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A Timeline of Wilmington’s History

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Wilmington was the first permanent European settlement in Delaware and the only Swedish colony in North America.

Its founder, Dutchman Peter Minuit, had been director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland.

Led by Minuit, Swedes and Finns arrived in March 1638. They constructed a wooden fort to serve as a trading post and built the first log cabins in America.

After 17 years, conflicts with the Dutch and neglect by the motherland due to war hastened the end of New Sweden. The colony was taken over
by the Dutch, and then, in 1664, by the English.

In 1731, Philadelphian Thomas Willing laid out ambitious plans for a great port city. He called his real estate venture Willing Town.

It proved to be a bust until Pennsylvania Quaker William Shipley arrived. His wife was convinced it was the place divinely chosen for them to live.

In 1739, with more than 600 residents and a charter from King George, Willing Town became Wilmington, named for the King’s friend Spencer Compton, First Earl of Wilmington. William Shipley was elected Burgess.

British occupied Wilmington after the Battle of the Brandywine in 1777, and generals Washington and Lafayette led troops through en route to final victory at Yorktown in 1781.

Shipping and industry flourished along the rivers, attracting European immigrants in the 1800s. The city gained an opera house, an expanded library, a park system and public education.

Pre-Civil War Wilmington became a hotbed of abolitionist activity and an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
In the mid-1900s, Wilmington’s industrial base was waning; it was a battleground for civil rights and desegregation and a laboratory for “urban renewal.” Interstate 95 bisected the city in 1963.

Once “chemical capital of the world,” thanks to the DuPont Co., Wilmington became a magnet for financial institutions with the Financial Center Development Act of 1981.

Wilmington is home to a record number of Fortune 500 companies. Its population exceeds 71,000. The largest city in Delaware and home to word-class museums and performing arts, it is both the corporate and cultural heart of the state. 


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