John Watson, longtime Wilmington radio host, calls NewsWorks one of the places to express opinion and give insight on the news around us. He shares another story about the royal visit to Wilmington.
The King and Queen of Sweden paid a very successful visit to Wilmington celebrating the 375th Anniversary of the Swedes and Finns landing in Delaware. At the time, it made the New Sweden colony the first permanent European settlement in the First State.
But there was something else missing from this event. Something we did work into a similar ceremony held 25 year ago. To my knowledge, no one, black or white, knows more about Delaware’s African American history, than Harmon R. Carey, founder and executive director of the Afro-American Historical Society. I wanted to get his perspectives of the third major celebration of this important event in our history. He began by voicing his disappointment in preliminary coverage provided by the Wilmington News Journal. This is how he sees it.
In 1988, Wilmington celebrated the 350th Anniversary of The Swedes landing at our “Plymouth Rock” on the 7th Street peninsula. There was great pride and pageantry in full view as the public reveled at the celebration of Wilmington’s birth. While the arrival of the Swedes in 1638 aboard the Kalmar Nyckel was duly noted, what was forgotten was the arrival in 1639 of “Black Anthony”, brought here from Angola on the Vogel Grip. Forgotten, that is, until the Afro-American Historical Society reminded then Mayor Daniel Frawley and other planners of this event. He said many blacks were disappointed that the arrival in what is now Wilmington of the first African Americans would be omitted from the celebration and ceremony.
The planners of the event, and the powers that be at the insistence of Carey, then executive assistant for African American Heritage in the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, eventually agreed to allow the installation and unveiling of a historical marker in honor of “Black Anthony” before the formal ceremony began.
According to Carey, 25 years later “Black Anthony” has again been omitted.
This time the Wilmington News Journal’s centerfold pictorial of “Facts You Should Know” which appeared in the April 8th edition left “Black Anthony” out of the chronology of significant dates associated with the Swedes arrival here. Deja Vu? Carey opines that in 25 years the current planners and the News Journal should have learned something. A black man named Anthony came here with the Swedes as an enslaved African. And, furthermore, since the original Swedes in 1639 returned home, by staying here “Anthony” could be considered Wilmington’s first permanent citizen. (I know I am leaving out the Native American population that was already here).
Carey said, while this fact may be inconsequential to those who are only interested in highlighting the Swedish and Dutch facets of Wilmington’s history, he wants it known that 25 years later the message of the Afro-American Historical Society is the same: Black Anthony’s arrival and life is an important part of the story and should not be omitted.
But this story ends on a positive note. I spoke about Harmon’s concerns with Historian/Writer Abdullah Muhammad, who was conducting a book signing on Dravo Plaza as part of the celebration on the Wilmington Riverfront. He told me “Black Anthony’s” historical marker has been moved next to The Mills Monument at Fort Christina Park, which was given to America by the Swedes in 1938.
The move was made to make it easier for the public to view “Anthony’s Marker”, which reads as follows: “A Black Man named Anthony was among the first permanent settlers of New Sweden. He came to the colony from the West Indies in 1639 aboard the Swedish ship Vogel Grip. Records indicate that Black Anthony became a free man named Antoni Swart, an employee of Governor Johan Printz, who cut hay and sailed Printz’s sloop during the 1640’s and 1650’s”.
Carey’s passion for this particular subject is further evidenced by the fact that he has already begun advocating a celebration in 2014 in observance of the 375th anniversary of “Black Anthony’s” arrival here. And, he counts U.S. Senator Chris Coons among the early supporters of this idea. He urges others who might have an interest in participating in or otherwise supporting this idea to contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 302-543-8656.