Proprietary Colonies

views updated May 09 2018


PROPRIETARY COLONIES were grants of land in the form of a charter, or a license to rule, for individuals or groups. They were used to settle areas rapidly with British subjects at the proprietors' expense during the costly settlement years. Also, they could be used by the Crown to repay a debt to, or bestow a favor upon, a highly placed person. Charters replaced the trading company as the dominant settlement device, beginning with Maryland's royal grant in 1632.

The land was titled in the proprietors' name, not the king's. The proprietors could appoint all officials; create courts, hear appeals, and pardon offenders; make laws and issue decrees; raise and command militia; and establish churches, ports, and towns. Proprietors had the opportunity to recoup their investment by collecting quitrents—annual land fees—from the settlers who had purchased land within these colonies. These vast powers were encapsulated in the Bishop of Durham clause, so-called because they were reflective of powers granted to the Lord Bishop of Durham when Scots invaders threatened his northern lands in fourteenth-century England. Proprietary colonies were the predominant form of colony in the seventeenth century, when the Carolinas, the Jerseys, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania were handed down through hereditary proprietorship. By the 1720s, the proprietors were forced to accede to the insistent demands of the people and yield their political privileges and powers, making all but three—Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware—royal colonies. After the Revolution, these three former proprietary colonies paid the heirs to the Calvert, Penn, and Grandville estates minimal amounts for the confiscated lands.

Table 1

Proprietary Colonies
*As New Caesarea
**Consolidated into New Jersey
Proprietary ColonyDate of CharterChanged to a Royal Colony
South Carolina3 April 166329 May 1721
North Carolina3 April 166325 July 1729
Delaware14 March 1681 
East Jersey*4 July 166415 April 1702**
West Jersey**4 July 166415 April 1702**
Maryland30 June 1632 
Maine1622absorbed into Mass. 1691
New Hampshire18 September 1680absorbed into Mass. 1708
New York12 March 16646 February 1685
Pennsylvania14 March 1681 

Carolina was bestowed to seven aristocrats and the governor of Virginia in 1663. South Carolinians, disgruntled with the proprietors, requested to be a Crown colony in 1719, the request granted in 1721. North Carolina was made a royal colony in 1729.

In March 1664, King Charles II granted his brother, the duke of York, a proprietorship between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers, which included New Netherland, on the correct presumption that it would be taken over by the British. In July, the duke of York granted the Jerseys, between the Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean, to John, Lord Berkeley, and Sir George Carteret. Berkeley sold his half share of the West Jersey proprietorship to the Quaker partnership of John Fenwick and Edward Byllynge in 1674. Disagreement between the two resulted in a Quaker trusteeship in 1675, and later a joint stock company with over one hundred stockholders. Carteret's heirs sold the East Jersey lands in 1681 to twelve proprietors (including William Penn), who took in twelve associates in 1682. Disagreement between English settlers and Scottish proprietors in East and West Jersey from May 1698 to March 1701 forced the Scottish proprietors to beseech the Crown to take the responsibility for governing the two provinces. The proprietors still held the rights to unpatented lands when New Jersey became a royal colony in 1702.

The province of Maine was included in the 1622 proprietary grant to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason of all the land between the Merrimack and the Kennebec Rivers. The colony was then deeded to the government and company of Massachusetts Bay in 1679 and governed by Massachusetts colony as lord protector.

Maryland was established as a Catholic refuge under the proprietorship of Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, in 1632. Despite Maryland's Toleration Act of 1649 guaranteeing freedom of worship to all Christians, disgruntled Protestants overthrew the proprietary government in 1654. Parliament asserted Lord Baltimore's proprietary right in 1656. The Protestant Association led by John Coode pushed Maryland's proprietary government out in August 1689; the lord proprietor, Lord Baltimore, was deprived of his political privileges in August 1691, and the new British monarchs, William III and Mary II, appointed a royal governor. In May 1715, Maryland was given back to the fourth Lord Baltimore, an Anglican Protestant, with the 1632 proprietary charter reinstated.

New Hampshire, originally part of Massachusetts, was given as a proprietorship to Robert Tufton Mason in 1680 through the proprietary rights of his grandfather, Captain John Mason. Because of political turmoil and the hardships of King William's War (1688–1697), New Hampshire sought reannexation to Massachusetts. A compromise was made when authorities in London allowed a joint governorship with Massachusetts. Finally, in 1708 British courts upheld the claims of local residents, ending any proprietary claims to New Hampshire.

New York became a proprietary colony in 1664, when Charles II gave the colony as a proprietorship to his brother James, Duke of York, upon the English claim to New York, formerly Dutch New Netherland. Only when its proprietor became King James II in 1685 did New York become a royal colony. In 1681, Charles II awarded William Penn the areas encompassing Pennsylvania and Delaware as a refuge for Britain's persecuted Quakers in repayment of a debt. William Penn's proprietary authority was revoked in March 1692 but returned in August 1694.


Andrews, Charles McLean. Colonial Self-Government, 1652–1689. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1904.

Clark, J. C. D. The Language of Liberty, 1660–1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Henretta, James A., and Gregory H. Nobles. Evolution and Revolution: American Society, 1600–1820. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1987.

Middleton, Richard. Colonial America: A History, 1585–1776. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996.

Michelle M.Mormul

Winfred T.Root

See alsoAssemblies, Colonial ; Colonial Policy, British ; Maine ; Maryland ; Middle Colonies ; New England Colonies ; New Hampshire ; New Jersey ; New York ; North Carolina ; Pennsylvania ; South Carolina .

Colonies, Proprietary

views updated May 14 2018


The British colonies of North America were founded as either proprietary colonies or as corporate colonies. A proprietary colony was a gift made by the king to a trading company or an individual, who then privately owned it. This type of colony was administered by a colonial governor, who was elected by the owner or owners and supposed to serve in their best interest. The legislature comprised a council, which was chosen by the owners and an elected assembly.

Maine (founded 1623), New Hampshire (1623), New York (1624), New Jersey (1624), Maryland (1634), Pennsylvania (1638), Delaware (1664), North and South Carolina (1665), and Georgia (1733) were all founded as proprietary colonies. In an effort to preserve its empire, in the mid-1600s England began converting its American colonies to royal coloniesregardless of whether they had been founded as corporate or proprietary. Of the proprietary colonies, only Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania remained as such; they were not converted to royal colonies. In the others, the crown exerted its authority at the expense of the royal governors and the legislatures. The military and navy were brought under the central control of the crown. The situation greatly contributed to the outbreak of the American Revolution (177583).

See also: Colonies (Corporate), Colonies (Proprietary), Delaware, Distribution of Wealth in the Colonies, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina