—The grant was made:

                “…bounded on the East by the Delaware River, from twelve miles distance, Northwarde of New Castle Towne unto the three and fortieth degree of Northern Latitude…the said lands to extend Westwards, five degrees in Longitude…and the said lands to bee bounded on the North, by the beginning of the three and fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and the South, by a circle drawne at twelve miles distance from New Castle Northwards, and Westwards unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude; and then by the straight line Westwards, to the limit of Longitude menconed…”

April 2, 1681—A letter to Lord Baltimore from Charles II announced the granting of Penn’s charter and required him to meet with agents of Penn in order to establish the boundaries. In the meetings suspicion and animosity developed between the two parties. This attempt failed.

August 12, 1682—Penn continued to want better access to the ocean so he persuaded the Duke of York to transfer to him the territory which the Duke had taken from the Dutch along the west shore of the Delaware River. The Duke leased and granted to Penn all of New Castle and that tract of land within the circle of 12 miles along with that part of the Delaware River and all of its islands within the 12 mile circle for 10,000 years at the cost of five shillings.

August 15, 1682—the Duke leased and granted to Penn all of the land below the 12 mile circle as far south as Cape Henlopean

December 12, 1682—Penn and the Third Lord Baltimore met at Anne Arundel to discuss the location of the southern boundary of the Penn Grant. It was suggested that a measurement northward be made from Cape Charles at the end of the Delmarva Peninsula. King Charles had suggested using 60 miles per degree. Using the 50 miles per degree would have given Penn access to the Chesapeake Bay, something he was anxious to have. Lord Baltimore wanted to determine the boundary by finding the location of the 40th parallel by astronomical means. The conference ended with little accomplished except the outlining of the position of each party.

March 22, 1683—The Duke of York was finally the legal own of the land of Delaware with Charles II granted the Delaware territories on this day. The Duke did not give a new grant to Penn at this time.

May 1683—William Penn & Lord Baltimore met again in New Castle. Penn still wanted to measure up the peninsula using 60 miles per degree. Lord Baltimore stood firm on the 40th parallel as his boundary and on actually locating it by astronomical means. Penn offered to agree with Lord Baltimore if he would sell access to the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to him, but Lord Baltimore refused. Adjudication at court seemed necessary to resolve the conflict. Penn welcomed this but Lord Baltimore abhorred this action. He had obstructed the collection of the king’s taxes and was out of touch with the court. Penn’s arguments were unsuccessful until he raised the argument of hactenus inculta. Penn claimed that Lord Baltimore’s charter rights were preempted by the Dutch settlement at Zwaanendael prior to the granting of the Calvert Charter.

November 7, 1685—Verdict of the Commissioner for Trade and Plantations was rendered. It did not completely vindicate Penn’s claim but was a compromise.  The Peninsula would be divided between the parties. King James II issued a decree ordering “that for avoiding further differences, the tract of land lying between the Bay of Delaware and the eastern sea on one side, and the Chesapeake Bay on the other, be divided into equal parts by a line from the latitude of Cape Henlopean to the fortieth degree of north latitude, the southern boundary of Pennsylvania by charter and that the half thereof, lying towards the Delaware Bay and the eastern sea, be adjuded to belong to his majesty (and thus to Penn) and the other half to Lord Baltimore, as comprised in his charter.”

December 1688—King James II had a definitive grant made out to Penn for the Delaware territory. The king excused Penn from all obligations, past or future, directed him to share the revenues, and named Penn true and absolute proprietor, free to merge this new province with Pennsylvania in one government under one set of laws if he wished.  In spite of Penn’s arguments, the 40th parallel remained as the northern boundary of Maryland. But Lord Baltimore continued to fail to take steps to have the boundary surveyed and monuments put in place.

1685—Under William III, the political policy was to bring the colonies under closer control of te Crown, so for a short time Pennsylvania and Maryland became Crown colonies. The Penns regained the right to govern in 1694 but the Calverts did not regain the same right until 1715.

July 20, 1701—The people of the Three Lower Counties submitted a petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly for a separate assembly and administrative officers. They had become dissatisfied with Penn’s administration.

August 28, 1701—Penn granted the request and issued a warrant for a survey separating the counties of Chester and New Castle. Isaac Taylor of Chester County and Thomas Piersons of New Castle County were appointed to survey and mark boundaries between the counties. The boundary would be a circular arc of 12-mile radius with the town of New Castle as the center and extending from the Delaware River westward one-third of a circle. The survey was started at the end of a horse dyke in New Castle on September 26 and was completed on October 4. The surveyors ran a meridian lien to the north and arrived at the “S” curve in Brandywine Creek. The length of their meridian was later found to be 2,000 feet to far from New Castle. This may have been the result of using a “worn” chain. They then ran chords of a circle to the east and west until they had measured one-third of a circle. On the eastern end they arrived at a house occupied by Daniel Lamplaugh on the banks of the Delaware. On the western end they ended at a stream which was probably a branch of Christina Creek. The circular line was marked by lazed trees and served as a boundary between two counties of the same colony and then later as a boundary between two states.

1709-May 10, 1732—The Penn’s and Lord Baltimore fought in court and submitted petitions about the land rightful ownership. On May 10, 1732 it was decided that the line of division was to run due west from Cape Henlopen to a point in the middle of the peninsula and then northerly to a point tangent to a 12 mile circle around New Castle. Then the line should run around the circle until it was due north of the tangent point and then should run due north until it intersected the east-west lien 15 miles south of Philadelphia. The map that was appended to the Agreement incorrectly located Cape Henlopen at what is now Fenwick Island. This is about 19 miles south of the present Cape Henlopen. The result was a loss of about 800 square miles of land from Maryland. The location of the northern boundary of Maryland at 15 miles south of Philadelphia resulted in the loss of about 3700 square miles. Lord Baltimore must have been very anxious to reach an agreement to have willingly agreed to such unfavorable terms.

