“That Delaware Exists as a Separate Commonwealth is Due to This Colony”

by Dave on February 19, 2009

Many years after the 1631 settlement of the Dutch at Zwannendael, now Lewes, there was a fateful court decision that altered the fate of our area forever.

In 1701, following a series of raids on Lewes and Rehoboth by pirates and French privateers, assemblymen from the Lower Three Counties of Pennsylvania, as Delaware was then known, requested that William Penn allow them to form their own assembly, separate from the Pennsylvania Assembly. This request was due to the unwillingness of some in the Pennsylvania assembly, mainly Quakers, who didn’t want to provide cannons and other defenses to the Lower Three Counties due to their pacifist beliefs. Penn granted the request.

From this point on, the Assembly of the Lower Three Counties met at New Castle, a situation that would keep Delaware from being part of Pennsylvania.

However, there was one more family, the Calverts of Maryland, who believed the lower three counties belonged to them. The Calverts had a 1632 charter from England which granted them what is now Maryland and points eastward to the Delaware Bay which were not previously settled by Europeans. The Calverts eventually sued William Penn in a court in England for the rights to what is now Delaware.

The case took 70 years to adjudicate, and it came down to one minor detail. The Calverts had been granted in 1632 areas not previously settled by Europeans. The catch? The Zwannendael settlement in Lewes from one year earlier. The court ruled in Penn’s favor, quite possibly the single most important decision in Delaware becoming its own state.

Today, at the site of the Zwaanendael museum, a memorial stands that reads “That Delaware exists as a separate commonwealth is due to this colony.”

Truer words were never spoken.

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