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Delaware is one of five Middle Atlantic States in the United States of America. Delaware was one of the original Thirteen Colonies and is known as the "First State" as it was the first to ratify the United States Constitution. The name Delaware comes from Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, after whom Delaware Bay was named.
Delaware is the second-smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island being the smallest.
Delaware is bounded to the north by Pennsylvania, to the east by the Delaware River, New Jersey and the Atlantic Ocean and to the west and south by Maryland. Small portions of Delaware are also situated on the far, or eastern, side of the Delaware River Estuary, and these small parcels share land boundaries with New Jersey.
The state of Delaware, together with the Eastern Shore counties of Maryland and two counties of Virginia, form the Delmarva Peninsula, a geographical unit stretching far down the Mid-Atlantic Coast.
The definition of the northern boundary of the state is highly unusual. Most of the boundary between Delaware and Pennsylvania is defined by an arc extending 12 miles (19 km) from the cupola of the courthouse in New Castle, and is referred to as the Twelve-Mile Circle. This is the only true-arc political boundary in the United States (excluding those boundaries defined by latitude, such as the US border with Canada, the border between Oregon and California, etc, which are all arcs with the geographic North Pole as its center.) This border extends all of the way to the low-tide mark on the New Jersey shore, which continues down the shoreline until it again
reaches the twelve-mile arc in the south; then the boundary continues in a more conventional way in the middle of the main channel (thalweg) of the Delaware River Estuary. A portion of this arc extends into Maryland to the west, and the remaining western border is a tangent to this arc that runs a bit to the east. The Wedge of land between the arc and the Maryland border remained in dispute until 1921, when Delaware's claim was confirmed.
Delaware is on a level plain, the highest elevation not even rising 450 feet above sea level. The northern part is associated with the Appalachian Piedmont and is full of hills with rolling surfaces. South of Newark and Wilmington, the state follows the Atlantic Coastal Plain with flat, sandy, and, in some parts, swampy ground. A ridge about 75 to 80 feet in altitude extends along the western boundary of the state and is the drainage divide between the two major water bodies of the Delaware River and several streams falling into Chesapeake Bay in the west.
Since the majority of Delaware is a part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the climate is moderated by the effects of the ocean. The southern third of the state has a mild temperate climate, with hot, humid summers and mild winters. The middle portion is the transition to the upper portion of the state, which has a warm continental climate and receives snow nearly every winter.
Before Delaware was settled by Europeans, the area was home to the Eastern Algonquian tribes known as the Unami Lenape or Delaware throughout the Delaware valley, and the Nanticoke along the rivers leading into the Chesapeake Bay. The Unami Lenape in the Delaware valley were closely related to Munsee Lenape tribes along the Hudson River. They had a settled hunting and agricultural society, and they rapidly became middlemen in an increasingly frantic fur trade with their ancient enemy, the Minqua or Susquehannock. With the loss of their lands on the Delaware River and the destruction of the Minqua by the Iroquois of the Five Nations in the 1670's, the
remnants of the Lenape left the region and moved over the Alleghany Mountains by the mid-18th century.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in present day Delaware by establishing a trading post at Zwaanendael, near the site of Lewes in 1631. Within a year all the settlers were killed in a dispute with Native Americans. In 1638 a Swedish trading post and colony was established at Fort Christina (now in Wilmington) by the Dutchman Peter Minuit at the head of a group of Swedes, Finns and Dutch. Thirteen years later the Dutch, reinvigorated by the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant, established a new fort in 1651 at present day New Castle, and in 1655 they took over the entire Swedish colony, incorporating it into the Dutch New Netherlands.
Only nine years later, in 1664, the Dutch were themselves forcibly removed by a British expedition under the direction of James, the Duke of York. Fighting off a prior claim by Cæcilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, Proprietor of Maryland, the Duke passed his somewhat dubious ownership on to William Penn in 1682. Penn badly wanted an outlet to the sea for his Pennsylvania province and leased what were now known as the "Lower Counties on the Delaware" from the Duke.
Penn established representative government and briefly combined his two possessions under one General Assembly in 1682. However, by 1704 the Province of Pennsylvania had grown so much, their representatives wanted to make decisions without the assent of the Lower Counties and the two groups of representatives began meeting on their own, one at Philadelphia, and the other at New Castle. Penn and his heirs remained the Proprietors of both and always appointed the same person Deputy Governor for their Province of Pennsylvania and their territory of the Lower Counties.
Like the other middle colonies, the Lower Counties on the Delaware initially lacked much enthusiasm for a break with Britain. They had a good relationship with the Proprietary government, and generally were allowed more independence of action in their Colonial Assembly than other colonies. Nevertheless, there was strong objection to the seemingly arbitrary measures of Parliament, and it was well understood that the territory's very existence as a separate entity depended upon its keeping step with its powerful neighbors, especially Pennsylvania.
