Symbols of Delaware – A List

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Delaware is one of the smallest U.S. states, bordered by the Delaware Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Referred to as a ‘jewel among states’ by Thomas Jefferson, Delaware is a highly attractive corporate haven due to its business-friendly corporation law. Tourism is a major industry in Delaware since hundreds of people visit the state to enjoy the sandy shores of the Atlantic.

In 1776, Delaware declared its independence from Pennsylvania (which it had been connected with from 1682) and Great Britain. Later on in 1787, it became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Here’s a quick look at some of the most famous official and unofficial symbols associated with Delaware.

Flag of Delaware

Delaware state flag

The state flag of Delaware features a buff-colored diamond in the center of a colonial blue field. Inside the diamond is the coat of arms of Delaware which contains many important symbols of the state. The main colors of the flag (buff and colonial blue) represent the colors of George Washington’s uniform. Beneath the coat of arms are the words ‘December 7, 1787’, which is the day Delaware became the first state of the Union.

Seal of Delaware

The Great Seal of Delaware was officially adopted in 1777 and depicts the coat of arms with the inscription ‘Great Seal of the State of Delaware’ in its outer edge. The seal features the following symbols:

  • A wheat sheaf: represents the agricultural vitality of the state
  • A ship: a symbol of the ship building industry and the state’s extensive coastal commerce
  • Corn: the agricultural basis of the state’s economy
  • A farmer: symbolizes the importance of farming to the state
  • The militiaman: recognizes the important role of the citizen-soldier to the maintenance of the nation’s liberties.
  • An ox: the value of animal husbandry to Delaware’s economy
  • The water: represents the Delaware River, the mainstay of transportation and commerce
  • The state motto: which was derived from the Order of Cincinnati
  • The years:
    • 1704 – The year the General Assembly was established
    • 1776 – The year independence was declared (from Great Britain)
    • 1787 – The year Delaware became ‘the First State’

State Bird: Blue Hen

Delaware’s state bird has a long history staring during the Revolutionary War. Captain Jonathan Caldwell’s men who were recruited in Kent County took several Blue Hens with them since they were well noted for their ability to fight fiercely.

When the officers weren’t fighting the enemy, they pitted their Blue Hens in cockfights as a form of entertainment. These cockfights became extremely famous throughout the army and when the Delaware men fought so valiantly during battle, people compared them to the fighting cocks.

The Blue Hen chicken was officially adopted as the state bird in April 1939, because of the role it played in the history of the state. Today cockfighting is illegal in all fifty states, but the Blue Hen remains an important symbol of Delaware.

State Fossil: Belemnite

The belemnite is an extinct type of squid-like cephalopod that had a conical internal skeleton. It belonged to the phylum Mollusca which includes snails, squids, clams and octopuses and is thought to have had a pair of fins on its guard and 10 hooked arms.

Belemnites were a highly important source of food for numerous Mesozoic marine creatures and it’s likely that they played a crucial role in restructuring the marine ecosystems after the end-Triassic extinction. The fossils of these creatures can be found all along the Delaware Canal and the Chesapeake, where Quest Students collected many specimens during a field trip.

One such student, Kathy Tidball, suggested honouring the belmnite as the state fossil and in 1996, it became the official state fossil of Delaware.

State Marine Animal: Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe crab

The horseshoe crab is a brackish water and marine arthropod that lives primarily around and in shallow coastal waters. Since these crabs originated over 450 million years ago, they’re considered living fossils. They contain a certain compound which is used to detect all kinds of bacterial poisons in certain vaccines, medications and medical devices and their shell contains chitin used to make bandages.

Since the horseshoe crab has a complex eye structure similar to that of the human eye, it’s also popularly used in vision studies. Delaware Bay is home to the largest number of horseshoe crabs in the world and to recognize its value, it was designated the official marine animal of the state in 2002.

State Dance: Maypole Dancing

Maypole dancing Delaware state

The maypole dance is a ceremonial folk dance that originated in Europe, performed by several people around a tall pole which is garlanded with flowers or greenery. The pole has many ribbons hung on it, each one held by a dancer and by the end of the dance, the ribbons are all woven into complex patterns.

