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The Finns on the Delaware and the Meaning of the Tercentenary to Finnish Americans

John Saari

delivered May 15th, 1938 at Maynard, Mass.

History shows that the Finns were one of four nations that settled the Original Thirteen States of the Union, the other three being the English, the Dutch, and the Swedes. The Government and people of the United States have Invited the governments and people of Sweden and Finland to unite with us next month, June 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th, to celebrate In Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey the three-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the first permanent settlement in the Delaware River Valley by the Swedes and Finns. I am glad to be with you here to-day, for this is one of the many preparatory meetings which the Finnish Americans are holding throughout the country to provide adequate participation on our part in the celebration.

Eighteen years ago, the people of Massachusetts celebrated the three-hundreth anniversary of the first permanent settlement by the English of this section of America, commonly called New England. The Pilgrim Fathers, who for religious reasons had previously left England, for Holland, in 1620 returned, to England, and soon thereafter sailed from Plymouth in the Mayflower for America, and in December 1620 landed in America and founded the Plymouth Colony. Virginia, however, was the first of the American colonies settled by the English. Jamestown, on the river James, was founded in May 1607.

About the same time that the English settled Virginia and New England, the Dutch were settling New York. Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of the Dutch East India Company, sailed up the river, bearing his name, in 1609. Subsequently the Company established several trading posts along the river. In 1626, Peter Minuit was appointed the first Governor of the colony, and as the head of the colony, in 1626, he had purchased the Manhattan island from Indians with trinkets valued at $24.00. Minuit was recalled to Holland in 1632, and later joined the New Sweden Company and headed the first expedition to Delaware.

While England and Holland were busy colonizing America, similar colonial projects were promoted in Sweden-Finland. The first New Sweden Company, however, was not organized until May 1627. The people and municipalities in Finland, as well as in Sweden proper, subscribed to the capital stock of the Company; the King, Gustavus Adolphus, himself pledged $400,000. On account of the death of the King, and Sweden's activity in war, the actual colonial enterprise was not started until 1637. In the spring of 1638, the first expedition from the Swedish Kingdom arrived at the mouth of the Delaware River. They landed at the point where the City of Wilmington, Delaware, is now located, and thus was founded by the Swedes and Finns the First permanent settlement in the Delaware River Valley, in the territory comprising the State of Delaware, and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This settlement was called New Sweden, and it is the Three-hundredth anniversary of this settlement that we are celebrating next month.

But before proceeding further with the discussion of the celebration and its meaning, it might be well that I first make some reference to the relation of Sweden and Finland at the time of the colonization and the part each country and people played in the settlement of New Sweden.

At the time the New Sweden colony was established, Finland was an integral part of Sweden. The Inhabitants of Finland were on a footing of equality, politically and otherwise, with the inhabitants of the rest of the Kingdom. They participated in matters of state, church, and commerce on a basis of equality. A large number of Finns had moved to Sweden proper and likewise Swedes had moved to Finland. And the educational, social, and religious life in Sweden and Finland followed common patterns.

When the New Sweden Company, which actually promoted the New Sweden colony, was organized, both funds and leadership came from the Finnish part of the Kingdom as well as from the Sweden proper. Admiral Klaus Fleming, one of the leading members of the Finnish nobility, became actively associated with the New Sweden colony. From the first, he took charge of the affairs of the New Sweden Company, and served as the directing head of the Company until his death in 1644. When Admiral Fleming died, a historian, professor Amandus Johnson, says that "the Company and the colony lost their best friend and most enthusiastic promoter.'

With the first expedition, on the "Kalmar Nyckel," which arrived in April 1638, no settlers came. There were only officers of the New Sweden Company, headed by Peter Minuit, and a company of soldiers. The officers bought the land from Indians and returned to Sweden, and the soldiers remained and prepared the defence for the colonists that were to follow.

From the very first, it was not easy to get settlers for New Sweden. Consequently, the Government had to resort to expediency which, in effect, amounted to forced enlistment. From time to time, orders were issued to capture poachers, deserters and minor offenders of various kinds, who were ordered to be sent to New Sweden. Among the persons sent to New Sweden colony were many Finns. Some of them had originally moved from Finland to Sweden proper and there ran afoul of the law by breaking hunting, fishing, forestry, and other ordinances. Other Finns came from Finland directly. After favorable news had come back from New Sweden, the people were eager to come, especially the Finns.

As to how many Swedes and how many Finns were in the colony, at this stage of our information, it is difficult to say. Doctor Johnson reports that in one expedition out of 105 persons 92 were Finns; and that at the port of embarkation there were hundreds of Finns waiting for transportation, many of whom later came over. From the names, too, it is difficult to tell who is a Swede and who a Finn, because the record nearly always give the names in Swedish. Yet, even among the names mentioned, Johnson designates a large number as being Finns. Therefore, it is safe to say that more than half of the New Sweden colonists were Finns.

