ADVANCED PLACEMENT UNITED STATES HISTORY
The Middle Colonies and the Deep South


*Between the Puritan City upon a Hill in New England and the tobacco monoculture of the Chesapeake lay a more diverse set of colonies often simply called the Middle Colonies.  The oldest of these, almost as old as Virginia, was New Netherland.

*Like the English, the Dutch were a commercial people, and settled most of their colonial empire through the creation of chartered companies which served as commercial ventures, colonial governments, and military forces.  The Dutch East India Company eventually took over almost all of the East Indies (more or less modern Indonesia), while the Dutch West India Company colonised areas across the New World from Brazil through the Caribbean to the Hudson River, where they founded New Netherland in 1614. 

*Its capital and main trading post was at New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island at the mouth of the Hudson, where they traded with Indians, English, and others.  Their most famous trade deal was the purchase of Manhattan Island itself for a collection of beads and other trade goods under the leadership of Peter Minuit (although the Indians who agreed to the deal did not really control the island--a rival tribe did).  Peaceful relations with most of the Indians did not last long, and a wall was built across Manhattan for self defence, giving Wall Street its name.

*The Dutch also had an important trading post at Fort Orange (modern Albany) far up the Hudson, where they bought furs from the Iroquois, with whom they mostly got along because they were not seen as a threat, and a few other settlements scattered around and in between these two bases.

*The colony was controlled by the company and run for commercial purposes, although the Dutch Reformed Church had some official influence and initially persecuted other religious groups (although later New Netherland became a religiously diverse place and something of a haven for religious outcasts), and an unofficial council rapidly developed to provide some law, order, and justice beyond what the company charter specified.

*Outside of Manhattan itself, vast estates were owned by patroons as feudal estates over which the patroon had absolute power.  They were granted these patroonships in exchange for settling fifty adults on them.  Some introduced slavery as well.  Most of these lasted into the 1800s.

*Besides fighting local Algonquian Indians, the Dutch also came into conflict with New Sweden, to the south.  This small colony, first settled in 1638, was in, and a little north of, modern Delaware, and the Swedes and Finns—particularly those known as Forest Finns—who settled it introduced the building of log cabins to America, and left a small legacy in a few place names in the area.  In 1655 the Dutch conquered New Sweden under the leadership of Director-General Peter Stuyvesant (or 'Father Wooden Leg'). 

*On the other hand, the Dutch were also seen as a threat to the English, because their commercial hub in between the English colonies in North America made it easy for the English to trade with them in contravention of the Navigation Acts passed in the 1660s to limit English colonies to trading with England.  England and the Dutch also fought three wars in the 1600s.  In 1664 King Charles II granted the territory claimed by New Netherland to his brother, the Duke of York, on the condition that he conquer it.

*The Duke of York promptly organised a military expedition to New Amsterdam, where Director-General Peter Stuyvesant was forced to surrender due to a lack of ammunition, which they had not been provided because the Dutch West India Company did not think New England would want to take over such a religiously diverse city and they did not care if their colonists were occasionally massacred by Indians.  The Duke of York renamed the colony New York as a propriety colony under his control.

*The Dutch left behind a commercially-oriented, tolerant, and diverse community that the Duke of York was not entirely comfortable with, and he did not initially allow it to govern itself, only permitting the creation of a colonial assembly in 1683.  Furthermore, the Dutch language would survive in parts of New York into the 19th Century, and many Dutch families would remain influential. 

*In 1685, the Duke of York became King James II upon the death of his brother, and New York became a royal colony. 

*Almost immediately after being granted New Netherland, in 1664, the Duke of York gave a portion of the vast Dutch claims to two men to whom he owed money, and they created the proprietary colony of New Jersey, with each essentially controlling half of it (and for a time officially dividing it into East and West Jersey).  West Jersey was purchased by Quakers in 1677 and East Jersey was in 1682.  Eventually, in 1702, East and West Jersey were re-united as a royal colony, although they remained closely tied to New York in the east and Philadelphia in the west, and served as gardens for both of them. 

