2.1. The Mid-Atlantic States: The Colonial Era (1624-1776)

Population, rank


(12 colonies)


(13 colonies)


(13 states)

New York







New Jersey














Region’s % of US pop.







Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • A see-saw battle for control between the Crown and its colonists:  New York and New Jersey were first settled by the Dutch (New York in 1624, New Jersey in 1638).  British and Dutch commercial interests competed for the area from the earliest time of settlement.  British military expeditions gained control of New York and New Jersey in 1664. 
  • In 1681, King Charles II granted Pennsylvania to William Penn in return for favors owed to Penn’s late father, an admiral who had stood by Charles after the Stuart monarchy was temporarily ousted at the end of the English Civil War (1649).  Penn, as a Quaker, believed in a limited form of democracy and granted basic property and civil rights to colonists from the beginning of his proprietorship.
  • Inhabitants of all three colonies resisted centralized British control and tried to obtain guarantees of basic property rights and civil rights from the crown and their proprietors.


New York

New Jersey



1624:  First Dutch settlement

1638:  First Dutch settlement

No white settlement


1664: British forces take control from Dutch

1664: James, Duke of York, assumes direct control for crown; large Dutch land grants (manors) are preserved

1681:  constituent assembly created

1664: British forces take control from Dutch

1664:  James grants proprietorship to John, Lord Berkeley and George Carteret

1676:  Colony divided into West Jersey (Quakers predominate) and East Jersey (New England migrants predominate)

1677:  Berkeley and Carteret grant “Concessions and Agreement” to colonists

1680:  James attempts to restrict Concessions and Agreement

1698:  Edict of religious tolerance (Protestant sects only)

1681:  Charles II grants Pennsylvania proprietorship to William Penn

1683:  Penn’s Frame of Government for Pennsylvania:  governor and council appoint colonial officials, propose laws; assembly votes on laws; limited guarantees of civil liberty

1692:  Crown revokes Penn’s charter, assumes direct control 

1694:  Charter restored


Early 1700s:  assembly and royal governors fight for control of state; the colony develops a complex system of political factions

1765:  first “antirent” revolt by tenant farmers against Dutch patrons (manor owners)


1701:  Penn’s Charter of privileges for Pennsylvania:  council eliminated; assembly is only legislative body

liberty of conscience guaranteed to all who believe in God

Early 1700s:  parties form around assembly and the Penn family’s proprietors

An early tradition of cultural diversity: 

  • Each of the three colonies drew settlers from a variety of areas, which meant that they had to develop legal and political systems that accommodated diversity:   

New York

Dutch and English; large slave population up to 1750

New Jersey

·         1698:  West Jersey (Quakers predominant)

·         1698:  East Jersey (New England migrants predominant)


·         1680-1710:  English, Welsh and Dutch (settled Philadelphia, Delaware River Valley)

·         1710-1750:  German (“Pennsylvania Dutch”) (settled central Pennsylvania)

·         1717-1775:  Scots-Irish (settled western Pennsylvania) 


An early tradition of opposition to an established church: 

  • Unlike almost all other colonies, early settlers did not seek out New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in order to establish a haven for their faith to the exclusion of other faiths, and the three colonies did not have an established church or “official” local ministers.

Lotter map of mid-Atlantic colonies, 1756 - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“[Pennsylvanians are] a perverse, obstinant and turbulent people, that will not submit to any power or Lawes but their own.” – Judge Robert Quary

“I know what is said by the several admirers of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, which are the rule of one, a few, and many, and are the three common ideas of govt, when men discourse on the subject.  But I chuse to solve the controversy with this small distinction, and it belongs to all three:  Any government is free to the people under it (whatever be the frame) where the laws rule, and the people are a party to these laws, and more than this is tyranny, oligarchy or confusion.” – William Penn, Pennsylvania Frame of Government (1683)

William Penn - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“Because no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences … [a]nd Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; … I do hereby grant and declare, That no person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province … who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God … shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced … because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their Religious Persuasion.” – William Penn, Charter of Privileges for Pennsylvania (1701)