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New Castle City

New Castle City Hall is located at 220 Delaware Street, New Castle DE 19720; phone: 302-322-9801.

New Castle City

Beginnings [1]

New Castle, on the Delaware River, six miles south of Wilmington, the oldest town in the Delaware River Valley, lies in a curve of the shore, once a fine natural harbor for large vessels, with a commanding position and view. Along the first street, the Strand, parallel with the river, the houses face not the street, but each other. The streets and the broad Green preserve unspoiled the work of seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth century builders. History, adventure, and romance are written in the doorways and roof lines, in the broad chimneys, and in glimpses of spacious rear-gardens.

The inhabitants are predominantly American of long descent, many of families native for generations to the town or its environs. Irish as well as English, Dutch, and French extraction is represented in the oldest families. Negroes, present since the last period of the Dutch, are descended in part from slaves locally owned. They are employed not only as servants, but in the regular industrial occupations, skilled or unskilled. In an Italian group are highly skilled aircraft workers. A small Polish group includes industrial workers of varied skills.

Upon plantations surrounding the present site of New Castle, Swedes and Finns were settled in the year 1651 when Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch Governor from New Amsterdam, with two warships anchored in the harbor, directed the building of Fort Casimir upon Sand Hook, a point of land now washed away, that extended beyond the end of present Chestnut Street. Within the palisades of the fort, in a large blockhouse, lived Gerrit Bicker, the Commander, Andries Hudde, the Commissary, and some of the soldiers. Governor Stuyvesant left a large stock of supplies to lure the Indian trade, and when rain ruined the crops of the planters in 1652, the cream of this trade went to Bicker and Hudde. With this exception, little is known of their activity between the fall of 1651 and May 21, 1654, when the new Swedish Governor on the Delaware, Captain Johan Classon Rising, in command of a large expedition, compelled the garrison to surrender.

Captain Rising found 22 houses in two rows behind the dilapidated fort. Hardly had he rebuilt the fortifications and repaired the houses under the direction of the Swedish engineer, Peter Lindestrom, and the Swedish captain, Sven Skute, when the Swedish interlude was over. With Stuyvesant's permanent conquest of the Swedes in 1655, Fort Casimir became an established village, the Dutch capital on the South River of New Netherland. Rising had held a court early in that year and thereby initiated two and a quarter centuries of court history on the site. Jean Paul Jacquet, the first Vice-Director under Stuyvesant, extended the streets behind the fort, granting town lots 50 feet wide by 100 feet deep; each lot-holder was given as much land in the country roundabout as he would agree to cultivate woods and marsh being held as a common. This system was continued under specific charter from the burgomasters of Amsterdam in Holland when that city took over the Colony from the Dutch West India Company in 1656. Fort Casimir then became New Amstel, named for a suburb of Amsterdam. The Vice-Director for the city, Jacob Alrichs, who arrived early in 1657 with about 200 colonists, built a town hall of logs, two stories in height, a wharf and store house, a bakehouse, guardhouse, a forge, and brick kilns, and so many dwellings that New Amstel was a town of 100 buildings at the end of the year.

Alrichs bought food from the Swedish farmers, received supplies from New Amsterdam, and made urgent appeals to Holland for the aid of the Colony, but exercised such a rigid oversight of the Indian trade to prevent loss to the owners of the Colony, that he antagonized many of the settlers. The unscrupulous D'Hinoyossa, Lieutenant at the fort, who inherited Alrichs' office at the latter's death toward the end of 1659, had broken all the Vice-Director's rulings, yet he made stricter rules when the power became his, and used the prohibitions against the trade of the colonists to protect his own buying and selling. Before his plans for a personal empire were well ripened, however, Sir Robert Carr arrived in the harbor with two frigates on September 30, 1664, demanding surrender of the town to the English. The fort was now in little better condition than when Rising captured it, but D'Hinoyossa, facing the end of his dreams, lost his head and prepared to use the guns. Then Carr, having fired into the little fort, wounding half of the twenty Dutch soldiers and killing three, took the town for the Duke of York.

