Saturday, March 26, 2011

Delaware Bay - Part VIII

In the middle of the 17th century, an area of the bay was claimed by the Dutch as part of the New Netherland colony.  It was also settled by the Swedish, as part of the New Sweden colony, resulting in considerable conflicts with the Dutch, who eventually took control of the area.  Things got even more confusing, history-wise, when the British came in and took control of the area.  Eventually, after a couple of wars (e.g. the Third Anglo-Dutch War) and a couple of treaties (e.g. The Peace of Breda) some degree of peace was established in the area.  States such as Delaware, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania« were carved out of this humungous territory.  Realizing the strategic importance of the area, it was quickly settled by people from both sides of the Atlantic.  This influx of new citizens eventually lead to the growth of the city of Philadelphia upriver on the Delaware – a soon-to-be prosperous settlement that eventually became the largest city in North America during the 18th century.
The military importance of the bay was noticed by the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War.  As you may remember from high school history, Lafayette was a wealthy French citizen who came to America to support the Revolution.  He befriended George Washington and was with him at Valley Forge.  It was Lafayette who proposed (to whom, we don’t know) the use of Pea Patch Island located at the head of the bay for a defensive fortification to protect the important ports of Philadelphia and New Castle, Delaware. 
And, if indeed, legend is as much of history as fact then there is at least one persistent story about how this unique island claimed its name.  It seems that the captain of a ship that was plying the Delaware Bay didn’t realize how shallow the sandbar was in the middle.  As is often the case with sea captains who don’t pay attention to water depths - his ship ran aground and subsequently sank.  The ship’s freight was peas – nothing but peas.  Lots of peas!  Bushels of peas!  Tons of peas!  Incredibly, they sprouted and thrived - catching silt coming down the river.  The silt piled up and the peas kept growing until it was eventually two acres of prime Delaware Bay real estate.  Fort Delaware was later constructed on the aptly named Pea Patch Island« and during the American Civil War it was used as a Union prison camp.
Today Delaware Bay is a major estuary outlet of the Delaware River.  The bay is one of the most important navigational channels in the United States, and is one of the busiest waterways in the United States (not surprisingly, the Mississippi River is the busiest).  The bay, approximately 782 square miles (2,030 km²) in area, is bordered by the states of New Jersey and Delaware.  The shores of the Bay are largely composed of salt marshes and mud flats, with a sprinkling of small communities dotting the shore of the lower bay.  Besides the Delaware River, it is fed by numerous small streams and its lower course forms part of the Intracoastal Waterway.  For centuries, the bay has served as an important breeding ground for many aquatic species, including oysters, shad, herring and, those ubiquitous horseshoe crabs.

« Pennsylvania was named, not for William Penn, but rather for his father – Sir William Penn.  It seems as though Charles II owed a large debt (£16,000) to Penn Senior.  The king offered one of history’s largest land grants as repayment.  It was named Pennsylvania (“Penn’s Woods”) in honor of Sir Penn.  William Penn (the son) wanted the tract to be named “Sylvania” so that people wouldn’t think he named it for himself.  However, King Charles prevailed and, ever since, it has been called Pennsylvania.
« Despite what you may have heard, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that this island was the inspiration for John Lennon’s song, “Give Peas a Chance.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Delaware Bay - Part VII

