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Johan Björnsson Printz (1592 - May 3, 1663) was a Swedish cavalry officer who became the third (and longest-serving) governor of the short-lived New Sweden colony in North America, along the Delaware River.

Printz was born in Bottnaryd (Bounaryd), County Jönköping, Småland province, the son of a Lutheran clergyman. As a youth, Printz was educated in Germany, though rather than entering the clergy like his father, he turned to the military. He first served as a mercenary in various European wars in the early seventeenth century, but later served in the Swedish army where he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Swedish cavalry by 1631. However, Printz was involved in a military scandal which curtailed his active military career; he was a commander of Swedish troops during the Thirty Years' War, and was forced to surrender the battle of Chemnitz in 1640, supposedly due to his own poor decisions. After this, he returned to Stockholm ostensibly to obtain new marching orders, but mainly because he was disgraced on the battlefield. He was tried for losing the battle and stripped of his command, but he was later exonerated and received a knighthood in 1642. With this title came a new honor, the Royal Governor of New Sweden.

Sweden had established a very small foothold on the North American continent, between the mouth of the Delaware Bay and about half-way up the Delaware river near modern-day Trenton. The colony was established in 1638 under the command of Peter Hollander (or Hollandare) Ridder. Although the colony had certainly taken root under Ridder, it wasn't thriving. Printz was sent to build the colony into a thriving, self-sustaining venture, providing trade goods (and profit) to the Swedish government.

Printz arrived in the colony in 1642, with the ships The Fama and The Swan, along with military personnel and supplies, a small amount of trade goods to exchange with the natives, and colonists. From the start, Printz worked hard to expand the colony and establish Sweden's claim in the New World. His mandate had several important facets, including the continuation and promotion of Christianity (the Lutheran Church of Sweden) among the settlers, as well as the economic development of the region. This economic development included extensive, respectful, and peaceful contact and trade with the native population, a fact which resulted in Printz high regard among Native Americans. In fact, the Swedish colony under Printz is noteworthy as being the only European colony which neither participated in nor provoked armed conflict with the Native Americans. Printz worked energetically to build peaceful ties with the natives who responded in kind. However, they jokingly called Printz "Big Guts," referring to his great size (one source says he weighed in at over 400 pounds, another said he was over seven feet tall).

Printz' mandate for economic expansion also included the not so peaceful enforcement of Sweden's territorial claims to the region, particularly against the encroaching colonies of the Dutch and English. The Dutch and English were vigorously trying to expand their own territorial holdings in North America -- the English in Canada, New England, and Virginia, the Dutch in the mid-atlantic -- and although Printz was told to work peacefully with settlers already living there, he was also told to dislodge their governments as best he could. Though he never actually used military force against either, he established military posts at Fort Tinicum (near modern Chester, PA) and Fort Elfsborg (near modern Salem, NJ) to fend off Dutch and English claims to the region. He would eventually use these forts to try and blockade the Delaware River, with some success. Ships sailing by either fort were ordered to lower their flags or face artillery bombardment; apparently none of the guns in the forts were ever fired against opposing ships.

Printz was sent to the colony for a term of three years, from 1642 to 1645, though he remained governor until 1653. In 1645 and 1648, expeditions from Sweden to the colony bore instructions that Printz was to remain in his post because no good candidates could be found to succeed him. However, he continued to work hard for the colony. While governor, he made a vigorous effort to expand New Sweden. He built his mansion, Printzhof on Tinicum Island, and constructed several other forts and meeting halls in the surrounding community.

Unfortunately, while Printz worked hard to build the colony, his own government wasn't supportive. For one, the Swedish crown had unrealistic goals for the colony, one of which was to cultivate silkworms (which failed miserably). For another, they weren't very enthusiastic about funding the venture in America, and did not supply the colony with much in the way of trade goods for the natives. In fact, Printz' own first expedition carried little more than bricks as trade goods, rather than metal or other goods of use to the natives. Because of this, the Dutch and English colonies were in a much better position to exploit the trade of fur and tobacco. This was remedied somewhat by the 1645 and 1648 expeditions which carried larger supplies of trade goods, along with skilled workers for the colony. However, by 1651, the colony took a turn for the worse.

The Dutch under Peter Stuyvesant increasingly dominated the trade in the region, and also the water traffic up and down the river. Printz and the Swedish colony received no additional support from Sweden for nearly four years, and were no longer in a position to defend the river. They abandoned Elfsborg and had no choice but to let the Dutch do as they pleased, particularly since the Dutch built their own Fort Casimir south of Fort Christina. Casimir effectively blocked Swedish access to the Atlantic Ocean. The lack of support also hurt the colony itself, and many of the settlers left New Sweden, either to return home or to join with the Dutch. The settlers were unhappy with the lack of support from home, as well as conditions in the region which were often demoralizing. Though the colonists had good relations with the natives, they weren't on good terms with nature; one of the reasons they abandoned Elfsborg was because of mosquitoes -- they jokingly renamed it Fort Myggenborg (the Swedish word for mosquito) before they left. The colony's crops were also badly damaged by heavy rains in 1652, increasing the misery of the colonists.

Finally, Printz decided the colony couldn't continue without help from home, and he returned to Sweden in late 1653. This was both to surrender his Governorship and to lobby in person for more help from the colony. Printz left his son in law John Pappegoja in charge though he was soon replaced by Johan Rising, who arrived in the Swedish colony in 1653. Rising took a much more militarist view of the colony, and tried to retake control of the Delaware river. He rashly decided to "attack" Fort Casimir. The Dutch were surprised by this, and not wanting a fight, surrendered without a shot. However, when Peter Stuyvesant got wind of this, he sent a fleet of eleven ships and seven hundred soldiers to the region in 1655, demanding the surrender of Fort Christina and the Swedish authorities. The Swedish settlers who wanted to were allowed to remain, but Swedish rule in America was over.

Though Printz had convinced the Swedes to send some modest support back to the colony, it clearly wasn't enough, and he never returned to the Americas. He was left without an official position until 1658, when he was granted the governorship of Jönköping. He died five years later, after being thrown from a horse at the age of 71. His home on Tinicum Island has long since disappeared, and the only reminder of him is the Governor Printz Boulevard, which runs from downtown Wilmington north to Claymont.

Sources:
"Wilmington" by E.N. Vallandingham, in Historic Towns of the Middle States, Putnam, 1899
Delaware: A guide to the First State, American Guide Series, Hastings House Press, 1955
http://www.colonialswedes.org/Forefathers/Printz.html
America's Historylands: Landmarks of Liberty, National Geographic Press, 1967

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