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5.3: The Middle Colonies

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    During the early part of the seventeenth century, the English focused on developing their colonies in New England and the Chesapeake, thereby largely neglecting the land between the two settlements. So, the Dutch and the Swedes began to settle the mid-Atlantic region along the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. After the Restoration, Charles II and James II hoped to build the power of the English monarchy by expanding their overseas empire at the expense of the Dutch. By the early 1680s, the English had turned New Netherland into several proprietary colonies, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. In the years after the English takeover, the middle colonies became the most diverse and fastest-growing region in North America.

    Dutch in the New World

    After the Dutch asserted their independence from Spain in the late sixteenth century, the Netherlands set up a republican government. Unlike other European nations at the time, the Dutch allowed both intellectual and religious freedom. Soon, dissidents from other countries flocked to the tiny nation along the North Sea. The liberal government, coupled with the immigration, made the country a powerful force in Europe as well as in the race for overseas empire. The Dutch also expanded their navy in an attempt to attack Spanish and Portuguese trade. After the founding of the Dutch East India Company (DEIC), the Dutch became the primary shippers of spices from Asia, slaves from Africa, and sugar from the Americas.

    Initially, the Netherlands focused on establishing its control over the carrying trade. Like the other sea powers, it hoped to find an alternate route to Far Eastern markets. In 1609, the DEIC sent Henry Hudson to the New World to find the Northwest Passage. Hudson sailed into the Delaware Bay and the North River, known later as the Hudson River. He realized, of course, that neither inlet was the Northwest Passage, but he recorded the possibilities for fur trading and farming. Hudson also established a friendly relationship with the Iroquois Nations. Following these discoveries, the DEIC sent several expeditions to explore the land and trade with the Iroquois. Dutch merchants also persuaded the government to charter the New Netherland Company to handle the fur trade.

    By 1614, the company established a trading post, Fort Nassau, near present-day Albany. From there, traders travelled by canoe westward toward the Great Lakes and northward toward the St. Lawrence River. The New Netherland Company possessed a monopoly over the trade; however, the government opted not to renew the charter in 1618. Soon, merchants formed the Dutch West India Company (DWIC). In 1621, the Dutch government granted it a broad charter. Subsequently, the company had the authority to trade and settle anywhere in America as well as to govern new territories as it saw fit. Thus, the company could appoint officials, make laws, administer justice, make war, and negotiate treaties.

    At the outset, the DWIC did not plan to colonize in the New World. Rather, it hoped to continue the lucrative fur trade. Company officials believed they could keep costs down and discourage illegal trade if they did not establish permanent settlements. For several years, their plan worked. The DWIC then decided permanent settlements would help protect the fur trade from English and French piracy. It sent the first settlers in late 1624. The company recruited Protestants from the Spanish Netherlands to populate their colony because it thought these Protestants, or Walloons, had the stamina and work ethic to survive pioneer life.

    Under the direction of Cornelius May, the migrants built Fort Orange on the Hudson River to replace Fort Nassau, which had been destroyed by constant flooding. They also established a new Fort Nassau on the Delaware River. Under the direction of Peter Minuet, they settled New Amsterdam at the mouth of the Hudson River. The DWIC told Minuet not to expel the Indians with violence; it did not want the fur trade interrupted. In 1626, Minuet purchased Manhattan Island for sixty guilders from the local Indians. New Amsterdam subsequently served as a major seaport and seat of government for New Netherland. The colony shared the mother country’s religious toleration, but not its liberal republican government.

    Screenshot (215).png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Fort Amsterdam | In the 1620s, the Dutch began to settle the New World. This depiction of their settlement on Manhattan Island appeared in Charles Hemstreet’s The Story of Manhattan published in 1901, with the caption “Earliest Picture of Manhattan.” Author: Charles Hemstreet Source: The Story of Manhattan

    The upper portion of New Netherland continued to focus on the fur trade. To preserve that trade, the DWIC worked to sustain a healthy relationship with the five tribes of the Iroquois Nations, especially the Mohawk. The friendship proved beneficial for both sides. The Dutch did not need to worry about French or Algonquian attacks on their settlements. The Iroquois gained access to new goods to trade with interior tribes, which helped to expand their power. While the fur trade expanded significantly in the coming years, the DWIC struggled to make money because many traders defied its monopoly. In 1639, the company opened the fur trade to any colonist and taxed fur exports. However, the colonists simply evaded the tax by smuggling their goods out through New Sweden or New France.

    The lower portion of New Netherland focused on farming in order to supply the colony and ship its excess to other Dutch settlements. The DWIC wanted to avoid spending money on supporting its settlements, so it established the patroon system in 1629. Under the system, the company awarded generous plots of land with riverfronts to proprietors willing to take financial responsibility for settling the plot. However, the system did little to encourage settlement because most settlers preferred to own their land rather than become tenants. To meet demands for labor, the company relied on free and bound labor in the lower settlements. The initial plans for colonization divided colonists into free and indentured status, depending on whether they could pay for their passage.

