The Three Lower Counties

The English Duke of York (later James II) annexed the region to New York, land granted him earlier by Charles II. In 1682 the duke transferred the claim to William Penn, who wanted to secure a navigable water route from his new colony of Pennsylvania to the ocean. The three counties of Delaware thus became the Three Lower Counties (or Territories, as Penn called them) of Pennsylvania. The individual counties were called New Castle, Kent (formerly St. Jones), and Sussex (formerly Hoornkill, also known as Whorekill, and Deale). The English proprietors of Maryland contested Penn’s claim to Delaware, and the boundary dispute was not fully settled until 1750.

The inhabitants of the Delaware counties were at first unwilling to be joined to the “radical” Quaker colony of Pennsylvania or to have their affairs settled in Philadelphia. They finally accepted the Penn charter of 1701 after provisions were added giving the Three Lower Counties the right to a separate assembly, which first met in 1704. Delaware maintained quasi-autonomy until the American Revolution. The two colonies maintained strong ties, however, and two of Delaware’s leading statesmen during the Revolution—Thomas McKean and John Dickinson—were also prominent in Pennsylvania affairs.