Fort Casimir was a Dutch settlement in 17th century colonial province of New
Netherland. It was located on a no-longer existing barrier island at the end of Chestnut
Street in what is now New Castle, Delaware. The trading post was named for Ernst
Casimir of Nassau-Dietz, count of Nassau-Dietz and Stadtholder of Friesland, Groningen
and Drenthe in the Netherlands.
The Dutch called the Delaware River the Zuyd Rivier, or South River, and considered the
lands along it banks and those of its bay to be the southern flank of its province of New
Netherland. In 1638, the Delaware Valley began to be settled by Swedes, Finns, Dutch,
and Walloons and became the colony of New Sweden, though this was not officially
recognized by the Dutch Empire.
The fort changed hands several times.
Shortly after his arrival to take up his position as up as Director-General of New
Netherland in 1648, Peter Stuyvesant, attempted to re-assert control of the region and its
lucrative trade. In his initial attempt at control, he effected the construction of Fort
Beversreede near the terminus of the Great Minquas Path, at the mouth of the Schuylkill.
The location of earlier-built Fort Nassau on the east bank (now New Jersey) of the river,
had proved disadvantageous since the richest fur-trapping area of the native
Susquehannock and Lenape populations was inland to the west. In 1651, Stuyvesant
had the fort dismantled and relocated to the western bank downstream from Fort
Christina, the first and one of the larger Swedish settlements. He named it Fort Casimir.
Fort Beversreede was abandoned and the Dutch presence was consolidated.
On Trinity Sunday in 1654, Johan Risingh, Commissary and Councilor to New Sweden
Governor Lt. Col. Johan Printz, officially assumed his duties and his attempts to expel
the Dutch from the Delaware Valley. Fort Casimir surrendered to the Swedes and was
renamed Fort Trinity (in Swedish, Fort Trefaldighet). On June 21, 1654, the native
peoples met with the Swedes to reaffirm their alliance.
Stuyvesant led a Dutch force which retook the fort on September 11, 1655, renaming it
New Amstel (in Dutch Nieuw Amstel). Fort Christina, located 6.5 mi (10.5 km) to the
north fell on September 15, 1655. Fort Nya Elfsborg, on the east bank, was abandoned
and set afire by departing Swedish forces. New Sweden came under the control of the
Dutch. John Paul Jacquet was immediately appointed Governor, making New Amstel a
regional capitol of the Dutch province, subordinate to New Amsterdam. It is generally
assumed the Peach Tree War attack at Pavonia was a retaliation, as the indigenous
population considered the treaty with the Swedes to include a defence alliance.
In 1664, Stuyvesant peacefully surrendered control of Fort Amsterdam, and thereby, all
of New Netherland to the British. Proceeding south the British peacefully took Fort
Altena. A symbolic resistance was offered at Fort Casimir, but the fort quickly
succumbed. In 1673-1674 it came under Dutch control again, but reverted to the English
after the sigining of the Treaty of Westminster.
"Where Was Fort Casimir? Historical And Archaeological Evidence From The 1986 Heite Report".
New Castle, Delaware Community History and Archaeology Program. Retrieved September 17,
Delaware Federal Writers' Program (1938). Delaware, A Guide To The First State. New York:
Viking Press. p. 26. ISBN 9781603540087.
"Fort Nassau". Gloucester County, New Jersey History and Genealogy. Retrieved 2010-09-15.
The Great Trail Pennsylvania historical marker.
Cleary, William E. History of Fort Nassau, February 18, 2007. Accessed September 15, 2010.
"Site Of Fort Casimir". Delaware Public Archives. State of Delaware. Retrieved 2010-09-14.
"Siege of Christina Fort,1655". Maps, etc.. Florida Center for Instructional Technology. Retrieved
Shorto, Russell (2004). The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan
and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. New York: Random House. ISBN 1-4000-7867-9.
Plantenga, Bart (2001-04). "The Mystery of the Plockhoy Settlement in the Valley of Swans".
Historical Committee & Archives of the Mennonite Church: Mennonite Historical Bulletin. Retrieved
^ "Site Of Fort Casimir". Delaware Public Archives. State of Delaware. Retrieved 2010-09-14.
Renewing the search for Fort Casimir
By Larry NagengastJune 18, 2012
In the summer of 1651, at the direction of Peter Stuyvesant, better known in history
books for his leadership in the development of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island,
some 200 Dutch soldiers and sailors became the first Europeans to make New Castle their
It wasn’t the first Dutch settlement in Delaware — Zwaanendael, at Lewes, had come
and gone some 20 years before. But for 12 of the next 13 years, until the English took
over in 1664, the settlement on the Delaware River would be controlled by Dutch
Today, in a town where historic markers seem to appear on most every corner, there is
no above-ground evidence of the Dutch primacy. Even the noted Dutch House, now a
museum, wasn’t built until the late 1690s.
Last week, near the corner of Second and Chestnut streets, not far from the ferry
terminal that was abandoned when the Delaware Memorial Bridge was completed in
1951, archaeologists dug a trench 50 feet long and resumed their search for the long-lost
Fort Casimir, the first and largest structure built during the period of Dutch control.
