At least 11,500 years ago people were living in the area now called Delaware. They’re thought to have come from Asia by way of a land bridge that’s now underwater. Thousands of years later Native American tribes including the Lenni Lenape and the Nanticoke lived on the land.
Historians think the first European to arrive was English explorer Henry Hudson, who reached the area’s bay and river in 1609. During the 1600s, Dutch, English, and Swedish colonists settled on the land. These Europeans fought for the land, and in 1674 the English officially regained control of the territory. But in 1776 Delaware declared its independence from England, one of the actions that would result in the Revolutionary War. After the United States had won the war, Delaware became a U.S. state in 1787.
When the Civil War began in 1861, Delaware was a state where slavery was legal. But the vast majority of its troops fought for the Union, which was the group of northern states that was fighting in support of keeping the states together. (Supporters of the Union side also generally wanted to abolish slavery, while the southern states wanted to keep the practice.) In 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declared all slaves in the United States, including in Delaware, to be free people.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
In 1610 explorer Samuel Argall named the bay and river after Virginia’s governor, Lord De La Warr—Delaware!
Delaware was the first state to ratify, or sign, the U.S. Constitution. So its nickname is the First State.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Delaware sits on an east coast peninsula called the Delmarva. It’s bordered by Pennsylvania in the north; the Delaware River, the Delaware Bay, New Jersey, and Atlantic Ocean in the east; and Maryland in the south and west.
The state generally slopes downward from the hilly Piedmont region, which covers the northern edge of the state. The rest of Delaware is covered by the low Atlantic Coastal Plain, which contains three state forests: Blackbird, Taber, and Redden. There are sandy beaches along the eastern coastline, and at the state’s southern border, the plain becomes swampland.
Grey foxes, American beavers, white-tailed deer, and river otters are among Delaware’s mammals. Birdwatchers could spot bald eagles, peregrine falcons, eastern bluebirds, and downy woodpeckers. The state’s amphibians include barking tree frogs, chorus frogs, and tiger salamanders. Reptiles like snapping turtles and eastern hognose snakes can be found here too.
Common trees include maple, birch, oak, loblolly pine, and American holly (the state tree). Wildflowers grow throughout the state, including sweet goldenrod (the state herb), bulbous buttercup, American tiger lily, and sulphur cinquefoil (a flower with five heart-shaped petals).
One of the state’s most important natural resources is its mineral-rich soil. This dirt is ideal for farming. Soybeans, corn, potatoes, and peas are some of Delaware’s top crops. Delaware also mines for magnesium, sand, and gravel.
—Vice President Joe Biden is one of Delaware’s famous folks, and so is Howard Pyle, the author of the novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.
—The tidal salt marsh at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge hosts migrating birds including sandpipers, plovers, American black ducks, and salt marsh sparrows.
—Fans watch NASCAR races at the Dover International Speedway, nicknamed the Monster Mile. A 46-foot statue of a monster holds a full-size car in its hand in front of the track.
—The Johnson Victrola Museum displays early music-making machines such as gramophones; phonographs with flower-shaped horns; and some of the first record players, which were called Victrolas.