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

The Middle Colonies, also known as the Bread Colonies or the Breadbasket Colonies for the region's production of wheat, grain, and oats,[1][2] were one area of the Thirteen British Colonies in pre-Revolutionary War Northern America. The area was part of the New Netherlands until the British exerted control over the region. Following the American Revolution, the Middle Colonies became the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.[1] Dutch Connecticut is occasionally referred to as a Middle Colony due to its association with the other Middle Colonies that made up Dutch New Netherlands

The British took much of the land from 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.

The Middle Colonies had rich soil, allowing the area to become a major exporter of wheat and other grains. The lumber and shipbuilding industries enjoyed success in the Middle Colonies, and Pennsylvania saw moderate success in the textile and pig iron industry. The Middle Colonies were the most ethnically diverse British colonies in North America, with 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 Eighteenth Century. With the new arrivals came various religions which were protected in the Middle Colonies by written freedom of religion laws. This tolerance was unusual and distinct from other British colonies.



The Middle Colonies were explored by Henry Hudson on a journey into the Hudson River and Delaware Bay in 1609.[3] The Dutch soon claimed the land. Although the Swedes and the Dutch fought over the land in the 1630s through the 1650s, ultimately the Dutch claimed the land, calling it New Netherland. In the 1660s, the English largely conquered this land from the Dutch, renaming the area New York after the Duke of York, James II.[4][5] The colony's land was periodically granted to various proprietors and split into the Province of New York and the Province of Pennsylvania. Later, the Province of New Jersey split from New York, and existed for a time as West and East New Jersey. The Colony of Delaware later broke off from Pennsylvania.[6]


Province of New Jersey

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

On March 12, 1664, after concluding that the Dutch colony of New Netherland impeded the profit-making abilities of the New England Colonies, King Charles II granted the territory to his brother James — though the land did not yet belong to the English. In mid-1664, a British fleet under the command of Colonel Richard Nicolls sailed three war vessels and a few hundred soldiers into Boston Harbor. After a brief stay in Boston, the fleet anchored off the coast of Coney Island on August 18, 1664.[7] From there, Nicolls told New Amsterdam's citizens that they would be given all the rights of English colonists and would be allowed to continue limited relations with the Dutch if they did not resist the British takeover. On September 8, after his efforts to raise the people against the English bore no fruits, Director General Peter Stuyvesant ceded the colony without engaging in battle.[8] This colony was given to the Duke of York, and renamed New York. Charles II renamed the land west of the Hudson River New Jersey and gave the region between the New England Colonies and the Province of Maryland to his brother, the Duke of York James II of England, as a proprietary colony.[4] James II later granted the land between the Hudson River and the Delaware River to two friends who had been loyal to him through the English Civil War: Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley of Stratton.[9] This land grant would become the Province of New Jersey.[10]

In 1665, the Concession and Agreement was written in an effort to entice settlers to New Jersey. This document provided religious freedom, no taxes without assembly approval, and a governor appointed by the proprietors.[11] The first governor appointed in this way was Philip Carteret, who founded Elizabethtown, which was named for George Carteret's wife.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] From 1701 to 1765, colonists skirmished in the New York-New Jersey Line War over disputed colonial boundaries.

On April 15, 1702, Queen Anne united West and East Jersey into one Royal Colony, the Province of New Jersey.[15] Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon became the royal colony's first governor. After Hyde was recalled to England in 1708 over charges of graft, bribery, and corruption, the governor of New York was charged to also preside over New Jersey.[15] Finally, in 1738, King George II appointed a separate governor, Lewis Morris, to run New Jersey.[10]

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".[16] 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. They soon adopted the United States Declaration of Independence, ending their colonial status to England.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] As a proprietary colony, Penn governed Pennsylvania, yet its citizens were still subject to the English crown and laws.[19][20] Penn's cousin William Markham served as the first colonial deputy governor.[18][20]

