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Lesson B - Why Does Delaware Have Such A Strange Shape?


  • Economics Standard One: Students will examine the interaction of individuals, families, communities, businesses, and governments in a market economy.
  • Geography Standard One: Students will develop a personal geographic framework, or "mental map," and understand the uses of maps and other geographics.
  • Geography Standard Three: Students will develop an understanding of the diversity of human culture and the unique nature of places.
  • Geography Standard Four: Students will develop an understanding of the character and use of regions and the connections between and among them.
  • History Standard One: Students will employ chronological concepts in analyzing historical phenomena.
  • History Standard Two: Students will gather, examine, and analyze historical data.
  • History Standard Three: Students will interpret historical data.
  • History Standard Four: Students will develop historical knowledge of major events and phenomena in world, United States, and Delaware history.


  1. The students will assume various roles in a play that describes the events surrounding the boundaries of Delaware.
  2. The students will complete a test based on the geographical and historical information presented in the play.
    Note: This lesson is presented in the form of a play. Since most Delawareans do not know the origin of Delaware's unique shape this play could be presented to parents as well as other classes. Although practice time would be necessary to carry out this presentation smoothly, the practice sessions would serve as reinforcement to this important, yet little known part of Delaware history.


  1. Lesson B, Delaware Public Archives, 1740 Map of Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, File IX
  2. 1796 Delaware Map, Vertical File VI, Delaware Public Archives,(Overhead)
  3. Floor Space
  4. World Map (Not included in the kit)
  5. Test
  6. Masking tape
  7. Scripts
  8. Role cards:
    • Narrator
    • Lord Baltimore
    • King Charles I
    • William Penn
    • Dutch
    • Swedes
    • Finns
    • Duke of York
    • Marylanders
    • Spokesman for the Committee of Trade and Plantation
    • King Charles II
    • Charles Mason
    • Jeremiah Dixon
    • Tapers
    • Pointer


