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Middle Colonies


Middle Colonies

Middle Colonies
Regional statistics
U.S. States Delaware
New Jersey
New York

The Middle Colonies comprised the middle region of the Thirteen Colonies of the British Empire in North America. Much of the area was part of the New Netherland until the British exerted their control over the region. The English captured much of the area in its war with the Dutch around 1664, and the majority of the conquered land became the Province of New York. The Duke of York and the King of England would later grant others ownership of the land which would become the Province of New Jersey and the Province of Pennsylvania. The Delaware Colony later separated from Pennsylvania, which was founded by William Penn.

The Middle Colonies had lots of rich soil, which was allowing the area to become a major exporter of wheat and other grains. The lumber and shipbuilding industries enjoyed success in the Middle Colonies because of the abundant forests, and Pennsylvania saw moderate success in the textile and iron industry. The Middle Colonies were the most ethnically and religiously diverse British colonies in North America, they had settlers coming from all parts of Europe. Civil unrest in Europe and other colonies saw an influx of immigrants to the Middle Colonies in the 18th century. With the new arrivals came various religions which were protected in the Middle Colonies by written freedom of religion laws. This tolerance was very unusual and distinct from other British colonies.


  • History 1
  • Province of New Jersey 2
  • Province of Pennsylvania 3
  • Province of New York 4
  • Delaware Colony 5
  • Geography 6
  • Industry 7
  • Politics 8
  • Demographics 9
    • English colonists 9.1
    • Labor 9.2
    • Religion 9.3
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • Historiography 13


The Middle Colonies were explored by Henry Hudson on a journey into the Hudson River and Delaware Bay in 1609. The Dutch soon claimed the land. Although the Swedes and the Dutch fought over the land in the 1630s through the ultimately the Dutch claimed the land, calling it New Netherland.[1] In the 1660s, the English largely conquered this land from the Dutch, renaming the area New York after the Duke of York, James II.[2][3] The colony's land was periodically granted to various proprietors and split into the Province of New York and the Province of Pennsylvania.

Province of New Jersey

Map showing the borders of West New Jersey (left) and East New Jersey (right)

King Charles II renamed the land west of the Lord Berkeley of Stratton. This land grant became the Province of New Jersey.[4][5]

In 1665, the Concession and Agreement was written in an effort to entice settlers to New Jersey. This document provided for religious freedom, no taxes without assembly approval, and a governor appointed by the proprietors.[6] The first governor appointed in this way was Philip Carteret, who founded Elizabethtown. Colonists were required to pay annual quit-rent taxes. On March 18, 1674, after encountering difficulty collecting the taxes, Lord Berkeley sold his share in the colony to Edward Byllynge, a Quaker businessman from London.[7] This sale divided New Jersey into East Jersey and West Jersey; however, the border between the two was not agreed upon until the Quintipartite Deed in 1676. From 1701 to 1765, colonists skirmished in the New York-New Jersey Line War over disputed colonial boundaries.

On April 15, 1702, Lewis Morris, to run New Jersey.[4]

The Provincial Congress of New Jersey, made up of elected delegates, formed in January 1776 to govern the colony. The Congress had Royal Governor William Franklin arrested on June 15, declaring him "an enemy to the liberties of this country".[9] On July 2, 1776, New Jersey enacted the New Jersey State Constitution, soon after having empowered delegates to the Continental Congress, on June 21, to join in a declaration of independence. The United States Declaration of Independence ended their colonial status.[5]

Province of Pennsylvania

Chester Courthouse in Pennsylvania was built in 1724

King Charles II granted the land for the Pennsylvania Colony to William Penn on March 4, 1681 as payment for a debt the crown owed his family.[10] Penn wrote the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania before departing for the colony, which called for religious tolerance towards many groups, including the Religious Society of Friends and local natives.[11] As a proprietary colony, Penn governed Pennsylvania, yet its citizens were still subject to the English crown and laws.[11][12] Penn's cousin William Markham served as the first colonial deputy governor.[10][12]

