A proprietary colony is a colony overseen by private individuals who are provided with the same powers normally reserved for the government. England notably used this system for some of its colonies established in the 1600s and the French also followed suit with several colonies of their own during the same time period. However, there were a number of disadvantages with the proprietary colony model that led nations to abandon it in preference of systems that would more effectively centralize power. No such colonies exist today.
In a proprietary colony, the government granted a charter to one or more proprietors, sometimes called Lords Proprietors. These individuals were not merely given grants of land, but also the right to govern the land. They could collect rents, levy taxes, make laws, create settlements, and organize militias to protect their lands. From the point of view of the government, the goal was to get a colony well established and thriving under the supervision of authorities who would have an interest in seeing it succeed. People who might have been hesitant to settle could see the obvious appeal in essentially running their own sovereign nations and were willing to take the plunge to get a proprietary colony established.
The major flaw with the proprietary colony model was that it invested people with tremendous amounts of power. While officially colonies of the parent nation, such colonies developed highly independent attitudes. As a result, the home nation began demanding that the Lords Proprietors cede some of the rights given to them by the government. Although there was resistance to that, eventually the government had its way.
Several early colonies in the Americas were proprietary colonies including Maryland, Virginia, Nova Scotia, North Carolina, and Barbados. In what later became the United States, some of these colonies were among the founding states of the fledgling nation. Today, the original charters under which these states were founded can be seen in archival facilities and they are studied by historians interested in colonialism, United States history, and various models that have been used for colonization.
Governments have long struggled with the balance between providing colonies with enough independence for them to thrive and keeping their colonies under control. As seen in the series of wars for independence that rocked colonies all over the world, many colonies later grew to resent their home governments and resisted any form of external government, sometimes quite violently.