Facts About the Middle Colonies: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michelle Zimmerman

Michelle has taught 4th and 5th grade and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

How do you suppose the Middle Colonies got their name? What were they in the middle of? In this lesson, we'll find out about the colonies in the middle of the original thirteen English colonies.

What Is a Colony?

A colony is a town or settlement that is far from the country that rules it. Back in the 1600s and 1700s, many countries in Europe started colonies in North America. The English colonies stretched along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean from New Hampshire to Georgia. The Middle Colonies were a bit like the peanut butter in a peanut butter sandwich, with the New England Colonies the bread on top and the Southern Colonies the bread on the bottom. The Middle Colonies were New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Colonial America
Colonial America map

New York and New Jersey

New York and New Jersey were not originally English colonies. An explorer named Henry Hudson had been to the area in 1609 and claimed the land for the Netherlands, creating the colony New Netherland. The English took over in 1664 and changed the names to remember things in England - the Duke of York and the Isle of Jersey. Can you tell where the Hudson River got its name?


The name Pennysylvania means ''Penn's Woods.'' The land was actually a gift from King Charles II of England to William Penn in 1681. The king owed Penn's father money, and giving William the land was how he paid the family back. The Penn family belonged to a religion called the Quakers. The Quakers do not believe in fighting wars, and the people of the Pennsylvania colony lived peacefully with their Native American neighbors.

William Penn
William Penn


In the early days, lots of countries were fighting over who was going to control what would become Delaware. For a short time, the area was part of New Netherland, then it became New Sweden. The English and the Dutch from New Netherland fought over the land until it finally became an English colony in 1674.

Why all the arguing over such a little place? Delaware was a key location for transportation using ships. Transportation is how people and things are moved from one place to another. From Delaware, ships could go out to the Atlantic Ocean and on to England, or they could go inland on the Delaware River to Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Whoever controlled Delaware controlled who got to take their ships on the river, so it was a very important colony.

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