Most of the old population, Swedes, Finns, and Dutch, remained, and English came from Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, in addition to new colonists from England. Late in October 1664, Col. Richard Nicolls, the Duke of York's Deputy Governor for New York and the province on the Delaware, visited New Amstel and changed its name to New Castle, probably for William Cavendish, then Earl of New Castle, or for Newcastle-on-Tyne in England, which had a similar setting. Under the wise rule of the Deputy Governors, the community was permitted to keep its own officers for routine affairs, and English law, with necessary modifications, was slowly and imperfectly put in force. The Dutch recaptured New Castle in 1673, but it was restored to the English the following year, and the Duke of York's rule continued until the coming of William Penn. During the 31 years between the building of Fort Casimir and the establishment of Penn's province, New Castle had undergone five changes of sovereignty, and two additional changes of government from the Dutch West India Company to the City of Amsterdam; from the Duke of York's province to that of William Penn.

When William Penn, with deeds from the Duke of York, arrived at New Castle, October 27, 1682, John Moll and Ephraim Herman, two magistrates of the court, accepted the Duke's power of attorney to transfer to Penn the land of the twelve-mile circle about New Castle, Through their influence, doubtless, the ceremony of taking possession, during which Penn on August 28, 1682, entered the fort alone, locked the door, and opened it again to receive a porringer of river water and soil with a twig upon it, was followed by a general swearing of allegiance on the part of the inhabitants and friendly pledges to Penn to cooperate in his new government. Grumbling and attack upon Penn's title began all too soon in New Castle as well as in the Delaware territory to the south, the Quaker spirit and ways being foreign to the much more liberal, urbane, and yet individualistic temperaments and tempers of the inhabitants. From 1704, when the counties of Delaware set up a separate Assembly from that of Penn's province of Pennsylvania, to 1776, New Castle was the seat of government of the "Lower Counties." Here were trained many of the patriot statesmen of the Revolutionary period. It was the self-government of loyal British subjects, however, who regarded the three counties as a crown Colony,

The acts of Parliament which later fostered the spirit of revolution in the colonies were also resented at New Castle, but the issue set up a conflict between the independent nature of the inhabitants and their long satisfaction in direct allegiance to the English sovereign rather than to the Provincial Governor. The conflict was resolved mainly on the side of independence, and pre-Revolutionary agitation in New Castle was at white heat when the port of Boston was closed by enforcement of the Port Bill. Under the leadership of Nicholas Van Dyke, the elder, and George Read, 200 pounds were raised locally for the aid of Boston's destitute citizens. (Boston returned the friendly service fifty years later at the time of New Castle's great fire, 1824.)

On September 21, 1776, a convention of the counties, meeting at New Castle, formed "The Delaware State." About a month later the first State legislature met here, but New Castle's period as State capital was brief. For although the town was never entered by the British, the constant threat of attack from the river and by land during General Howe's march across the peninsula and his later occupation of Wilmington, caused the officers of the State to meet elsewhere and, in 1777, the State capital was moved to Dover. But New Castle gained in travel through its port and by land what it lost in political assembly. Removal of the Federal Government to Washington in 1800 added to the already increased travel across the peninsula and up and down the river with New Castle as a transfer point. Inns and stage routes multiplied and the resulting prosperity led to the building of the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad connecting the steamboat service of the Chesapeake Bay with the river travel and steam-packet service of the Delaware. The railroad, some distance south of the stage road and turnpike of the same name, began operations with horse drawn cars on July 4, 1831. An English locomotive, on September 10, 1832, opened the first regular steam passenger line in the country. The old stone sleepers and wooden rails with iron strips nailed to their tops were replaced in 1833 by wooden ties and iron rails.

Incorporated in 1875 as a city with mayor and council, New Castle has had few changes in its governmental form. It retains its status as an endowed town with extra municipal bodies serving as trustees for the Town Common, a tract of 1,068 acres, dating from the common land granted settlers in the earliest Dutch period, and confirmed by William Penn and his successors after a survey made between 1701 and 1704 at Penn's direction. The Trustees of the Common lease the land and spend the net profit for the benefit of the town. This income gave substantial support to early education, built the Town Hall, and continues to subsidize many a town improvement. A somewhat similar trust exercising control over the public buildings on the Green is chartered under the name of Trustees of the Market Square and Courthouse Square (The Green). The industries of New Castle include steel, rayon, fibre, and aircraft plants.

  1. Federal Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Delaware, Delaware" A Guide to the First State, Ameican Guide Series, The Vikling Press, New York, 1938.
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