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  Printz, Johan "Big Belly" Björnsson
<-  1635-01-01  
NameJohan "Big Belly" Björnsson Printz
Bottnaryd, Smland , Sweden
Born July 20, 1592
DiedMay 03, 1663 (70 years)
ContributorMr. Techno
Last ModifedChronicler
Jul 20, 2021 03:28pm
InfoFew Americans have ever heard of Johan Printz or New Sweden, yet, the establishment of this colony turned out to be of utmost importance to the expansion of European civilization in North America and eventually also to the development of the United States. Even though, during its short existence, 1638-1655, New Sweden never became as well known as some of the other European colonies or settlements in America, the accomplishments of Johan Printz during his years as governor, 1643-1653, have caused him to be compared favorably with such contemporaries as John Winthrop in New England and Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam. It is therefore proper to focus our attention on him in this 350th year commemorating his arrival in America.

John Printz was appointed governor at the age of 50 in 1642. At that time he could look back on a very interesting life and a somewhat checkered military career. He was born in Bounaryd, County of J'nk'ping in the province of Sm'land. His father was a Lutheran minister and Printz received the best possible education in Sweden with the intent that he also enter the church. A lack of means forced him to discontinue his theological studies after only one year at the age of 26.

He then shifted his attention to a military career and served under King Gustavus Adolphus both in Poland and in the Thirty Year's War. However, due to a tactical error in judgment, he was removed from office in 1640 and, though exonerated, it halted his military career of over 20 years and he went into retirement.

In July, 1642, Printz's military career resumed when he was knighted and appointed Royal Governor of New Sweden.

In 1641, the Swedish government had decided to buy out the Dutch participants. New Sweden was now a wholly Swedish venture with the government of Sweden as one of the stockholders.

A new charter was drafted with 28 articles. The Instruction deals in great detail with the treatment of the various groups living within the territory of New Sweden. Most remarkable is the article dealing with the treatment of the Indians. As a consequence of these instructions, the Swedes enjoyed far better relations with the Indians than did any other European group and never experienced the massacres of the type visited on the Dutch and the English.

The last article of The Instruction states that Printz' s appointment is for three years. He would then be free to return home.

The ships, the Fama and the Swan, left Gothenburg early in November and arrived at Fort Christina in February. On his arrival, Printz was assisted by Commander Ridder in surveying the colony and becoming familiar with its operation. The survey was very thorough and went the full distance from Cape Henlopen to Sankikin (Trenton Falls). He noted particular points that would be of importance for defense of the colony and areas that were suitable for agriculture.

He built a new fort near present Salem and called it Elfsborg. The heaviest cannon available were positioned there and by early May 1643 any foreign vessel trying to pass had to strike its flag before being allowed to proceed. The garrison,13 men under Sven Skute, was the largest in the colony.

Printz wasted no time selecting a new place for his residence as authorized in the Instruction. He chose Tinicum Island just south of the present Philadelphia Airport. He built both a residence with supporting buildings and a fort, New Gothenburg, for their defense. The fort was ready by early May.

The first buildings have been described in some detail, but all of them, except for the storehouse, were destroyed by a fire in November1645. The residence was rebuilt shortly thereafter. Peter Lindestr'm , who arrived in New Sweden in 1654 tells us that Printz had a hall built "for himself and his family, which is called Printzhof - very splendidly and well built with a pleasure garden, summer house and other such things." Tinicum therefore became the first seat of government in what is now the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Printzhof can be considered its first State House.

In addition to living quarters for the governor and his family, the building contained one or more rooms for office use, for record keeping, and for court proceedings, as well as for receiving commissioners from adjacent colonies and other prominent visitors. It is known that some of the interior wood work came from Sweden as did at least some of the bricks used for the construction of two or more fireplaces. Many windows of glass added to the luxury.

Printzhof also became the first seat of a court and Printz the first chief judge in present Pennsylvania.

Fort Christina was also repaired during the summer of 1643, and a blockhouse was built to the north at Upland (now Chester), an area in which many of the Finns settled. Printz also assigned land to the freemen and he renewed commercial and political relations with the Indians. As instructed, Printz also paid great attention to religious matters and, in addition to the church at Christina, he built a "new beautiful church" at Tinicum which was consecrated in 1646.

However, above all he made every effort to assert the Swedish rights to the New Sweden territory against the counter claims of the Dutch and the English.

The colony prospered, but the problems with the surrounding Dutch and English gradually increased in severity. Both nations claimed the Swedish territory by virtue of the first discovery. However, neither had ever established a permanent settlement in the New Sweden territory and neither had purchased the land from the Indians. Printz made every effort to keep peace with both groups.

Commercially, the colony began to suffer a setback in the beginning of 1644. The ships that brought Printz to New Sweden carried only a small cargo and hardly anything for Indian trade. As a consequence, Printz could not prevent the Dutch and the English from almost monopolizing the beaver trade. Finally the Fama arrived with a large cargo in March 1644. Now the Swedes could resume the Indian trade and the ship left for Europe with a large cargo of tobacco and skins.

