Why We Have Delaware

By way of a little discourse on the supposed claim or pretence of my Lord Baltimore’s patent unto our aforesaid South River or Delaware … we utterly deny, disown, and reject any power and authority … that may or can legally come to reduce or subdue the said river and subjects.


Delaware is a little rectangle with a scoop on top that occupies what would otherwise be the eastern end of Maryland. Since Maryland wouldn’t be that big even if it included Delaware, why do we have Delaware?

We have Delaware for the same reason the world had Bohemia—the birthplace of Augustine Herman, who grew up to become the man responsible for the existence of Delaware as a separate colony. Bohemia’s core was the western half of today’s Czech Republic, though at times it included various adjacent regions. Its population was a mix of Germanic people (among whom many, in the wake of Martin Luther, had left the Catholic Church to become Protestants), Slavic people (who adhered to the teachings of the Orthodox Church), and a sizable number of Jews. For Bohemia, creating a sense of itself as an entity was further complicated by the fact that it was periodically ruled by far more powerful entities that were sometimes Catholic, sometimes Protestant.

Delaware too began as a mix of people—Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and British Marylanders—living in a region that was periodically claimed by far more powerful colonies, both Catholic and Protestant. The Dutch laid claim to Delaware in 1624. They considered it the southern end of the New Netherlands, Holland’s vast North American colony that extended up from the Delaware Bay, crossed the Hudson River, and continued northeastward to the Connecticut River. England too laid claim to Delaware in its 1607 charter for Virginia, which included all the land from the top of New Jersey to the bottom of North Carolina, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. England’s King Charles I, figuring Virginia could spare 12,000 or so square miles, created Maryland as a colony for Catholics in 1632. The boundaries stipulated in its royal charter included what is now Delaware.

Augustine Herman (ca. 1621-1686) (photo credit 2.1)

Even though Delaware was claimed by both Holland and England, no Europeans lived there, with the brief exception of a failed Dutch settlement in 1631. Not until 1638 did Europeans settle permanently in Delaware, and they were Swedes. In time the Swedes branched out, and Dutch settlements were established. As in Bohemia, the two primary groups were gradually joined by minority populations of other groups.

Dutch New Netherlands

For twenty years Delaware’s settlements prospered and grew, their conflicts confined to fighting local Indians and each other. But in 1659 all the settlements were threatened by the larger colony of Maryland. In August of that year, Maryland sent word to the Dutch along Delaware Bay that they must depart from the colony. The danger resulted in a response from Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the entire New Netherlands. Stuyvesant dispatched two emissaries from Manhattan: a native-born Dutchman named Resolved Waldron and a Bohemian-born immigrant, Augustine Herman. In selecting Herman, Stuyvesant made an astute choice. Herman’s efforts—commencing here but enduring for the remainder of his life, and then continued by his son—displayed insights and instincts that were likely connected to the similarities Delaware shared with Bohemia.

Herman had been born in Prague in 1621, a critical time in Bohemian history. One year earlier, German Catholics had regained ruling power in the region. In the wake of this event, 36,000 Bohemian Protestants emigrated, many of them to Holland. Herman’s family was among those emigrants.

Herman’s parents oversaw an education that endowed their son with skills that would be of value both regardless and because of borders. He became a businessman in the import-export trade and a highly skilled cartographer and surveyor. As an adult he relocated to Manhattan, where his skills led to his becoming a member of the Board of Nine, assisting Governor Stuyvesant in his decisions and actions.

Herman’s relations with Stuyvesant were bumpy. Herman had, at one time, written to Stuyvesant’s superiors in Holland complaining of the governor’s high-handedness, vengefulness, and morals: “The basket maker’s daughter, whom he seduced in Holland on a promise of marriage, coming and finding that he was already married, hath exposed his conduct even in public court.”2

While the two apparently patched things up sufficiently for Stuyvesant to appoint Herman as an emissary to Maryland, here too the younger man’s approach differed markedly (or more aptly perhaps, “Bohemianly”) from the governor’s instructions. Stuyvesant had told Herman and Waldron to assert that Lord Baltimore’s demands were “contrary to the 2nd, 3rd, and 16th articles of the confederation of peace made between the Republic of England and the Netherlands in 1654.” They were then to demand that Maryland, by virtue of that treaty, pay reparations and damages caused by its “frivolous demands and bloody threatenings.”

Herman’s report of his and Waldron’s meetings with Maryland governor Josiah Fendall and the colony’s proprietor, Phillip Calvert (the Maryland-based younger brother of Lord Baltimore), reveals that such demands and counterthreats were virtually absent from their discussions.3 The two emissaries did reference the 1654 treaty, but Herman’s efforts were far more focused on documents issued by England itself, which supported the view that England had long recognized the right of the Dutch to their settlements along the Delaware Bay. Most effectively, Herman cited the English charter that had created Maryland, which stated that it was to be a British colony “in a country hitherto uncultivated in the parts of America, and partly occupied by savages having no knowledge of the Divine Being.” Herman argued that the land had been hitherto cultivated by people with knowledge of the Divine Being—namely, the Dutch who had attempted a settlement in 1631. Admittedly, they had been entirely wiped out by Indians within a few months, but their settlement predated Maryland’s 1632 charter.