Demarcated by the 42nd parallel north and 39th parallel north, Pennsylvania was bordered by the Delaware River and the colonies of New York, Maryland, and New Jersey.[12] In 1704, Dutch land given to Penn by the Duke of York was separated and once again became part of the Delaware Colony.[11] From 1692 to 1694, revolution in England deprived Penn of the governance of his colony. The Pennsylvania Assembly took this opportunity to request expanded power for elected officials, led by David Lloyd. Upon visiting the colony in 1669 and 1701, Penn eventually agreed to allow their Charter of Privileges to be added to the constitution.[12] When the British banned western expansion in 1764, fighting among colonists and against the natives swelled. In 1773, Arthur St. Clair ordered the arrest of a Virginian officer who was commanding troops against armed settlers loyal to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanian revolutionary sentiment continued to grow, and Philadelphia, the largest city in America, soon became the meeting place of the Continental Congress. The publication of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 by locally-elected revolutionaries concluded the history of the Colony, and began the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Province of New York

The first Dutch settlements in the New York area appeared around 1613. The English captured the New Netherland Colony from the Dutch in 1664, renaming it the Province of New York after the King's brother, the Duke of York (later King James II).[3] The Dutch recaptured the colony in July 1673 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, but gave it back to the English under the Treaty of Westminster in exchange for Suriname. The Duke of York never governed the colony himself: he instead appointed governors, councils, and other officers to run the government. Richard Nicolls served as the first governor of New York.

In 1665, the Province of New Jersey split from New York; however, the New York-New Jersey Line War continued until the final borders were decided in 1769, and approved by the legislatures and the King in 1772 and 1773 respectively. A Colonial Assembly convened in October 1683, making New York the last colony to have an assembly. A constitution was drafted and passed on October 30, 1683, giving the colonists many rights, including the rights to taxation without representation. However, upon learning of the constitution, James II declared it void.[3]

When the Duke of York became King James II of England, New York became a royal province. In May 1688 the province briefly became part of the Dominion of New England. When James II was overthrown, the citizens of New York rebelled against the Royal Governor in Leisler's Rebellion.[13] When Henry Sloughter became governor in March 1691, the rebellion was crushed and its leader, Jacob Leisler was arrested, tried, and executed for treason. New York's charter and constitution were reinstated soon after. In April 1775, American patriots formed the New York Provincial Congress to replace the assembly. Governor William Tryon and all royal officials were forced from the colony on October 19, 1775. Colonial status ended for the new state with the United States Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Delaware Colony

Delaware changed hands between the Dutch and Swedes between 1631 and 1655. The Dutch maintained control of Delaware until 1664, when Sir Robert Carr took New Amstel for the Duke of York, renaming it New Castle.[14] A Deputy of the Duke governed Delaware from 1664 to 1682.[14] When William Penn received his land grant of Pennsylvania in 1681, he received the Delaware area from the Duke of York, and dubbed them "The Three Lower Counties on the Delaware River".[15] In 1701, after he had troubles governing the ethnically diverse Delaware territory, Penn agreed to allow them a separate colonial assembly.[14]


The partly unglaciated Middle Colonies enjoyed fertile soil vastly different from the nearby New England Colonies, which contained more rocky soil. Because of the large grain exports resulting from this soil, the colonies came to be known as the Bread Basket Colonies. Pennsylvania became a leading exporter of wheat, corn, rye, hemp, and flax,[12] making it the leading food producer in the colonies, and later states, between the years of 1725 and 1840.[16] Broad navigable rivers of relaxed current like the Susquehanna River, the Delaware River, and the Hudson River attracted diverse business. Fur trappers moved along these rivers, and there was enough flow to enable milling with water wheel power.