  1. Put the 1796 Delaware map on an overhead. Begin a discussion concerning the unique shape of the state. Note the natural border of the Delaware Bay. Why is the northern part of the state rounded like part of a circle and the rest shaped in straight lines? Look for various answers. Instruct the students to find Cape Henlopen on this map. (It is located along the eastern border of Delaware near Lewes.) Inform the students that they will need to remember that location.
  2. Pass out the 1740 map of Delaware and its surrounding area. Give the students several minutes to study the map. Instruct the students to find Cape Henlopen on this map. Where is it located? Is it located in the same area as the other map showed? Turn on the overhead of the 1796 map again. (On the 1740 map it is incorrectly located at the bottom of the state.) Why do you think it is located in two different positions? (Various answers)
  3. Explain that today's lesson will show why Delaware has its peculiar shape and why different maps of the same area may not be the same. Using the map #1 as a guide create the Delmarva Peninsula and the surrounding area on the floor with masking tape or some other temporary marker. The map should be large enough that numerous students will be able to move around within the map area. The floor map should also include:
    • Three lines of latitude that are included on the 1740 map. The students may want to color code these lines to make them stand out.
    • Do not include the lines or the arc that actually make up the shape of Delaware. These lines will be added during the play.
    • Place a tape square where the dot on map #1 is located. This represents the town of New Castle.
    • Note: There are four example floor maps to help with this lesson. The cues for adding taped lines are within the play itself. An overall map with important locations is included also.
  4. Give the students their role cards. All characters will begin in Europe except the narrator. The narrator should be positioned close to the latitude lines in western Maryland. Since the narrator's part is rather large it may be divided among several students or the instructor may want to take that role.
    • Teacher: Welcome to our production of "Why Does Delaware Have Such a Strange Shape?" Before you is a map of the Delmarva Peninsula, the Western Shore of Maryland, and the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania. Today we will show you why Delaware has such a strange shape. Our characters will wear namecards to make it easier for you to follow along.
    • Narrator: After Columbus returned from his first trip to America in 1492 a number of European nations began to explore and claim parts of America for their own. These nations included Great Britain, Spain, France, Sweden, and The Netherlands. [Pointer shows these countries on a World Map] People from these European countries began to settle on land in America that was claimed by their country. [All characters begin in Europe]
    • Dutch: [Moves to Lewes, Delaware] I represent the European nation of The Netherlands. In 1631, a group of my countrymen, known as the Dutch, sailed to the new world and created a settlement in the area of the present town of Lewes. We called our settlement Zwannendael because there were many swans in the area. Our goal was to trade for furs with the local indians and to hunt whales in the Delaware Bay for their oil. The furs were in demand in Europe and whale oil was used in lanterns. Later, we also established a settlement in the area where the town of New Castle is located. We called the settlement New Amstel.
    • Swedes: [Moves to northern Delaware] I represent the country of Sweden. In 1637, a group of my countrymen sailed to America and settled in the area along the Christina River in northern Delaware. Along with a group of settlers from Finland we established Fort Christina at the present site of Wilmington.
    • Lord Baltimore: My name is Cecil Calvert. I am an English nobleman with the title of Lord Baltimore. In 1632, King Charles the First, the King of Great Britain, gave me a charter to an area of land in America. A charter is a written document that gives certain rights and obligations. A charter is given by a government or ruler to a person, group of people, or company. In this case, the King gave me ownership of the land that is Maryland today and also the land that extends to the Delaware Bay and is below the 40th degree of latitude. [Moves from Europe to Maryland with several Maryland settlers. One of the Maryland settlers should stay on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Lord Baltimore should walk toward the land that extends from Maryland to the Delaware Bay.]
    • Narrator: Latitude and longitude are terms used to describe positions on the globe. Lines of longitude are drawn north and south and measure distances east and west in degrees. Lines of latitude are drawn east and west on the globe and measure distances north and south in degrees. [Pointer shows these lines on the World Map] For example , the line along the equator is 0 degrees. Going south the next latitude line is 20 degrees south. The next latitude line is 40 degrees south. From the equator traveling north the first line is 20 degrees north. The next line is 40 degrees north. This 40 degree line will play a major role in our play. During the time of Lord Baltimore the instruments used to make these types of measurements were very inaccurate.
    • Lord Baltimore: My maps show the 40th degree of north latitude as being here. [Point to the line that Lord Baltimore thought was the 40th degree of latitude. This is the lowest parallel line on the 1740 map and the floor map]
    • Narrator: [As if whispering an aside to the audience] The real 40th line of north latitude is actually much farther north. [Pointer shows the top parallel line at the same time]
    • Dutch: Wait a minute! My country claimed this land before you did. [Points to Lord Baltimore] We also conquered the Swedish settlements in Delaware. You can't have this land!
    • Lord Baltimore: My settlers will be moving into Delaware to strengthen my claim to that area!
    • Marylanders: [speaking to Lord Baltimore] Lord Baltimore, we don't want to move deep into Delaware. We like being close to the water of the Chesapeake Bay. The water provides us with food and transportation.
    • Narrator: There were very few roads in the area at the time and the ones that existed were in very bad shape. During this time period people used the water as their main source of transportation. Without more Marylanders moving into Delaware, Lord Baltimore was not able to make a strong claim to Delaware. However, in 1664 the plot began to thicken.
    • Duke of York: I am James, the Duke of York. I am brother to Charles the Second, the King of Great Britain. In the early 1660's my brother promised me that if I could capture the lands of the Dutch in America, I would be able to keep the land for myself. To accomplish this goal I sent a large naval force to America in 1664. My navy conquered the Dutch city of New Amsterdam. I renamed the city New York. My forces also took the Dutch settlement at New Amstel in Delaware. I renamed it New Castle. The Dutch, Swedes, and Finns will be allowed to remain but they must swear allegiance to the English King. [Duke of York moves from Europe into Delaware]
    • Lord Baltimore: This is greatnews! I have claimed Delaware since my charter was granted. With Delaware now in English hands, I will be given this land because I am an Englishman.
    • Duke of York: [Talking to Lord Baltimore] This will not happen. These lands were conquered by my forces and will remain under my control.
    • Narrator: This situation remained for many years. Lord Baltimore would send groups of armed soldiers to attack the small settlement at Lewes, known then as Hoerekil (Hore-kill). Lord Baltimore wanted to prove that Delaware belonged to him. However, in 1681, King Charles the Second added another player to the game.