Fendall and Calvert did not buy this argument. Twenty-three years later, however, Charles II bought it, invoking it to refute a later effort by Maryland to claim Delaware. Herman thus pointed the way for future generations to defend Delaware’s independence from Maryland.

Though Calvert did not cotton to the claim, he did cotton to the man who made it. His good feelings toward Herman were sufficient to defuse the preparations Maryland had been making for an invasion of Delaware. In this respect, Herman and Waldron’s mission succeeded, which in itself was a considerable accomplishment.

In addition, Calvert’s good feelings gave the canny Herman an opportunity to further ingratiate himself with the government of Maryland. He offered his services as a cartographer to make a detailed map of the colony and the adjoining regions for Lord Baltimore in return for a grant of land in Maryland on which he and his family could live (and thereby put some distance between himself and his frequent nemesis, Peter Stuyvesant).

Herman’s offer was accepted, and the grant of land was made shortly thereafter. But not just any land. Lord Baltimore, himself quite canny, saw an opportunity presented by Herman’s offer to acquire more than just a map. He issued Herman a grant for land in which the eastern portion lay in the disputed area but the western portion was indisputably within Maryland. Lord Baltimore was thus undermining Herman’s loyalty to the Dutch. Herman, for his part, named the tract of land Little Bohemia—which is exactly what it was.

It took ten years for Herman to complete the map he had promised—but they were a particularly eventful ten years, not conducive to concentration. During that period he relocated his family to the land he had been granted. England and Holland went to war, resulting in the ouster of all Dutch authorities in the New Netherlands. Charles II deeded most of Holland’s former claims to his brother, the Duke of York—but, aiming to avoid conflict with his Maryland colony, the king did not include Delaware in the land deeded to his brother. Delaware was not, however, subsumed under the government of Maryland, since Catholic and Anglican tensions were so hair-trigger tense in England at that time. Consequently, the Duke of York became the de facto proprietor of Delaware, extending the “Duke of York’s Laws” to the region and overseeing the appointment of its British officials. With this ascendancy of British rule, Herman opted to become a citizen of Maryland.

The map Herman ultimately delivered in 1670 was a masterpiece of its era. So appreciative was Lord Baltimore that he granted additional land to Herman, who now possessed some 30,000 acres.

Meanwhile, rapid political change continued. In 1672 England and Holland went to war again. This time the Dutch initially ousted the British from Delaware and other settlements. But in 1674 control once again reverted to England. A year later, Lord Baltimore died and his title passed to his son Charles Calvert, who repressed the rights of the colony’s Protestants, among whom was Herman.

It was in this era that aging Augustine Herman passed the “Bohemian” baton to his eldest son, Ephraim. One year after Calvert became proprietor of Maryland and commenced repressing the rights of Protestants, Ephraim Herman became a court official in Delaware. Five years later, he was at the helm, navigating Delaware’s status in the wake of the region’s next major political shift—the 1681 British charter creating Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s charter caused immediate conflict with Maryland regarding the location of their mutual border. This conflict raised William Penn’s concerns regarding Pennsylvania’s access to the sea. His colony’s only waterway to the ocean was the Delaware River (Pennsylvania’s eastern boundary) down into the Delaware Bay (dividing Delaware and New Jersey), then out to the Atlantic. If Maryland should prevail in its continued claim that Delaware was within its borders, it could block Pennsylvania’s access to the sea.

Penn, whose Quaker beliefs prohibited warfare and the forms of aggression that led to war, did not seek to possess Delaware. The semicircular top that Delaware has today originated in Pennsylvania’s charter, when Penn urged that it include a southeastern border with a twelve-mile radius away from the Dutch town of New Castle, so as not to create conflict. He did, however, seek proprietorship over Delaware, to assure that Pennsylvania had free navigation to the sea. By seeking proprietorship, Penn left Maryland no choice but to contest the issue again. For Delaware’s mostly Protestant residents, the choice of incorporation into Maryland under the anti-Protestant Charles Calvert or proprietorship under the pacifist William Penn was a no-brainer.

England, not wanting colonial conflicts it could avoid, ruled in favor of Penn. In granting him proprietorship over Delaware, England implicitly recognized Delaware as an entity unto itself. The Board of Trades and Plantations, which arbitrated the case for the king, cited the reasoning first posited by Augustine Herman regarding Maryland’s charter excluding land previously cultivated by Europeans.

Following this act, Penn journeyed to Delaware, where he was officially greeted at New Castle by John Moll and Ephraim Herman, who presented Penn with the key to the town’s fort. Augustine Herman, now an elderly man quietly living out his final years on his vast manor, had succeeded in achieving what Bohemia did not.

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