Abundant forests attracted both the lumbering and shipbuilding industries to the Middle Colonies. These industries, along with the presence of deep river estuaries, led to the appearance of important ports like New York and Philadelphia. While the Middle Colonies had far more industry than the Southern Colonies, it still did not rival the industry of New England. In Pennsylvania, sawmills and gristmills were abundant, and the textile industry grew quickly. The colony also became a major producer of pig iron and its products, including the Pennsylvania long rifle and the Conestoga wagon. Other important industries included printing, publishing, and the related industry of papermaking.[12][17]


The Middle Colonies political groups began as small groups with narrowly focused goals. These coalitions eventually grew into diverse and large political organizations, evolving especially during the French and Indian War.[18]

The Middle Colonies were generally run by Royal or Proprietary Governors and elected Colonial Assemblies. Many Middle Colony constitutions guaranteed freedom of religion and forbade taxation without representation. Royal governors were arrested or overthrown on more than one occasion, most notably when New Jersey arrested its governor and during Leisler's Rebellion in New York. Growing unrest in the Middle Colonies eventually led the region to become the meeting place for the Continental Congress, and a center for revolution.[19] However, there were numerous pockets of neutrals and Loyalists.[20]


The Middle Colonies tended to mix aspects of the New England and Southern Colonies. Landholdings were generally farms of 40 to 160 acres, owned by the family that worked it. In New York's Hudson Valley, however, the Dutch patroons operated very large landed estates and rented land to tenant farmers.[21]

Ethnically, the Middle Colonies were more diverse than the other British colonial regions in North America and tended to be more socially tolerant. For example, in New York, any foreigner professing Christianity was awarded citizenship, leading to a more diverse populace. As a consequence, early German settlements in the Americas concentrated in the Middle Colonies region. Indentured servitude was especially common in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in the eighteenth century, though fewer worked in agriculture.[22]

German immigrants favored the Middle Colonies. German immigration greatly increased around 1717, and many immigrants began coming from the Rhineland. They were erroneously labeled the Pennsylvania Dutch (the German word for German is "Deutsch"), and comprised one-third of the population by the time of the American Revolution. The industry and farming skills they brought with them helped solidify the Middle Colonies prosperity. They were noted for tight-knit religious communities, mostly Lutheran but also including many smaller sects such as the Moravians, Mennonites and Amish[23]

The Scotch-Irish began immigrating to the Middle Colonies in waves after 1717. They primarily pushed farther into the western frontier of the colonies, where they repeatedly confronted the Indians.[24] Other groups included the French Huguenots, Welsh, Dutch, Swedes, Swiss, and Scots Highlanders.[25]

English colonists

When the English took direct control of the Middle Colonies around 1664, many Quakers from Rhode Island had already been pushed into the region by Puritans, while Episcopalian businessmen settled in Philadelphia and New York City.

Welsh Quakers, Baptists and Methodists settled in the Welsh Tract of Pennsylvania. While some Welsh colonists like Roger Williams, left to found Rhode Island, Anne Hutchinson founded a seed settlement in New York. Rhode Island was not initially counted as part of New England, having been excluded from the New England Confederation, but later joined the Dominion of New England. Thus, the definition of the Middle Colonies sometimes changed and overlapped with Rhode Island's colonial boundaries. After joining the Dominion of New England, however, Rhode Island was permanently thought of as a New England colony. New York's initial possession of parts of Maine ensured a close relationship with other New England colonies like Vermont and a continuing New England influence in the colony.[20]

Both William Penn and the Lords Baltimore encouraged Irish Protestant immigration, hoping they could obtain indentured servants to work on their estates and on colonial developments.[20] Often areas of the Middle Colonies displayed prevalent Irish cultural influence.[20]


Labor was always in short supply. The most common solution was indentured servitude of young whites. These were teenagers in Britain or Germany whose parents arranged for them to work for families in the colonies until age 21, in exchange for their ocean passage. The great majority became farmers or farm wives.[26] By the mid-eighteenth century, black slaves comprised 12% of the population of New York. Most were house servants in Manhattan, or farmworkers on Dutch estates.[27]