    • King Charles II: [Talking to William Penn] William Penn, although my family owes your father a large amount of money we would rather give you land in America in a location north of Lord Baltimore's land.
    • William Penn: I am William Penn and I am a member of the Quaker faith. My fellow Quakers and I are being persecuted in Great Britain because of our religious beliefs. I want to set up a colony in America where Quakers will be welcomed.
    • Narrator: With the Duke of York in control of Delaware at the time, there needed to be a boundary between the lands of the Duke of York and William Penn.
    • Duke of York: [Talking to William Penn who was still in Europe] I want your colony to be at least 12 miles from my capital at New Castle. I will measure a circular distance of 12 miles from New Castle. This will serve as our boundary. [Duke of York points to the area as tapers mark the circular arc on the floor with masking tape (See Map #2)]
    • Narrator: This line is why Delaware's northern boundary is circular. The boundary was made official in 1682 by the Royal Charter given to James, Duke of York by King Charles the Second, his brother. However, when William Penn came to his new colony in 1682, he was disappointed because his land was so far from the sea.
    • William Penn: [Moves to Pennsylvania and points to the Delaware River and Bay] I need to control the land along the Delaware River and Bay so people can come to my colony by water.
    • Narrator: Remember! Water transportation was the main source of transportation during this time in American history. There were few roads and the existing ones were in poor shape. William Penn and the Duke of York came to an agreement.
    • Duke of York: [Talking to William Penn] William Penn, I agree to give you the town of New Castle and the surrounding 12 mile arc. [Duke of York points out the arc] I will also give you the land extending south from this circle to Cape Henlopen. [Points toward southern Delaware]
    • Narrator: To carry out this process the Duke of York and William Penn signed a set of indentures. An indenture is a legal document that is actually two copies of the same document on one sheet of paper. Once the duplicate documents are signed the paper is cut or indented. To prove ownership, the two sections must be pieced together again. [While the narrator speaks William Penn and the Duke of York will be signing a document and cutting it in wavy manner to create the indent.]
    • Lord Baltimore: [Talking to the Duke of York] Wait a minute! Delaware belongs to me. You can't give it to Penn!
    • Narrator: Lord Baltimore and William Penn tried to work out their differences but they couldn't agree to a compromise. In 1685, the issue was turned over to the Committee of Trade and Plantations in England.
    • Spokesman for the Committee of Trade & Plantation: [In England] I am the leader of the Committee of Trade and Plantation and this is how we will resolve this dispute. Lord Baltimore's charter only gave him land that was unsettled at the time. However, the Dutch had a settlement at Zwaanendael near Lewes one year before Lord Baltimore's charter. Because of this early Dutch settlement Lord Baltimore does not own the land in Delaware. Our committee believes the peninsula should be divided into equal parts by a line from the latitude of Cape Henlopen to the 40th degree of north latitude. [Pointer shows Cape Henlopen on the floor map]
    • Narrator: Many years passed by and both William Penn and Lord Baltimore died. The sons of both men kept up the fight until 1732 when both sides agreed to run the line westward from Cape Henlopen to halfway across the peninsula. At that point, the boundary would be drawn northward until it touches the circle that runs twelve miles around the town of New Castle. At this point the line would continue northbound until it is 15 miles south of a parallel line drawn westward from the southernmost portion of Philadelphia. [This line already exists on the floor map as the true 40 degree latitude line] This means that if you extended a line westward from the south part of Philadelphia the boundary line would stop at fifteen miles south of that line. This point was designated as the northeastern corner of Maryland. The boundary line then ran west to divide Pennsylvania and Maryland. [Pointer will direct attention to these features on the floor map while the narrator speaks] Although the Penn Family and the Calvert Family agreed to this compromise, it would be more than 30 years before two men arrived from England to survey the boundary between the Penn Family and the Calvert Family. The maps of Lord Baltimore also had a major flaw. While Penn's maps showed Cape Henlopen in its correct position, Lord Baltimore's maps showed Cape Henlopen at the same point as Fenwick Island. Because of this mistake, the area from Cape Henlopen to Fenwick Island is part of Delaware today instead of Maryland. [Pointer will direct attention to this area]
    • Charles Mason: [Mason and Dixon come to Delaware] My name is Charles Mason and this is my friend Jeremiah Dixon. We are both mathematicians and surveyors who have come from England to survey the boundary between the Penn Family and the Calvert Family.
    • Jeremiah Dixon: This survey took us three years to complete. We began in the area that is known today as Fenwick Island. [Tapers begin putting tape down for the southern and western borders for Delaware. See Map #3. Start at Fenwick Island and move halfway across the peninsula. At this point move northbound. End the tape above the western border of the circle] We moved westbound across the peninsula and atthe halfway point began to move northward to complete the line. We did not survey the circular boundary at the north end of the state because we were only supposed to survey the boundaries between the Penns and the Calverts.
    • Charles Mason: At each mile along the boundary we placed markers to divide the two colonies. These markers were square posts with 12 inches on each side. They were made of limestone. The markers were made in England. On one side of the marker was the letter "M" for Maryland and the other side had the letter "P" for Pennsylvania because Delaware was still considered as the three lower counties of Pennsylvania. A crownstone was placed every five miles. The crownstone had the Coat of Arms for the Penns on one side and the Coat of Arms for the Calverts on the other side. Many of these stones are still standing today.
    • Narrator: One unique feature of Delaware's shape is the intersection of Mason and Dixon's boundary and the circular boundary of the Duke of York. [Pointer shows the area being discussed] When the curve was drawn the land on the western side of the curve was still unsettled. As the area became populated, many people did not know the exact location of the curve. No one was sure where the twelve mile circle began in the town of New Castle. In 1750 officials decided to begin the twelve mile arc from the spire of the Courthouse in New Castle. When Mason and Dixon surveyed the land many Delawareans believed the curve extended to the northeast corner of Maryland. When the land was surveyed again in 1849, it was discovered that the twelve mile circle was actually three-quarters of a mile east of where Mason and Dixon drew their boundary. [Pointer directs attention to this area. See Map #4] This area is known as "the Wedge." On June 15, 1776, the Delaware General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Delaware, now fighting in the American Revolution, was no longer a colony of Great Britain. This day has traditionally been celebrated as Separation Day. With the boundaries for Delaware finally drawn after more than 100 years of arguing, the colony of Delaware broke away from any ties with either the Penn Family or the Calvert Family and became a free state.
    • Teacher: This concludes our presentation of "Why Does Delaware Have Such a Strange Shape?" - cast member introductions
      Note: Because the information is explained within the play itself there is no historical background information included in this lesson.

