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Why is Delaware Known As the First State?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated May 17, 2024
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Delaware is known as the first state in the United States because it was the first of the original 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution that formed the U.S. government. Prior to this unification, the 13 colonies were all under British rule. Feeling that they were being denied basic rights and freedoms by the British Empire, the colonies banded together and declared independence from Great Britain during the American Revolution. Eventually, the colonies would come together to form a strong national government through ratifying of the United States Constitution.

Delaware's history, however, stretches back much father than its position as the first state. The first Europeans to settle the region where the Dutch, in 1631 they set up a trading post in the area, within a year, however, the original settlers where dead from conflict with local Indian tribes. In 1638, the Swedes successfully established Fort Christina, the first permanent settlement in Delaware. The Dutch settled in the Delaware Valley again in 1651, establishing New Castle and eventually capturing Fort Christina. After changing hands a few more times, the settlement came under permanent English control in 1674.

The factors leading up to the American Revolutionary War and Delaware's eventual position as the first state where varied. Colonist may have been resentful of their lack of representation in British parliament as well as the taxes opposed without their consent. Although Delaware had a large and vocal community of individuals who remained loyal to Great Britain, the colony voted for independence. On July 4, 1776, the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence to severe ties with Great Britain. Two months later, Delaware officially established itself as a state and separated its government from neighboring Pennsylvania.

Though small, the first state supplied nearly 4,000 soldiers to the American Revolutionary War. To keep themselves entertained, these soldiers often enjoyed cockfighting with Blue Hens. A breed of chickens noted for the ferocity they displayed when fighting. The term would later be adopted as a nickname for the soldiers, and overtime Delaware was dubbed the "Blue Hen State."

While still at war, the 13 states originally adopted the Articles of Confederation, a system of government with the states being the primary authority and a subordinate central government in place. After the war, Delaware was struggling with an economic depression and debt. High taxes placed on goods imported from other states and overuse of farming land were also considered significant problems. Some citizens believed that a stronger national government was needed to regulate prices and defend the states coastline from attack.

In 1787, state representatives were sent to a convention to discuss changes to the Articles of Confederation, however, discussions soon focused on creating a stronger national government. After drafting the United States Constitution, the document was sent out to all states and voted on by individual citizens. In Delaware, special state conventions where held to determine who would get to vote. Thirty men were chosen with 10 each representing Delaware's three counties. After deliberating, they unanimously voted in favor of the constitution and lead Delaware to its historical seat as the first state.

The date on which Delaware ratified the United States Constitution is included on the Delaware state flag. Delaware's flag features a buff colored diamond centered on a colonial blue background, colors thought to represent the uniform worn by General George Washington. At the flags interior, an American Revolutionary War soldier and a Colonial farmer are depicted, while the ribbon banner on the flag reads "Liberty and Independence," the states motto. "First State" became Delaware's official state nickname in 2002.

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Discussion Comments
By Spotiche5 — On Oct 17, 2014

@raynbow- Almost anywhere you travel in the state of Delaware, you will find historical attractions to explore. I do recommend that you visit the New Castle Historic District if you love looking at buildings that have been maintained to look and feel like they did hundreds of years ago. Going there is definitely like taking a trip back in time.

If you want to explore a place where some of our forefathers gathered to talk about the country's future, the New Castle Court House is steeped in history. It's a neat place where the politics of the day were discussed, not to mention that the building is a beautiful example of colonial architecture.

By Heavanet — On Oct 16, 2014

@raynbow- I think you will have a great time visiting Delaware! I took a vacation there several years ago, and I had a great time.

Though it's not exactly a historical destination, I recommend that you go to Rehoboth Beach if you get the chance. It is a beautiful beach with a lot of great attractions surrounding it, plus it does have a lot of historical significance since people have been vacationing there for generations.

There are also numerous museums throughout the state, including the Rehoboth Beach Museum that has a lot of interesting facts about the area and the state.

By Raynbow — On Oct 16, 2014

I love American history, and this article gives an interesting account of Delaware and how it got its nickname. I'm actually planning to make a trip to the state next year, and I want to make sure that I experience all the rich history that the first state has to offer. Any suggestions for great locations to explore while I'm there?

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