    Unlike in the fur trading areas, the farming communities had a poor relationship with the Indians. According to historian Alan Taylor, “the downriver Dutch…regarded the Algonquians as a nuisance best removed as quickly as possible.” Tensions boiled over in the early 1640s when William Kieft, the Dutch governor, demanded the Algonquian tribes pay an annual tribute and live under Dutch law. After they refused, Kieft launched a surprise attack on an unsuspecting tribe in 1643. The other Algonquian tribes fought back by burning and looting rural settlements in what became known as Kieft’s War. Using the same tactics the English used in the Pequot War, including the butchering of women and children during night raids, the Dutch wore the Algonquians down. They sued for peace in 1645. In subsequent wars, the Algonquians lost much of their territory to the Dutch.

    Seeing that the Dutch confined their settlement to the eastern banks of the Delaware River, the Swedes established a settlement on the western bank in the 1630s. The Swedish monarchy created the New Sweden Company at the urging of several Dutch traders seeking to defy the Dutch West India Company’s monopoly on the fur trade. The Swedish company recruited Peter Minuet, who the DWIC removed from his position as governor of New Netherland for unspecified reasons, to lead an exhibition in 1638. Minuet and his fifty settlers built Fort Christiana near present-day Wilmington, Delaware, purchased land from the Indians, and began actively trading furs with the Algonquian Lenape and the Iroquois Susquehannock. The New Sweden Company did not earn much money, nor did the colony attract many settlers. It did, however, attract the attention of the Dutch, who resented the competition. In 1655, the Dutch readied for an attack. The Swedish commander, apparently bribed by the Dutch, surrendered without a fight, and New Sweden became part of New Netherland.

    Over the years, New Netherland drew a diverse group of settlers because of its religious toleration. Free artisans and farmers from Belgium, France, Scandinavia, and Germany settled in the Hudson and Delaware River Valleys. Moreover, dissident Puritans from New England migrated to Long Island. Finally, the company imported African slaves to work on its wharves and ships. Still, the colony grew slowly; its population lagged behind the surrounding English colonies. The slow growth stemmed partly from the fact that people in the Netherlands had few reasons to emigrate. The liberal government, strong economy, and religious toleration at home eliminated the major factors for migration in the seventeenth century. It also stemmed from the fact that the benefits of migrating could not make up for the arbitrary government set up by the DWIC. The worst of the DWIC’s appointments was Peter Stuyvesant, who ruled the colony from 1647 to 1664. He was a less than tactful leader, and his tyranny antagonized the settlers. In 1649, he threatened to burn down residents’ houses in Fort Orange in order to build up a better defense against the Indians. In 1653, he disbanded a convention of residents calling for government reform. Throughout his reign, he persecuted religious dissenters who did not belong to the Dutch Reformed Church. When the English threatened the colony, few cared to resist.

    English Take Over

    While the English had resented the Dutch settlement in the New World, for much of the early seventeenth century European politics prevented them from attacking New Netherland. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618­ 1648) in Europe, the Protestant powers fought the Catholic powers. As such, England and the Netherlands became allies and kept their rivalry in check. When the conflict ended, so did their détente. The English Parliament sought to undermine the power of the Dutch carrying trade by passing the Navigation Acts in the 1650s and 1660s. These acts forced New England, Chesapeake, and Caribbean colonists to ship on English vessels. Moreover, they mandated that certain goods must pass through English ports so the government could collect customs duties. Parliament, and later the king, saw the acts as a means to increase government revenue, stimulate shipbuilding, and increase the number of trained English sailors, benefits that allowed the English to supplant the Dutch as the leading commercial empire.

    The Navigation Acts led to three wars between the Dutch and the English. In the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654), the English prepared to attack New Netherland. However, forces in New England received word of a peace settlement before they could mount their raid. The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664-1667) came after the Restoration. When Charles II ascended to the English throne, he wanted to consolidate his power at home and abroad. The first step in the process was to remove the Dutch threat in the New World. Given that John Cabot had explored the mid-Atlantic for England before Henry Hudson explored it for the Netherlands, Charles II planned to take the Dutch colony by force if necessary. He named his brother James, the Duke of York, proprietor of a large swath of territory in the New World, including the Dutch colony. James then appointed Captain Richard Nicolls to command an assault against New Netherland.

    Four English ships arrived on the shores of New Amsterdam in August 1664; Nicolls offered the Dutch a chance to surrender. At first, Peter Stuyvesant refused, but eventually he gave up. First, the Dutch had not properly provisioned their fort, meaning they could not defend New Amsterdam for long. Second, the colonists refused to fight; they feared the destruction of their property more than English rule. Under the terms of the surrender, the Dutch settlers retained the right to their property, the right to religious freedom, and the right to maintain Dutch legal customs. The formal peace treaty in 1667 confirmed the transfer of power, and New Netherland officially became New York. However, the region passed briefly back into the hands of the Dutch during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672­ 1674). This time, the English settlers surrendered without much of a fight. However, when the two nations made peace, England retained the territory.

    English Rule in New York

    After the English took control, the Duke of York appointed Captain Nicolls as the colony’s first governor. As an absolutist, James preferred to run New York with as little input from his subjects as possible, so he opted not to set up a colonial assembly. Given the ethnic and religious diversity of the population, such heavy-handedness surely would produce resentment among the people living in New York. According to historian Oliver Chitwood, Nicolls was ideally suited for the task of managing the transition from Dutch to English rule because he understood the need to work with the local population. First, Nicolls practiced a policy of religious toleration. He did not force the colonists to accept the Anglican Church as the official church of New York. But, he did require each community to support a church of its choosing.

