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
*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
*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
*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).
*In the 1700s, many Scotch-Irish immigrants also came to
Pennsylvania. Their ancestors had mostly come from the
borderlands between England a Scotland, where the Scottish and
English often raided each other’s homes and farms. In the
mid-1600s, they had been encouraged to move to Ireland,
particularly Ulster in Northern Ireland, to turn that violence
against the Catholic Irish.
*In the 1700s, rising rents forced many of these Scotch-Irish
(also known as Ulstermen), to leave their homes. Many moved
to Pennsylvania, where they settled on cheap lands on the
frontier. From there, they spread down the Great Valley to
western Virginia and North Carolina. Along the way, they
spread the Presbyterian Church into the frontier.
*The Scotch-Irish also often fought with the American Indians and
colonial governments, most famously groups like the Paxton Boys of
Pennsylvania and the Regulators of North Carolina.
*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
*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
*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
*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
*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
*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
*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
*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
*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 12 August, 2021.