The Middle Colonies

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Development and Evolution of the Middle Colonies in the United States


The Middle Colonies, comprising New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, developed a diverse economy based on agriculture, trade, and manufacturing. Fertile soil and a moderate climate supported farming, while navigable rivers facilitated trade. Ethnic and religious diversity, due to various European settlers, fostered tolerance and a pluralistic society. These colonies became economic hubs, balancing rural and urban development.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did the Middle Colonies develop in the United States?

The Middle Colonies are defined as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The most prosperous and famous of the Middle Colonies were New York and Pennsylvania. New York began as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. The site of what would become New York City was a Dutch trading center. The Dutch were very tolerant of other religions, and this allowed people from other faiths to live there freely—at that time. The English took the colony of New Amsterdam from the Dutch and renamed it New York. New York would continue as a trading center and would become one of the leading cities of the American colonies.

Pennsylvania began as a proprietary colony owned by William Penn but still under English jurisdiction. The colony was supposed to be a haven for Quakers who were harassed in England, but it soon became a destination for other Protestants as well. The Quakers practiced religious tolerance. Penn also insisted on buying land from Native Americans, and while Penn was alive, Native Americans and the colonists got along fairly well. After Penn's death, however, the Native Americans in the colony lost their land, and sporadic fighting broke out along the frontier. Pennsylvania was known for its farms, and the area was considered one of the most prosperous of the Middle Colonies. Philadelphia, its largest city, would be the first to have a library and an efficient postal service thanks to its most prominent citizen, Benjamin Franklin.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How were the Middle Colonies founded and how did they evolve?

The Middle Colonies include New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. New York was initially founded by the Dutch and was called New Amsterdam or New Netherlands. The English seized New York after a war with the Netherlands and the land was granted to the Duke of York. The colony was known for religious tolerance and provided opportunities to individuals who fled Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials. The city of New York grew into a major trading hub and became one of the most diverse settlements in the colonies, welcoming various Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

Delaware was also initially founded by the Dutch, though Swedish settlers established the first settlement. Delaware, like New York, was taken by the British after a war with the Netherlands. It was incorporated into the grant to the Duke of York and was administered as part of New York until it was granted to William Penn, who wanted ocean access for Pennsylvania. Neither the Pennsylvanians nor the residents of Delaware were happy with this cession and Penn ultimately let Delaware govern itself, though it fell under the Pennsylvania colony's governor. Delaware became an independent state after the Revolution.

New Jersey was also a Dutch colony taken by the British. The Duke of York split the land in half and gave half to George Cateret and half to Lord Berkely. These two then sold land at cheap prices and allowed for political and religious tolerance. This led New Jersey to become one of the most ethnically diverse colonies in America, though New York was not substantially less tolerant. New Jersey was governed by the same office as New York for a while, but ultimately it was granted its own governor.

Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn as a place for English Quakers to escape persecution for their religious beliefs.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why were the Middle Colonies founded?

The Middle Colonies were founded to work as a buffer between New England and Spanish-controlled Florida. Next to Great Britain, Spain was a major colonial power and a competitor in the establishment of influence in the western hemisphere. Fearing the Spanish would attempt to expand further and move north from Florida, officials in the British government formed the Middle Colonies as a barrier.

Additionally, the Middle Colonies were founded to provide greater agricultural opportunities. The land in the northern colonies was not fit for mass farming—the first settlers of Jamestown suffered from prolonged famines—and the mountainous terrain did not provide the open, fertile land needed to yield harvests. With the establishment of the Middle Colonies, farmers moved south and began to produce major cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and grain.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on