At the time of the arrival of the Europeans in the 17th century, the area around the bay was inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape. The river they called Lenape Wihittuck, which means "the rapid stream of the Lenape". The first recorded European visit to the bay was by Henry Hudson in 1609. The bay, the river, and the Indian tribe were all renamed after Lord Delaware (Thomas West, Baron De La Warr), an Englishman who led the contingent which reinforced the Jamestown settlement in 1610. In the middle 17th century, an area of the bay was claimed by the Dutch as part of the New Netherland colony. It was also settled by the Swedish and finally the British took control of the area of the present day states of Delaware and Pennsylvania. The area was quickly settled, leading to the growth of Philadelphia on the Delaware River as the largest city in North America in the 18th century.
The strategic importance of the bay was noticed by the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War, who proposed the use of Pea Patch Island at the head of the bay for a defensive fortification to protect the important ports in Philadelphia and New Castle, Delaware. Fort Delaware was later constructed on Pea Patch Island. During the American Civil War it was used as a camp for Confederate prisoners-of-war.
In 1885, the United States government systematically undertook the formation of a 26-ft. channel 600 ft. wide from Philadelphia to deep water in Delaware Bay. The River and Harbor Act of 1899 provided for a 30-foot channel 600 feet wide from Philadelphia to the deep water of the bay. The bay today is one of the most important navigational channels in the United States, and is the second busiest waterway in the United States after the Mississippi River. Its lower course forms part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Nanticoke Indian Tribe
Source of Bay Facts:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - www.noaa.gov
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - www.epa.gov
Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control - www.dnrec.delaware.gov
Partnership for the Delaware Estuary - www.delawareestuary.org
The Nature Conservancy - www.nature.org
Wikipedia - www.wikipedia.org