The Story of Church Boats; First Ferries of the Delaware River

 

The 1699 Church Ferry

Swedes and Finns settled the Delaware Valley in 1638. In 1641, Governor Peter Ridder purchased land from the Lenape Indians where, some 30 years later, Swedish and Finnish farmers and fishermen settled. Named Penns Neck, this area is now known as the Township of Pennsville, New Jersey.

In 1667, a log church was built at Crane Hook south of the Christina River. Settlers from Penns Neck, Finn's Point, Boughtown (Penns Grove) and Lucas Point (Carney's Point) were part of this congregation. Since there was no church on the East side of the river they traveled across the Delaware River in shallops and skiffs to attend Crane Hook Church at New Castle. When a new church was built north of the Christina River, the people of Penn's Neck traveled across the river to help build the new Holy Trinity Church in 1699.

Water transportation was a major means of travel in the 17th century. Holy Trinity congregation purchased a small craft for the use of those who needed transportation to church.  Reverend Erik Bjork's journal refers to this as a new "canoe" or "ferry". It was purchased "new" from Hendrick Tussey for 20 shillings.  

NEW SWEDEN HERITAGE REMEMBERED

On June 6 th ,2004 , when the New Sweden Heritage Monument was dedicated by Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson the Lenape, Swedes and Finns were memorialized for their contributions to the Delaware Valley . This June 6 th two Pennsville boys, descendants of Anders Larsson Dalbo of Sweden who came to New Sweden Colony in 1640, placed flowers on the monument and later polished the bronzes on the monument made by their grandmother Aleasa Hogate, local Pennsville artist. and Education Director for the New Sweden Centre in Wilmington

Representatives of several organizations gathered to celebrate the 7 th anniversary of the monument located at the foot of Pittsfield Street in Pennsville within Riverview Beach Park including Rev. Ruth Runkle, New Sweden Centre education and her husband Greg Runkle, of Pennsville; Janet Andrews, of Bear Delaware , President of New Sweden Centre; Earl Seppala, of Hockessin , Delaware , NSC board member, Martha Rogers, Pennsville NJ Women's Club member and member of St. George's church, one of the original Old Swedes churches; and Mark Hogate, of Pennsville, the boys Uncle, also a descendant of Anders Dalbo.

Plans for the 375 th Anniversary of the landing of the Swedes in 2013 and the 300 th anniversary of St. George's church, in 2014 are currently underway. All of the area, along the Delaware River from Trenton to Cape May was originally part of New Sweden Colony. The story of this heritage is engraved in granite at the base of the monument.


 Hendrick was a Swedish member of Holy Trinity who lived on the Delaware River just north of the church. It was delivered to the churchwarden, Steffan Joransson, who lived on the Eastern shore of the Delaware Valley, at Finn's Point.  Research on the subject has not revealed a description or exactly who utilized this ferry.  Historians and maritime experts are not sure if it was a "dug out" or "plank built" canoe, perhaps modeled after the church boats used in Sweden for generations.   Most agree that the settlers at Penns Neck traveled across the Delaware River for over 50 years to attend church  before they built their own church in Penn's Neck. Their log church was dedicated in 1717 as St.George's Lutheran Church, at Church Landing Road, Penns Neck.

The foot of Church Landing Road, in what is now Pennsville, is the historical site where Penn's Neck residents launched their boats to go to church, hence its name.  The journey was often hazardous and church records indicate four adults and a child drowned on November 4 th , 1718 on their way to church. Church boats played a significant role in the life of the community in Sweden. The 1699 vessel bought by Holy Trinity Church basically was a church-boat. I think this is an important part of the Delaware Valley's maritime history and  may actually be the first ferry across the Delaware River, long before the Pennsville-New Castle Ferry.

In 2004 a monument was dedicated to the Swedes and Finns who settled in Southern New Jersey. This year a model of the well known traditional plank built Swedish church boat of Råttvik has been built as a visual aid to help tell the story of this little known piece of history. This model can be seen at the New Sweden Centre museum in the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard, at 1124 7th Street, Wilmington, Delaware. 

The State of New Jersey celebrates the crossing of the Delaware by George Washington every year in a replica of a Durham boat that some historians believe evolved from a Swedish built boat of similar design, but this too has not been documented. http://www.durhamhistoricalsociety.org/history2.html Many replicas of the James River Batteau  have been reproduced, and relive the moments in history of the James River Canal, and those replicas traverse 120 miles of the canal during the Festival every June. http://www.batteaufestival.com/river/index.asp . Recently a replica of John Smith's shallop was built in celebration of the 400th anniversary of his historic 1608 exploration of the Chesapeake Bay   http://www.johnsmith400.org/ . Someday hopefully a full size replica of the church-boat will travel the Delaware River, in celebration of the maritime Swedish Heritage of the Delaware Valley.

For additional information or to make a pledge of support to this project, please write to:

Aleasa Hogate
94 Sparks Avenue
Pennsville, NJ 08070
Or call (856) 678-5511
or e-mail to:
goaleasa@aol.com

Computer Action Team donates the web design and hosting facility for this site.

©2009 Computer Action Team and Aleasa Hogate