American Middle Atlantic Map

The primary English settlement group in the Middle Atlantic region of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey was a religious group known as the Quakers. Although knowledge was important to the Quakers, they also had a strong dislike of hierarchy. Children were usually educated at home rather than in organized schools. Literacy was also less prized by the Quakers than the Puritans.

While a Pennsylvania law passed in 1683 required that all children be taught how to read in school, it also required them to learn a useful trade. Education beyond the grammar school level was less common. By 1776, Pennsylvania had founded only one university. The Middle Atlantic colonies also comprised the most ethnically diverse populations of the North American colonies. New York was initially settled by the Dutch, bringing with them a Protestant interest in literacy. In 1700, some 80 percent of men and 60 percent of women in Holland were literate. This emphasis remained despite Anglican control of New York after 1664. Dutch-language books and newspapers continued to circulate in the colony.

A New York bookseller in 1702 stocked a wide selection of secular and religious books in Dutch. The hornbook, a kind of reading primer for children, was one of a proliferation of teaching tools that contributed to the spread of literacy in the colonies. A sheet of vellum or parchment displaying the alphabet was attached to a paddle-shaped board. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) Farther south, Swedish and Finnish settlers moved into Delaware. By 1675, Sweden had literacy rates similar to those of Holland and New England. Germans brought similar codes with them to Pennsylvania. As most Quaker laws allowed other settlers to create their own schools, the European and Quaker colonists had little influence on one another. Overall, the Middle Atlantic colonies float somewhere between the Chesapeake and New England. Like the Puritans, literacy was important to most of the people settling there. Unlike the Puritans, they demonstrated a less aggressive interest in spreading it, leading to lower literacy rates. There were also larger gender gaps in literacy in the Middle Atlantic region. At the time of the American Revolution, literacy for men in all four colonies stood at about 65 percent. Literacy for women was closer to 40 percent.

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