The maypole dance is typically performed on the 1st of May (known as May Day) and they also occur at other festivals and even ritual dances around the world.  It’s said that the dance was a fertility rite, symbolizing the union of the feminine and masculine which is the main theme in May Day celebrations. In 2016, it was designated the official state dance of Delaware.

State Dessert: Peach Pie

The peach was first introduced to the state during the Colonial times and gradually expanded as an industry in the 19th century. Delaware quickly became the leading producer of peaches in the U.S. and in 1875 it reached its peak, shipping over 6 million baskets to the market.

In 2009, the 5th and 6th grade students of St. John’s Lutheran School in Dover and the entire student body suggested that peach pie be named the official dessert of Delaware because of the significance of the state’s peach farming industry. Thanks to their efforts, the bill was passed and the peach pie became the official dessert of the state that same year.

State Tree: American Holly

American holly

American Holly is considered to be one of the most important forest trees of Delaware, native to both south-central and eastern United States. It’s often called evergreen holly or Christmas holly and has thorny-leaved, dark foliage and red berries.

Aside from Christmas decorations and other ornamental purposes, the American holly has many uses. Its wood is tough, pale and close-grained, popularly used for making cabinets, whip handles and engraving blocks. When dyed, it makes a great substitute for ebony wood.  Its watery, bitter sap is often used as an herbal tonic and the leaves make a great tasting tea-like beverage. Delaware designated the American holly as the official state tree in 1939.

State Nickname: The First State

The state of Delaware is known by the nickname ‘The First State’ since it became the first one of the 13 original states to sanction the U.S. Constitution. ‘The First State’ became the official state nickname in May, 2002. Aside from this, the state has been known by other nicknames such as:

  • ‘The Diamond State’ – Thomas Jefferson gave Delaware this nickname because he thought of it as a ‘jewel’ among the states.
  • ‘Blue Hen State’ – this nickname became popular because of the fighting Blue Hen Cocks that were taken for entertainment purposes during the Revolutionary War.
  • ‘Small Wonder’ – the state got this nickname because of its small size, beauty and the contributions it made to the U.S. as a whole.  

State Herb: Sweet Goldenrod

Sweet goldenrod, also known as anisescented goldenrod or fragrant goldenrod, is a flowering plant belonging to the sunflower family. Indigenous to Delaware, the plant is found in abundance all over the state. Its leaves and flowers are used for making an aromatic tea and its medicinal properties make it useful in the treatment of colds and cough. Sweet goldenrod is popularly used for cooking and chewing on its roots is said to treat sore mouth.

Suggested by the Marketers Association of Delaware and the International Herb Growers, the sweet goldenrod was designated the official herb of the state in 1996.

Fort Delaware

The famous Fort Delaware is one of the most iconic historical landmarks of the state. Built in 1846, on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, the initial purpose of the fort was to guard traffic on the waterway after the War of 1812. Later on, it was used as a camp for the prisoners of war.

In 1947, Delaware acquired it from the U.S. government after it was declared a surplus site by the federal government and today it’s one of Delaware’s most famous State Parks. There are many popular events held at the fort and it’s visited by millions of people each year.

State Mineral: Sillimanite

Sillimanite is a type of aluminosilicate mineral commonly found in large masses in Brandywine Springs, Delaware. It’s a polymorph with Kyanite and Andalusite which means it shares the same chemistry with these minerals but has its own different crystal structure. Formed in metamorphic environments, sillimanite is used extensively for the production of high-alumina or mullite refractories.

The sillimanite boulders in Brandywine Springs are remarkable for their purity and size. They have a fibrous texture similar to wood and can be cut into gems, showing a stunning ‘cat’s eye’ effect. The state of Delaware adopted sillimanite as the official state mineral in 1977.

Check out our related articles on other popular state symbols:

Symbols of Pennsylvania

Symbols of New York

Symbols of California

Symbols of Connecticut

Symbols of Alaska

Symbols of Arkansas

Symbols of Ohio

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