Discover Why Delaware Is Called the Diamond State

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: November 16, 2023
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Delaware is a Mid-Atlantic state known for many things, including being the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States. Yet, that has nothing to do with the state’s unofficial nickname, the “The Diamond State.” Why is Delaware called the Diamond State? Discover how the state got this nickname and whether it holds true in this day and age.

We’ll give you a hint: no large-scale diamond mining operations exist in the state.

About Delaware

Delaware flag, USA

The Flag of Delaware features a background of colonial blue surrounding a diamond of buff color, in which the state’s coat of arms is placed.

©iStock.com/daboost

Before we get into the state’s nicknames, it’s worth taking a quick look at some other facets of the state. Delaware is the second smallest state in the entire country, and it only has about 2,489 square miles of total space counting both land and water. However, the state has only 1,948 square miles of land area.

As of the 2020 Census, the First State was home to 989,957 people. However, the estimated population for 2022 shows that the population increased by about 28,000. Now, 1,018,396 people call this state home.

Delaware now ranks 45th overall in terms of state population, with only Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming having lower populations.

Delaware shares borders with a few states. They include New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. More important, perhaps, is the fact that Delaware shares a border with the Atlantic Ocean. Also, it has the huge Delaware Bay on its eastern border and the Delaware River dividing the state from New Jersey. Wilmington, the largest city in the state, is found along the same river.

These waterways are the state’s lifeblood, and they are very significant to why Delaware is called the Diamond State.

Why Is Delaware Called the Diamond State?

Map of the state of Delaware

Map of the state of Delaware and surrounding areas, showcasing its great position on the coast.

©iStock.com/BonneChance

According to legend, Delaware is called the Diamond State because Thomas Jefferson once referred to the state as a jewel because of its location. The legend put forth could refer to any number of the state’s facets that make it a perfect location.

First and foremost, the state’s location makes it a great place for trade to occur. The Delaware Bay opens to the Atlantic Ocean, allowing ships to come to the area. Traveling up the bay would allow people to reach the Delaware River. That river travels far inland, reaching cities like Wilmington, Trenton, and Philadelphia.

That would have made Delaware an incredibly important state for trade ports alone. However, another dimension of the state is its ability to defend those ports from incursions. Thomas Jefferson lived through the Revolutionary War. So, he probably considered the defensibility of the region as part of his assessment of the state.

Delaware had significant defenses in place throughout the Revolutionary War, several engagements were fought along the Delaware River.

Whether or not Thomas Jefferson actually said this state was a jewel, it is still a great state for any maritime activity.

Is the State Still a Jewel Today?

Fort Delaware was used during the American Civil War by the Union as a camp for Confederate prisoners, especially prisoners captured at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Fort Delaware was used during the American Civil War by the Union as a camp for Confederate prisoners, especially prisoners captured at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

©Mpdoughboy153 / CC0 1.0 – License

Thomas Jefferson is why Delaware is called the Diamond State. The question remains: Is Delaware still a jewel today? Delaware is a very small state with just over 1 million people living in it. The state’s old forts are no longer the crowning achievement in the nation’s military defense.

Yet, Delaware is home to Dover Air Force Base, a significant military installation and the biggest air freight terminal operated by the Department of Defense.

Additionally, the state has some other things that make it a modern-day jewel of the East Coast. Delaware has the Port of Wilmington that operates out of the city for which it is named. This is a large and important port, and ships from this area can take the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to reach the Chesapeake Bay.

The Port of Wilmington handles 400 ships annually, and it takes in 6 million tons of cargo every year. This is the most active terminal along the Delaware River. So, in the sense that the area is still valuable and brings goods to important cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Wilmington, this state is a gem.

The state is small and mighty. It’s a popular place for people to live in for its lax taxes. Also, it’s in a great position for people who want to travel to other cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and more.  

Other Nicknames for Delaware

Animals in Delaware

The blue hen is a symbol of the First State that originated during the Revolutionary War.

©lunamarina/Shutterstock.com

We’ve covered why Delaware is called the Diamond State. However, that is not the only nickname that has been given to this state over time. Instead, the state also goes by the “Blue Hen State” as well as the “Small Wonder.” Let’s start with the latter.

The state is a small wonder in the sense that it contains so much in such a small space. Despite its size, Delaware has a few sizable cities, a major port, natural areas, and more.

The other nickname for the state is the “Blue Hen State.” This name stems from the fact that Revolutionary War soldiers from the state brought blue hens with them to fight as entertainment. The blue hen has become a symbol of the state ever since, and it has become a mascot for the state university ever since.  

Symbolism in the First State

A wild gray fox photographed in the White Mountains of Arizona.

The

gray fox

is Delaware’s state mammal.

©Sean R. Stubben/Shutterstock.com

Delaware is a state with a variety of different symbols. For example, the state marine animal is a horseshoe crab, and its state mammal is the gray fox. The state has an array of other symbols as well, including the blue hen as the state bird, and the tiger swallowtail as the state butterfly. Delaware has a wide assortment of different symbols attached to it.

So, why is Delaware called the Diamond State? Apparently, Thomas Jefferson came up with the name, but that may just be a legend. For now, that seems like the best explanation. At least, it is an explanation that makes sense for the state. Although it may not be the biggest state, it’s still important.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ianm35/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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