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References to the Finns in Delaware in Seventeenth Century Records

Corinne L. Olli

All well-informed American-Finns know or should know by now that a group of seventeenth-century Finns, then subjects of the Swedish State and on an equal footing politically with native Swedes, were co-founders with them of the New Sweden Colony. This colony was established in 1638 in the Delaware Valley, which is a part of the present states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. According to the Allen Report (House of Representatives - Report No. 1391), which bases its statements on Dr. Amandus Johnson's book "The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, Their History and Relations to the Indians, Dutch and English," there is "proof positive and final that the Finnish element in New Sweden was important; it represented one-third and probably more of the total population of the colony."

In spite of the reassuringly authoritative ring of that statement, there may still be a few "doubting Thomases" among us who think that it is probably greatly exaggerated; there are also those, however, who accept the statement and who would welcome information about the part played by our forebears in the establishment of the New Sweden Colony. To both groups, then, what follows in this article will, it is hoped, be of interest.

As I was browsing in the history section of the library of my school, my attention was attracted by a book entitled "Original Narratives of Early American History - Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey, and Delaware. 1630 – 1707," edited by A. Cook Myers. Remembering that the New Sweden Colony had been established in 1638, the dates 1630 - 1707 caught my eye, so I took the book off the shelf. The title page revealed further that the volume, published by Scribners in 1912, was reproduced under the Auspices of the American Historical Association; that the General Editor was J. Franklin Jamison, Ph.D, L.L.D., Director of the Department of Historical Research in the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D. C.

I knew, then, that what I had in my hands was an absolutely reliable, authoritative book, edited by distinguished scholars. The book is a collection of narratives in the form of reports, letters; and historical sketches written in Swedish. German, Dutch and English by various individuals who actually "lived and moved and had their being" in the Delaware Valley between 1630 and 1707 when a group of Finnish colonists, too, lived there. To quote the book itself: "The scene of action of the narrative assembled in this volume is Delaware Bay and River, that broad waterway which lies central to what is not only the domain of three great commonwealths, but in a deeply significant historical sense the keystone region of the American Nation" (page 3). The Swedish. Dutch and German narratives have, of course, been translated; the English narratives appear in their original spelling and phrasing. Imagine my delight at finding in these 17th century accounts several references to the Finnish colonists!

The first excerpt quoted here is from a report made by Governor Johan Rising, who became the governor of the New Sweden t colony in 1654, replacing Governor Johan Printz, who ruled the Colony from 1643-1653.. The report was written from Fort Christina, New Sweden, July 13th; 1654. In it, Governor Rising refers to one of the settlements in the Colony as Finland, the site of which was between the present Marcus Hook in Pennsylvania and the mouth of Naamans Creek in northern Delaware.

Report of Governor Rising, 1654, p. 149.
"Concerning our people I can say that they are, (God be praised), mostly well; and altogether three hundred and seventy souls, and the Swedes were only seventy when we arrived here. The old people largely remain (a number of old men go home again); and one of them is better than any of the new-comers, who are weak and a good part of them… Finns. The best men went away from here with the Governor, of whom a great number would gladly have remained here who at this time could have done much good, which now must stand undone until a more proper time."

The second excerpt is from a letter written by no less a person than William Penn in 1682. It is dated from Philadelphia, Penna., and was addressed to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders. This letter was written by William Penn after a tour of his dominions, (Pennsylvania) and he was "thus fully informed by personal observation of the events and conditions" which he records:

Letter from William Penn to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders, 1683, p. 237.

"The first Planters in these parts were the Dutch, and soon after them the Swedes and Finns. The Dutch applied themselves to traffic, the Swedes and Finns to Husbandry (farming). There were some disputes between them some years, the Dutch looking upon the as intruders upon their purchases and possession, which was finally ended in the surrender made by John Rizeing, the Swedish Governor, to Peter Stuyvesant, Governor for the States of Holland, Anno 1655."

The third excerpt is also from a report written by William Penn in 1685 entitled "A Further Account of the Province of Pennsylvania." His pride in his own countrymen, the English, is understandable:

A Further Account of the Province of Pennsylvania, by William Penn, 1685. P. 260.

