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During the colonial period of Delaware’s history, the colony was under the dominion of three separate nations, Sweden (1638-1655), the Netherlands (1655-1664), and England (1664-1776). The English period is subdivided into two distinct governing periods: the Duke of York era (1664-1682), during which time the area was controlled by James, the Duke of York, through his governor in the colony of New York; and the Proprietary era (1681-1776) when the Three Lower Counties on the Delaware became part of the lands granted to William Penn known as Pennsylvania.
While few manuscript records of the earliest periods exist, the Archives has a collection of some of the miscellaneous records generated by the colonial administrations of each nation. This compilation, made up of some original documents as well as photostats and microfilmed copies of documents stored in other repositories, contains the records created by colonial governments to ensure the efficient management of the colony and the protection of its citizens.
The English period of control is the most completely documented era. The administrative activities of the colony while under the Duke of York’s control are found within this collection. Other records of the period are located within the governmental agencies established by the Duke to maintain authority over his distant colony. Under the English King, Charles, the Duke of York granted William Penn lands as partial payment of debt owed to his father; the area known as the Three Lower Counties became part of a benevolent and democratic proprietorship. Until 1704 the lower counties met in assembly with representatives from the counties of Pennsylvania; therefore, many of Delaware’s colonial records are found within the colonial records of Pennsylvania. In 1704, with Penn’s permission, the lower counties established their own legislative assembly but remained under the direct control of the Governor of Pennsylvania, subject to both proprietary and royal authority until 1776.
Penn and his successors granted land, appointed officials, mediated disputes, and created, or continued, existing colonial offices and thus ensured the growth and success of the Three Lower Counties. In 1776 Delaware severed its relationship with Pennsylvania. While some records of Penn’s administration are stored within this collection, the vast majority of the rich documentary evidence of life in the lower counties during the proprietary period is stored within the papers of the respective county agencies or in the colonial records of Pennsylvania.

NB. For additional information on Delaware related records stored in other repositories, see the “Delaware Fugitive Records Project Materials.”

sle; August 17, 1989

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