The Delaware River is a major river on the Atlantic coast of the United States. Its watershed drains an area of 14,119 square miles (36,570 km2) in five U.S. states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. Rising in two branches in New York state's Catskill Mountains, the river flows 419 miles (674 km) into Delaware Bay where its waters enter the Atlantic Ocean near Cape May in New Jersey and Cape Henlopen in Delaware. Not including Delaware Bay, the river's length including its two branches is 388 miles (624 km). The Delaware River is one of nineteen "Great Waters" recognized by the America's Great Waters Coalition.
The Delaware River rises in two main branches that descend from the western flank of the Catskill Mountains in New York. The West Branch begins near Mount Jefferson in the Town of Jefferson in Schoharie County. The river's East Branch begins at Grand Gorge near Roxbury Delaware County. These two branches flow west and merge near Hancock in Delaware County and the combined waters flow as the Delaware River south. Through its course, the Delaware River forms the boundaries between Pennsylvania and New York, the entire boundary between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and most of the boundary between Delaware and New Jersey. The river meets tide-water at the junction of Morrisville, Pennsylvania and Trenton, New Jersey at the Falls of the Delaware. The river's navigable, tidal section served as a conduit for shipping and transportation that aided the development of the industrial cities of Trenton, Camden, and Philadelphia. The mean freshwater discharge of the Delaware River into the estuary of Delaware Bay is 11,550 cubic feet (330 m³) per second.
In 1609, the river was first visited by a Dutch East India Company expedition led by Henry Hudson. Hudson, an English navigator, was hired to find a western route to Cathay (present-day China), but his discoveries set the stage for Dutch colonization of North America in the seventeenth-century. Early Dutch and Swedish settlements were established along the lower section of river and Delaware Bay. Both colonial powers called the river the South River compared to the Hudson River which was known as the North River. After the English expelled the Dutch and took control of the New Netherland colony in 1664, the river was renamed Delaware after Sir Thomas West 3rd Baron De La Warr, an English nobleman and the Virginia colony's first royal governor who defended the colony during the First Anglo-Powhatan War.
Origin of the Name
The Delaware River is named in honor of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (1577–1618), an English nobleman and the Virginia colony's first royal governor who defended the colony during the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Lord de la Warr waged a punitive campaign to subdue the Powhatan after they had killed the colony’s council president, John Ratcliffe, and attacked the colony’s fledgling settlements. Lord de la Warr arrived 150 soldiers in time to prevent colony’s original settlers at Jamestown from giving up and returning to England and is credited with saving the Virginia colony. The name of barony (later an earldom) is pronounced as in the current spelling form "Delaware" (Listeni/ˈdɛləwɛər/ DEL-ə-wair) and is thought to derive from French de la Guerre.
It has often been reported that the river and bay received the name "Delaware" after English forces under Richard Nicolls expelled the Dutch and took control of the New Netherland colony in 1664. However, the river and bay were known by the name Delaware as early as 1641. The state of Delaware was originally part of the William Penn's Pennsylvania colony. In 1682, the Duke of York granted Penn's request for access to the sea and leased him the territory along the western shore of Delaware Bay which became known as the "Lower Counties on the Delaware." In 1704, these three lower counties were given political autonomy to form a separate provincial assembly, but shared its provincial governor with Pennsylvania until the two colonies separated on 15 June 1776 and remained separate as states after the establishment of the United States. The name also became used as a collective name for the Lenape, a Native American people (and their language) who inhabited an area of the basins of the Susquehanna River, Delaware River, and lower Hudson River in the northeastern United States at the time of European settlement. As a result of disruption following the French & Indian War, American Revolutionary War and later Indian removals from the eastern United States, the name "Delaware" has been spread with the Lenape's diaspora to municipalities, counties and other geographical features in the American Midwest and Canada.
The Delaware River played a key factor in the economic and social development of the Mid-Atlantic region. In the seventeenth century is provided the conduit for colonial settlement by the Dutch (New Netherland), the Swedish (New Sweden). Beginning in 1664, the region became an English possession as settlement by Quakers established the colonies of Pennsylvania (including present-day Delaware) and West Jersey. In the eighteenth century, cities like Philadelphia, Camden (then Cooper's Ferry), Trenton, and Wilmington, and New Castle were established upon the Delaware and their continued commercial success into the present day has been dependent on access to the river for trade and power. The river provided the path for the settlement of northeastern Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, and northwestern New Jersey by German Palatine immigrants—a population that became key in the agricultural development of the region.
Perhaps the most famous “Delaware Crossing” involved the improvised boat crossing undertaken by George Washington’s army during the American Revolution on the night of December 25–26, 1776. This led to a successful surprise attack on the Hessian troops occupying Trenton, New Jersey.