Delaware was first settled by Swedish colonists in the 1630s. However, while Sweden, the Netherlands and England all pursued control of the area, England eventually won out. In 1674, it came under permanent English rule as a proprietary colony known as the “Three Lower Counties on Delaware.” At that time it was part of the Duke of York’s colonial lands, but in 1682 the duke transferred the title of his territory on the west side of the Delaware River to William Penn.
King Charles II, the Duke of York’s brother, had previously granted the province of Pennsylvania to William Penn as well, but because Penn received the colonies under different terms, he could not join them together. Instead, he created an assembly with delegates from Pennsylvania and Delaware, giving Delaware its first experience with representative government. Tensions soon arose between Pennsylvania and Delaware, however, leading Delaware to elect its own one-house assembly in 1704.
In 1717, the town of Dover, named after the town of Dover in England’s Kent County, was officially laid out by a special commission of the Delaware General Assembly.
Near the end of the colonial period, Delaware not only declared itself free from the British Empire but also established a state government. With the Revolutionary War at hand, nearly 4,000 men enlisted for service from the small state. In the end, the only Revolutionary engagement to be fought on Delaware soil was the battle of Cooch’s Bridge, near Newark, on Sept. 3, 1777, which did not end well for the rebels, though it is said to be the first battle in which the American flag was flown.
That same year, Dover became the state capital, and on Dec. 7, 1787, Delaware became the first of the original 13 states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, giving it the nickname “The First State.”