Printz had become greatly encouraged by the progress made during the first year of the new administration, but he was also keenly aware of the great problems associated with a lack of manpower. He therefore sent an urgent request for 1,000 colonists and additional supplies.

Nearly two and one-half years later in October 1646 the next ship, the Gyllene Haj (Golden Shark), arrived with a large cargo both for the Indian trade and the needs of the colony which gave rise to considerable joy in New Sweden where despite the lack of manpower and fresh supplies, considerable progress had been made since the Fama left. A grist mill was constructed on Cobbs Creek which was the first manufacturing facility within the limits of present-day Pennsylvania and can be considered a forerunner of the huge industrial establishment that eventually grew up within the Commonwealth. A brewery was also erected. In addition, Printz constructed a wharf at Christina, where he built several ships, one of 100 tons burden. He also built a pleasure yacht, causing Printz to be considered "the first yachtsman of America."

When the Gyllene Haj arrived, Printz expected to be recalled since he had been in charge of the colony for more than three years and under very difficult conditions, years "that were longer and more arduous to him than all of the previous twenty-four during which he had served his dear fatherland". He "'became sad" when he was instructed to stay a few years longer because no suitable successor could be found. However, he accepted the extension of his appointrnent and proclaimed a special day of Thanksgiving. The settlers assembled in the new church and gave praise to God with a holy "Te Deum".

After the arrival of the Gyllene Haj, the outlook was better in New Sweden. Printz's report showed the colony was still very small, 183 souls in all, but the conditions were greatly improved. Besides Printz' report was a list of needed articles and a request for skilled workmen needed to complete a barge.

Preparations were already underway in Sweden for a new expedition. The Swan was selected and left Gothenburg with one of the largest cargoes ever for the Indian trade and arrived in good condition in January 1648.

With the arrival of the Swan, Printz had again hoped to be relieved of his duties but was directed to remain. The conditions would now have given rise to considerable optimism in New Sweden, were it not for the increasingly aggressive stance of the Dutch exacerbated by the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant as Director General of New Netherlands.

The letters and reports from New Sweden apparently made a major impression when read in Stockholm. It was now decided to send a new expedition - the Katt (Cat). This ship and its passengers never arrived in New Sweden but were shipwrecked and ended in atrocities at the hands of the French and Spaniards from which only 19 survived and returned to Sweden.

In New Sweden the situation grew increasingly worse. In May of 1651 Stuyvesant sent a ship with cannon and people "well armed from New Amsterdam." Printz readied his little yacht and ordered it with soliders, cannon, and ammunition down the river to meet the Dutch. The ship withdrew to Manhatten.

On June 25 Stuyvesant returned with 120 men on foot and 11 ships. He sailed his fleet up and down the river "drumming and cannonading." Obviously Printz could not do anything but follow at some distance. Again the Dutch returned without incident.

Soon Stuyvesant, however, obtained title to the land Minquas Kill (Christina River) down to the Bay, land that had already been purchased by the Swedes. Protests and copies of deeds were sent to Stuyvesant but he ignored them. Instead he built a fort called Ft. Casimir (New Castle) which was strategically placed so all traders were compelled to pay duty to the Dutch.

Printz had no choice but to accept the fact that the Dutch were masters of the Delaware, at least for the time being. Ft. Elfsborg was abandoned and the garrisons of some of the other forts were also withdrawn so he could concentrate his forces.

At this time, Printz had had "absolutely no orders nor assistance - for three years and nine months." He was not a man to give up, however. The carpenters were kept busy repairing and improving the forts and building boats.

Heavy rains did damage to the grain in 1652 and the situation in the colony grew steadily worse. Printz continued to send pleas for help to Sweden, but without response.

The colonists themselves were dissatisfied and many deserted. The situation continued throughout the winter, spring and summer of 1653. By the fall of that year it reached a crisis point and a "revolt" broke out against Printz, who had been ill and unable to exert his former energy during much of the year. Several severe grievances against the governor were presented in a written supplication of eleven articles signed by 22 settlers. This invoked the wrath of the governor, who had the leader of the opposition arrested, tried and executed on a charge of treachery.

Finding his position untenable, Printz finally decided to go to Sweden in the fall of 1653. Elaborate preparations were made for his departure. In September, Indian chiefs were called to Printzhof, speeches were made, gifts presented, etc. Above all, Printz assured the Indians that large new supplies would arrive within a few months, because he himself was going to the fatherland to care of the matter. After a farewell service in the church, Printz turned the command of the colony over to his son-in-law and left for New Amsterdam.

Ptintz, being 62 years old when he returned to Sweden in 1654, spent the next three years without an official position. However, in 1658 he was appointed Governor of J'nk'ping County. While traveling from his estate, Gunillaberg, not far from his birth place, Bottnaryd, to J'nk'ping in the spring of 1663, he was thrown from his horse and died of injuries on May 3rd, at the age of 71.

The horse carrying Printz must have been very strong, because Printz was a physically most impressive man, something that unquestionably was to his advantage when he dealt man-to-man with the Indians as well as with the Dutch and the English. He is supposed to have weighed close to 400 pounds and, among the Indians, he went under the descriptive name, "Big Belly." It is said, "No governor before or since has weighed as much as Johan Printz."


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