Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Delaware – flag from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Delaware was first to join the Union in 1787, a date recalled by its flag. The colours are based on uniforms worn in the War of Independence.

(Image ©


Delaware (state)

Summary Article: Delaware
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

State in northeastern USA bordered to the north by Pennsylvania, to the west and south by Maryland, with which it shares the upper part of the Delmarva Peninsula, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean; area 5,061 sq km/1,954 sq mi; population (2010) 897,934; capital Dover. The name Delaware originates from Thomas West de la Warr, the governor of Virginia from 1609. Physically, the land is divided into two regions, one hilly and wooded, the other undulating farmland. The most important sources of revenue are the finance, insurance, and property industries, and important products include dairy produce, poultry, market-garden produce, fish, and chemicals. The largest city is Wilmington, with the Wilmington–Newark area, extending into Maryland, forming the state's third major metropolitan area. The state was one of the original Thirteen Colonies and on 7 December 1787 it became the first of the original 13 states to ratify the US Constitution.

Physical Delaware divides into two main land regions, the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Piedmont. The Piedmont is hilly and wooded and the Coastal Plain is farmland with a small area of swamp at the state's southern boundary. The Atlantic coast comprises a long sand reef divided by an inlet leading into Rehoboth and Indian River bays.

The largest river is the Delaware River, which links the Atlantic Ocean with the northern part of Delaware, as well as with parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Other rivers include the Christina River forming the port of Wilmington, and its main tributary, Brandywine Creek.

Delaware's humid, mild climate allows a range of different kinds of trees to grow, including beech, hickory, holly, oak, and sweet gum trees as well as magnolia, sassafras, wild cherry, and willow. Blueberries and cranberries are common thicket cover. There are many different kinds of wild flowers, including water lilies, on the many lakes and ponds. Wildlife includes mink, otter, red and grey foxes, and muskrats; common birds are blue herons, cardinals, ducks, hawks, sandpipers, and wrens. There are 16 state parks.

Features Delaware has many historic sites. New Castle, the restored colonial capital, was the site of English Quaker William Penn's first landing in North America, and has the New Castle Courthouse, the Old Dutch House, built in the 1600s, and the George Read II House (1797). The New Castle Historical Society, based in the Amstel House, exhibits colonial arts and handicrafts. Lewes is the state's oldest settlement and is home to the Zwaanendael Museum, based on a Dutch town hall design and featuring exhibits of historical documents, American Indian and seafaring relics and souvenirs.

Wilmington, the first permanent settlement in the Delaware Valley, has Hendrickson House Museum (1690). Colonial buildings laid out in 1722 can be seen in Dover. Fort Delaware, used as a prison during the American Civil War, can be reached by boat from Delaware City.

Delaware's manufacturing past is represented by the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard, with a working replica of the 17th-century tall ship Kalmar Nyckel, the Hagley Museum and Eleutherian Mills, a museum charting the development of US manufacturing and the history of the Du Pont Company, with preserved early du Pont mills. The Delaware State Museum in Dover illustrates the state's history and the State Archives exhibit historical documents, including the original royal charter for the state.

The Delaware Agricultural Museum is in Dover, and the Rockwood Museum and Delaware Museum of Natural History, are in Wilmington. The Nutter D Marvel Carriage Museum in Georgetown preserves horse-drawn carriages and historic buildings, including railroad freight buildings. Delaware has many historic houses of worship including Barratt's Chapel, near Frederica, often called ‘the Cradle of Methodism’ in the USA, Immanuel Church in New Castle (Episcopal, 1703), Christ Church in Dover (Episcopal, 1734), Christ Episcopal Church on Chipman Pond near Laurel (1771), Old Drawyer's Presbyterian Church near Odessa (1770s), Old Swedes Church in Wilmington (originally a Swedish Lutheran church, built in 1698), and Welsh Tract Baptist Church near Newark (1746).

