A big part of the Finnish-Americans are known to live in the northernmost parts of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The first Finns to the New World, however, ended up a lot more south than that. The joint colony of the Finns and Swedes was first established in present-day Wilmington, in Delaware. The 375th anniversary of the first Finnish and Swedish settlers to America will be celebrated in May 11th, and it brings the Finnish Speaker of Parliament and the Swedish royalty to town.
Many Americans know the story of Englishman William Penn, who arrived in 1682 in what is nowadays known as Pennsylvania. But the little known fact is that already 44 years earlier, in 1638, the first Finns arrived on the same coast and established a permanent colony together with the Swedes.
All those years ago the Dutchman Peter Minuit was named commander of the expedition that was to establish Sweden’s claim in the New World through a purchase of land from the Indians. His crew consisted of Finns and Swedes who came to explore the new continent. The expedition set sail with two tall ships, Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip. The crossing of the Atlantic took three months, and it was spring before the ships sailed into the Delaware River and reached the coast of the present-day Wilmington.
According to some historical sources, the exact arrival date is March 28th, 1638. This would be the day when the commander of the expedition, Peter Minuit, went ashore to negotiate a treaty with the Indians. The next day the land from Duck Creek to the Skuykill was bought from the Native Americans, and the land was named New Sweden. At that time Finland was still under Swedish rule, and many of the Finns onboard had first moved to Sweden and then continued their journey to America.
The newcomers set to work building a trading post to the area they named after Queen Christina of Sweden. This particular place in Wilmington is still known as the Fort Christina Park today. Whatever the motives for migrating, the Finns and Swedes who arrived in the present-day Delaware liked what they found and established a successful colony. They are known for having had particularly good relations with the Native Americans in the area.
A group of people and organizations, who still cherish the Finnish and Swedish heritage in the region, are in charge of the arrangements of the anniversary celebrations. Finnish and Swedish organizations based in the area have closely cooperated with the Finnish and Swedish Embassies to set the table for the 375th anniversary celebrations.
Finland will be represented by the Speaker of Parliament Eero Heinäluoma and his spouse Satu Siitonen-Heinäluoma. The Swedish royalty will attend with the King of Sweden, H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia honoring this special occasion.
The Jubilee Day will start with a seminar in Philadelphia presenting the modern Finland and Sweden in the U.S. today. While respecting the history, there is also a wish to show what these countries have developed into during the past centuries: safe and prosperous nations with world-class education systems and high-tech knowhow. All the Nordic neighbors have a reason to be proud of the region’s topping in global surveys on good business environments, best places to live in, most stable countries and least corrupt nations. The CEO of Finnish design company Artek, Mirkku Kullberg, has been confirmed as one of the Finnish speakers.
The festivities continue with visits to several historically important sites in the region: the Finnish Monument in Chester, and in Wilmington the Old Swedish Church and the beautiful Fort Christina Park, which is located on the spot where the landing took place. An important part of the day is also a sailing trip on the replica of the Kalmar Nyckel tall ship.
The day of celebration ends with a dinner gala in Wilmington’s Chase Center. This black-tie event includes receptions, Scandinavian dinner, and entertainment. The Nordic Royalty and Dignitaries attend, as well as the Governor Jack Markell and the U.S. Senators Thomas Carper and Chris Coons. Also the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden has been invited to attend the gala in Wilmington, which is also Vice President’s home town.
Everybody is most welcome to join the celebrations: the Jubilee Symposium in Philadelphia, the ceremony at the Finnish Monument in Chester, and several events in Wilmington are all open to the public. Also don’t miss a big amount of events in Philadelphia from April to June, with Finnish-Swedish music, food and performances. You will find more information about the celebration and events on the www.375th.org website.
Come and join us in celebrating our 375 years on this continent!