    Then, Nicolls gradually established English institutions. In the areas heavily populated by Dutch settlers, he slowly replaced their customs. He renamed New Amsterdam as New York and Fort Orange as Albany. Later, he shifted toward an English-style of local government. After some Dutch settlers assisted in the re-conquest in the 1670s, another governor eliminated most of the remaining Dutch customs and ruled more arbitrarily. Nevertheless, Dutch influence could be felt for years after the takeover. In the areas heavily populated by English settlers, Nicolls successfully encouraged the settlers to accept the Duke’s Laws, which set up the conditions of local government for Staten Island, Long Island, and Westchester. The Duke’s Laws granted the people the right to elect for their town a board of overseers who worked in conjunction with a constable to maintain order. They also provided for justices of the peace, appointed by the governor, who had the authority to make laws with the consent of the governor. Within a few years, Nicolls applied the Duke’s Laws to the entire colony.

    While New York’s colonists accepted the Duke’s Laws, they also struggled with the lack of a representative assembly. After Nicolls departed in 1668, the Duke of York’s appointments as governor failed to work successfully with the local population. The colonists bristled at the governors’ arbitrary rule; they longed for a more direct say in matters of taxation. While Edmund Andros served as governor (1674-1683), the colonists refused to pay for their own defense or the required customs duties, leading to political unrest and economic problems in New York. When the duke appointed Thomas Dongan as governor (1683-1688), he made an important concession to the colonists regarding a representative assembly. Knowing they would be wary of the Irish Catholic Dongan, James instructed him to establish a colonial assembly.

    In 1683, New York’s assembly met for the first time; it drew up the “Charter of Liberties and Privileges” to outline the rights of the colonists with respect to representation, taxation, and religion. In 1684, the duke approved the provisions. After Charles II died and James ascended to the throne, the new king wanted to make significant changes to the administration of all the northern colonies. He overturned his previous ruling about the charter and revoked the right to a representative assembly in New York. His decision paved the way for New York’s inclusion in the Dominion of New England under the direction of Edmund Andros in Massachusetts and his deputy Francis Nicholson in New York. Nicholson appointed many Catholics to important positions in his administration, which aroused suspicion among the predominantly Protestant residents and paved the way for a revolt against his rule.

    After William and Mary deposed James II, unrest in New York led to Leisler’s Rebellion. When word of the Glorious Revolution reached New York, Nicholson hesitated to recognize the new monarch’s authority until he received official word from England. However, rumors began to circulate that he planned to burn down New York City and sell the people into slavery. Jacob Leisler, a successful merchant of German descent, then led a revolt against Nicholson’s rule. Leisler captured Fort James in the name of William and Mary. Nicholson then fled to England, leaving control in the hands of a three-man council. At the same time, a convention of colonists appointed Leisler the commander of the province. In late 1689, William and Mary sent a broadly addressed letter to New York with instructions for governing the colony. Leisler claimed he was the intended recipient, so the messenger gave him the dispatch. After reading it, Leisler took on the role of lieutenant governor.

    Under his leadership, the government restored order and collected taxes. Leisler also convened a representative assembly, which he dismissed when several members raised questions about his policy of imprisoning his political opponents. In the end, Leisler’s government polarized the residents along cultural and religious lines. The average Dutch residents supported him, whereas the average English and very wealthy Dutch opposed him. Alan Taylor suggested Leisler “lacked the political experience and the sophistication” to cope with the diversity in New York. When William and Mary learned of the deteriorating situation, they appointed Henry Sloughter as the new governor. Sloughter sent Major Robert Ingoldsby ahead of him to New York.

    When Ingoldsby arrived, he demanded Leisler relinquish his control of the colony. Leisler refused because he had no official documentation regarding the transfer of power. Leisler only gave up his control after most of his supporters defected. His hesitation allowed his opponents to convince Sloughter that Leisler had committed an act of treason. Shortly after taking office, the governor tried and convicted Leisler and several of his supporters. Sloughter then arranged for Leisler’s execution before he could appeal to England. For years after the rebellion, New York remained divided between two political factions those that supported Leisler and those that did not. At the same time, William and Mary believed the lack of a representative government caused the unrest in New York. So, they instructed Sloughter to set up a new elected assembly, which met for the first time in 1691.

    Indian Relations in New York

    The English also took control of the fur trade in the region and became the primary trading partner of the Iroquois Nations. At the same time Fort Orange grew as trading center, so too did Montreal in New France. The Iroquois’s friendship with the Dutch had allowed them to blunt the influence of French expansion into the Great Lakes. When the English came to power, the Iroquois hoped for the same level of commitment from the English. Alan Taylor suggested, “the English bitterly disappointed” them.

    In the 1660s and 1670s, the English preferred to continue fighting with the Dutch, rather than beginning a new fight with the French. Moreover, the Anglo-Dutch Wars limited the supplies going into Albany for trade with the Indians. Prices of goods went up at a time when the Iroquois needed those goods to trade with interior tribes in order to keep the peace. Finally, the English colonists did little to help the Iroquois fend off an attack by the French and the Huron in 1666. As part of their peace agreement with the French, the Iroquois had to allow French Jesuits into their communities.