So it was that New Castle lawyer Thomas McKean denounced the Stamp Act in the strongest terms, and Kent County native John Dickinson, became the "Penman of the Revolution." Anticipating the Declaration of Independence, patriot leaders Thomas McKean and Caesar Rodney convinced the Colonial Assembly to declare itself separated from British and Pennsylvania rule on June 15, 1776, but the person best representing Delaware's majority, George Read, could not bring himself to vote for a Declaration of Independence. Only the dramatic overnight ride of Caesar Rodney gave the delegation the votes needed to cast Delaware's vote for Independence. Once
the Declaration was adopted, however, Read signed the document.
Initially led by John Haslet, Delaware provided one of the premier regiments in the Continental Army, known as the "Delaware Blues" and nicknamed the "Blue Hen Chickens." In August 1777 General Sir William Howe led a British army through Delaware on his way to a victory at the Battle of Brandywine and capture of the city of Philadelphia. The only real engagement on Delaware soil was fought on September 3, 1777, at Cooch's Bridge in New Castle County. It is believed to be the first time that the Stars and Stripes was flown in battle.
Following the Battle of Brandywine, Wilmington was occupied by the British, and State President John McKinly was taken prisoner. The British remained in control of the Delaware River for much of the rest of the war, disrupting commerce and providing encouragement to an active Loyalist portion of the population, particularly in Sussex County. Only the repeated military activities of State President Caesar Rodney was able to control them.
Following the American Revolution, statesmen from Delaware were among the leading proponents of a strong central United States government with equal representation for each state. Once the Connecticut Compromise was reached-creating a U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives-the leaders in Delaware were able to easily secure ratification of the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787, making Delaware the first state to do so.
The Big August Quarterly is an annual religious festival held in Wilmington, Delaware, and is sometimes called "Big Quarterly" or "August Quarterly." The festival began in 1814 by Peter Spencer in connection with the "quarterly" meeting (or "conference") of the African Union Church. Out of the four meetings during the year, the one in August became the "annual conference" of the Church when ministers' assignments for the next year were announced, among other business - it was a time for free blacks and slaves alike to come together (from the multi-state area) and celebrate their faith with singing,
dancing, testifying, and feasting. It is the oldest such celebration in the country. Senator Biden's remarks on the significance of the "Big Quarterly" were published in the Congressional Record for 30 July 1981 (Vol. 127, No. 117) and for 9 August 1984 (Vol 130, No. 106).
Every year, the Delaware Sängerbund (German for Singers Alliance) holds a three day long Oktoberfest. Although the cultural significance of the Sängerbund has diminished over the years, the festival is extremely popular and attracts visitors from all over the East Coast.
The city of Wilmington is home to several ethnic festivals, including the Puerto Rican Festival, which includes a parade, the Polish Festival, the Greek Festival held at the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Italian Festival held at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church. Wilmington's substantial Polish-American population supports a yearly Pulaski Day Parade in March as well as a summer Polish Festival, hosted by Saint Hedwig's Roman Catholic Church. The Italian Festival is held in an area of Wilmington known as Little Italy by Saint Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, and covers several blocks. It runs from sunup to sundown for a
week, and features Italian food, merchandise, live music, bars, amusement park rides, and the All Saints parade on the closing night of the festival.
In Bethany Beach, the end of the summer season is honored each year with a traditional jazz funeral down the town's boardwalk. And at the end of October, Rehoboth Beach holds its annual "Sea Witch Halloween and Fiddlers' Festival." Rehoboth Beach also hosts the Polar Bear Plunge every February. This event involves running into the ocean to raise money for Special Olympics.
One of Delaware's most bizarre - and enjoyable - traditions is Sussex County's Punkin Chunkin, where specially grown pumpkins are shot from hydraulic or air-powered cannons, centrifugal devices and other various human powered contraptions. The goal is to see which device can hurl a pumpkin the greatest distance, with some currently reaching distances of almost a mile. The carnival atmosphere is themed in pumpkins with more and more attractions added each year.
Another unique Delaware rite is Return Day, which occurs every two years on the Thursday following the November general election. Believed to be the only event of its kind in the United States, and recognized as such by Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., and the U.S. Congress, it is a continuation of a tradition that dates back to Delaware's earliest days in the 18th century. Residents of Sussex County at that time would travel to Georgetown, the county seat, to cast their ballots and then wait, in the days following, to hear the results, or "returns." Today, the immediacy of television, newspapers, radio and the Internet would make such an event
obsolete, but it has thrived as a matter of tradition and celebration. Festivities include the reading of election results from the Sussex County Courthouse balcony by the town crier, a parade in which winners and losers ride together, the roasting of an ox behind the courthouse, and the ceremonial burying of the hatchet in sand from Lewes Beach.