A proprietary colony is a type of colony developed during the 17th century, in which influential citizens of Britain were given vast lands in the New World to survey and develop.


Throughout the 17th century, three types of colonies were used by the British. A royal colony was directly subordinate to the king, who had complete control of the governors. However, due to the vast distance stretching between London and the New World settlements, months would pass between giving orders and implementing them, and effective governing was hard to achieve.

A charter colony arose as an agreement between private investors and the state, which did not have enough resources to explore the more remote parts of the continent. Private investors would create a company with large amounts of capital, and in return the state would give that company full control over the affairs of the colony.

A proprietary colony was designated to a private individual who managed the territory, established rules, appointed managers, and legislated. In theory, such an owner (proprietor) had virtually unlimited power. However, the laws issued by the owner of the colony and the management methods chosen by him had to be approved by the colony’s population.

New Jersey is one of the US states that was governed by the British crown as a proprietary colony. In 1664, when England conquered New Holland, the king divided the entire territory into two parts and transferred one of them to the private ownership of Sir George Carteret, who had previously been governor of the Jersey island in the English Channel. Carteret called his property “New Jersey.” He sold land at low prices to everyone who wanted to settle there and issued an act that legitimized complete religious and political freedom, so the ethnically and religiously variegated population of the colony grew rapidly.

However, Carteret had disagreements with the settlers, so he sold his stake in the settlement in 1702. From then until 1738, the colony was governed from New York, after which a separate governor was appointed for New Jersey. However, governor rule did not benefit the territory, as observed by the riots of 1740. Other examples of proprietary colonies of Britain were Maryland, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York (that became a royal colony after 1685), all of which were governed in a similar way to New Jersey.

Despite the fact that proprietorships had feudal aspirations, they had to delegate some power and authority to their colonists. This helped to generate the first fundamental ideas of American democracy. At the beginning of the 18th century, a plethora of British officials began to fear that the colonists sought independence and tried to terminate the practice of giving proprietary settlements to new owners. One of the most crucial results of these colonies was the diversification of the population that arrived from a number of different countries, which helped to create the multicultural nature of the country.

It seems reasonable to assume that the primary purpose of proprietary colonies was to supervise and develop territories of the New World. However, after the Restoration of 1660, Charles II decided to use these settlements for expansion on the continent and for covering expenses that occurred as a result of the struggle for the crown. Still, within the scope of colonial approaches of the British government, a proprietary colony might be considered as the most efficient and significant method of government.