Yet, it wasn’t until 1613-1614 that the bay was officially explored.  This time it was Captain Cornelius Hendricksen, aboard the boat called Onrust (“Restless’).  Hendricksen is regarded by several historians to be the first “civilized man” to set foot in what is now Delaware.  His record of this exploration (interestingly told in third person), however, was quite meager:
"He hath discovered for his aforesaid Masters and Directors certain lands, a bay and three rivers, situate between 38 and 40 degrees. And did there trade with the inhabitants; said trade consisting of Sables, Furs, Robes and other Skins. He hath found the said country full of trees, to-wit: oaks, hickory, and pines, which trees were in some places covered with vines. He hath seen in the said country bucks and does, turkeys and partridges. He hath found the climate of the said country very temperate, judging it to be as temperate as that of this country, Holland. He also traded for and bought from the inhabitants, the Minques, three persons, being people belonging to this Company, which three persons were employed in the service of the Mohawks and Machicans, giving for them kettles, beads, and merchandise"
As you’ll note from the last sentence in the entry above, Captain Hendricksen “relieved” the Minques Indians of three individuals (prisoners).  It seems that these three men had fled a Dutch fort near Albany, New York.  After lots of wandering around the wilderness the three individuals found themselves near the Delaware Bay and in the hands of the Minques.  They were, as you might image, quite delighted to see some fellow Dutchmen willing to exchange a couple of kettles and beads for their freedom.
Sometime later, in December 1630, the ship De Walvis (The Whale) set sail from Texel, Holland under the command of Peter Heyes.  Aboard were immigrants, food, cattle and whaling implements (Heyes’ sponsor, David Pietersen De Vries, was told that whales abounded in the bay – a whale of a story, to be sure!).  At the time the Dutch were interested in making money in the New World and the partners planned to open a whale and seal fishery as well as a settlement and plantation for the cultivation of tobacco and grains.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Delaware Bay - Part VI

It’s about this time that the historical records on Delaware Bay get just a little murky (or, as any good historian will tell you, “We can’t remember for sure, but since we’re historians you’ll just have to take our word for it.”).  According to one apparently reliable source it seems as though the English allowed the Dutch to name both the Delaware River and the Delaware bay in honor of Lord de la Warr who was believed to have discovered both on his voyage to Virginia in 1610.  It has since been proven that the good Lord never saw the bay, or even traveled that far north, but the name stuck and over time de la Warr became Delaware.«
There is also another story about a Dutch sea captain named Samuel Argall who was blown off course during a violent storm.  Seeking calm seas, he sailed into a strange bay.  Thrilled that he and his crew were able to find safe harbor he also named this bay (the Delaware Bay) in honor of his governor, Lord de la Warr (hmmmm - great minds thinking alike!).
This Lord de la Warr (if you’re wondering) was the first governor of Virginia, a title he earned for life even though he ultimately returned home to Europe.  His real name was Sir Thomas West.  In 1610 he led the contingent which reinforced the Jamestown settlement.  He became Lord de la Warr only as a courtesy to his father Lord de la Warr (yes, I’m confused too).  Apparently, Thomas had two older brothers, and as the third son of Lord de la Warr, he was ineligible for the title.  But, since he was in the New World and his brothers were back in Europe I guess he could do pretty much as he wanted – name wise, that is.
          And so he did!  And, that’s how we got “Delaware” (though I think Papa de la Warr deserves some naming credit here).

« Like many folks, I’m fascinated by the origin of names.  Take states, for example:  Wyoming was named after a tribal village in Pennsylvania wiped out in 1778 by a combined force of British soldiers, Tory sympathizers and Iroquois Indians.  Oregon was first named by Major Robert Rogers (Rogers commanded the famous “Roger’s Rangers” during the French and Indian War) in a petition to King George III.  Oklahoma was invented by native American missionary Allen Wright from two Choctaw words, “ukla” meaning people and “huma” meaning red.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Delaware Bay - Part V