    Not until 1674 did the situation for the Iroquois Nations improve. With the end of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, supplies began to flow back into Albany. Moreover, Edmond Andros worked diligently to repair the English relationship with the Iroquois as the English looked toward eliminating French presence in the New World. The English and the Iroquois agreed to the Covenant Chain, whereby the English helped the Iroquois dominate other tribes in the Northeast. Under the Covenant Chain, the English and Iroquois met annually to renew their friendship and discuss land and trade. Both sides benefitted from the arrangement. The agreement gave the English a strong ally in their fight against the Algonquian in other parts of the empire. In the future, when the English wanted to take more land in the interior, they provided gifts to Iroquois leaders who in turn sent their warriors to attack the Algonquians. The agreement allowed the Iroquois to banish the French Jesuits from their territory and to resume their efforts of expanding their control in the interior in the 1680s. To underscore their relationship, Thomas Dongan and Francis Howard (Lord Effingham), the governors of New York and Virginia respectively, negotiated the 1684 Treaty of Albany with the Iroquois. According to the treaty, the Iroquois agreed to become subjects of the English monarch.

    Founding of New Jersey

    Charles II and his brother James hoped to use the colonies in the New World to enrich the monarchy through taxes on commerce. However, they also used the colonies to award the loyalty of their longtime political supporters, granting their friends tracts of land from what England had taken from the Netherlands. In 1664, James, then Duke of York, ceded some of the territory south of Manhattan Island, from the Atlantic coast to the Delaware River, to Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley. The duke called the new proprietary colony New Jersey to honor Carteret’s defense of Jersey Island during the English Civil War. Under the terms of the patent, Carteret and Berkeley had the right to dispose of the land under their control and to earn money from the land. The patent did not give them the right to govern the colony; however, they claimed that right anyway.

    In 1665, Carteret and Berkeley adopted the “Concessions and Agreement” to outline the colony’s governing structure and land grant policy. The proprietors retained the right to appoint the governor, but they also provided for an annually elected representative assembly to make laws subject to proprietary approval. Moreover, the document allowed for liberty of conscience, or freedom of religion. The proprietors then began to recruit settlers for their sparsely-populated territory. Philip Carteret, a relative of the proprietor, brought approximately thirty families to the colony when he took up his position as the first governor. However, most of the colonists came from New England and Long Island. Puritans found the provisions for a representative assembly particularly appealing. Later, New Jersey began to attract a large number of Quakers from England because of this religious toleration.

    While the population increased, New Jersey experienced a fair amount of unrest in its early years. First, the predominantly Puritan settlers elected to the assembly passed laws that favored the Puritans over other religious groups. Philip Carteret objected to these laws, as they created a sense of hostility. Moreover, Richard Nicolls, at the behest of the Duke of York, gave some settlers land in the region before it passed to Carteret and Berkeley. Those settlers refused to pay the annual taxes on their land, known as quitrents, and they refused to take an oath of allegiance to New Jersey. Finally, the colonial assembly refused to recognize Philip Carteret as their governor; they chose instead to support his brother. In 1674, the unrest prompted Berkeley to sell his interest in New Jersey to Edward Byllynge, who hoped to create a Quaker colony in America. In 1676, George Carteret agreed with his new partner to divide the colony into two parts. He retained East Jersey, while Byllynge took West Jersey.

    Meanwhile, a dispute with New York over who had the right to govern New Jersey emerged. Carteret and Berkeley’s decision to form a government had always rested on dubious grounds. Thus, the Duke of York, through his proxies in New York, fought for the right to rule the Jerseys. When the Duke appointed Edmund Andros as governor of New York in 1674, he granted him jurisdiction over New Jersey as well. Andros then attempted to collect duties on goods going in and out of New Jersey. Andros went so far as to arrest Philip Carteret. After years of dispute, James agreed to submit his claim on the land to arbitration in England. When the court found in favor of Carteret, the duke accepted the decision and, in 1680, gave up all attempts to govern the Jerseys. In spite of the decision in his favor, Carteret decided in 1682 to sell his interest in East Jersey to several Quaker investors. Both East and West Jersey suffered from mismanagement in the following years, passing into royal hands in 1702.

    Quakers in America

    During the 1640s, a new, radical Protestant sect emerged in England. Led by George Fox, the Society of Friends saw religion as a personal matter since the Holy Spirit instructed every person in matters of faith. As did the Puritans, the Friends distrusted the hierarchy and authority of the Church of England. However, they took their criticism even farther than the Puritans. The Friends rejected all sacraments, liturgies, and paid ministers. Instead, they met twice a week and sat in quiet contemplation until the Holy Spirit moved a member to share his or her spiritual experience. The Friends also refused to pay tithes, bear arms, take oaths, or subscribe to the markers of social hierarchy. One sign of their attempt to achieve social harmony and to eliminate hierarchy was that men and women possessed the same rights in the church. By the mid-1660s, the Friends numbered about eighty thousand. Most of the members worked as small farmers, traders, and shopkeepers.

    The Friends faced significant persecution from their opponents, who called them the Quakers for their propensity to tremble at God’s word. The English government, both during the Commonwealth and the Restoration periods, objected to the Friends’ tendency to shun church and secular authority. It also disapproved of the Friends’ tendency to interrupt Anglican and Puritan services. Quakers faced stiff penalties for their unwillingness to conform to such conventional social and political norms, with penalties including fines, public whippings, and imprisonment. Some Friends sought refuge in the New World, but there too Puritan and Anglican communities were less than welcoming. Massachusetts strictly forbade Quakers from living in their colony and fined Puritans for even entertaining them. Thus, George Fox concluded that the Friends needed their own colony. Quaker investment in West Jersey, and later East Jersey, was the first step in their attempt to create a safe haven in the New World. William Penn, who invested in West and East Jersey, then approached the Stuarts for help in forming a larger and more successful Quaker colony.