*In 1688, New York and New Jersey were added to the Dominion of New England (created in 1686).  Governor Andros was unpopular there, too, especially in New York, where he had been governor from 1674-1683.  In those days, he had formed the Covenant Chain alliance with the Iroquois, but had also offended local leaders with his imperious manner and by supposedly favouring Dutch businessmen over English ones. 

*When the Glorious Revolution in England overthrew James II, Andros was overthrown in Boston and his Lieutenant-Governor in New York, Francis Nicholson, was overthrown in Leisler's Rebellion.

*New Yorkers continued to criticise their government, eventually in print.  Printing was developing as a profession in the colonies, but it had been limited by political and religious leaders.  However, in 1733, Peter Zenger began printing a newspaper in New York City that was sometimes critical of the colonial government, who was viewed as tyrannical and greedy by many New Yorkers and who had a number of accusations against him, including rigging elections, stealing tax money, and neglecting to defend the frontier from the Indians. 

*In 1734 the governor had Zenger arrested, and in 1735 he was put on trial for libel.  Under the law at the time, speaking ill of or publishing something excessively critical of someone in authority could be considered a crime, even if what was being told was true.  Zenger's lawyer, however, argued that something could not be libel if it was true, and that publishing the truth was in the public interest.  After ten minutes of debate, the jury determined that Zenger was not guilty.  This is considered the foundation of freedom of the press in America, and a very active press would also play a large role in spreading the ideas of revolution in a generation to come.

*In 1681, King Charles II, who owed a large sum of money to the heirs of Admiral Sir William Penn, granted his son William Penn rights to what Penn named Pennsylvania, while the Duke of York gave him Delaware.  Pennsylvania and Delaware would both be proprietary colonies of the Penn family for the rest of the colonial period and would share a governor, but for most of their histories have separate legislatures, and the Penns would have less influence over Delaware, as it was already economically and culturally connected with the Chesapeake region, and that was not what Penn had in mind for Pennsylvania.

*William Penn was a Quaker, having converted to that new religion after a dissipated youth.  The Quakers were a new denomination that had appeared in the social and religious chaos surrounding the English Civil War.  They believed in a very personal relationship with God and the Holy Spirit, so that anyone could be moved to speak God's word without the aid of professional church leaders.  They also encouraged spontaneous speaking in their meetings, whenever someone felt moved to speak by the Holy Spirit, and this was sometimes so enthusiastic that the speakers were said to quake.  They did not use the term for themselves, and today they call themselves the Society of Friends.

*The Quakers' belief that anyone could have a direct revelation from God without the need for an ordained clergy was disruptive enough to the social order, but they also believed in full equality for everyone.  Women were regarded as spiritually equal to men and could speak on their own in the Meetinghouse, and no other social distinctions were recognised, either.  Quakers called everyone 'thee' and 'thou,' because the more formal and respectful 'you' suggested that some people were superior to others.  Likewise, Quakers did not remove their hats for other people, because that was a traditional sign of respect to one's betters.  They refused to swear oaths, to pay tithes to the established church, or to fight in wars.  They opposed alcohol, capital punishment, and slavery.  Because many of the days of the week and months of the year bear the names of pagan gods and emperors, Quakers have a calendar that runs from First Month through Twelfth Month with a week starting on First Day (when they go to Meeting) and ending on Seventh Day.

*Naturally, Quakers were regarded as blasphemers and traitors, and often harassed, imprisoned, and barred from many colonies.  William Penn hoped to make Pennsylvania a home for his co-religionists and a holy experiment in creating a better society according to Quaker teachings.

*Penn insisted that the Indians be fairly compensated for their land, and for the most part they were.  As long as the Quakers dominated the colony, they avoided armed conflict with the Indians, preferring to bribe hostile tribes into peace rather than fight them into submission, although in the 1750s non-Quakers gained control of the colonial legislature through their growing population partly in order to get the authority to fight the Indians on the frontier--until that time there was not even an official colonial military force.

