Swanendael, fort

In 1631 thirty-two colonists settled on what is now Lewes Creek near Cape Henlopen with the intention to engage in whaling and cultivating tobacco. Within a year, Native Americans attacked the fledgling patroonship, killing all colonists. David Pietersz de Vries, whose few lines are the main source, refers to a small fort (fortjen) and a house (Huys), “encircled with a palisade instead of a parapet.”

The location of this fort is supposed to be on Pilottown Road, near the twentieth-century De Vries monument. Yet the first archaeological search in 1952 initially failed to provide a positive identification. A ca. 1630 map (fig. 8) suggests that a square-shaped palisade with two points surrounded the house. Even though the fort is drawn out of scale and the map should not be interpreted as an accurate representation, it still provided important guidance to the further explorations, as archaeologists searched for the bastion closest to the Lewes Creek, called “Bloemmaerts Kil” on the map. In the following years, over two hundred separate postholes and molds were uncovered. While some of these may have resulted from the construction of the 1630s palisade, others are evidence of the posts of a much later farmer’s fence. Several fragments of glazed redware, white earthenware, and glass, as well as pieces of glass bottles were found, but these all date back to the eighteenth century. The only artifacts possibly indicative of the early Dutch settlement found in 1954 were yellow Dutch bricks, presumably used in building the house inside the stockade. Further research in 1964 discovered what Chesleigh A. Bonine considered the remains of the south point of the palisade. According to him, the traces of charcoal found in the subsoil along the postmold lines correspond with De Vries’s statement that the palisade was “mostly burned” during the attack. While Bonine has little doubt about the exact location of the Swanendael settlement, the archaeological findings of the 1950s and 1960s are nowadays considered inconclusive, casting doubt on the location as well. It seems likely that what Bonine and others excavated were the remains of a battery shown on a 1773 map.

In some of the secondary literature, the fort at Swanendael is called “Fort Oplandt.” This is based on a nineteenth-century misreading of a phrase in the account of De Vries about the massacre of 1631, which killed “two and thirty men, who were outside the fort on the land to do their work.” The location Uppland or Oplant mentioned several times in later Dutch records is located much higher on the Delaware River, just west of Tinicum Island.

Bronnen en literatuur

Jacobs, J., Dutch Colonial Fortifications in North America 1614-1676 (2015)