The Middle Colonies

I. Common Characteristics

II. The Colonies

III. Dominion of New England (1686-88)

Common Characteristics

The Middle Colonies were more diverse than colonies in New England and the South. Most of the early settlers depended on the fur trade and on farming for economic survival. The most populous of the Middle colonies was Pennsylvania, other colonies were settled rather haphazardly over the course of the 17th century. Settlers usually organized themselves in small farms spread throughout the colony with a few cities added to the mix.

The Colonies

New York - originally settled in 1624 by the Dutch as the New Netherlands. Once again, established by a joint-stock company, this time the Dutch West India Company. As your book points out, the Dutch had little reason to build permanent communities in the New World because they enjoyed economic and social stability at home. The bulk of the settlement lived in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island (would become New York) A mixture of immigrant groups within the colony (Dutch, Belgians, French, English, Swedes, Finns, etc.) meant a mixture of religions. The Dutch relied on an authoritarian rather than a democratic government (royal governor with no elective assembly). The combination of cultural diversity (hence conflicting opinions and beliefs) and apathetic governors led to popular resentment within the colony.

Meanwhile in Europe throughout the 1650s and 60s, the English and Dutch engaged in sporadic warfare over territorial expansion and trade. As you'll recall from my lecture (on the Chesapeake region) England passed a series of Navigation Acts in the 1660s and 1670s designed to regulate trade to and from the colonies. Specifically, the English government wanted to create a monopoly on trade (imports and exports) and to eliminate the Dutch as trading partners for the colonists.

In 1664 - Charles II claimed all of the New Netherlands to Delaware Bay (also Maine, and islands off the coast of Mass.) and gave the land to his brother James II who renamed the colony New York (he was the Duke of York at the time). James sent a fleet of English ships to the New Amsterdam (Manhattan) harbor to help "convince" the Dutch of his claims. Fortunately for James, the Dutch colonists were fed up with the Dutch West India Company and refused to resist English claims to the colony.

Upshot? New Netherlands became New York. A caveat -  New Yorkers weren't entirely content with James either, especially after he assumed the throne.


New Jersey - traded hands several times (see Berkin text). Originally, the colony was part of the land grant given to James II by his brother Charles II. James, in turn, gave the land to 2 of his friends (Sir George Cateret & Lord John Berkley) so the land was divided into East and West Jersey. Meanwhile the governor of the colony was also giving land away (to the Puritans who'd settled on Long Island). Berkley & Cateret sold their land to the Quakers who then sold the land to speculators. The colony was finally reunited by in 1702 and became a royal colony.

Again you see a real mixture of settlers - Dutch and French Protestants (Huguenots), English, Scots, Irish, etc. and hence a wide variety of religions - Quakers, Baptists, Anglicans, Calvinists, etc. co-existing in the colony.

Pennsylvania - "Holy Experiment" - please refer to your text as well!

Pennsylvania is another excellent example of a proprietary colony - in this case it was established by William Penn as a haven for Quakers (Society of Friends)in the New World. Quakers faced persecution in England and in New England for their religious beliefs. Their land could be confiscated and members jailed. In at least one instance Quakers were hanged for their beliefs ironically (?) by the Puritans in New England). Like Puritans, Quakers strongly emphasized a personal relationship with God but, unlike the Puritans, the Quakers believed that God communicated directly with an individual through the "Light Within" or "inner light". Quakers held religious meetings but their services were informal and conducted by laypersons rather than ordained clergy. Religious fervor caused them to shake or tremble during services (hence the origin of their name). The Quakers are an important religious group throughout American history, especially early American history. Quakers permitted women to openly participate in religious services and eventually many Quakers would go on to participate in the abolition movement. Please refer to your text for a more thorough explanation of the Quaker faith.

Penn received the charter for his colony because the King owed his family a debt (they had supported him during the English Civil War) and Charles II may have wanted (once again) to rid himself of pesky upstarts within his own country. In 1681, Charles granted Penn all the land between New Jersey and Maryland as a proprietary colony.

Penn launched a successful campaign to populate his colony. He "marketed" the colony by publishing a series of pamphlets. He wanted to avoid a system of large landowners like the gentry of the southern colonies, so he encouraged yeoman farmers to emigrate to the colony and charged a quitrents (annual fee for use of the land). He also insisted on paying Native Americans for their land - helping to foster a friendly relationship with local tribes. By 1700, 21,000 settlers had moved to Pennsylvania (comparable to the Puritan's Great Migration).

Pennsylvania was settled by small farmers and indentured servants. Most were Quakers (including a group of Swedes who later formed Delaware from land annexed from Penn. and named after a local Indian tribe) but Penn also welcomed other religious groups who were permitted to worship as they pleased. Settlers established small farms and grew wheat for export.

Another important aspect of the colony was its famous city. Philadelphia was the center of trade for the colony and would eventually serve as the meeting place for revolutionary leaders.

1686 -88 Dominion of New England (all N.E. colonies + NY & NJ)

When James II inherited the throne in 1685 he tried to reassert his authority over the colonies. Unfortunately for James, the colonies had by this time enjoyed relative independence. Even the Navigation Acts passed over 20 years before were virtually ignored. This incensed James who was particularly ambivalent toward New England and New York because the colonists were ignoring the Navigation Acts and continuing to trade with the Dutch.

In 1684 the English courts revoked the Massachusetts Bay Charter and the following year James attempted to consolidate all of the New England colonies into a single colony (called the Dominion of New England) under the leadership of a royal governor and a council appointed by the King. This move abolished all democratic assemblies in New England and thus increased the powers of the royal governor.

James sent Sir Edmund Andros to Boston as a royal governor for the Dominion. Andros attempted to enforce the Navigation Acts so he alienated local merchants and members of the middle and upper classes who relied upon a lucrative trade arrangement with the Dutch. He also ticked off Puritans by conducting Anglican services in the Boston meetinghouse (!) and he revoked land grants given to farmers and land speculators. To add insult to injury he levied taxes to finance these "reforms."

Fortunately, from an American perspective, the British were just as ticked with James II in England (James was Catholic and dismissive of Parliament). In 1688 James was stripped of power and sent into exile. Parliament invited his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange to rule as co-monarchs. This bloodless revolution was known as the Glorious Revolution.

The monarchs agreed to the Bill of Rights which promised to protect traditional civil liberties, to summon & consult with Parliament annually, and to enforce and administer parliamentary legislation. This effectively created a constitutional monarchy in England and also significantly altered the situation in America.

Impact in the colonies -

The Dominion of New England was important because it demonstrated that the colonies had grown accustomed to relative independence from England. Colonists reacted quite badly when England tried to reassert authority - an indication of what is to come in the eighteenth century!

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