    Founding of Pennsylvania

    William Penn joined the Society of Friends in 1667. According to historians Oscar Theodore Barck and Hugh Talmadge Lefler, Penn served as “one of the foremost exponents of Quakerism,” but he was also “a paradoxical figure.” The son of a successful naval officer who owned an estate in Ireland and played a role in the restoration of Charles II, William Penn lived a privileged life. At the same time, he became very interested in religion especially after he met Thomas Loe, a Quaker missionary. His father tried to curb him of his Quaker ways by sending him to France to live among the nobility of Louis XIV’s court. Unimpressed by the French displays of wealth, when he returned to England Penn began attending Quaker meetings on a regular basis. Penn spent most of his adult life balancing between his Quaker values and his elitist tendencies. After his conversion, Penn preached on behalf of his faith, held meetings on his estate, and published several religious tracts. For his efforts, he spent a better part of the years between 1667 and 1671 in prison. However, Penn could never quite abandon the legacy of someone born to wealth. Although the Friends viewed all members as equals, Penn still expected some deference from his social inferiors. So, Penn never became as radical in defending his faith as some of the early Quakers. In fact, after Penn joined the Society, other wealthy merchants and gentry joined as well. These so-called “weighty Friends” hoped to make their faith more respectable, so they sought to secure legal protection from the government, either in England or in the colonies.

    After Penn’s father died in 1670, he possessed the necessary financial resources to help establish a Quaker colony in America. In 1676, Penn assisted in trying to right the problems in West Jersey after the Quakers took over. To attract settlers, the West Jersey proprietors promised religious tolerance, which attracted a large number of non-Quakers to the region. However, Fox, Penn, and others struggled to govern the religiously and ethnically diverse colony. Therefore, Penn decided to take advantage of his father’s close relationship with the Stuarts. When his father died, Penn inherited a claim against the crown of approximately £16,000. In 1680, Penn petitioned the king for territory between New York and Maryland. For Charles II, it was a convenient way to settle his debt. While short on cash, he had plenty of land in America. Nevertheless, the king seemed reluctant to follow through with the plan. Granting a large tract of land to a Quaker would counter his policy of persecution at home; furthermore, it might undermine his plans to consolidate royal power in the colonies. In the end, Charles II, at the urging of his brother James, granted Penn a charter in 1681. Although he disapproved of Quakerism, the Duke of York personally liked Penn and thought granting Quakers more religious toleration might benefit English Catholics as well.

    Screenshot (216).png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): William Penn | This image, from an engraving by J. Posselwhite, depicts the proprietor of Pennsylvania as he looked toward the end of his life. artist: J. Posselwhite Source: Library of Congress

    Under the terms of the charter, Penn took control of approximately 45,000 acres of land. However, the vagueness of the charter regarding the new colony’s northern and southern borders led to disputes with New York and Maryland, disputes which lasted until the end of the colonial period. The charter also gave Penn the ability to govern his land as he saw fit so long as he upheld the Navigations Acts, allowed colonial court decisions to be appealed in England, and maintained an agent in London. Charles II called the new colony Pennsylvania in honor of Penn’s late father for his loyal service to the crown, much to the new proprietor’s dismay, as such vanity went against Quaker beliefs.

    Settling and Governing the Quaker Colony

    William Penn looked at his new colony as a holy experiment, which would serve as an example to other nations. At the same time, he viewed the colony as a commercial venture, recognizing the value of the land on which he settled. Therefore, his choices about governing the colony and settling the colony reflected both desires. According to Alan Taylor, Penn put a “Quaker twist on the Puritan concept of a colony as a ‘City upon a Hill.’” He made religious toleration a priority, and not just for the Friends; he welcomed all persecuted people. The colony never supported a church, but only Christians were permitted to participate in its government.

    To ensure the rapid development of the colony, Penn sought out fellow Quakers as investors to help spread his financial burden. He sold them plots of land, which they in turn could distribute to settlers in exchange for rent or duties. He also supported the development of a port city, Philadelphia, to encourage industrious merchants to migrate. Then Penn recruited settlers from all over Europe, promising residents equal rights and financial opportunities. In 1681, the first new colonists arrived. In the coming years, the English, Welsh, Germans, and Ulster Scots (Scotch-Irish) poured into the colony. In 1686, the population reached 8,000, and it continued to climb. Most of the migrants came from the middling ranks of European society, though a significant minority came as indentured servants, especially in the eighteenth century.

    In 1682, Penn journeyed to his colony and brought with him an outline of the proposed government known as the first “Frame of Government.” The document expressed Penn’s belief in the divine right of government, the ability of good men to make good laws, and the need to avoid absolutism. It noted, “Any government is free to the people under it (whatever be the frame) where the laws rule, and the people are a party to those laws, and more than this is tyranny, oligarchy, or confusion.” The first frame also set up a complex government, which had an appointed rotating advisory council of seventy-two members to make laws and an elected assembly of two hundred members to approve those laws. Finally, it guaranteed freedom of religion and the preservation of the rights of the English. When the first assembly met, it adopted the “Great Law” for Pennsylvania. Members revised the initial government structure by shrinking the size of the council and assembly to seventy-two members, eighteen of whom would serve on the council and fifty-four of whom would serve in the assembly. In 1683, the assembly proposed additional changes. The second “Frame of Government” specified that a certain number of delegates would come from every county as the colony grew.

