The New Sweden colony first made an appearance in the Twelve Mile Circle a few weeks ago when I spoke of an ancient trust, on Burlington Island in the Delaware River. Swedes don’t get much attention for their colonial history in North America. The narrative generally focuses upon English, Spanish and French interests. Sometimes Dutch efforts gain a mention because of New Netherland, probably because their capital at New Amsterdam later became New York City under British control. However Sweden’s colonial aspirations hardly generate more than a footnote when mentioned at all.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
Sweden transformed into a significant European power during the 17th Century: "By mid-century, the kingdom included part of Norway, all of Finland and stretched into Russia. Sweden’s control of portions of modern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Germany made the Baltic Sea essentially a Swedish lake." Meanwhile, colonization was sorting the first-tier powers from the runners-up. Sweden wanted to be a player. They had to reach across the ocean or risk being left behind.
They formed the New Sweden Company and appointed Pieter Minuit to lead an effort to establish a colony. Although not Swedish, Minuit (a Walloon) understood the target area well. He’d already been credited with "purchasing" Manhattan from the a local Lenape tribe of Native Americans for 60 guilders worth of trinkets and beads, and he’d led the New Netherland colony for several years thereafter. The Dutch government later recalled him and essentially fired him "presumably for granting privileges to the patroons at the expense of the Dutch West India Company." He had the requisite experience and he was available.
Minuit understood that the Dutch were in no position to defend their southern boundaries in New Netherland. He sailed a Swedish expedition directly into Delaware Bay and up to where it narrowed to form the Delaware River. Here he took the expedition up to its confluence with a smaller river and built a fortification at a strategic point, naming it Fort Christina in honor of the Swedish queen. He contrived another "purchase" from the local Native Americans in attempt to legitimize this Swedish incursion upon Dutch claims. New Sweden (Nya Sverige) was born in 1638 at what is now modern-day Wilmington, Delaware.
View New Sweden (Nya Sverige) in a larger map
The colony prospered initially, especially under Governor Printz during a decade of expansion between 1643 and 1653. I’ve attempted to draw an approximate area of maximum influence. Sweden claimed a much larger area than this, however it stuck primarily to the waterways of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and various nearby tributaries. Consider a modern-day area extending south of Wilmington to northeast of Philadelphia with a concentration right around Philadelphia International Airport and that’s about right. This included territory in what would later become the Twelve Mile Circle (the real one!). It wasn’t large and it didn’t extend far inland. Neither did it last very long. The party was over by 1655 although it sputtered-along for awhile afterwards under other nations’ control.
1655 marked the year that the Dutch took back what they felt was rightfully theirs, capturing the Swedish colony and incorporating it within New Netherland. They allowed the Swedes to exercise a level of autonomy with little change to day-to-day affairs. Next came the English who overthrew New Netherland in 1664, followed again by the Dutch who gained an upper-hand in 1673 and finally by the English for the last time in 1674. Swedish autonomy continued unofficially for awhile until William Penn secured a charter for Pennsylvania in 1682 and assimilation began.
Only small remnants remain of the failed Swedish attempt to colonize North America. One tangible element includes the C. A. Nothnagle Log House which dates to circa 1638, from the earliest days of New Sweden. The original cabin is the smaller part of the structure on this Google Street View image.
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This simple cabin in Gibbstown, New Jersey is reputed to be "the oldest standing log cabin in North America, and possibly the oldest standing wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere." It may have been constructed either by Swedes or by Finnish settlers who were part of the Swedish Empire at the time.
Other features offering hints and clues of New Sweden include towns such as Swedesboro, NJ (map) and Christiana, DE (note slight spelling variation; map); the Christina River through northern Delaware (map); parks in Wilmington, DE (map) and Tinicum Township, PA (map); a handful of Old Swedes Churches plus any number of roads with heritage-themed names. The legacy also continues through groups such as the Swedish Colonial Society in Philadelphia, PA; and the New Sweden Colonial Farmstead Museum in Bridgeton, NJ.
Doubtless, few people realize the former Swedish presence along the lower Delaware River.
I noticed a query dropped upon the Twelve Mile Circle from one of the search engines. It was a fairly straight-forward request for information, as far as those things go. My anonymous visitor wanted to know about the "Madrid prime meridian line" Do we sense a problem?
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The knee-jerk reaction would be to consider this a geographic failing of someone unaware of such matters. Obviously we have either an inadequate educational system or an individual of limited mental recall. After all, the Prime Meridian does not go through Madrid. Although it cuts through Spain, it does not get any closer than about 325 kilometres (200 miles) from Madrid. The person must have lost sight of the geographic proximity of Madrid, or worse, couldn’t distinguishing Madrid from larger Spain.
My mind went there briefly. I was ready to dismiss this inquiry as coming from someone for whom 12MC would never serve a legitimate purpose. I realized the fallacy of that judgment a split-second later of course. Twelve Mile Circle is designed for someone exactly like the person who wonders about Madrid and the Prime Meridian.
There are a lot of interesting features about the Prime Meridian as it slices through Spain. Personally I like the little corner of Valencia that stands on the eastern side of the line (map). I think, if I were to move to Spain, I’d consider Xàbia/Jávea in Valencia’s Alicante province specifically for that reason. Also I’d try to hunt down some people who have homes split by the Prime Meridian (for example) and ask them if they realize an imaginary line runs through their residences. I bet they do.