According to various accounts, the wooden fort had a relatively short life. Frequent
repairs were required and, in 1671, the English commandant in New Castle
recommended that it be dismantled and be replaced by a blockhouse.
Behind the fort, the Dutch built a small village of small wooden houses and shops,
including a grist mill, a brick kiln, a school and a courthouse where cases were decided
by the local sheriff, historians Barbara E. Benson and Carol E. Hoffecker wrote in “New
Castle, Delaware: A Walk Through Time.” All evidence of the village has vanished, they
No drawings of the original Fort Casimir exist. This is a drawing of Fort Trinity - which
is what the Swedes renamed Fort Casmir after they took control of it and rebuilt it. It has
been used as the basis of what the dimensions of the original Fort Casimir may have
been. (Courtesy: Delaware Historical Society)
At the time of its construction, Fort Casimir would have been situated quite close to the
river, as early drawings indicated that a ramp or elongated pier extended from its front
gate to the river to facilitate offloading of passengers, livestock and supplies. But at least
100 years of filling in the riverfront area have created a significant distance between the
river and the probable site of the fort, said archaeologist Craig Lukezic of the state
Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, who was in charge of last week’s dig.
The crew included preservation experts from John Milner Associates of West Chester,
Pa., University of Delaware anthropology professor Lu Ann De Cunzo, and more than a
half-dozen volunteers from the Archaeological Society of Delaware.
With a budget of only $10,000 for the projection, “we had to rely on the volunteers,” said
Lukezic, who is also the society’s president.
They dug their trench, with help from a City of New Castle backhoe, in an area where
archaeologists Ned Heite, a former state archivist, and his wife, Louise, in a dig of their
own in 1986, discovered what they said were Dutch tobacco pipes, bricks and
earthenware. “Fort Casimir has been found,” Louise Heite wrote in the report of their
The mission last week, according to Lukezic and Wade Catts, a Milner archaeologist who
observed some of the Heites’ dig in 1986, was to expand on the previous research and
attempt to further define the boundaries of the fort, which, according to drawings from
the era, was a little more than 200 feet long.
The trench, about four feet wide and four feet deep in most sections, was dug
perpendicular to the presumed fortification line, based on the Heites’ work in 1986,
Much like the rings on a tree help tell its age, the layers of soil on the walls of the trench
helped tell the history of the site. Under the grass and topsoil was a layer of crumbling
asphalt, a remnant of the paving from the ferry terminal. Then came another thick layer
of soil, most likely fill deposited before the ferry terminal was built. Next, reaching nearly
four feet down, came a layer of gray-black ash and cinder, described by the archaeologists
as “late Victorian fill,” most likely deposited between roughly 1880 and 1920. At the
bottom of the trench was a layer of sand, with water bubbling through on the end
closest to the river, reinforcing the theory that, some 200 years ago, the riverbed
extended at least this far inland.
Peter Leach, a geo-archaeologist with Milner Associates, has been using ground-
penetrating radar (GPR) on the soil at the Fort Casimir site and around the George Read
House, a couple of blocks south on The Strand. GPR, he said, sends a signal whenever it
detects a change in the composition of the soil below.
With the hundreds of GPR probes, “we’re starting to get a picture of what’s going on in
the town,” he said. “I should be able to take these [soil samples], compare them to the
GPR and get a much more accurate view of what’s going on here.”
Since the fort was made of wood and was in poor condition when it was dismantled,
there was little expectation of finding significant portions of its framework during a dig
as limited as last week’s, Lukezic said.
What did the week of digging yield?
While showing off a flattened musket ball, Lukezic pointed out that, when they’re in the
field, archaeologists “have a lot of enthusiasm, but we don’t know everything yet.” Only
after they return to their labs to examine and analyze their finds can they determine the
significance of their work, he said. “We’ll know better in maybe a year,” he said.
That musket ball, he explained, could be a relic of Fort Casimir, or it might date only to
the War of 1812, when the New Castle area was heavily fortified against the threat of
British naval attacks.
Also found in the trench, Lukezic said, were a pipe bowl and some yellow brick, both
typical of what the Dutch used in the mid-17th century, “and some metal objects that
look pretty curious.”
Catts, pointing to two strips of darkened earth running parallel to each other about four
feet apart near the end of the trench closest to the parking lot, expressed hope that they
were “palisade lines,” remnants of decayed wooden fencing that would have extended
around the perimeter of the fort.
If Catts is correct, it would prove that Fort Casimir directly faced the river, running
roughly parallel to the line of rowhouses behind the dig site at the north end of Second
Street. And, if this theory holds, Lukezic said, it would likely mean that the rowhouses
were built over the remains of the fort. It will be up to some future team, they said, to
continue the excavations to the north and south of the trench in hope of finding a
bastion, which could determine the location of the corners of the fort.
De Cunzo, who has been researching in colonial New Castle for nearly 20 years, said
“the signs are good” that the dig confirms the Heites’ findings. And, she said, no matter
how much or how little is revealed about Fort Casimir, the uncovered artifacts and soil
samples will add to the overall history of New Castle.
“I’d hesitate to say that I know what we’ve found,” she said, “but we will know more
than we did when we got started.”
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