1734—The first meeting of the Commissioners was held in Newtown (now Chestertown) Maryland. The commissioners would meet 4 times in all. Two questions were discussed: where was the center of the circle to be located and what should be the size of the circle? The Maryland Commissioners took the position that the circle should be 12 miles in circumference. The Pennsylvania Commissioners held that the circle was to have a radius of 12 miles. After much argument over the circle question, the Commissioners signed a joint statement stating that they could not reach an agreement.

November 14, 1750—The Commissioners held their first meeting in New Castle. They decided that the courthouse should be the center of New Castle.

1751—Charles, the Fifth Lord of Baltimore, died. His son Frederick, inherited the title but Charles left the proprietorship to his daughter. Upon the advice of his uncle, Cecil Calvert, the young Lord Baltimore refused to be bound by the agreements of his father. The unlce wanted any settlement to wail until Frederick attained his majority. These events further delayed a settlement of the boundaries.

1760-The Sixth Lord Baltimore had grown tired of the fight over the boundaries. He entered into an agreement with the Penns on July 4, 1760, the basis of which was the agreement of 1732 and the Chancellor’s Decree of 1750.

August 20, 1769—The King in Council, ratified the boundaries between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Eighty-eight years after the beginning of the boundary conflict, these boundaries were finally settled.

1775—The Delaware Assembly ordered the boundaries of all counties and hundred to be extended to the newly established lines.

August 1776—Acting on the advice of the Continental Congress, the people of Delaware called a convention which met at New Castle. On September 20, 1776, they adopted a constitution and declared that the Territory should be called “Delaware State”

November 1760—two meetings of the Commissioners under the 1760 agreement were held. They accepted the line run in 1750 and 1751, and fixed the Middle Point by marking it with an oak post.

July 20, 1763—After 3 years of little progress, the Penns and the Sixth Lord Baltimore agreed to employ Mason and Dixon . They arrived in Philadelphia on November 15, 1763 and brought with them the finest survey instruments available.

November 16-December 18, 1763—they unpacked their equipment, met with the Commissioners, and built an observatory.

June 1764—Mason and Dixon began to survey Delaware’s borders

November 1764—Mason and Dixon notified the Governors of the two colonies that they had finished the Tangent Line. In March of 1765 they began to place markers along the borders.

1974—it was found that the Transpeninsular Line curved slightly to the north from the five-mile monument to Middle Point. This was one of the two times the Calverts obtained an advantage over the Penns.

The Wedge

1840’s—It was noticed that the double crownstone at the northeast corner of Maryland had disappeared. Because the stone was missing there was doubts about the corner and other monument in the area.

February 11, 1846—Maryland  took action to determine the location of the point of intersection of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

February 10, 1847—Delaware also appointed a Commissioner

April 10, 1849—Pennsylvania finally acted on the issue and appointed its own Commissioner

October 1849—The Commissioners from each of the three states met in Wilmington to examine the problem. They decided to survey and locate four points: 1. The intersection of the North Line with the West Line (the northeast corner of Maryland); 2 the Tangent Point; 3. The point of intersection of the North Line with the Arc Line and for the first time 4. To find the westernmost point of the Arc Line. Lieut. Col. James D. Graham was assigned from the US Army to lead a team for the survey.

November 1849—Graham determined that the true intersection of the three states was located at the intersection of the North Line and the Arc Line. He disregarded “the well-known rule that an actual line upon the ground is to be preferred to the written description of the same line in a deed.” He changed the position of the arc boundary as marked in 1701 (between Chester County and New Castle County) and assigned to Pennsylvania the triangular strip three and one-half miles in length west of the arc boundary and east of Maryland and south of an eastward extension of the West Line. Clearly Graham was wrong but, by establishing the tri-state marker at the intersection of the North Line and the Arc, he created the area known as the Wedge that would exist until 1921.

1850—Graham’s survey report was accepted by the commissioner from each state. Delaware’s commissioner did not object to the location of the tri-state monument. Maryland was not interested in the Wedge because it territory stopped at the North Line. Pennsylvania was please because it appeared that it gained the Wedge but Delaware continued to maintain jurisdiction over it.

Late 1800’s—Pennsylvania and Delaware had no clear information as the actual location of the boundary. Because of the uncertainty of the jurisdiction over the Wedge, it became an area for prize and cockfights, dog matches, duels and a hangout for thieves and petty criminals. These activities, along with the increased population and wealth of the area led to increased agitation to determine the boundary.

April 25, 1889—Delaware passed an act appointing three commissioners on the part of Delaware to act in conjunction with a similar commission from Pennsylvania to agree upon and mark the boundary.

1892—During this survey it was determined that the Arc to the west of New Castle was 12 miles 108 feet from the spire of the courthouse. This caused a loss to the Calverts of a strip of land of 108 feet by 84 and one-half miles long. The point on the extension of the Mason and Dixon line which was exactly 12 miles from New Castle, is about 2,000 feet to the east of the previously accepted intersection point. This created a horn shaped piece of land. The Commissioners agreed to award the Horn to Pennsylvania and the Wedge to Delaware.

June 1897—The survey was ratified by the Pennsylvania Assembly, but because the “Delawareans” who lived in the Horn were displeased with being “moved” to Pennsylvania, ti was not until March 1921, that Delaware ratified the survey.

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