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The 17th Century - A Period Of Growth And Change

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Background - William Penn Period

William Penn

That same year, 1682, Penn arrived in Delaware and took formal possession of the colony. (Document 16). These lands remained in Penn family control until 1776 when Delaware separated from England. From the time that Penn received the Delaware lands until the mid-18th century, the boundaries of the Three Lower Counties--especially the Maryland boundary-- were in constant dispute. (Document 17)

When Penn acquired the territory, he had to ensure that the settlers already living there were protected and that their lands were properly titled, surveyed, and recorded. (Documents 18, 19,23, 27)

The Three Lower Counties, known as New Castle, Kent, and Sussex, attracted settlers who wished to grow tobacco. Kent and Sussex grew more rapidly than New Castle because of their close proximity to Maryland where tobacco was the main crop and land for growing tobacco had become scarce. To encourage greater economic growth of New Castle and Sussex, the colonists in these areas petitioned Penn to allow them to hold yearly fairs. (Document 24)In 1691 the freemen of Kent County petitioned Penn to allow them to purchase land to construct a new courthouse. (Document 25)

For students of Delaware colonial history the court records for that era provide a valuable resource tool. Colonists were required to register their livestock earmarks (an early form of cattle branding) with the courts. (Document 22) The court records also reveal that children were frequently indentured by the court or by their parents to learn a trade or occupation. Young boys were often indentured until they reached the age of twenty-one. (Document 26) There are also documents that demonstrate the courts attempts to influence the moral fiber of life in seventeenth century Delaware. (Document 20)

By the end of the 17th century, the concerns of the colonists living in the Three Lower Counties diverged from those in Pennsylvania and many sought a separate legislative body. The differences became especially pronounced when the pacifist Quaker government in Philadelphia did little to protect the colonists when pirates attacked Sussex and Kent Counties. Finally, in 1704 the Three Lower Counties were allowed to form their own separate legislative assembly.