A Civil War era plantation can be seen at Governor Ross Mansion and Plantation in Seaford, featuring Delaware's only documented log slave quarters. The John Dickinson Plantation in Dover dates from 1806. The Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and has exhibits of local pottery, arrowheads, spear points, and clothing.

Culture Delaware industrialist Henry Francis du Pont's collection forms the basis of the Winterthur Museum and Gardens, with US furniture and decorative arts from 1640 to 1840. The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington has English paintings of the 1800s. The Corbit-Sharp House and the Wilson-Warner House, both in Odessa, exhibit US antiques. The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover has a collection of over 200 years of US art, including examples of Delaware Valley silver and furniture. Delaware has a 50-year-old opera company specializing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas; a ballet theatre and symphony orchestra in Dover; and ballet, opera, and theatre companies in Wilmington, as well as a riverside arts complex and a Center for the Contemporary Arts. In addition Delaware has many festivals and annual events, including an Irish Festival at Hagley Museum every April, Delaware State Fair in Harrington in July–August, and the autumn Brandywine Arts Festival in Wilmington.

Sporting events include the Winterthur Point to Point Horse Race in May and the NASCAR stock car race weekends in Dover in May–June and September. Delaware's picturesque historic towns, wealth of museums and beaches, and proximity to New York and New Jersey make it a popular tourist destination. Country club activities, golf, and skating are popular recreational activities.

GovernmentDelaware's state constitution The state constitution dates from 1897. Earlier constitutions existed in 1776, 1792, and 1831. Delaware is the only state in which the legislature can amend the state constitution without voters' approval. Delaware was a leader in the movement for revision of the form of government under the Articles of Confederation, and in 1787 became the first state to ratify the new constitution of the USA.

Structure of state government The state legislature is made up of a Senate of 21 members and a House of Representatives with 41 members. Delaware is represented in the US Congress by two senators and one representative and has three electoral votes in presidential elections.

Under the provisions of the 1897 constitution, the governor is elected to a four-year term and may serve a maximum of two terms. Democrat Jack Markell took the governorship in January 2009. A lieutenant governor is also elected at the same time and for the same term. The governor appoints a secretary of state to the Senate.

The Supreme Court is the highest court with a chief justice selected by the governor, and four associate justices. They serve renewable 12-year terms. The superior court is located in Delaware's three counties of Kent, New Castle, and Sussex. The counties each elect their own legislative body. A limited form of home rule exists for municipalities of 1,000 or more people, although most Delaware cities and towns are run either by a mayor-council or a council-manager form of government.

Economy Many large companies are based in Delaware, and many more are incorporated there, taking advantage of the state's lenient incorporation specifications. The state's chemicals manufacturing industry remains important and Wilmington is sometimes called the ‘chemical capital of the world’; there are several chemical plants located in the state. Food processing plants, canneries, and soft drink manufacture are also significant. Delaware is a leading producer of broilers (chickens reared for meat), and dairy produce, poultry, and market-garden produce are other important agricultural products, with apples ranking as the state's leading fruit crop. Fishing includes valuable catches of clams, sea bass, sea trout, and shad as well as of eels and carp. Ships travelling between Baltimore, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, use the Delaware Canal; Wilmington is Delaware's chief port for foreign shipping. Other state industries include the car industry, paper and printing, and magnesium mining.

HistoryEarly colonial days Delaware's first inhabitants were two branches of Algonquian Indians; the Lenape tribe, now known as the Delaware American Indians, and the Nanticoke. English explorer Henry Hudson sailed into Delaware Bay in 1609, looking for a trade route to the Far East for the Dutch East India Company. A captain from the Virginia colony, Samuel Argall, took shelter from a storm in the bay in 1610 and named it after Thomas West de la Warr, the governor of Virginia. Dutch attempts at settlement were resisted by local American Indians but the Swedes managed to establish a colony they called New Sweden, between 1638–55, on the Delaware River. It included parts of what are now Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Seeking to reclaim the territory for the Dutch, the governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, established a fort in what is now New Castle, in 1651. It was captured by the Swedes in 1654 but the Dutch retaliated the following year by overpowering the Swedes throughout the region and claiming the Delaware region as part of New Netherland. In 1664 the British claimed the whole of New Netherland, however, and Delaware was governed as part of its New York colony.