"The people are a collection of divers nations in Europe: as, French, Dutch, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Scotch, Irish, and English; and of the last equal to all the rest: And, ,which is admirable, not a reflection on that account: but as they are of one kind, and in one place and under one Allegiance, so they live like people of one country, which civil union has had a considerable influence towards the prosperity of that place."

Thomas Paschall, an Englishman from Bristol, England, furnishes us with a very interesting excerpt! He came to America in 1682 and settled near Philadelphia. In fact, there is a town in Pennsylvania even now called Paschallville. The river referred to in his letter, written to a friend in England, is the Schuylkill River in Penna. The details in the letter about the "daily bread" of the Colonists are most illuminating. Modern housewives will marvel at "beef, pork and mutton at two pence per pound and some cheaper" in these days of high meat prices! Note also how Thomas Paschall praises the Swedes and Finns for their ingenuity in knowing how to speak even the Indian language! The excerpt follows:

Letter of Thomas. Paschall, 1683. Pp. 251-54.

The River is taken up all along by the Swedes, and Finns, and some Dutch, before the English came, near eight score miles, and the Englishmen some of them, buy their plantations, and get room by the great river side, and the rest get into Creeks, and small rivers that run into it, and some go into the woods seven or eight miles: Thomas Colborne (from Berkshire, England, settled on Chester Creek) is three miles in the woods, he is well to pass, and has about fourteen acres of corn now growing, and has gotten between 30 and 40 Li. by his trade, in this short time. I have hired a house for my family for the winter, and I have gotten a little house in my land for my servants; and have cleared land about six acress; and this I can say. I never wished myself at Bristol again since my departure…

…"Now I shall give you an impartial account of the country as I find it, as followed. When we came into Delaware bay we saw an infinite number of small fish in sholes, also large fish leaping in the water; the river is a brave pleasant river as can be desired, affording divers sorts of fish in great plenty, it is planted all along the shore, and in some creeks, especially in Pennsylvania side, by Swedes, Finns, and Dutch, and now at last, English throng in among them, and have filed all the rivers and creeks a great way in the woods, and have settled about 160 miles up the great river; some English that are above the falls, have sowed this year 30 or 40 bushels of wheat, and have great stocks of cattel; most of the Swedes and Finns are ingeneous People, they speak English, Swede, Finn, Dutch and the Indian; They plant but little Indian corn, nor tobacco; their women make most of the linnen cloth they wear, they spin and weave it and make fine linnen, and are many of them curious housewives; The people generally eat rye bread, being approved of best by them, not that here is not good wheat, for I have eaten as good bread and drank as good drink as ever I did in England, as also very good butter and cheese, as most in England. Here are three sorts of wheat, as winter, summer, and buck-wheat; the winter wheat they sow at the fall, the summer wheat in March, these two sorts are ripe in June; then having taken in this, they plow the same land, and sow buck wheat, which is ripe in September. I have not given above 2x6d per skipple (which is 3 English pecks) for the best wheat and that in goods which cost little more than half so much in England, here is very good rye at 2s per skipple, also barley of 2 sorts, as winter, and summer, at 4 Guilders per skipple; also oats, and 3 sorts of Indian corn, (two of which sorts they can malt and make good beer of as of barley), at four Guilders per skipple, a Guilder is four pence halfpenny. I have bought good beer, pork; and mutton at two pence per pound and some cheaper. …Here is a great store of pountry… I have bought good venison of the Indians very cheap, …I have bought four deer for two yards of trading cloth… We had bearsflesh this fall for little or nothing, it is good food, tasting much like beef… here is plenty of rum, sugar, ginger, and molasses. I was lately at Bridlington fair (marginal note in manuscript "New-Jersey"), where were a great resort of people, with cattle and all sorts of goods, sold at very reasonable rates.

…Here are gardens with all sorts of herbs, and some more than in England, also goose-berries and rosetrees, but what other flowers I know not yet. Here are peaches in abundance of three sorts I have seen rot on the ground, and the hogs eat them, they make good spirits from them, also from corn and cherries, and a sort of wild plums and grapes, and most people have stills of copper for that use… The woods are full of oaks, many very high, many of them about two foot through, and some bigger… A Swede will fell twelve of the bigger in one day.