Demarcated at 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.[20] In 1704, Dutch land given to Penn by the Duke of York separated and once again became part of the Delaware Colony.[19] 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. Penn, upon visiting the colony in 1669 and 1701, eventually agreed to allow their Charter of Privileges to be added to the constitution.[20] 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 commanding troops against armed settlers loyal to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanian revolutionary sentiment continued to grow, and Philadelphia 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 Dutch originally colonized the land around 1613.[21] The English captured the New Netherland Colony from the Dutch in 1664, renaming it the Province of New York after the King's brother, Duke of York James II.[5] The Dutch would later recapture the colony in July 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, but gave the colony back to the English in the Treaty of Westminster in exchange for Suriname. The charter, granted to the Duke of York in 1665, partially conflicted with land chartered to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In fact, the territory originally included the current states of New Jersey, Delaware and Vermont, along with inland portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, though this territories soon split from New York. Despite the charter, 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.[22] A Colonial Assembly convened in October 1683, making New York the last colony to seat 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.[5]

When the Duke of York James II became the King of England, New York became a royal province. In May 1688 the province 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.[23][24] When Henry Sloughter became the new governor in March 1691, the rebellion was stifled and its leader, Jacob Leisler was arrested, tried, and executed for treason. New York's charter and constitution were reenstated soon after. In April 1775, American patriots formed the New York Provincial Congress to replace the assembly. Governor William Tryon was forced from the colony on October 19, 1775, and New York ratified the United States Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776, effectively ending its British colonial status.[25]

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.[6] A Deputy of the Duke governed Delaware from 1664 to 1682.[6] 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".[26] In 1701, after he had troubles governing the ethnically diverse Delaware territory, Penn agreed to allow them a separate colonial assembly.[6] This arrangement continued until Delaware, along with the other Thirteen Colonies, declared its independence from Great Britain.


The partly unglaciated Middle Colonies enjoyed fertile soil vastly different from the nearby New England Colonies, which contained more rocky soil.[1] Because of the large grain exports resulting from this soil, the colonies came to be known as the Bread Colonies.[1] In addition, colonies like Pennsylvania became leading exporters of goods like wheat, corn, rye, hemp, and flax,[20] allowing Pennsylvania to become the leading food producer in the colonies, and later states, between the years of 1725 and 1840.[2] A surplus of crops led to farmers whose primary purpose was growing cash crops for sale at market, including excess wheat and tobacco growers.[2] 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 the lack of waterfalls encouraged milling and water wheel power.[1]

New York was also sometimes thought of as part of New England, and thus claimed large amounts of land to the west, including parts of the Appalachian mountains.[27]


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 City and Philadelphia.[1] While the Middle Colonies had a fair amount more industry than the Southern Colonies, it still did not rival the industry of New England.[1]

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.[20] Other important industries including printing, publishing, the related industry of papermaking.[20]


The Middle Colonies political groups began as small groups with narrowly focused goals.[28] These coalitions eventually grew into diverse and large political organizations, evolving especially during the French and Indian War.[28]

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.[3] Royal governors were arrested or overthrown on more than one occasion, most notably when New Jersey arrested its governor and during Leisler's Rebellion.[23] Growing unrest in the Middle Colonies eventually led the region to become the meeting place for the Continental Congress, and a center for revolution.[29] During the American Revolution, a large number of Middle Colonists remained Tories.[27]


The Middle Colonies tended to mix aspects of the New England and Southern Colonies. Landholdings tended to be of an intermediate size, except in New York, where there were a number of aristocratic estates.[1] Ethnically, the Middle Colonies were more diverse than the other British colonial regions in North America[1] 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.[30] Some historians, like Princeton's Peter Silver, have suggested that the relative peace with which various factions who would have been hostile in Europe lived together resulted from a mutual fear of the native population, who carried out numerous raids against the Middle Colonies in the 18th century.[31] Indentured servitude was especially common in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in the eighteenth century, though fewer worked in agriculture.[32]

