New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania were the Middle Colonies of Colonial America. Unlike New England (which was largely Puritan) or the South (which was mostly Anglican), the Middle Colonies were home to a wide variety of distinct ethnic groups and religions. The result of this mix of customs was a tradition of tolerance.
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The religious traditions of the Middle Colonies varied with the ethnic groups that practised them. There were Quakers from England and Wales, Presbyterians from Scotland and Ireland, Irish Catholics, German Baptists, French Huguenots and Dutch Mennonites, as well as Lutherans, Anglicans and others. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, made religious tolerance the official policy of his new colony.
Penn himself was a Quaker. The Quakers taught that children were born free of original sin, and that the inner light of Christ was available to everyone. The Presbyterians were a Calvinist sect with roots in Scotland. The Mennonites were pacifists and had a tradition of radicalism.
Each of the different ethnic groups of the Middle Colonies had architectural traditions of their own. The Dutch favoured brick buildings with high gables and unusual octagonal churches. The Scots-Irish preferred to build log cabins, while the Germans and Welsh chose to build both houses and barns out of stone. Stone buildings were more durable than log cabins, but the roots of the Scots-Irish were in the Anglo-Scottish Border country where insecurity of tenure and chronic political instability had discouraged the construction of permanent dwellings. Even in areas of America where stone was abundant, the Scots-Irish kept up their tradition of building log cabins instead.
Many Quakers of the Middle Colonies preferred to avoid elaborate or fancy designs in furniture. Pennsylvania Germans, on the other hand, liked to decorate chests with complex designs of flowers and birds. Dower chests were made for young women who were about to be married. They were usually decorated with symbols of hearts and scrolls as well as the traditional floral and bird designs. German pottery was also decorated with traditional designs. Merchants in Philadelphia purchased decorated cabinets to display their wealth.
The farmers of the middle colonies focused on growing grain for bread and on grazing livestock. The Pennsylvania Dutch were particularly known for their skill in this type of farming. Scots-Irish farmers focused on growing corn and raising hogs, embracing modern variations on their traditional farming practices (such as the use of the cradle scythe) in order to improve the yield of their crops. Many Scots-Irish came to Pennsylvania initially as indentured agricultural servants, working off the cost of their passage to America.
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