*This shift in power was eventually possible because Penn allowed religious freedom in Pennsylvania, knowing how it felt to be persecuted.  The colonial capital Penn designed was called Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.  All types of Christians and Jews were permitted in Pennsylvania, and all Christians could vote in the colonial legislature as long as they owned fifty acres of land or ¬¬£50 worth of property, allowing merchants and craftsmen a say in government that property requirements based on land alone might not have permitted.  While there was a moralistic tone to the local culture, civil liberties were widely respected and many cultures tolerated.

*This led to a very diverse range of immigrants, both religiously and ethnically.  Large numbers of Germans, known as Pennsylvania Dutch, immigrated, and built prosperous farms of moderate size, primarily growing food crops (rather than the cash crops of the Chesapeake region).

*Pennsylvania was also a commercial colony, with the port city of Philadelphia on the Delaware River eventually becoming the most populous city in the thirteen English colonies and, among other things, building the first hospital in the colonies. 

*With its central location, thriving farms and thriving commerce, religious and political liberty, and diverse and open culture, and as the home of the most famous colonial self-made American, Benjamin Franklin, some historians have suggested that Pennsylvania is even the model for what America is, or at least wants itself to be.  Of course, other historians have made the same argument for New York (for much the same reasons as Pennsylvania), New England (emphasising America's long-standing view of itself as a moral guide to the world), and the South (emphasising the commercial nature of America, particularly those historians who want to be critical of the social costs of commercialism).

*While England had many large colonies on the continent of North America, the true wealth of her empire lay in the Caribbean, where sugar was cultivated on small islands in the Lesser Antilles.

*Sugar was a labour-intensive and capital-intensive crop.  Large numbers of workers were required to clear farmland, plant the sugarcane, harvest it, and process it.  Furthermore, the sugar mills that processed the sugar into molasses and table sugar were expensive to build.  A large investment was required to become a sugar planter.  However, the rewards for producing sugar were very sweet.  The sugar monoculture was one in which the rich got richer and England got rich from it, too. 

*Much of the wealth of the sugar planters was invested in the labour that made their wealth possible.  Once the local Indian population was wiped out, African slaves were imported in huge numbers and often worked to death in turn.  On the cruel Middle Passage between Africa and the New World, it was cheaper to pack in many slaves in unsanitary conditions, even if many died, than to transport a smaller number in relative comfort.  Likewise, it was sometimes cheaper to import new slaves than to take good care of existing ones. 

*The transport of slaves to the New World was just one part of what has been described as Triangular Trade.  Finished goods (including weapons and rum) were transported from Europe or New England to Africa.  There they were traded for slaves (many of them captured from the interior by Africans living on the coast), who were carried to the New World, primarily the Caribbean.  They were sold and local crops purchased, and the sugar would be resold in Europe or Caribbean molasses would be turned into rum in New England.  Finished goods would be purchased there and shipped to Africa, and the cycle would continue:  molasses to rum to slaves.

*To control the slaves who outnumbered the white population of the sugar colonies about four to one, harsh slave codes were created.  In Barbados, the oldest and richest of England’s sugar islands, the slave code gave slave-owners almost complete control over the lives of their slaves, and harsh punishments were common.  It became a model for other Caribbean islands and later for slavery in the Thirteen Colonies.

*As Barbados grew crowded, other islands were colonised, both to provide opportunities for the younger sons of planters and as a source of food, because the land on Barbados itself was too valuable for food production. 

*In 1665, King Charles II granted a large tract of land south of Virginia to eight Lords Proprietor, who named it Carolina in honour of their king.  In 1670 the first settlers arrived and in 1680 Charles Town was founded.  Many of these settlers came from the Caribbean, and they brought a sugar-based and slave-based culture with them.

*In general the Lords Proprietor were not popular.  They were seen as not protecting Carolina from attacks by Indians, particularly during the Tuscarora War of 1711-1715 and the Yamasee War of 1715-1717, but they still meddled in other aspects of local politics. 

*In 1719, local leaders seized control of South Carolina from the Lords Proprietor.  They petitioned the British government to make them a royal colony, and in 1729 South and North Carolina were recognised as royal rather than propriety colonies.

