America’s Little Known Swedish Colony
When people think of early colonies in North America, most commonly images of Thanksgiving, the Mayflower, and Jamestown come to mind. However, England was not alone in colonizing areas now known as the thirteen original colonies. 
The New Sweden Company
Jamestown, Colony of Virginia, was founded on 13 May 1607. As the colonists endured that first hard winter and eventually began to prosper in their new home, economic opportunities quickly presented themselves. John Rolfe brought tobacco seeds to Jamestown in the 1610s; tobacco quickly became the foundation for Colonial Virginia’s economy and a staple crop of the English Atlantic Trade.  Along with tobacco, other goods such as furs, sugar, and timber became staples of England’s triangular trade system. 
Other powerful European countries were not ignorant of England’s success in the Americas and sought to also establish colonies and systems of trade of their own. Stockholders from Germany, Holland, and Sweden – interested in the tobacco and fur trade – banded together in 1637 to form the New Sweden Company.
The New Sweden Company sponsored a voyage of two ships, the Kalmar Nyckel and the Fogel Grip, to travel to the New World. The new settlers arrived in what is now known as Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware in March 1638. The colonists entered Delaware Bay, which divides modern-day Delaware and New Jersey, and briefly traveled up the Christina River before building what they called Fort Christina.
New Sweden was smaller than its neighbors – the English and Dutch – as the colony only saw 600 individuals who had mainly traveled from Sweden and Finland in its short seventeen years of existence. A handful of colonists from Estonia, Germany, and Denmark also settled in the region. Only fourteen voyages were made between Sweden and New Sweden between 1638 and 1655, but only twelve reached their intended destination as two were lost at sea. 
Nearby New Netherland – owned by the Dutch – was not pleased with New Sweden’s location as they viewed the previously uncolonized Delaware River Valley as their territory. Despite messengers arriving in New Sweden with threats from the leaders of New Netherland, the Swedes largely ignored them. New Netherland also boasted a small population and did not have enough manpower in 1638 to force the Swedes to leave; however, this territorial dispute would smolder for seventeen years before the Dutch made good on their threats. 
Life in New Sweden
New Sweden colonists were constantly plagued by a lack of manpower as the colony’s population never exceeded more than two hundred individuals at any given time. Early morale was also a problem as the colonists’ first Governor, Peter Minuit, was lost at sea during a hurricane in August 1638. Settlers enjoyed peaceful trade relations with the Lenni Lenape, and also traded goods with New Netherland and the English colonies. Settlers from Finland were skilled woodworkers, and colonists resided in simple one- or two-room cabins.
Between 1643 and 1653, New Sweden was governed by a man named Johan Björnsson Printz. During Printz’s tenure, two more forts were built in the colony: Fort Nya Elfsborg near what is now Salem, New Jersey, and Fort Nya Gothenborg near what is now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of Printz’s decisions during this period helped the colony prosper as New Sweden held a monopoly on Native American trade along the Delaware Bay and the Delaware River until it reached modern-day Trenton, New Jersey. However, Printz’s smart economic decisions did not make up for what many colonists saw as autocratic leadership.
A group of disgruntled colonists wanted to take their grievances with Printz to the Swedish Government, and Printz had the leader of this group – Anders Jönsson – executed on 1 August 1653. Less than a year after Jönsson’s execution, Printz returned to Sweden and was replaced by Governor John Rising in 1654. 
After Governor Rising settled into life in New Sweden, he immediately ordered the capture of New Netherland’s Fort Casimir. Fort Casimer was to the south of Fort Christina and was built by the Dutch in 1651. The Swedes were successful, but the taking of Fort Casimer proved to be a fatal mistake. 
In 1655, Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Netherland led a fleet of seven ships and seven hundred men down the Delaware River to New Sweden and captured Fort Christina. All territory previously belonging to the Swedes was absorbed into New Netherland and named New Amstel. Most New Sweden colonists stayed and were allowed to continue on with their everyday lives and keep their land, although it was now under Dutch rule.
The leaders of New Sweden – such as Governor Rising – were not willing to submit to new leadership and were unceremoniously provided a one-way ticket back to Europe courtesy of the Dutch. 
New Sweden Resources
Although New Sweden was a much smaller colony than those owned by the Dutch and English, thousands of Americans can trace their ancestries back to these early colonists. If you think one of your ancestors may have been a colonist of New Sweden, there are several resources, both online and off, that can help you in your search.
The Swedish Colonial Society has a list of individuals who are proven residents of New Sweden. If you have an interest in the history of New Sweden, you can become a member of the society without having to prove a relationship with a “forefather” individual. If you would like to become what the Society calls a “Forefather Member” you must prove a relationship with a colonist of New Sweden.
The FamilySearch Research Wiki has an article called New Sweden Genealogy which contains a brief history of the colony as well as links to several other resources, maps, and information about some of New Sweden’s settlements, forts, as well as rivers and creeks that ran through the area.
- Books by Peter Stebbins Craig
During his lifetime, Peter Stebbins Craig was arguably one of the leading experts on early Swedish genealogy and wrote several books. His best works on the subject of New Sweden colonists are 1671 Census of the Delaware and The 1693 Census of the Swedes on the Delaware. These books discuss more than a hundred families who lived in the area formerly known as New Sweden and can be of great help to assisting individuals in finding their “forefather ancestor.” This author found Craig’s books – viewed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah – helpful on a recent New Sweden project for a client.
If you have Swedish ancestry and would like help tracing their lineage, our experts can help! Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss which of our project options works best for you.
Sources “A Brief History of New Sweden in America,” The Swedish Colonial Society, https://colonialswedes.net/History/History.html, accessed September 2022. “Tobacco in Colonial Virginia,” Encyclopedia Virginia, https://encyclopediavirginia.org, accessed September 2022; and, “Tobacco Seed,” Jamestown Rediscovery, https://historicjamestowne.org, accessed September 2022. “Transatlantic trade,” Khan Academy, https://khanacademy.org, accessed September 2022. “Kalmar Nyckel by Jacob Hägg cropped,” Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kalmar_Nyckel_by_Jacob_H%C3%A4gg_cropped.jpg, accessed September 2022. “Nieuw Nederland and Nya Sverige,” Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nieuw_Nederland_and_Nya_Sverige.svg, accessed September 2022. “New Sweden,” Wikipedia, https://wikipedia.org, accessed September 2022. “America’s Forgotten Swedish Colony,” History, https://www.history.com/news/americas-forgotten-swedish-colony, accessed September 2022. “Archives: The story of Delaware’s founding,” Delaware Online, https://delawareonline.com, accessed September 2022. “John Björnsson Printz,” Wikipedia, https://wikipedia.org, accessed September 2022.“Johan Risingh,” Wikipedia, https://wikipedia.org, accessed September 2022. “Peter Stuyvesant,” Wikipedia, https://wikipedia.org, accessed September 2022; and, “Johan Risingh,” Wikipedia, https://wikipedia.org, accessed September 2022.