German immigrants to the Americas tended to cumulate in the Middle Colonies.[30] German immigration greatly increased around 1717, and many immigrants began coming from the Rhineland.[20] The Germans were especially prevalent in Pennsylvania, where they were erroneously labeled the Pennsylvania Dutch, and comprised one-third of the population by the time of the American Revolution.[20][33] The industry and farming skills they brought with them helped solidify the Middle Colonies prosperity.[20]

The Scotch-Irish began immigrating to the Middle Colonies in waves after 1717. They primarily pushed farther into the western frontier of the colonies.[20] Other abundant groups included the French Huguenots, Welsh, Dutch, Swedes, Swiss, and Scots Highlanders.[33]

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 New England Episcopalians settled around Philadelphia and New York City, Catholics had maintained refuge in Maryland since the onset of the Personal Rule of King Charles I. The original English colonists were diverse, with no common established church. The culture was rooted largely in that of the working class Quakers and aristocratic Catholics of Northern England, whereas colonial settlements in Virginia and New England were founded by more southerly English from the Thames and Severn valleys.[27]

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.[27] 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.[27]

Both William Penn and the Lord Baltimores encouraged Irish immigration, hoping they could obtain indentured servants to work on their estates and on colonial developments.[27] Lord Baltimore and the Earl of Ulster, (later James II of England) were the only titled "Irish Catholic" proprietors in the British Empire, and the land from the Delmarva Peninsula to Long Island was under their control. Through these men and the Irish immigrants to their colonies, the Middle Colonies displayed prevalent Irish cultural influence.[27]


Though indentured servitude was more common, slave numbers grew significantly in the eighteenth century. By the mid-eighteenth century, slaves comprised twelve percent of the population of New York.[34] Though the Quakers attempted to pass statutes forbidding the slave trade in 1688, 1693, and 1696, the British Parliament overruled these laws in 1712.[34]


Many British Middle colonists were Quakers. However, the Middle Colonies, and especially Pennsylvania, had a degree of religious tolerance far greater than other British colonies.[1] The lack of a standardized government sponsored church led the Middle Colonies to be more religiously diverse than the other American colonial regions. Delaware Catholics, New Jersey Scottish Presbyterians, Philadelphia and New York Anglicans, New York and Jersey Puritans, and scattered Baptists and Methodists added to the diversity.[27] Non-British colonists included Dutch Calvinist, Swedish Lutherans, Palantine Mennonites, and the Amish.[27] The Middle Colonies became a haven for Jews in the 1650s, whose influence can be still be seen in the Middle Colonies' architecture.[30]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey (2006), 62.
  2. ^ a b c Ebeling (1979), 78.
  3. ^ a b Elson (1904), 133.
  4. ^ a b Turner (1948), 83.
  5. ^ a b c Kammen (1996), 71-72.
  6. ^ a b c d Faragher (1990), 106-108
  7. ^ Channing and Moore (1908), 34.
  8. ^ Channing and Moore (1908), 34-37.
  9. ^ Johnson and Goodwin (1919), 145.
  10. ^ a b Streissguth (2001), 96.
  11. ^ Berkeley and Carteret (1664).
  12. ^ Elson (1904), 146.
  13. ^ Gerlach (2002), 384.
  14. ^ Tanner (1908), 11.
  15. ^ a b Elson (1904), 148.
  16. ^ Skemp (1990), 192.
  17. ^ Jensen (1968), 71.
  18. ^ a b Pennsylvania Society of Governors (1916), 180-181.
  19. ^ a b c Penn (1682).
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Pennsylvania State History.
  21. ^ Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey (2006), 37.
  22. ^ Whitehead (1859).
  23. ^ a b Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey (2006), 82.
  24. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (2009).
  25. ^ World Almanac Education Group (2008).
  26. ^ State of Delaware (A Brief History) (2007).
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fischer (1992), 972.
  28. ^ a b Greene (1997), 709.
  29. ^ Jensen (1968), 461-468.
  30. ^ a b c The Immigrant Experience (1999).
  31. ^ Freeman (2008), 24.
  32. ^ Westerkamp (1998), 452.
  33. ^ a b Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey (2006), 85.
  34. ^ a b Slavery: Growth in Colonial America (2003).



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