Fort Nassau (South River)

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The South River c. 1650.
1891 USGS 1891 map showing the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, site of Dutch and Swedish forts
Modern map showing some New Netherland settlements

Fort Nassau was a factorij in New Netherland[1] between 1627–1651[2][3][4] located at the mouth of Big Timber Creek at its confluence with the Delaware River.[5] It was the first known permanent European-built structure in what would become the state of New Jersey. The creek name is a derived from the Dutch language Timmer Kill as recorded by David Pietersen de Vries in his memoirs of his journey of 1630–1633.[6] The Delaware Valley and its bay was called the "South River" (Dutch: Zuyd Rivier); the "North River" of the colony was the Hudson River.[7] The factorij was established for the fur trade, mostly in beaver pelts, with the indigenous populations of Susquehannock, who spoke an Iroquoian language, and the Lenape, whose language was of the Algonquian family. They also wanted to retain a physical claim to the territory.

While the fort is generally described as being at today's Gloucester City, New Jersey (39°53′41″N 75°07′45″W / 39.89472°N 75.12917°W / 39.89472; -75.12917 (Possible site of fort (Gloucester))); [8][9] analysis places it on the peninsula in the cove, now Brooklawn (39°52′50″N 75°07′36″W / 39.88056°N 75.12667°W / 39.88056; -75.12667 (Possible site of fort (Brooklawn))).[5][10] or possibly on the south side of the creek's cove, at today's Westville (39°52′48″N 75°08′19″W / 39.88000°N 75.13861°W / 39.88000; -75.13861 (Possible site of fort (Westville))).

Initially the fort was occupied intermittently, and on occasion used by the local population in seasonal migrations. In 1635, colonists from Virginia Colony occupied the fort. The governor of New Netherland at the time, Wouter van Twiller, sent a force and was successful in retaking the fort. This was the first of conflicts between the English and Dutch in the New World.[11][12] While thereafter the fort was continuously manned, the location was ill-suited to trade, as the richest fur-trapping areas were on the west side of the Delaware River.

From 1638–1655 the Delaware Valley was part of New Sweden. It was established by Peter Minuit, former Director of New Netherland who had purchased the island of Manhattan. In 1651, Petrus Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland, had his local representative Andries Hudde partially dismantle the fort, relocating its armaments and other equipment to a position on the other side of the river. He wanted to menace the Swedish and re-assert jurisdiction of the region; he renamed the structure as Fort Casimir.[13]

On Trinity Sunday in 1654, Johan Risingh, Commissary and Councilor to New Sweden Governor Lt. Col. Johan Printz, officially assumed his duties. He tried to expel the Dutch from the Delaware Valley and sent forces against Fort Casimir; the garrison surrendered. He renamed it as Fort Trinity (in Swedish Fort Trefaldighet). The Swedes now completely controlled their colony. On June 21, 1654, local bands of the Lenape met with the Swedes to reaffirm their ownership.

Peter Stuyvesant led a Dutch force which retook the fort on September 11, 1655. He renamed it as New Amstel (in Dutch Nieuw Amstel). Subsequently, Fort Christina also fell to the Dutch on September 15 and all New Sweden came under their control. The Dutch appointed John Paul Jacquet as governor, and made New Amstel the capital of the Dutch-controlled colony.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rink, Oliver (2009). "Seafarers and Businessmen". Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture. Yonkers, NY: Fordham University Press & Hudson River Museum. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8232-3039-6.
  2. ^ Gehring, Charles T. (1995), "Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi", New Sweden in America Swedish-Dutch relations in the Delaware Valley, University of Delaware Press, ISBN 0-87413-520-6
  3. ^ Munn, David C. (1976), First Settlement on the Delaware River, a history of Gloucester City, New Jersey (Louisa W. Llewellyn, ed.), Gloucester Ctty Library, retrieved 2013-06-07, In March, 1624, the Dutch West India Company, a trading company chartered to navigate and settle the area now known as the Delaware Valley, sent the Nieu Nederlant under Capt. Cornelius Jacobson Mey with 30 families to establish a colony. The colonists were distributed between the settlement on the North (Hudson) River and the one on the South (Delaware) River. Instructions issued to William Verhulst, Capt. Mey's successor as Director-General in 1625 indicate that the Dutch planned to make the settlement on the South River the seat of government for New Netherlands. This plan was altered one year later when Peter Minuit became Director-General and moved the base of operations to a new fort on Manhattan Island called Fort Amsterdam. Eyewitness accounts and a deposition given by one of the original colonists place the location of the 1624 settlement on Burlington Island. Little is known about the settlement other than it was a trading post and the home of the Director-General. In 1626 the Dutch began to concentrate their settlement efforts on Manhattan Island. However, Isaack de Resiere, the resident secretary of the West India Company reported to his superiors on the immediate need for a fort on the South River. His letter dated September 23, 1626, stated: "The honorable gentlemen submit to our consideration whether it would not be advisable to erect a small fort on the South River. This according to my judgement is not only advisable, but necessary for the following reasons: First to keep possession of the River, in order that others may not precede us there and erect a fort themselves. Secondly, because having a fort there, one could control all the trade in the river, Third, because the natives say that they are afraid to hunt in winter, being constantly harassed by war with the Mihquaes, whereas if a fort were there, an effort could be made to reconcile them." Shortly after this report, the company erected Fort Nassau on the Delaware River and placed a small garrison in it. Company reports indicate the trading season of 1626 was highly successful, adding to the justification for the fort's construction. No contemporary description of the Fort exists; however, the usual Dutch procedure was to select a site near a natural stream and enclose the area with a palisaded structure. There is evidence of a wooden building within the fort, but nothing of the fort itself. The Dutch kept a garrison in Fort Nassau until 1628, when the soldiers were recalled to Fort Amsterdam. Trading vessels were sent at regular intervals to deal with the Indians for furs until 1638 when the Swedes came to the Delaware Valley; then the Dutch sent a permanent garrison to the fort, maintaining it until 1651 when Peter Stuyvesant ordered the fort dismantled.
  4. ^ "New Netherland and Beyond: Delaware River Settlements".
  5. ^ a b Armstrong, Edward (January 20, 1853), The History And Location Of Fort Nassau Upon The Delaware, Newark, NJ: Daily Advertisers Print for New Jersey Historical Society
  6. ^ Cleary, William E. History of Fort Nassau, February 18, 2007. Accessed September 15, 2010.
  7. ^ Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Archived 2008-04-21 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ History of Fort Nassau
  9. ^ "Fort Nassau". Gloucester County, New Jersey History and Genealogy. Retrieved 2010-09-15.
  10. ^ Family Map of Delaware Valley in 17th century showing forts & settlements with date of founding
  11. ^ Brodhead, John Romeyn (1853). History of the State of New York: First Period 1609-1664. Harper & Brothers. pp. 254–255. fort orange hotel albany ny.
  12. ^ Jordon, John Wolf (1914), A History of Delaware County and its People, vol. 1, Lewis Historical Publishing Company
  13. ^ "Site Of Fort Casimir". Delaware Public Archives. State of Delaware. Archived from the original on 2010-08-21. Retrieved 2010-09-14.
  14. ^ Site of Fort Casimir "Site of Fort Casimir". Archived from the original on 2010-08-21. Retrieved 2010-09-14.
  15. ^ Siege of Christina Fort, 1655

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