The Middle Colonies were the religiously diverse part of the British Empire, with a high degree of tolerance. The Penn family were Quakers, and the colony became a favorite destination for that group as well as German Lutherans, German Reformed and numerous small sects such as Mennonites, Amish and Moravians, not to mention Scotch Irish Presbyterians. The Dutch Reformed were strong in upstate New York and New Jersey, and Congregationalists were important in Long Island. The First Great Awakening invigorated religiosity and helped stimulate the growth of Congregational, Methodist and Baptist churches. Non-British colonists included Dutch Calvinist, Swedish Lutherans, Palatine Mennonites, and the Amish.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Jaap Jacobs, The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America (2nd ed. Cornell University Press; 2009)
  2. ^ a b Turner (1948), 83.
  3. ^ a b c Kammen (1996), 71-72.
  4. ^ a b Streissguth (2001), 96.
  5. ^ a b John E. Pomfret, Colonial New Jersey: A History (1973)
  6. ^ Berkeley and Carteret (1664).
  7. ^ Gerlach (2002), 384.
  8. ^ a b Elson (1904), 148.
  9. ^ Skemp (1990), 192.
  10. ^ a b Pennsylvania Society of Governors (1916), 180-181.
  11. ^ a b c Penn (1682).
  12. ^ a b c d e f Pennsylvania State History.
  13. ^ Jerome R. Reich, Leisler's Rebellion: A Study of Democracy in New York, 1664-1720 (1953)
  14. ^ a b c Faragher (1990), 106-108
  15. ^ State of Delaware (A Brief History) (2007).
  16. ^ Ebeling (1979)
  17. ^ Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America (1988)
  18. ^ Greene (1997), 709.
  19. ^ Jensen (1968), 461-468.
  20. ^ a b c d Fischer (1992), 972.
  21. ^ Sung Bok Kim, "A New Look at the Great Landlords of Eighteenth-Century New York," William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1970), pp. 581-614 in JSTOR
  22. ^ Westerkamp (1998), 452.
  23. ^ A. G. Roeber, Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America (1998)
  24. ^ James Graham Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History (1989)
  25. ^ Stephan Thermstrom, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (1980)
  26. ^ Marcus Jernegan, Laboring and Dependent Classes in Colonial America, 1607-1783 (1931)
  27. ^ Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris, Slavery in New York Some work in the fields of plantations.(2005)
  28. ^ Patricia U. Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (2003)


  • Doyle, John Andrew. English Colonies in America: Volume IV The Middle Colonies (1907) online
  • Faragher, John Mack, ed. (1990) The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America. New York: Sachem Publishing Associates, Inc.
  • Illick, Joseph E. Colonial Pennsylvania: A History (1976)
  • Landsman, Ned. Crossroads of Empire: The Middle Colonies in British North America (Johns Hopkins University Press; 2010) 248 pages
  • Munroe, John A. Colonial Delaware: A History (2003)
  • State of Delaware (A Brief History). State of Delaware. 2007-01-21.
  • Tiedemann, Joseph S. "A Tumultuous People: The Rage for Liberty and the Ambiance of Violence in the Middle Colonies in the Years Preceding the American Revolution," Pennsylvania History Volume 77, Number 4, Autumn 2010, pp. 387–431 in Project MUSE
  • Tiedemann, Joseph S. “Interconnected Communities: The Middle Colonies on the Eve of the American Revolution,” Pennsylvania History, 76 (Winter 2009), 1–41.


  • Bodle, Wayne. "Themes and Directions in Middles Colonies Historiography, 1980-1994," William and Mary Quarterly, July 1994, Vol. 51 Issue 3, pp 355–88 in JSTOR
  • Bodle, Wayne. "The "Myth of the Middle Colonies" Reconsidered: The Process of Regionalization in Early America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 113, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 527-548 in JSTOR
  • Greenberg, Douglas. "The Middle Colonies in Recent American Historiography," William and Mary Quarterly, July 1979, Vol. 36 Issue 3, pp 396–427 in JSTOR
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