*Carolina was not all the colonists might have hoped.  Its tropical environment was deadly.  In the early days of the colony, one in four children died by the age of five, and of those though managed to live to twenty, 73% died before they turned fifty.  Compared to New England, where people often lived into their 70s and 80s, and even to Virginia, where the death rate was finally declining, this was murderous.  It also meant that many children were raised by older siblings, step-parents, and aunts and uncles, and many had to take on great responsibilities even in the 20s.

*The survivors of South Carolina’s high death rate were closely inter-related, and ten or twelve families basically ran South Carolina—it did not even have a state house for many years, the elite just took turns meeting in each other’s houses to make decisions. 

*Another disappointment was that sugar did not grow as well in South Carolina as in the Caribbean, and although there were attempts to grow indigo, that was largely unsuccessful, too.  Instead, a trade developed in deerskins, partly through trade connections with the Indians (including the Cherokee) in the interior of South Carolina, and eventually a rice monoculture developed along the coast worked by slaves from rice-growing areas in West Africa.  This fed the West Indies and made South Carolina wealthy.

*The large slave population and the harshness of its slave code did mean that the threat of a slave uprising always hung over South Carolina.  There had already been a large slave uprising in New York in 1712 which had been put down harshly, its captured leaders punished severely (20 executed by burning and one broken on the wheel), and laws against slaves and even free blacks were made harsher.  In 1739, rebellion broke out in South Carolina near the Stono River just outside Charles Town.

*The Stono Rebellion (or Cato’s Rebellion, after one of its leaders), was the deadliest slave revolt in colonial history.  During the fighting, twenty-one whites were killed along with forty-four slaves (along with others who were later executed or sold to plantations in the Caribbean).  Afterwards, it was made much harder for owners to free their slaves, the already minimal rights of slaves were limited further, and the importation of slaves directly from Africa was prohibited for 10 years.  On the other hand, some laws were passed slightly limiting how much work owners could demand of their slaves.

*At the time of the American Revolution, the per capita income of South Carolina was four times that of Virginia and five times that of New York or Pennsylvania.  However, the upper class was small, closed, and stagnant.  It had difficulty accepting the changes of the late 18th and afterwards.  Furthermore, there was little opportunity for anyone outside the elite to rise in society.

*Some of the people who could not make it in South Carolina, and many of those who could not make it in Virginia (and some other colonies) moved to the heavily forested area in between, and North Carolina got a separate governor starting in 1691 and unofficially split from South Carolina in 1710.  In 1729 it was confirmed as a separate royal colony and based its laws on those of Virginia. 

*Although the Church of England was the established church of North Carolina, its rule was not strongly enforced, and many religious groups were tolerated, not unlike in Rhode Island.

*North Carolina was a very different colony from South Carolina.  It did not really develop a plantation economy or a large and entrenched elite, instead having many small independent farmers.  Its main exports were naval stores, such as tar, pitch, and lumber for shipbuilding.

*The last of the Thirteen Colonies to be founded was the royal colony of Georgia.  It was based on a land grant given by King George II to James Oglethorpe in 1732; the first settlement was built at Savannah in 1733.

*Georgia had two purposes, one philanthropic, the other coldly practical.  Oglethorpe was the leader of a group who wanted to help the many Englishmen who were imprisoned for debt by creating a place to which such non-violent prisoners could be transported to start a new life. 

*They even tried to keep slavery out of Georgia both because of its cruelty and because he thought it would make it hard for small, independent farmers to succeed.  However, in 1750 the importation of slaves was legalised and within 25 years they accounted for the majority of the colony’s population, and grew rice and some indigo, just like South Carolina.

*The other purpose for Georgia’s creation was to serve as a buffer between the valuable colony of South Carolina and Spanish Florida and their Indian allies, and it was pretty effective at this from South Carolina’s point of view, but it made life in Georgia very dangerous. 

*The bad climate and the danger of Spanish and Indian attacks prevented Georgia from growing much during the colonial period, and it was the least populous and certainly the least developed colony by the end of the colonial period.


This page last updated 8 July, 2020.
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