The American Revolution and statehood A royal charter in 1681 awarded Pennsylvania to William Penn and in 1682 Delaware was added to it, in order to provide the territory with Atlantic Ocean access. Delaware was at this time known as the Three Lower Counties. Although the legislative delegates from the Three Lower Counties achieved a measure of independence from colonial rule, they were effectively governed by Pennsylvania until the American Revolution. The Three Lower Counties became Delaware state in 1776, after voting for independence at the Second Continental Congress. Delaware fought in the American Revolution as a state and was one of the original 13 states, as well as the first state to ratify the US Constitution in 1787. During the American Revolution Wilmington was occupied by British troops and for strategic reasons Delaware moved its capital from New Castle to Dover.

Industrialization and the Civil War Delaware's rivers and ample water supply made it an area highly suited to the development of mills and flour manufacturing, and Wilmington became the new nation's leading flour-milling area. In 1802 a French immigrant entrepreneur, E I du Pont, established the Du Pont gunpowder mill nearby, founding Delaware's world-famous chemical industry. Completion of the Philadelphia–Baltimore railroad line in 1838, which passed through Wilmington, fostered development. Although a slave state, Delaware was torn between loyalty to the north and to the south. It fought on the Union side but did not ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution until 1901. Delaware Democrats subsequently became divided, and the Republican Party emerged in 1905 to assume a leading political role. Railroads continued to aid the steady industrialization of the state and Wilmington grew rapidly as an industrial city with shipyards, iron foundries, and the manufacturing of cloth, paper, and flour products.

The 20th-century The du Pont family, which supported the Republicans, became a powerful political force in the state, sponsoring education and helping to set up state income tax during the 1920s. The state's economy was boosted by increased levels of manufacturing during World War I and two auto-assembly plants and an oil refinery were built after World War II. The enactment of liberal corporation and banking laws in the 20th century also made the state attractive as the location for corporate and financial headquarters, bringing major corporations to the area in the 1960s. The Delaware Memorial Bridge across the Delaware River opened in 1951, connecting Delaware with New Jersey, a further boost to the state's economy and development. The desegregation of schools during the 1960s passed without major incident. There was rioting in Wilmington after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, in 1968 and in 1969 Delaware legislature approved a bill ending discrimination in the rental or sale of housing in Delaware. In 1971 a Coastal Zone Act banned the construction of industrial plants along the Delaware coastline in an effort to prevent pollution and to promote conservation. The 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s saw the growth of the finance sector in Delaware, as well as a rise in tourism. Beaches such as Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany are popular holiday destinations for residents of the Washington, DC, area.

Politically, the Democrats have dominated state politics in recent decades.

Famous peoplesport Judy Johnson (1899–1989), baseball player

science Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941), astronomer; Henry Heimlich (1920– ), surgeon

economics E I du Pont (1771–1834), industrialist

politics and law Henry Hudson (c. 1565–1611), English explorer; Samuel Argall (c. 1580–c. 1626), English colonial captain who named the state; Peter Stuyvesant (c. 1592–1672), Dutch colonial leader; Caesar Rodney (1728–1784), patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence; George Read (1733–1798), jurist and signer of the Declaration of Independence; Joseph Biden (1942– ), vice president of the USA


Delaware – flag

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Delaware
Philip's Encyclopedia

State in E USA, on the Atlantic coast, occupying a peninsula between Chesapeake and Delaware bays; the capital is Dover , the largest city is ...

Full text Article Delaware
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

The second smallest state in the USA. It occupies part of the low-lying ground of the Atlantic coastal plain with higher ground in the NW,...

Full text Article Delaware
Rawson's Dictionary of American Quotations

Delaware is like a diamond, diminutive, but having within it inherent value. —John Lofland, 1847, quoted in Federal...

See more from Credo