Middle Colonies Geography & Climate

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  • 0:00 What Were the Middle Colonies?
  • 0:36 Agriculture
  • 1:18 Industry & Commerce
  • 2:04 The Population
  • 2:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In many ways, the Middle Colonies were a mix between the Southern Colonies and New England. In this lesson, we'll focus on how geography and climate helped to shape that mix.

What Were the Middle Colonies?

Chances are, you've learned about the small farms, the climate of cold winters and warm summers, and the geography of the New England colonies, or the sub-tropical climes of the South that tended to encourage large plantations, but what about the Middle Colonies? How did geography and climate determine what the settlers in these regions did? First, let's make sure we're on the same page. By Middle Colonies, I'm referring to Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. Now that we've got that established, let's look at how natural factors shaped these colonies.

Agriculture

Think about the states of New York and Pennsylvania, and two very different images come to mind. While big cities may come to mind, you'll also think of the many small farms and forests that dotted New York and Pennsylvania and how fertile the soil was. Sure, winters were relatively cold compared to those found in the South, but the growing season was much longer than New England's, yet not quite hot enough for the cash crops of the South. As a result, agriculture in the Middle Colonies tended to be focused on crops like wheat, rye, and corn. In other words, these colonies produced massive amounts of food that could easily be exported to other colonies and to other parts of the British Empire. In fact, these colonies earned the nickname 'Breadbasket Colonies.'

Industry and Commerce

But what about those big cities? After all, New York and Philadelphia were two of the largest cities outside of London in the whole British Empire. Surely they had to be important. And because of the geography and climate of the Middle Colonies, they were. For starters, both were well suited as ports, with New York at the mouth of the Hudson River and Philadelphia on the Delaware River. However, both had massive hinterlands, or areas from where they funneled hundreds of tons of agricultural and natural resources towards the world's trade routes.

Yet it wasn't just what was going onto the ships, but the ships themselves. With enormous forests nearby, many Middle Colony towns made names for themselves with shipbuilding. In fact, historians have letters from English shipbuilders complaining that it wasn't fair that ships could be built more cheaply by the colonists!

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