Although we don’t have absolute records, there seems to be some agreement that the earliest explorations of the Delaware coastline were made around 1526 by Spanish and Portuguese sailors.  While that isn’t an absolute certainty we do know that the first recorded discovery of what was to be known as Delaware Bay was by one Henry Hudson  – the famous (or infamous, depending on which historian you’re talking to) English explorer who devoted his life to a search for the fabled Northwest Passage.«
In 1608 Mr. Hudson desired to command a third expedition to the New World.  Unfortunately, there was this little financial impediment - he was unable to find backers.  This was probably due in large measure to his failures in finding the fabled Northeast passage on his previous two voyages (it seems that bankers then, as now, like to get a little return on their investments).  So he left England and approached the Dutch (who apparently had a little extra money…and a lot more faith in Mr. Hudson) and was eventually contracted to make an expedition to, once again, locate that ever elusive Northwest Passage.  On January 8, 1609 he signed a contract with the Dutch United East India Company and in April of that year Hudson and his crew of twenty men set out on his ship, the Half-Moon, sailing under the Dutch flag.  Unfortunately, freezing weather and ice lead the crew to near mutiny (the same thing happened on Hudson’s previous two voyages – not a good omen).  Hudson wisely decided to change direction (and the minds of the crew) and head into warmer waters and toward the New World.  In July of 1609 he passed Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Later that month they landed in Maine and eventually sailed into George’s Harbor where they made contact with some native Indians (referred to in the ship’s log as “savages.”).
Finally, on August 28, 1609 Hudson and his crew entered what was to be known as Delaware Bay.  For reasons that aren’t quite clear, he did not come ashore, but reported that the area seemed to be a good location for settlement.  He decided to name this body of water the South Bay – although it was north of the considerably larger Chesapeake Bay.  Eventually, Hudson decided that the bay was too shallow to explore fully and he sailed on.
Hudson’s subsequent discoveries along what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States would eventually give the Dutch the right to claim a major chunk of the New World – hence to be called New Netherlands.  It’s important to note that at the time, Holland was the major maritime power and the world’s greatest trading country.  Dutch explorers (and those in their employ) were sent to the New World, not to build a political empire, but to find a faster route to the riches of India.  It was hoped, briefly, that the Delaware Bay and eventually the Delaware River would be a shortcut to India.
It wasn’t!

« In 1607 Hudson led the first of four missions that he hoped would take him from Europe over the top of the world and past the pole toward East Asia.  It was the first voyage that would eventually make him one of the most intrepid explorers of his age – even as he failed, four times, in his quest to find a northern route to the coveted riches of the East

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Delaware Bay - Part IV

For geologists the past is pretty cut and dried.  The earth is able to preserve and record its ancient times as sedimentary deposits, glacial etchings, and volcanic upheavals.  It’s not so easy for historians.  That’s simply because human beings have a tendency to ignore some things, fudge a few historical events, or more significantly, forget to write things down when they happened (imagine, if you will, a time before Twitter).  Thus, some of the people-based history of Delaware Bay is perhaps more speculation and story than it might be fact.  It’s those forgetful humans, don’t you know?
I guess I’ve always been fascinated with the word “discovered.”  As in, “A new leech species with ferociously large teeth was recently discovered [2010] in Peru.” Or “Researchers in Germany have discovered [2010] a new drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” Obviously, each of those discoveries can be verified with scientific records or validated through scientific protocol.
However, in historical circles the word “discovered” is sometimes subject to  gross simplification or equally gross manipulation.  A few years back, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made the classic statement that “History is written by the victors.”  This is particularly true when we’re talking about very large historical items - say a large piece of geography (e.g. a state, a country, or a continent).  For example, who was the first one to have discovered a new territory?  According to Mr. Churchill it depends on who’s writing the history (or who’s publishing the textbooks).  If the conquerors are writing about those events, then that chunk of prime real estate will have their imprimatur.  Those who may have inhabited the land for the previous several centuries, hunted game across vast stretches of the territory over a few millennia, or farmed large areas to sustain a village during several generations may not have any historical claim to the land even though they were there first.  The victors may be after the fact – way after the fact – but, they write the history.  And if you want your place in history, you always want first dibs!
And, so, who discovered Delaware Bay?  Well, I guess it all depends on who you’re asking.  European explorers have a written record (which is the inalienable purview of all conquerors); the Native Americans who inhabited this part of the world for eons before all those tall-masted ships from afar plied (and often plundered) the coastline can certainly lay claim to the land.  Unfortunately, they have no documents – and perhaps few ancestors - to support their “territorial rights” (and, we all know how important a “paperwork trail” is in proving ownership).  Did vagabond Europeans “discover” Delaware Bay or did nomadic bands of Native Americans traversing this geographical region for eons beforehand “discover” it?  Dunno!…perhaps we’d better ask Mr. Churchill.