Let’s put thoughts of the Prime Meridian aside, or at least the one that runs through Greenwich, England. We’ve seen this story before, haven’t we? A similar situation came up when I wrote about the American Meridian that was based on that Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, and was used by the United States before Greenwich became an international standard. I live in the (American Meridian) western hemisphere and work in the eastern hemisphere, and isn’t that all grand?
It’s the same thing here. The placement of the Prime Meridian is arbitrary. It could have been located anywhere, and that’s what many nations did prior to adopting the Greenwich line.
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The Spanish government ran it through the Real Observatorio de Madrid — the Royal Observatory of Madrid — in the mid-Nineteenth Century. The observatory was already in place, having been constructed in 1790. It’s a stunning example of Spanish neoclassical architecture atop a hill and today it houses an astronomically-oriented museum. Spain’s Ministry of Development provides additional information should one wish to visit or learn more (translated to English).
Thus my random visitor searching for the "Madrid prime meridian line" was actually quite astute, with a solid understanding of geography and history.
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Let’s move the Prime Meridian a little further to the west, to a line of longitude equaling 03° 41’14.546″ per the July 2000 edition of Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing Journal to recreate Spain’s former Prime Meridian. Indeed, it runs directly through Madrid. Notice also that it splits Spain much more evenly than the Greenwich Meridian. Other towns on or near the meridian include Santander, Burgos, Jaén and Granada.
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Look as some of the umbrellas on this beach in Almuñécar in Andalusia. No doubt there are people relaxing on both sides of the line. Somehow I doubt any of them realize the geographic significance of their fortunate placement. For us geo-geeks however, it seems like it might be a great opportunity for a Spanish Meridian Beach Party!
Cheers, random visitor.
Generally I know exactly how I come up with each topic I hand-pick for Twelve Mile Circle articles. That’s not the case here. I don’t recall the exact sequence of steps that led to abandoned canals in Canada. Well, I understand the Canadian part. I figured it would be a smaller universe. Also it’s been awhile since I posted something specifically about Canada and the 12MC audience there was overdue. I do enjoy a decent abandoned canal (e.g., the Patowmack Canal), so maybe that figured into it subconsciously.
Anyway and however it came up, let’s get started.
Newmarket "Ghost" Canal
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The so-called Ghost Canal of Newmarket, Ontario isn’t referred to as such for any kind of alleged paranormal or demonic activity. The name derives from its history. Construction began in 1906 in response to what were considered excessive freight costs imposed by a local railroad. Residents wished to link Lake Simcoe and the Trent Waterway as a means to bypass the railroad and save shipping charges. Six years later, after the construction of numerous locks, bridges and supporting infrastructure, the canal approached its completion. Then a new Prime Minister came to power in Canada and canceled the project. The mostly-finished canal remained in place although it never opened for business. That’s why it became the Ghost Canal.
As the town of Newmarket explains:
Instead of having a downtown on a busy tourist waterway, all we are left with is a turning basin at the Tannery Centre filled in to become the parking lot and an almost completed but never used ghost canal with its locks and bridges slowly deteriorating and disappearing.
… not that they’re bitter or anything.
The Google Street view image I selected above is the site of a former swing bride that would have moved out of the way as boats passed (see photo and additional details). It never swung. An entire series of photographs can be viewed on another site and a more comprehensive history on another blog. Enjoy.
SOURCE: Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The Shubenacadie Canal fared only slightly better, functioning for a decade between 1861 and 1871. That’s not exactly a great track record either although it’s compounded as one considers that construction first began in 1826. The canal ran for 114 kilometres (71 miles) across Nova Scotia between Halifax and the Bay of Fundy, leapfrogging between the Shubenacadie River and Shubenacadie Grand Lake along the way. An expanding railroad network eventually became a cost-effective alternative and hastened the demise of the Shubenacadie Canal, a fate common to many other canals of that general time period.
Recent efforts have been undertaken to preserve what is left of the canal through the actions of the Shubenacadie Canal Commission. The Creative Commons photograph featured above shows one of the restored locks at Shubie Park (map) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
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The Desjardins Canal fared considerably better, operating for nearly 40 years, from 1837 to 1876. It was designed to connect Dundas, Ontario to the Great Lakes, and the town benefited from this arrangement during that period. However, once again the railroads created winners and losers. Hamilton had a solid railroad network and it prospered. A canal could not compete so Dundas fell from its perch. To think of what may have been happened had Dundas focused on a railroad instead of a canal during that critical formative period.
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The most successful venture of the entire lot was the Soulanges Canal that ran along the northern bank of the Saint Lawrence River in Québec. It bypassed rapids southwest of Montréal for nearly six decades between 1899-1958.
The Soulanges Canal had a more meaningful purpose than the other abandoned canals: the Saint Lawrence River provided a vital link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes, and shipping needed to bypass the rapids. A tremendous amount of tonnage passed through these waters. The Soulanges Canal wasn’t put out of business because of railroads. Rather, it was replaced by an improved Beauharnois Canal that became part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway system in the 1950′s. The Soulanges Canal lost its purpose. Today a popular bicycle path runs along the former canal.
More information can be found at Le canal de Soulanges (1899-1958): une adventure technologique eh humaine.