Skip to main content

1638 Three Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

William Bradford, governor of the Massachusetts colony, provided the first account of an earthquake in the New World in his History of Plimmoth Plantation . The earthquake rocked Plymouth on the afternoon of June 5. “It came with a rumbling noyse,” wrote Bradford, “or low murmurs like unto remote thunder. … As ye noyse approached nere, the earth begane to shake and came at length with that violence as caused platters, dishes, & such things as stood upon shelves, to clatter and fall downe; yea, persons were afraid of ye houses themselves. … it was very terrible for ye time … and ye earth shooke with ye violence as they could not stand without catching hold of ye posts and pails yt stood next them, but ye violence lasted not long. And about h‰lfe an hower, or less, came an other noyse & shaking, but neither so loud nor strong as ye former, but quickly passed over, and so it ceased.”

On May 10 a cannon sounded as the Swedish flag rose over Fort Christina, the stronghold of the fledgling colony of New Sweden. Built on the shore of a Delaware River tributary, the tiny settlement was Sweden’s first and only colony in the New World.

New Sweden grew vigorously under the iron rule of Governor Johan Printz, who arrived in 1643. A veteran of the Thirty Years’ War, the four-hundred-pound Printz (local Indians called him “Big Guts”) established additional fortified settlements throughout the southern Delaware River valley.

In 1654, Johan Rising replaced Printz as governor. Rising was a more humane ruler than the despotic Printz but proved overzealous. Shortly after assuming power, Rising captured a Dutch fort at what is now New Castle, Delaware, nominally within Swedish territory. Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, retaliated the following year, sailing down the Delaware with three hundred troops. He recaptured his fort and then besieged Fort Christina. The Swedes surrendered after ten days, and New Sweden, with its four hundred inhabitants, became a Dutch province.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate