New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Drawing of Crane Hook Church by Walter Stewart from Eckman "Crane hook on the Delaware, 1958".
Google map of Crane Hook area between I295 & the Memorial Bridge to the South and the Christina River to the North and I495 & New Castle Ave to the west.

Crane Hook Church

The People The Church The Congregation and Ministers 1671 Census 1693 Census Afterwards & Resources

The settlements of Crane Hook and Swanwyck between New Castle and Wilmington have been gone for 300 years. But during its heyday in the late 1600's Crane Hook was the site of the church whose service area covered what is now New Castle County and adjacent areas of New Jersey and Maryland. It was the predecessor to Old Swedes Church (Holy Trinity) in Wilmington. Nothing remains. Even the state historical marker disappeared for many years, though it will be replaced in July 2012.

The People of Crane Hook

The earliest users of the area were the Indians. Remains of a hunting/fishing camp were found in 1944. But, according to Eckman (p17) the area around Crane Hook (Hook = Point in Dutch) was completely unsettled in 1655 when Swedish rule ended. According to Eckman, the land at Crane Hook had been subdivided into 8 "home lots", two larger lots, and common ground. Crane Hook had:

woodland held in common by the home lot owners...was a typical land grant method in the Dutch period, reproducing the neat patterns of small farm communities in Holland....with a separate patent naming all the owners of the individual plots and granting them an adjoining tract of meadow ground "not mentioned in their several patents

Governor d'Hinojossa of New Amstel attempted to bolster the sagging economy of his colony by getting up-river Swedes/Finns to relocate to Crane Hook in return for tax benefits (!). In 1662:

Sixteen or eighteen families, mostly Finns, residing in our jurisdiction, to whom great offers have been made by Mr. d'Hinojossa, intend to move into the Colony; they are to have 18 years freedom of all taxes with their own judges and decisions up to 100 guilders, also free exercise of their religion.

In the 1670's the Crane Hook like most of the rest of the Delaware ("The Swedish River") was largely settled by the Swedes. In the census taken in 1671 to aid the English in collecting taxes, Crane Hook for example had 12 Swedish/Finnish residents and no Dutch settlers.

Augustine Herman 1670 map.
From Maryland State Archives

In contrast, New Castle had 27 English & Dutch and one Swede. The Swedes probably outnumbered the Dutch and English combined in the Delaware Valley by about 2 to 1 until the "Quaker invasion" of Penn and the 23 ships of settlers around 1681-1682. Ft. Casimir/Ft. Trinity/New Amstel did have a small Dutch population which varied markedly with loss of life due to epidemics and hard economic times.

The 1670 map of Augustine Herman schematically shows houses along the Christina, the Towns of New Castle, Christina and Read Lyon, and Crane Hook with perhaps a schematic house. The 1654 map of Lindeström(reprinted from Eckman from Campanius) shows the point as 'Drufwer Udden', Grape Point with no houses. According to Craig, all of the residents of Crane Hook were Swedes or Finns.

Residents of Crane Hook in 1671
according to Craig
Hendrick Andersson * 1654
Bartil Hendricksson Parker 
Pelle Hendricksson Parker 
Eric Mattsson * 1656
Eskil Andersson * <1657
Lars Eskilsson1641
Samuel Petersson * 1654
Johan Mattsson Skrika1654
Lars Ollesson Thorsson1640
Simon Johansson * 1654
Matthias Bartilsson 
Evert Hendricksson Ek * 1641
* Finnish Swedes
List of all residents

At this time, Finland was a province of Sweden, and many Finns from the area of the Russian border had been encouraged to resettle in central Sweden, particularly in the province of Värmland. At least 4 of the Swedes/Finns who settled in Crane Hook of the Swedes who came in the Mercurius in 1654 were Finns from Savo in Finland to Värmland, Sweden.

Such Finns are known as Forest Finns They are credited as a group with introducing the log cabin, and teaching the English and Dutch farmers who came from countries which had had their forests removed hundreds of years earlier highly efficient ways to open up the land and then move on (result: manifest destiny). Their "burn-beating" technology, also called slash and burn was banned in Sweden 1647 to help retain forests needed for the iron industry. It consisted of girdling trees, burning them, planting rye (later corn) in the ashes, harvesting, then moving on. The 100's of Finnish families who wished to emigrate around 1650 had had their lifestyle banned. Opening up the land for agriculture may have been essential, but it had bad consequences for Delaware's ecology --it impoverished the soil, and made formerly deep clear creeks shallow and muddy.

The Church at Crane Hook

The church was built in 1667, partly for convenience for members who traveled by water, and partly for protection. At this time the Swedish Lutherans on the Delaware were split into two congregations: a northern one with a church at Wicaco (South Philadelphia) serving people from Marcus Hook to Burlington NJ, and Crane Hook which served people from modern New Castle County and adjacent areas of Maryland and New Jersey.

But because there did not seem to them there much provision [protection) against an invasion of Indians, the greater part of them erected for themselves at a place across the river Christina, Crane Hook, a church called by the same name, and also built of wood.[quoted in Eckman p52]

It was built in the style of a fortified log house with projecting second story to allow the settlers to shooting down on the pagans if attacked. A similar structure exists in Stockholm's Skansen outdoor museum built in 1893 as a replica of a 1600's farmhouse.

