May 17 event celebrates the 375th anniversary of the arrival of Antoni Swart in New Sweden

April 25th, 2014 by Jim Yurasek

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, from 1:30 to 4 p.m., the New Sweden Centre is sponsoring a celebratory event marking the 375th anniversary of the arrival of Anthony, a black man later known as Antoni Swart, who was among the first colonists of New Sweden which centered on Fort Christina in present-day Wilmington, Del.

Abdullah R. Muhammad portraying Antoni Swart. Muhammad will be speaking at the May 17 program.

Abdullah R. Muhammad portraying Antoni Swart. Muhammad will be speaking at the May 17 program.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at Frederick D. Stubbs Elementary School located at 1100 N. Pine St. (E. 11th and Pine streets) in Wilmington, Del. The ceremony will spotlight the renaming of a local street in honor of Swart and will feature speakers representing the embassies of Angola, St. Kitts/Nevis and Sweden; as well as government officials from Wilmington, New Castle County and the state of Delaware. Activities will include a brief history of Swart presented by historian Abdullah R. Muhammad who often portrays the colonist in historical re-enactments; plus performances by both the choir and drum line from Wilmington’s Bayard Middle School, African drumming and dance, Swedish hymns and children’s games that were common in the 17th century.

Immediately after the event, a reception in honor of the visiting dignitaries and government officials will be held between 4 and 6 p.m. at the same location. The reception will provide an opportunity to meet and mingle with the honored guests while dining on a variety of international foods representative of the dignitaries’ home countries. A limited number of tickets for the reception are available at $35 per person by going to the following website.

New Sweden was established in 1638 when a Swedish expeditionary force sailing in the ships Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip established a timber and earth fort along the Christina River on what is today’s Seventh Street Peninsula in Wilmington, Del. Named Fort Christina after the then 12-year-old queen of Sweden, it became the first Swedish settlement in America and the first permanent non-native settlement in Delaware. New Sweden eventually grew to encompass territory on both sides of the Delaware River from present-day Philadelphia to south of New Castle, Del. The colony was captured by the Dutch in 1655 who eventually lost it to the English.

Details of Anthony’s life are slim and sometimes contradictory. Historical documents reveal that he was a “Morian [Moor] or Angolan” who was brought to New Sweden in 1639 after the Fogel Grip had returned from a trip to the West Indies. His initial status as either a servant or a freeman is uncertain but sometime after his arrival, evidence suggests that he was a freeman known as Antoni Swart, an employee of Governor Johan Printz, who cut hay and sailed Printz’s sloop during the 1640s and 1650s. Swart’s name disappeared from the historical record after the 1654-55 listing of the colony’s officers, soldiers, servants and freemen.

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