And, I might add, that an eminent Swedish historian states that the first actual settlers that came to New Sweden were Finns.

The American historians have taken very little notice of the New Sweden colony, and less of the part the Finns have played in the settlement. Perhaps this is partly due to the New England historians who write our school-books; and partly, as far as the Finns are concerned, to the fact that history of Finland and the Finnish people have, until recently, been associated with the history of other countries, at the time with Sweden. Certainly not until Dr. Amandus Johnson's recent work, "The Swedish Settlement on the Delaware," published in 1911, was there much information available to the general public regarding the New Sweden colony and the important part the Finns have taken in the settlement.

Swedish-Americans are to be congratulated on their excellent work in so impressing the governments of the states of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and the Government of the United States, of the importance of the New Sweden settlement in the development of this country that these states have deemed it proper to honor the threehundreth anniversary of the settlement by public observance, and have had the National Government invite the Government of Sweden and her people to participate in the celebration. The Finnish-Americans likewise have been active in the matter, and we are happy that these states and Government of the United States have recognized the similar interest of the Finnish people in the settlement and have extended a like invitation to the Government and people of Finland.

The people and Government of Finland naturally greatly appreciate the invitation to the Tercentenary and of the honor of being recognized by the American people as having been a participant in the founding of the civilization in this country. The people of Finland have given to the American people an imperishable granite monument in memory of the early settlers from Finland. The monument will be placed in a park in Chester, Pennsylvania, originally called Finland. The Government of Finland will send an official delegation to participate in the celebration and in the unveiling and dedication of the monument. And the Finnish-Americans from the various states in large numbers will be present to take part in the commemoration of the event.

What is the meaning of the Tercentenary Celebration to us FinnishAmericans?

The official recognition by the Governments of the United States and Finland of the historical fact that the Finns were one of four nations that settled the Original Thirteen States of the Union, creates a new chapter in the American history ─ also in Finnish history. The Tercentenary celebration next June will "impress the Amgerican people of the fact" that the Finnish people in the United States have a background other than recent immigration, and that their blood has flowed in the veins of the American people since the early years of the nation.

The disclosure and recognition of our early antecedents in this country is important and clarifying not alone to Americans as a whole, but also to the present-day Finnish-Americans, especially to those of us who have lived here from childhood, and even to those who are of the second and third generation.

Our ancestral and historical background in Finland to most of us is vague, and we have not been aware of our early traditions here; we have been estranged from our forefathers in Finland, and our immediate family roots in American soil are still on the surface ─ in other words, we have lacked, so to speak, the sense of historical continuity and ancestral anchorage. This sense of lack of tradition and shallow rootage has made us feel that there is a gap in our historical sequence; that we do not belong to Finland, nor are we yet really of the soil and soul of this land. We are, of course, Americans in heart and spirit, but we have lacked that assured homy feeling, the sense of belonging, which for instance an Englishman has. No matter how recently an Englishman has arrived, he feels that as his people have originally settled and developed this land, by tradition and kinship, he is not a foreigner but an American.

But the historical evidence, as recently disclosed, and the official recognition of the Finnish part in the early settlement of this country, fundamentally changes our position in American history. We know now that the roots of the Finnish people penetrate to the deepest strata of the American soil and, therefore, our anchorage is secure; that our historical background in America is unbroken, running back as far as the early colonial period; that our ancestors have participated in the founding of this Republic and in the development of this land since the earliest days of American history; and that, while these two flags ─ white and blue, and red white and blue ─ represent two different countries, the first the land of our ancestors and the other our adopted land, we know that the existence of both have been brought about by the help and sacrifice of the same people. Therefore, we can now read and study the history of our country with the same exultation, the same spirit and feeling of pride of belonging as any other people in America; for we know that the history of this country is, in part, the history of our own people, and that we are no more foreigners than any of the other people that make up this great nation. This is the meaning of the Delaware Tercentenary Celebration to Finnish-Americans.

This celebration, indeed, is the most auspicious moment in the annals of Finnish-Americans. Let us, every man, woman, and child, whether we were born here or in Finland, show by our conduct and active interest that we appreciate this great honor, and that we are worthy of those pioneer kinsmen of ours who three-hundred years ago risked their lives and fortunes to make for us this extraordinary event possible. Just think! The Government of the United States, the government of the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, have designated the occasion of this anniversary not only a national but also an international holiday, by Government of the United States inviting Finland, our mother country, and Sweden, our nearest of kin, to participate with us in the celebration. Surely, we present-day Finnish-Americans, the direct beneficiaries of this unusual honor and occasion, will make our participation befitting and commensurate with the honor and benefits we receive.

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