Middle Colonies: 1681–1730

Reasons for Settling the Middle Colonies

New Netherland

New Netherland was a Dutch colony founded by fur traders from the Dutch West India Company in 1624 but was seized by Britain with little resistance in 1664 and renamed New York.
The colony that would become New York was first settled by traders associated with the Dutch West India Company, a Dutch trading company founded in 1621. Fort Orange, located near what is now Albany, was established in 1624. It was the first permanent European settlement in New York. A year later a second colony, New Amsterdam, was founded on the island now called Manhattan. The Dutch governor of the settlement, Peter Minuit, a representative of the Dutch West India Company, made a deal for the purchase of Manhattan. He bought the land from the Lenni-Lenape, a group of Native Americans who lived in the Hudson and Delaware river valleys at the time of European colonization.
Governor of the New Netherland colony Peter Minuit purchases the island of Manhattan from the Lenni-Lenape people.
Credit: Griffis, William Elliot, 1843-1928/The Library of Congress/Archive.org
Attracting settlers to New Netherland was difficult. The Dutch economy was strong, and there were no political or religious conflicts to drive Dutch citizens away from their homeland. Some settlers were brought over under the patroon system. Under this system, the Dutch West India Company granted large tracts of land to wealthy private investors—or patroons. In exchange, each patroon had to transport at least 50 settlers to New Netherland to establish the settlement. These new immigrants were expected to build their own homes and to pay half of their wages to the patroon. Although this system could be attractive for the patroons, it had little appeal to individual Dutch settlers, who wanted primarily to be involved in the fur trade. Since the Dutch West India Company held a strict monopoly on the fur trade, this provided little incentive for settlers to migrate to New Netherland.

The town of New Amsterdam was settled by a diverse population, including immigrants from all over Europe. In 1646 the Dutch West India Company appointed Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant director general of all Dutch colonial interests in North America and the Caribbean, including New Netherland. He arrived in New Amsterdam in 1647 and immediately became embroiled in conflict with the settlers. His loyalties were to the Dutch West India Company, and he resisted the settlers' efforts to govern themselves. When a hostile British fleet sailed into New Amsterdam's harbor in 1664, neither the Dutch settlers nor their government officials offered resistance, and Stuyvesant was forced to surrender. British control of the colony was firmly established by 1669. King Charles II renamed the colony in honor of his brother, James, the duke of York. New Netherland thus became New York. James would later become King James II and rule from 1685 to 1688.

Pennsylvania Colony

The Pennsylvania Colony was established by Quaker William Penn as a refuge for those fleeing religious persecution in Europe.

The Pennsylvania Colony was established in 1681 when King Charles II of England awarded a charter to William Penn, an English Quaker, who became proprietor of the colony. The charter—a written document that defines the laws and privileges of a state or country—was issued as payment of a debt owed to Penn's father and granted Penn a large territory of unoccupied land along the Delaware River. Quakers were members of a religious group called the Society of Friends, who rejected the formal hierarchy of the Anglican Church. They instead believed individuals have access to God without clergy or written scripture. They were pacifists and disagreed with many of the social norms of the time, including taking loyalty oaths and the subjugation of women. Quakers were persecuted in England for their religious and social practices.

Penn saw the land in North America as an opportunity to establish a colony where Quakers, and eventually others, could escape religious persecution in Europe. Penn referred to the new colony as a "Holy Experiment," a place where Quakers and other religious groups oppressed in Europe could live and worship freely. While still in England, Penn began devising ideas for governing the new colony—named Pennsylvania for his father. One cornerstone of his new government was to be religious tolerance, the acceptance of the practice of religions other than one's own. Another foundation block was to include the protection of individual rights, such as the right to free speech, and the right of the colony's legislature to create laws. Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, and the colony initially thrived under his leadership. Christians, especially Protestants, came from all over Europe, and Pennsylvania had the largest population of all the colonies. Protestants are Christians who are part of a religious group unaffiliated with the Catholic Church. However, there were notable exceptions to religious tolerance in the Pennsylvania colony. Non-Christians—including atheists and Jews—were not permitted to vote or hold public office.