    After Penn returned to England, there arose problems in the colony between Quaker and Anglican settlers as well as concerns about providing for the colony’s security in the event of war. In 1692, William and Mary deprived Penn of his governing powers in the colony, making Pennsylvania a royal colony. However, in 1694, they reinstated his powers. To help smooth out lingering problems with the assembly, Governor William Markham, Penn’s representative in the colony, proposed the third “Frame of Government” in 1696. It gave the assembly greater power at the expense of the governor and the advisory council. In 1701, Penn approved a final modification to his colony’s government in the “Charter of Privileges.” It eliminated the advisory council and underscored the religion freedom of the colonists. This structure, which lasted until the American Revolution, gave the residents far more control over the government than in any other English colony.

    Indian Relations in Pennsylvania

    As part of his holy experiment, William Penn sought to develop a better relationship with the Indians than the other English colonies had managed. Not long after Charles II issued the charter, the new proprietor sent a letter to the Indians suggesting his “great love and regard” for them and his desire to have a “kind, just, and peaceable” relationship. Two factors aided Penn in his effort to build a positive relationship. One, the Algonquian Lenape living in Pennsylvania numbered only about 5,000, making it hard for them to fend off attacks from the Iroquois Nations. Two, the Swedish and Dutch settlers treated the Lenape around Philadelphia kindly. Thus, tribal leaders saw the new colonists as potential allies as opposed to enemies. Penn capitalized on these sentiments by respecting Indian culture and land rights. He insisted on buying land from the Lenape and other tribes for a fair price. Meanwhile, the Indians willingly sold their land for needed trade goods.

    Colonial and tribal leaders also encouraged their people to respect the treaty agreements; for over fifty years, the two communities lived in harmony. During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, numerous displaced tribes settled in Pennsylvania because of the fair treatment they received. Peace with the Indians helped Penn create a commercially successful colony. Moreover, the refuges helped provide a much-needed defense line on the colony’s western frontier. Pennsylvania’s leaders encouraged the refugee Indians to settle along the Susquehanna River because they chose not to tax for defense purposes. Those tribes stood as a buffer between the English and the French colonists as the war for empire in North America continued to heat up in the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, rapid expansion in Pennsylvania threatened the peace between the Europeans and the Indians. As more settlers arrived, the need for land trumped the willingness to respect the rights of the Indians. After Penn’s death, his sons and others defrauded the Indians out of their land, leading many tribes to turn away from the English and towards the French.

    Founding of Delaware

    When the English took over New Netherland, the Swedish and Dutch settlements west of the Delaware Bay passed to the Duke of York, who paid little attention to the region. Settlers for the most part governed themselves until the early 1680s, although technically the governor of New York ruled the region. Given the diversity of the population, the settlers supported religious toleration and a liberal government. In 1682, the Duke of York ceded the “Territories” to William Penn. Although the land patent said nothing about Penn’s right to govern the territory, he incorporated the socalled “Lower Counties” (Delaware) with the so-called “Upper Counties” (Pennsylvania). Under an act of the legislature, the Lower Counties had seats on the council and in assembly on equal terms as the original Upper Counties, and the two regions shared a governor.

    Over time, the predominantly non-Quaker settlers in the Lower Counties chafed at Quaker control. As the Anglo-French rivalry grew in the late seventeenth century, the Lower Counties looked to the assembly to appropriate more money to ward off French and pirate attacks. The pacifistQuakers refused to tax for the purposes of defense. By the turn of the century, it became apparent to Penn that the Lower and Upper Counties could not or would not resolve their differences. In the “Charter of Privileges,” Penn authorized the creation of a separate assembly for the Lower Counties if the residents so desired the change. In 1704, the Delaware assembly convened for the first time, but until 1776, the two colonies shared a governor.

    Screenshot (217).png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Historical Map of the Middle Colonies | This map dating from 1756 depicts the middle colonies of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Author: Tobias Conrad Lotter Source: Wikimedia Commons​​​​​​​

    Life in the Middle Colonies

    During the late seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century, the middle colonies outpaced their northern and southern neighbors in population and economic growth. Moreover, the region had higher levels of ethnic and religious diversity. New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were the most heterogeneous of the North American colonies. This diversity stemmed partly from the patterns of settlement under Dutch rule, partly from the patterns of immigration to these colonies after the English took control, and partly from the rapid economic development in the region. The middle colonies, according to historian Jack P. Greene, “were characterized by little civic consciousness, slight concern for achieving social cohesion, high levels of individual competitiveness and public contention.” However, the diversity helped the colonists develop “a pragmatic, accommodative, and tolerant approach to one another.”