Document Background

  • 1740 Map of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania
    • This map is a copy of one submitted in a Pennsylvania court case in 1740. This map reveals the problems that accompanied the boundary dispute case. Cape Henlopen is shown in the incorrect location and the three parallel lines along the north part of the map reveal how the northern boundary had changed throughout the dispute. The Delaware Public Archives has several copies that can be accessed through using the map collection. (Delaware and Various Other States, File IX, 1740)
  • 1796 Map of Delaware (Overhead)
    • This 1796 map was part of a geography publication called Carey's American Edition of Guthries Geography Improved. It may be accessed through the Archives map collection. (Delaware, Vertical File VI, 1796)

Answer Sheet

  1. William Penn, Lord Baltimore
  2. King Charles II owed money to William Penn's father.
  3. The Marylanders wanted to stay close to the Chesapeake Bay.
  4. A Charter is a written document giving and explaining certain rights and obligations. A Charter is given by a government or ruler to a person, group of people, or company.
  5. Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands
  6. William Penn
  7. Penn wanted to be closer to the open sea - Delaware Bay.
  8. 12
  9. The spire on the New Castle County Courthouse
  10. Lord Baltimore's agents used a map with Cape Henlopen in the wrong location.
  11. Cape Henlopen
  12. Jeremiah Dixon, Charles Mason
  13. Mason-Dixon Line
  14. M
  15. P (Pennsylvania) Delaware was still considered part of Pennsylvania.
  16. Map
    1. Maryland
    2. Pennsylvania
    3. Town of New Castle
    4. Delaware
    5. Delaware Bay
    6. Chesapeake Bay

The Shape of Delaware Questions

  1. The two men who disagreed over the ownership of Delaware were ________________ and ___________________.
  2. Why did King Charles II of England give land in America to William Penn?
  3. Why didn't more Marylanders move to the Delaware area?
  4. What is a Charter?
  5. What other nations had settlements along the Delaware coast?
  6. Who is Pennsylvania named after?
  7. Why did William Penn want Delaware?
  8. How many miles was the arc around the town of New Castle?
  9. From what point in New Castle was the 12 mile arc started?
  10. Why did the agents of Lord Baltimore mistakenly give more land to William Penn than they actually intended?
  11. What is the name of the geographical point that was mapped incorrectly by Lord Baltimore's mapmakers?
  12. What were the names of the two surveyors who marked the borders of the state?
  13. What is the name of the line that separates Maryland and Delaware?
  14. Each mile along the border is marked by a square post. What letter is on the Maryland side of the post?
  15. What letter is on the Delaware side?
  16. The map on the next page has six blanks. Fill in the locations of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Town of New Castle, the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay.