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Captain Israel Helm

by Dr. Peter Stebbins Craig
Fellow, American Society of Genealogists
Fellow, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
Historian, Swedish Colonial Society

originally published in Swedish Colonial News,
Volume 1, Number 6 (Fall 1992)

One of the legendary leaders emerging from New Sweden was Israel Helm, originally known as Israel Åkesson.

In 1749, Israel Helm's youngest son told Peter Kalm that his father had come to New Sweden at the age of 12 with Governor Printz in 1642-43 and lived in the Governor's household. Records at the Swedish National Archives give a slightly different story: they show that Israel Åkesson came to New Sweden in 1641 on the Charitas, with his father, musketeer Åke Israelsson from Stockholm. His father died at sea, one month before the Charitas reached New Sweden, and young Israel was cared for by the Company as an orphan. Undoubtedly, he became a ward of Governor. Printz after his arrival in 1643.

On 1 March, 1648, after Israel became 18, he was named a soldier by Governor Printz and served in this capacity until he returned to Sweden with the governor in 1653. Two years later, Israel Akesson went to New Sweden a second time on the Mercurius and apparently resided on Tinicum Island. When Armegot Printz sold this island to Joost de la Grange in 1662, Israel returned to Europe in her company. Over the next twelve months he appears to have married and to have helped recruit more Finnish Swedes as settlers for the City of Amsterdam, which then controlled the Delaware River. Israel next appears in Delaware River records in the fall of 1663 when he arrived by a Dutch ship at present New Castle in the company of 32 new Finnish settlers. The Dutch governor rewarded him by granting him a monopoly on the fur trade in present Pennsylvania and by naming him a "High Councillor," qualifying him to sit on the Swedes' Upland court.

Israel, who adopted the surname Helm (from hjelm, meaning "helmet" in Swedish) served continuously as a justice on the Upland court from 1663 to 1681, and acquired the title of Captain, a rank usually reserved for those who served as captain in the Swedish militia.

Through his Indian trading, Israel Helm also became proficient in the Indian dialects and was in frequent demand to negotiate treaties with the Indians. As a reward, Governor Andros of New York granted him land near Burlington Island in 1677. Helm later surrendered this land to William Penn for his "Pennsbury" estate in exchange for other land on the Brandywine River.

After his return to America in 1663, Helm's principal residences were at Calcon Hook (Lower Darby) and Upland (Chester). By 1677, however, he had moved to Gloucester County, NJ, where he resided on Clonmell Creek until his death in the winter of 1701-02. He was buried next to his wife in the old Swedish graveyard on Tinicum Island.

Israel Helm had three sons and five daughters:

  1. Israel, Jr., born c. 1663, went to sea around 1691 and was never heard from again.
  2. Helene, born c. 1665, married Peter Cock, Jr., son of Peter Larsson Cock, in 1682 and had nine children. She died at Passyunk (South Philadelphia) after 1708.
  3. Maria, born in 1666, married Andrew Robeson (of Scotch birth) c. 1690 and had I I children. She died 12 November 1716 and was buried at Gloria Dei. Her husband died 19 February 1720 and was the first person known to be buried at the Swedish church in Douglassville in Berks County.
  4. Another daughter, name unknown, was probably the first wife of Anders Friend, son of Nils Larsson Frände, and father of Israel Friend, of later Indian trading fame in Maryland. She died before her father.
  5. Ingeborg, born c. 1670, became the second wife of Eric Mullica after 1693 and moved with her husband and youngest stepchildren to the Mullica River. She was a widow by 1704 and had no known children of her own.
  6. Elisabeth, born c. 1673, married George Lawrence (English) by 1695 and had eight children. This family resided in lower Gloucester County, where she died c. 1737.
  7. Hermanus, born c. 1675, married Catharine (parents not identified) and had at least I I children. He remained on his father's plantation, known as "Helmstadt," adding other lands, and died in November 1740.
  8. Åkenus, born c. 1677, had two wives, Catharine Rambo (daughter of John Rambo and Brigitta Cock) and Elisabeth Dalbo, (daughter of Olof Dalbo and Catharine Friend), and had at least 11 children. He served as a trustee of the Swedish church in Swedesboro, NJ and died in 1750 at his plantation on Raccoon Creek in Gloucester County.