    Population and Economic Growth

    When the English took over New Netherland, the population of the region was around 9,000 people. Although the DWIC encouraged migration, few people chose to migrate in the early seventeenth century. The colonists who did settle on Long Island and Manhattan Island, as well as the Hudson River Valley and the Delaware River Valley, came mostly from Northern Europe and Africa. When the English took over, they made up about a fifth of the population. The non-English population included Dutch, Swedes, Finns, Walloons, Flemings, French Huguenots, Germans, Norwegians, and Africans. For the most part, the settlers chose to stay and live under English rule. In the remainder of the colonial period, the region became more, rather than less, diverse.

    Natural increase and immigration contributed to the population growth. The middle colonies, by the 1660s, had passed their starving time. Disease took less of a toll on settlers. So, the average settler could expect to live into their sixties, which, by the late seventeenth century, was similar to settlers in northern colonies and higher than settlers in the southern colonies. Moreover, most new settlers to the region came as family units. So, the new English colonies became self-sustaining much quicker than did the New England and Chesapeake colonies. Finally, the proprietors recruited settlers from all over Europe, a tactic which increased both the population and its cultural diversity. More free and indentured German Mennonites, Welsh Quakers, and Ulster Scot Presbyterians settled in the region, as did newly imported African slaves. The combination of natural increase and immigration meant the population in the middle colonies was around 63,000 in 1710, 200,000 in 1740, and 520,000 in 1770. Pennsylvania and Delaware saw greater growth than New York and New Jersey. Combined, however, they outpaced the northern and the southern colonies.

    Beginning in the late seventeenth century, the middle colonies also experienced rapid economic growth. The former Dutch settlements of New York and New Jersey had always had a commercial focus. When the English proprietors took over, they wanted to use the colonies to build their financial future. The Duke of York believed his colonies would increase his wealth.

    William Penn and the other “weighty Friends” who invested in the Quaker colonies had economic goals in addition to religious goals. Their commercial interests made the Quakers less socially cohesive than the Puritans, but more financially sound. Settlers in middle colonies benefited from the expansion of the fur trade as well as the sale of lumber products, grain products, and livestock. In time, grain, especially wheat and flaxseed, became the most important commodity in the middle colonies because of the long growing season and fertile land. More importantly, farmers could sell grain to both internal and external markets. In order to coordinate the export trade, the size of the merchant class in the middle colonies grew in the colonial period as well. To lower shipping times, the merchants introduced technological innovations, which stimulated shipbuilding and its associated industries.

    Labor Patterns

    In the colonial period, economic growth kept the demand for agricultural and manufacturing output and labor in the middle colonies high. Most of the agricultural output in the region came from family farms, worked predominantly by free labor. Most farmers grew a variety of crops and raised livestock, but there was some specialized agriculture to meet market demand. The size of farms in the middle colonies declined in the eighteenth century, but those farms remained profitable because they required fewer workers. In Pennsylvania, most farmers owned their land. In New York, rates of tenancy rose in the eighteenth century. However, Jack P. Greene suggested that “leaseholds…were nearly as profitable…as were the freehold properties” because they tended to be comparable in size.

    In Philadelphia, New York, and smaller towns in the mid-Atlantic, the demand for skilled and unskilled labor increased in the colonial period, especially as the region began to enlarge its internal and external trade. Men took positions in the shipping industry, the extractive industries, and in trades. Women worked as domestic servants. Much of the early understanding of urban workers comes from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, which chronicles his rise from apprentice to gentleman. Written long after he retired from the printing trade, it paints a rosy picture of the possibility of social mobility for urban workers. More recently, historians suggested Franklin’s interpretation held until about the 1740s. As the nation drew closer to the revolution, the status of urban workers declined, and concerns about urban poverty grew. However, skilled and unskilled workers tended to earn more than their counterparts in Europe.

    To meet the colonies’ labor demands, farmers and merchants turned to the use of bound labor, either indentured servants or slaves. Historian Richard S. Dunn maintained that the labor pattern in the middle colonies differed in three ways from the southern colonies and the Caribbean. First employers preferred white indentured servants over black slaves, especially in urban centers where white servants filled the lower ranks of the trades as apprentices and journeymen. Second, they tended to use non-English labor, especially from Germany and Northern Ireland. Third, the patterns of employment for workers resembled that of England rather than the plantation colonies. Servants and slaves worked on small farms, in the craft shops, or as domestics. The patterns of bound labor tended to vary between rural farms and urban centers. In Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Jersey, indentured servants were more common; in New York and East Jersey, slaves were more common. In the middle colonies, slaves made up about 8 percent of the population. The number of indentured servants has been much harder to estimate because of the lack of records.

    Indentured servitude in the middle colonies took two forms before the revolution. Ulster Scots, who adopted the name Scotch-Irish after they migrated, and Irish migrants followed seventeenth-century patterns of indenture. These Presbyterians and Catholics tended to be young, single, and looking for better economic opportunities in the colonies. They sold their labor for four to seven years in exchange for the cost of transportation and maintenance, usually because they could not afford their passage. Scotch-Irish and Irish indentured servants made their contract before they embarked to the colonies. Once their term of service ended, they tended to blend into free society. Thus, records of the total numbers of indentured servants from Northern and Southern Ireland have remained vague.

    German migrants adopted a new pattern of indenture more suited to their tendency to come as families and sometimes even with whole neighborhoods. Redemptioners were primarily Germans who sold their labor or the labor of their children once they arrived in the colonies, also because they usually did not have enough money to cover their passage. Most contracts gave redemptioners two weeks upon arrival to find someone to purchase their contract. After that, anyone who needed labor could bid on the contract; most redemptioners’ contracts went to other Germans. About a third of the German migrants to Pennsylvania ended up as redemptioners for four to five years before they sought out their own farms on the frontier where they could acquire cheap land.