These (churches) were so built that above an elevation suitable for another house there was erected an overhang, several courses higher, from which they could shoot downward; so that if the heathen who could shoot no one unless they were to come close to the building, attacked them, the Swedes could shoot them all down quickly, while the pagan, who used only bow and arrow, could hurt them little if at all. [Tobias Björk, 1731 quoted in Eckman p 50]

The Congregation at Crane Hook Church

The earliest settlers of New Sweden were soldiers who stayed when period of service was up, former employees (like Barber-Surgeon Stidham) or those who had been convicted of petty crimes like chopping down royal fruit trees, but chose exile to New Sweden to hanging but became prominent citizens
By the time Fortifications Engineer Lindestrom visited in 1654 [Mercurius], he noted that convicts were NOT allowed onto his ship but that in addition to the emigrants there were about 100 families who had sold all their possessions to be ready to come along, but since there was not space they were very upset. By the 1670's essentially all the Swedes lived in isolated farms along the Delaware's tributaries.
How did the people travel to church? Even with the tide it would take hours to go up or down and across the river. Perhaps they used a church boat as was traditional in central Sweden? The existance of a "Church Landing" in Pennsville as the location of the landing for the Church boats supports this.

In 1693, Charles Springer wrote to the postmaster at Gothenburg asking him to appeal to the king to send bibles and Swedish and books for the use of the congregation. He attached to the letter a list of names in geographical sequence both for the 95 families in the congregations at Wicaco (Philadelphia) and the 107 families who belonged to the Cranehook congregation Peter Craig has provided the list of names, carefully annotated, with genealogical information. The 1693 "Census" lists "souls" in families with at least one parent speaking Swedish. Of the 442 people Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey had respectively: 216, 55, 171, or 49%, 12%, 39%. Craig also transcribed the 1699 pew list for Old Swdes (Holy Trinity) Church, just two months after it replaced Crane Hook. Of the 212 pew holders, DE, MD and NJ respectively had 57, 3 and 40% Therefore, according to the information in the list, in the 1690's about 40% of the congregation crossed the river from New Jersey.

The Ministers of Crane Hook

A minister, Reorus Torkillus, was sent to New Sweden on the 2nd Kalmar Nyckel voyage in 1640. Replacements were sent at intervals thereafter even long after Delaware was not a Swedish colony. Israel Acrelius (minister in Christina) wrote: "From 1696 to 1786 the Swedish Government sent to the churches on the Delaware no less than 24 Clergymen... paying the expenses of their voyages in both to and from America".
The minister at the time Crane Hook Church was constructed was Lars Lock
Later, as described in the book Faces of new Sweden Erik Björk was one of the three Church of Sweden priests sent to America in 1697 to revive the churches and serve the remaining Swedes on the Delaware. While initially pastor at Crane Hook, he supervised construction of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes’) Church in Wilmington and was pastor there from 1697 until 1713. Portraits of him and his wife Christina Stalcop were painted by Gustaf Hesselius around 1712. Erik Björk, Priest in New Sweden 1697-1714

Interactive Google map with overlays of Cranehook maps and Beer's Atlas (1868) Map 1 c1680
Map 2 c1787
Location of markers and church
Building Crane Hook Church (pdf 1MB) Eckman, Chapter 4
Crane Hook on the Delaware(pdf 7MB) Jeannette Eckman (1958)
Maps and Eckman book are copyright Colonial Delaware Historical Society and used with its permission.

1671 Census and 1693 Census by
Peter Craig, with the author's permission

Crane Hook Church. Predecessor of Old Swedes' Church, Pennock Pusey (1894)

Online books:
NC Court Records 1675
Campanius Holm 1702/1834
Acrelius 1757 (part)
Sharf 1888
A. Johnson 1911 v I & II
A. Johnson 1915
Records of Holy Trinity Church (Old Swedes) Wilmington 1699
Federal Writers Project 1938

Craig Wicaco service area
Craig Cranehook service area
A.Johnson overview

Burn beating
Forest Finns
Finnish legacy


After the Crane Hook Church was abandoned, the land was bought up by Stidham family (descendent's of barber-surgeon Timen Stidham). Timen's progeny continued to multiply. As of 2009 there were >90,000 identified descendents!
A part was by sold Stidham heirs in 1840 to Giles Lambson who constructed "Pleasant Point" a half mile from the church site. The federal government seized the land in 1865 because one of the Lambson descendents had served on the southern side in the civil war. It was regained by family and eventually sold by the father of New Castle resident Matilda Bixby c1965 for development.
Among Stidham's possessions was an herbal now on display at the Delaware Historical Society. Printed in 1552 it was a "boke of the properties of herbes called an herball, whereunto is added the tyme ye herbes, fluores and sedes should be gathered to be kept...". Stidham, a fältskär (literally "field cutter"), was the only doctor in the region

Aerial photos show that the area remained farmland until at least 1926.
Adjacent to New Castle.The glebe & cemetery and Penn Seabord steel are visible at lower left |
Buttonwood area Buttonwood is at the lower left with some associated farmland. Upriver is mainly marsh.|
Cranehook area

Amandus Johnson
Gloria Dei cemetery,
Wicaco, Phil.
James L. Meek '09