In the mid-Seventeenth Century, Sweden was quite the world power. Its European territory included Sweden, of course, plus Finland, Estonia, and parts of modern-day Russia, Germany, Poland, and Latvia. And so, when the riches of the New World began glimmering across the Atlantic, Sweden was loathe to leave the riches to the French and English. Enter the Swedish West India Company, chartered to establish trading colonies in America and begin bringing-home tobacco, furs, and anything else the New World had to offer.
On this day in 1638, the Swedes established their first settlement, Fort Kristina, in Nya Sverige (New Sweden). It was built on the Delaware River, in what is present-day Wilmington, Delaware, and named after their home-country queen. Its occupants were Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and some Germans (who were mostly hired as Swedish soldiers).
Interestingly, this first expedition was lead by Dutchman Peter Minuet who had previously governed New Amsterdam (New York) for the Dutch West India Company. He knew the general area and the native people of this “New Sweden” which included modern-day Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Minuet was well-acquainted with the export trade between Europe and the New World. And, most importantly, he knew that the Dutch military were unable to defend the area, despite objecting to the Swedish presence. Minuet was named Governor of New Sweden. He died soon afterward, caught in a Caribbean hurricane, while en route to Sweden to collect another group of settlers. But the colony continued without him, trading and shipping tobacco back home.
Back in Europe, the Swedes became involved in the Second Northern War, invading the Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth. With the Swede’s attention thus diverted, the Dutch—under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant—would take the area in 1655. In time, Sweden’s European territories would be whittled-back as well, leaving the high-minded and wonderfully-civilized country we know today.
From Sweden, some 300 years after landing at Fort Kristina, comes this bronze smoking set, pictured above. While Sweden’s imperial ambitions may have diminished, it seems they still enjoy the tobacco leaf—which started their New World adventures in the first place.
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