The Dutch and Swedish Colonies in Salem County

According to a history written by Thomas Cushing, MD and Charles E. Sheppard, Esq. in 1883, the Delaware Bay was first discovered in 1609 by Hendrick Hudson, an Englishman in the service of a Dutch trading company. He found the bay not to his navigational liking so turned back north until he came to the New York Bay. He sailed up the river which now bears his name as far as Albany then returned and started on his voyage to Holland in October of the same year. The next year Lord Delaware on a voyage to Virginia touched at Delaware Bay, which came to bear his name.

The West India Company encouraged colonization by offering land and materials. In 1630 two vessels were fitted out and laden with emigrants, animals, implements, grain, seeds, etc., for settlement on the Delaware or South River. The vessels arrived at their destination early in 1631. The settlers, 34 in number landed and were left there to build a colony. A fort was erected but when the commander came back in December of 1632 they found nothing left of the colony but the skulls and bones of the colonists strewn on the ground. They descended the river and sailed for Manhattan, ending the first attempt to colonize the country on the Delaware.

Peter Minuit, who had been Governor of the Dutch colony at New Amsterdam, went to Sweden and presented the idea of a settlement on the Delaware. Queen Christina approved and in 1636-37 she gave orders for its execution. Minuit was made commander of the colony, a ship called the Kalmar Nickel and its smaller companion the Fogel Grip sailed laden with colonists and supplies. On their arrival they purchased from the Indians a tract of land on the west side of the river where they built a fort around 1638, which they named Ft. Christina in honor of their queen.

The Swedes purchased additional land from the Indians on the east side of the river then called Wootsessung Sing (Salem Creek) and built an additional fort they named Elfsborg. From this fort the district in that region took the name Elsinborg. This fort was afterwards called Myggenborg, because of the abundance of gnats, or mosquitoes (Myggor), which rendered it almost untenable.

In 1655 the Dutch, with seven vessels and from 600 to 700 men from New Amsterdam (New York) sailed up the Delaware River and marched against Fort Christina, which surrendered without resistance.

A description of the Swedes is contained in The Dutch & Swedes on the Delaware 1609-64 published in 1930:

The population of New Sweden was almost without exception of the peasant class. They were crude, rude, strong, hardy tillers of the soil, physically well fitted to withstand the hardships of the voyage and to endure the toil of subduing a wilderness and creating for themselves a comfortable environment. Penn described those who were here when he came as “a plain strong industrious people . . proper and strong of body, so that they have fine children and almost every house full . . I see few young men more sober ad industrious.”

The first houses built by them were log cabins of one room that served all the uses of the household. They had no glass, the windows being merely small openings closed against the weather by slide-boards. The fire was built on the earthen floor, and the smoke found its way out through an opening in the roof. A heap of straw on the floor served for a bed, a sheep-skin for covering. A crude table built against the wall and sections of logs for stools completed the furnishing of these primitive dwellings.

As they increased in substance the settlers were able to house themselves more comfortably. The later-built houses were somewhat larger, divided into two or three rooms, with a loft above which served as a storehouse and an additional bedroom or guest chamber. A few were two stories in height. Chimneys carried off the smoke from fireplaces of brick or stone, with ovens built into them. Some had one or more glazed windows. An extension of the roof sloped down to cover a front stoop.

Their furnishings too were elaborated. Bunks were constructed to hold straw mattresses. Chairs were made out of hollow tree trunks; a part of the shell projected above the seat and formed a back. Movable tables, benches, chests another such simply contrived pieces were added.

There were bath houses, bathing their bodies being a habit among both Swedes and Finns, a habit that made them a peculiar people among their European contemporaries. Moreover, the method of their ablutions called for a display of hardiness, not to say heroism.

Their bath houses were small windowless cabins with fireplaces, in which very hot fires induced a temperature of 150 degrees. Water poured on heated stones filled the air with steam. In this atmosphere it was customary for family groups with invited friends to remain stark naked for half an hour or longer beating their bare flesh the with bunches of twigs. Then emerging lobster-red, in an outside temperature perhaps near zero, if it were winter, they rolled themselves in snow, or in summer plunged into a cold stream. A Swedish bath was at once a hygienic exercise, a social function and a valorous deed.

The household utensils, plates, cups, spoons, bowls and that sort of thing, were mostly of wood, but iron and ten pots, cups of tin and horn, some crockery-ware and iron knives were imported. Forks for eating were unknown.

For lighting at night tallow candles were used, also splints of resinous pine about three feet long were stuck in to crevices between the logs or into iron “stick-holders” and ignited. Such a splint would burn for several minutes and yield about equal amounts smoke and flame.

Their dress was chiefly of coarse woolen cloth, their shirts of linen, and their stockings of felt, wool or linen, according to the season and the purse of the wearer. Their shoes were of coarse leather, of leather with wooden soles or entirely of wood. Leather shoes were often homemade, a sort of cross between a shoe and a moccasin. Leather, either tanned of cured in Indian fashion was easier to procure and more durable to wear than woolen cloth, so coats made of leather, buckskin or otter skins and deerskin breeches were later commonly worn.

Coming from, a country where manufacturing was in its infancy, the settlers were used to relying on their own hands and heads to supply their needs. They were, therefore, generally skilled in all kinds of manual arts. The men made their own wooden plows and harrows, rakes and hayforks, their furniture, kitchen equipment, and practically every implement used on the farm and in the house. The women wove, knitted and sewed and did every household chore. They were self-reliant, self-sufficient people.

Travel by land was laborious and inconvenient. The best highways were the river and its affluent streams. Sailboats, row-boats and canoes were their means of transport.

In 1655 seven Dutch ships from New York with 600 to 700 men captured the Swedes and their settlement. The settlers stayed but under Dutch rule until the English took the colony in 1664. Still some of the Swedes and Finns stayed.