    As with indentured servitude, slavery in the middle colonies differed from slavery in the other English colonies. The system resembled that of the New England colonies, but a larger percentage of the population owned slaves in the middle colonies. Slave owning appeared common for gentlemen, merchants, small farmers, and artisans. Masters tended to own two to three slaves, and records showed a higher rate of turnover, suggesting northerners saw slavery as only one possible labor arrangement. However, slavery remained an important part of the middle colonies’ economy. Demand for new slaves continued throughout the colonial period. Most northern slaves lived in or near coastal urban regions. They labored as domestic servants, laundresses, and dockworkers. They also served as field hands or iron workers. More often than not, slaves worked together with their masters and lived in their homes.

    Slavery in the middle colonies did not possess the harsh nature of slavery in the southern colonies or on the Caribbean Islands. However, slaves still suffered from the same loss of freedom and degradation. Slaves in the middle colonies found it difficult to form families. Small holdings and high turnover made it hard to find a partner, especially since there tended to be more men than women in the slave population. The desire to raise a family led some slaves to run away or attempt to do so. Moreover, living in such close proximity could lead to greater understanding between master and servant, but it could also lead to greater hostility. Slaves attacked their masters’ property and, in rare cases, their master.

    Another sign of the slaves’ discontent came when they revolted in New York City in 1712 and again in 1741. In the 1712 incident, African and Indian slaves hatched a plot to kill all of the whites in the city. They set fire to a building and then attacked the whites who came to fight the blaze. The governor followed their capture with new restrictions on free and enslaved blacks. In the 1741 conspiracy, the city was dealing with a major theft problem when a series of mysterious fires broke out in the city. City officials believed the incidents were connected especially after they found a witness, a 16-year-old Irish servant who was awarded her freedom for her testimony, who supported their theories. They began to round up suspects, hold trials, convict, and execute blacks and whites thought to be part of the plot.

    Because they lived among their masters, northern slaves tended to blend their African culture with Euro-American culture at a faster rate than did southern slaves. However, they also created a distinctive slave culture that adapted their traditional African beliefs with their experience in the New World. In the eighteenth century, slaves in New York and New Jersey participated in a uniquely African-American festival known as Pinkster during the month of May or June. This festival could last up to a week; participants crowned an African-born slave king and gathered to eat, drink, gamble, and dance. Slaves came in their best clothes, sometimes borrowing attire and other supplies from their masters. According to historian Shane White, northern slavery was “hard, unforgiving, and often soul-destroying.” However, the Pinkster “displayed the creative response of black people those to situations.” It allowed slaves for a brief period to control their own lives and interact with other slaves without white supervision.

    The Best Poor Man’s Country Throughout the colonial period, population and economic growth led to social stratification in the middle colonies. In the cities and towns, growth led to occupational diversification and more economic opportunity. In turn, neighborhoods were increasingly defined by economic resources. In rural areas, some elites acquired large property holdings. However, property and wealth remained more evenly distributed among the population. For a majority of the population, urban or rural, the standard of living was higher than in other English colonies because of this relatively even distribution of wealth. Moreover, as people learned to live with one another and adjust to their environment, according to Jack P. Greene they developed a “common cultural core” in spite of their diversity. They lived in the same type of houses, ate the same type of foods, wore the same type of clothing, and followed the same type of agricultural practices. Geographer James Lemon maintained that Pennsylvania became the “best poor man’s country” in the eighteenth century, which in many ways applies to New York, New Jersey, and Delaware as well.


    In the late seventeenth century, England focused its attention on settling the region between the New England and the Chesapeake colonies. Charles II hoped to consolidate his power and increase the commercial prospect of his empire by taking the Dutch holdings there. In 1664, under the threat of an English attack, the Dutch turned control over their New World territory to the English. To spread the financial burden of colonization, Charles II issued proprietary grants for the land to loyal supporters. He gave some of it to his brother, James. Under the Duke of York’s leadership, two new colonies took shape, New York and New Jersey. In order to repay a debt to him, the king in 1681 granted land to Quaker William Penn, land which became Pennsylvania and Delaware. After their founding, the middle colonies were marked by high levels of population and economic growth as well as by ethnic and religious diversity.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    The Dutch founded New Netherland with the intention of building a large agricultural settlement to grow export crops in the New World.

    1. True
    2. False


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Which of the following colonies was not considered a middle colony?

    1. New Jersey
    2. Maryland
    3. New York
    4. Pennsylvania


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    Pennsylvania differed from the other English colonies in North America because

    1. it had friendly relations with neighboring Indians.
    2. it had no representative assembly.
    3. it allowed women to vote.
    4. it required all residents to join the Society of Friends.


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

    Which of the following statements best describes the middle colonies in the colonial period?

    1. The middle colonies tended to grow only one crop.
    2. The middle colonies had a short growing season keeping their export trade low.
    3. The middle colonies had few cities or towns.
    4. The middle colonies were marked by ethnic, religious, and economic diversity.


    This page titled 5.3: The Middle Colonies is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Catherine Locks, Sarah Mergel, Pamela Roseman, Tamara Spike & Marie Lasseter (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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