…William Penn is settling people in towns. There are markets kept in two towns, viz. Philadelphia, being chiefest, Chester, formerly called Upland.

Gabriel Thomas, a Welshman, who spent fifteen years in William Penn’s Colony in Pennsylvania, also made some observations about the part played by the Finns and Swedes in the development of the Delaware Valley. The following excerpts are taken from his book "An Historical and Geographical Account of Pennsylvania and of West New Jersey" written in 1698. Judging by some of his comments, the settlement was a veritable paradise where there were no old maids, no jealous husbands, and where the children were "beautiful to behold"! The excepts follow:

An Historical and Geographical Account of Pennsylvania and of West New Jersey, by Gabriel Thomas, 1698, p 3I6.

"The next thing that came there (Pennsylvania) were the Dutch, between fifty and sixty years ago, and were the first planters in those parts; but they made little or no improvement, (applying themselves wholly to traffic in skins and furs, which the Indians or native furnished them with, and which they bartered for rum, strong liquors, and sugar, with others, thereby gaining great profit) till near the time of the wars between England and them about thirty or forty years ago. Soon. after them came the Swedes and Finns, who applied themselves to husbandry, and were the first Christian people that made any considerable improvement there.

Same report p. 332.

"The Christian children born here are generally well-favored, and beautiful to behold; I never knew any come into the world with the least blemish on any part of its body, being in the general, observed to be better natured, milder, and more tender hearted than those born in England."

Page 333.

"Jealousy among men is here very rare, and barrenness among women hardly to be heard of, nor are old maids to be met with; for all commonly marry before they are twenty years of age, and seldom any young married woman but hath a child upon her lap."

"What I have delivered concerning this province, is indisputably true, I was an eye-witness to it all, for I went in the first ship that was bound from England for that country, since it received the name of Pennsylvania, which was in the year 1681. I have declined giving any account of several things which I have only heard others speak of, because I did not see them myself, for I never held that way infallible, to make reports from hearsay."

The last excerpt quoted here is in the form of a poem, which in its entirety, is, a description of "what things are known, enjoyed and like to be discovered in the Province of Pennsylvania." The introduction gives the following facts about the poem:

"In 1692, William Bradford, of Philadelphia, published a small quarto of eight pages entitled A Short Description of Pennsylvania. This little book is in verse and is believed to be the first metrical composition printed in Pennsylvania. An element of uncertainty hangs over the authorship of the verses. The title and last page of the book assign them to one Richard Frame."

The few lines quoted speak about the people who inhabited Pennsylvania. The verses that follow are obviously not great poetry, but they are picturesque!

"I also give you here to understand
What people first inhabited this Land:
Those that were here before the Swedes and Finns,
Were naked Indians, cloathed with their skins!
Which can give no account from whence they came;
They have no records for to show the same;
But I may think, and others may suppose
What they may be, yet I think few men knows,
Unless they are of Esau’s scattered Seed,
Or of some other wild corrupted Breed.
They take no care to plow, nor pet to sow,
Nor how to till their Land they do not know,
Therefore by that we may observe it plain,
That this can hardly be the Seed of Cain;
Some men did think they were the scattered Jews,
But yet I cannot well believe such News:
They neither do New Moons nor Sabbath keep,
Without much care they eat, they drink, they sleep:
Their care for worldly riches is but light,
By day they hunt, and down they lie at night.
Those infidels that dwelleth in the wood,
I shall conclude of them so far so good."

P. 302

The six excerpts quoted in this article from a book containing authentic original narratives of life among the colonists in the Delaware River Valley furnish incontrovertible proof that the Finns, even though they were Swedish citizens, were known not as Swedes but as Finns in the colony established in the Delaware valley in 1638. Therefore we may all wear our Delaware emblems with pride, knowing that the commemorative monument to be erected next spring will be built on sound historical fact!

Corinne L. Olli
New York City, December 23rd, 1937.

Reprinted from articles in New Yorkin Uutiset. A Finnish language newspaper, Brooklyn, N.Y. (1938).

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