Delaware is called “The First State” because it was the first of the 13 original colonies to ratify, or sign, the US Constitution in 1787. But here’s something you probably didn’t know: It became the official state nickname in 2002 after Mrs. Anabelle O’Malley’s first grade class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in the city of Wilmington requested it.
Likewise, the Dryptosauridae became the state’s official dinosaur in 2022 thanks to the efforts of students at Shue-Medill Middle School in the small city of Newark. They actually drafted a bill (House Bill 390) requesting it. Dryptosauridae bones were discovered in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
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Delaware is on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and sits on an east coast peninsula called the Delmarva. The state is bordered by Pennsylvania to the north; the Delaware River, the Delaware Bay, New Jersey and the Atlantic Ocean to the east; and Maryland to the south and west.
What really happened
- The people who lived in this area at least 11,500 years ago are believed to have come from Asia. They traveled across a land bridge that’s now underwater. Thousands of years later, the Lenni Lenape, Nanticoke, and other Native American tribes lived on the land. Roughly 500 descendants of the original Nanticoke Indians reside in Delaware today.
- English explorer Henry Hudson may have been the first European to arrive, reaching the area’s bay and river in 1609. He was followed by the Dutch, English and Swedish colonists during the 1600s. While settlers fought for the land, the English regained control of the territory in 1674.
- The state’s assembly (lawmakers) voted to break all ties with Great Britain and Pennsylvania, forming the state of Delaware. Delaware split from Pennsylvania in 1701. However, the two colonies shared the same governor until the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1776.
- After the US won the American Revolution, it became a state in 1787.
- In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln tried to make this deal with the state’s slave owners: the federal government would pay them $300 for each slave. This was President Lincoln’s attempt to free the slaves and possibly end the Civil War. By giving slave owners this money, they could afford to pay slaves to work for them, but many weren’t thrilled with this idea. It was rejected by the Delaware legislature.
- Although slavery was legal in the state, Delaware troops fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865). Union supporters generally wanted to end slavery. Then in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution declared all slaves in the country to be free people.
- Ruth Ann Minner served as the state’s first female governor from 2001-2009.
- In 2008, Joe Biden became the first Delaware senator elected to the vice presidency of the United States. In 2020, he was elected as the 46th president of the US.
Stuff you should know
- The northern edge of the state is covered by the hilly Piedmont region, which slopes downward. The rest of the state is covered by the low Atlantic Coastal Plain, which contains three state forests: Blackbird, Taber and Redden. There are sandy beaches along the eastern coastline and, at the state’s southern border, the plain becomes swampland.
- During part of the nineteenth century, the state produced the most peaches in the country. The fifth and sixth grade students at St. John’s Lutheran school in Dover, Delaware suggested to state lawmakers that peach pie be adopted as the state’s official dessert. Because of their efforts, it became the official dessert in 2009.
- Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr, was the first governor of Virginia. The Delaware Bay, Delaware River, and the state of Delaware were named after him.
- In the 1800s, twenty-four-year-old Thomas Garrett, who lived in the city of Wilmington, rescued a kidnapped, free Black woman who was sold into slavery in the South. During his lifetime, he helped more than 2,500 escaped slaves move through Delaware, an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
- The state only has three counties:New Castle, Kent and Sussex; this is the least amount of counties in any US Compare that to the state with the most counties, which is Texas. It has 254 counties, followed by Georgia with 159 counties, and Virginia with 134 counties.
Crazy, funny or just weird
- The Dover International Speedway, nicknamed the Monster Mile, hosts NASCAR races. A 46-foot statue of a monster holds a full-size car in its hand in front of the track.
- Delaware could fit into Alaska 335.7 times. At its thinnest point, the state is 9 miles across.
- In 2013, students in Wilmington broke the Guinness World Record for building the tallest LEGO tower. The tower stood over 112 feet tall and was made of more than 500,000 bricks.
- For many years, Leonard Maull ran a local bait and tackle shop in the city of In 2012, a helicopter hovered above the city and began dropping thousands of dollars of cash from the sky. By then, Maull had already passed away. Apparently, $10,000 was set aside in his will to be dropped from the sky for local residents and visitors to enjoy.
Tell me more
- At 80-feet high, the Great Dune in Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes is the state’s highest dune.
- The log cabin originated in Finland. Finnish settlers arrived in Delaware in the mid-1600s and brought with them plans for the log cabin, a symbol of the American pioneer.
- Henry Heimlich, born in Wilmington, was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He has been credited for saving thousands of lives around the world by inventing the Heimlich Maneuver, a way to stop people from choking.
- One of Delaware’s nicknames is the “Diamond State”. According to legend, Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of this country and the third US president, once referred to the state as a “jewel” due to its location.
- In 1776, Brigadier-General Caesar Rodney of Dover probably cast the most important vote of his life and for this country. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, he rode 80 miles on horseback to Philadelphia during thunder showers and a severe heat wave. To make matters worse, he suffered from asthma and cancer. He arrived on time to cast the deciding vote in favor of our nation’s independence. His historic horseback ride is depicted on the back of the Delaware quarter.
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