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Take a seaside vacation—and see where Delaware’s modern history began


In addition to the cleanest beach-water in the nation, a wealth of dining options, arts and entertainment activities, recreational opportunities, natural areas, state parks, night life and tax-free shopping, Delaware’s Atlantic Ocean resorts offer a wide variety of historical attractions including the site of Delaware’s first European settlement.

Stanley M. Arthurs, “Landing of the DeVries Colony at Swaanendael, Lewes, Delaware 1631.” Courtesy, University Museums, University of Delaware. Gift of H. Rodney Sharp.
Stanley M. Arthurs, “Landing of the DeVries Colony at Swaanendael, Lewes, Delaware 1631.” Courtesy, University Museums, University of Delaware. Gift of H. Rodney Sharp.

On Dec. 12, 1630, Capt. Peter Heyes and a group of 28 men sailing in the Walvis (Whale) departed from the city of Hoorn in Holland with the goal of building a whale-hunting station and agricultural settlement at the mouth of the South River (now the Delaware). The river, claimed for the Dutch by Henry Hudson in 1609, formed the southern boundary of the colony of New Netherland.

The Walvis reached the South River in 1631 and a settlement site was identified along Hoorn Kill (present-day Lewes-Rehoboth Canal). Naming their settlement Swanendael (Valley of the Swans), the colonists constructed a palisade, dormitory and cook house. Although none of the original structures remain, the settlement site is marked by a commemorative monument located on Pilottown Road in present day Lewes. The monument is named for David Pieterszoon de Vries who, operating from his offices in Holland, served as the general administrator of the colony.

Text from the de Vries monument in Lewes, Del.
Text from the de Vries monument in Lewes, Del.

Leaving Swanendael under the command of Gillis Hossitt, the Walvis returned to Holland where preparations were underway for a second expedition to transport additional settlers and supplies to the colony. Before the expedition could get under way, however, de Vries was notified that all the colonists at Swanendael had been killed and the buildings destroyed as a result of a cultural misunderstanding between the Dutch and Native people in the area.

On May 24, 1632, de Vries himself, along with 50 men, sailed from Holland aboard the Walvis and the Teencoorntgen (Little Squirrel), reaching the burned settlement on Dec.5, 1632. Due to continuing tensions with the Native people and a lackluster whaling harvest, the Dutch abandoned the settlement on April 14, 1633.

Although the Swanendael settlement lasted less than two years, the claiming of the territory fostered the eventual Dutch resettlement of the lower Delaware Valley until 1664 when all of New Netherland was captured by the English. It also set the stage for Delaware’s existence as an independent political entity by providing the legal basis for resolving the  dispute between the Penn family of Pennsylvania and the Calvert family of Maryland over the ownership and subsequent division of the Delmarva peninsula.

Go to the following for more information on the Swanendael settlement.

Go to the following to read “Voyages from Holland to America,” the journal of David Pieterszoon de Vries.

Go to the Zwaanendael Museum website.

Go to the following for information on other historic sites located near Delaware’s beaches.


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