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In 1638, two ships, the Kalmar Nyckel and Vogel Grip, sailed up the Delaware River and deposited a band of Swedish settlers at the fork of the Christina and Brandywine Rivers. This small colony of soldiers, traders, and artisans named their settlement Fort Christina in honor of their queen. By the 1730s only a few decendants of the original Fort Christina settlement remained. Internal population growth within Pennsylvania caused a renewed urbanization along the Delaware, Christina, and Brandywine Rivers. Quaker families from Ridley, Pennsylvania began migrating to the Christina River banks. Thomas Willing and William Shipley were instrumental in reconstituting the Swedish settlement. In 1731, believing the area could become a granary shipping center, Willing laid out lots on a grid following the pattern of Philadelphia. When the Shipleys’ moved to town in 1735, they set to the task of turning this new Willingtown into a commercial center. They built solid homes of brick and established a farmer's market and a point of transshipment of grain from Lancaster, Chester, and New Castle Counties to Philadelphia. Shipley became the head of the town government and petitioned King George II for borough status. In 1739, the king granted this request on the condition that the town be named Wilmington to give honor to one of his friends. The charter provided for a governing council of seven burgesses and other annually elected officials.1

A 1772 act reaffirmed this change and reorganized the government to make it run more efficiently. Elected residents governed the borough. These consisted of one high constable, one chief burgess, one burgess, one town clerk, one treasurer, and six assistants to conserve the peace as effectively as Justices of the Peace in their respective counties would lawfully do. The burgesses and their assistants oversaw the erection of party walls and the disputes arising from such actions; laid out streets; and determined the amount of and saw to the collection of taxes.2

In 1832, the "Borough of Wilmington" changed its name to the "City of Wilmington" and instituted a new government. This new government consisted of a mayor, an alderman, a high constable, a treasurer, an assessor, and any other officers deemed necessary. The "mayor and council of Wilmington," formerly the "burgesses and borough council of the borough of Wilmington" were empowered to acquire lands, goods, and chattels, and to dispose of these effects; to sue and be sued in any court of law; to have a common seal; and generally to have all the privileges incident to a corporation or body politic. Council members were elected by the citizens for a term of three years, the treasurer and assessor for one year. The mayor was elected by the city council for a term of three years; the alderman for five years; the high constable for one year. The city council served as the legislative body with the power to judge the election returns and qualifications of their own members and all other officers of the corporation; choose their president and other officers; determine the rules of their proceedings; and keep a journal of the same. No ordinance could pass without having a concurrence of a majority of all members of the city council and having had at least two readings at previous meetings. The mayor's duties were to take care to have the laws and ordinances faithfully executed; to hold custody of the seal of the corporation with the right to affix the same; to certify all deeds and letters of attorney and examine all their claims to such deeds; to solemnize marriages for a fee as would a preacher and keep a register thereof. The city council met annually in November to estimate and fix the amount of taxes to be levied on persons and estates in the city and directed the assessor to collect these monies. The council was empowered to pave and care for the streets and sidewalks.

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Four times a year the mayor, alderman, and president of the city council or any two of them held and kept a court of record by the name, style an title of the Mayor's Court for the City of Wilmington to hear, try, and determine all offenses committed against any of the laws, ordinances, regulations, or constitutions of the city and to punish by fines or imprisonment all persons convicted of these offences. Appeals were made to the Superior Court of New Castle County. The mayor, alderman, and president of the city council or any two of them constituted a court of record titled the City Court which had jurisdiction in all cases of assumpsit, debt, covenant, trover, replevin, and trespass. This City Court had all the powers and authority of the Superior Court on the matters it handled. On the first Monday in February of each year, the City Council chose the jurors to serve in the courts throughout the city for the year. The City Court held four terms per year with the power to hold court whenever the state of business required it. The Clerk of the City Council served both as the Clerk of the Mayor's Court and the City Court with the responsibility for caring and preserving the records of both officers. This 1832 act also designated Christiana Hundred as a separate entity responsible for the expenses and charges of opening, making and repairing its own public roads.3

Currently the Municipal Court of the City of Wilmington sits in place of the Mayor’s and City Courts and sentences are passed by judges instead of juries.

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1 Hoffecker, Carol, Wilmington, Delaware, Portrait of An Industrial City, 1830-1910

2 1 D.L., ch 206

3 8 D.L., ch 118

mm: (Revised 8-5-88); September 13, 1988