The Thirteen Colonies were a set of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America. They were variously known as the Thirteen British Colonies, the Thirteen American Colonies, and, later, the United Colonies.
They founded the United States of America by declaring complete independence in July 1776, after having their foundations laid in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Before proclaiming independence, the Thirteen Colonies were traditionally divided into three regions:
- New England Colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut)
- Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware)
- Southern Colonies (Maryland; Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia)
Because of the dominance of Protestant English-speakers, the political, constitutional, and legal systems of the Thirteen Colonies converged to be quite similar.
NOTE: Even though it was established in 1620, the Plymouth Colony eventually merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony and other lands in 1691 to form the Province of Massachusetts Bay.
Below are the dates of the founding of the original settlements of the 13 Colonies in Order:
- Virginia – 1607
- New York – 1626
- Massachusetts Bay – 1630
- Maryland – 1633
- Rhode Island – 1636
- Connecticut – 1636
- New Hampshire – 1638
- Delaware – 1638
- North Carolina – 1653
- South Carolina – 1663
- New Jersey – 1664
- Pennsylvania – 1682
- Georgia – 1732
13 Colonies in Order
1. Virginia – 1607
After abortive attempts to establish settlements on Newfoundland by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 and the colony of Roanoke (further south, in modern eastern North Carolina) by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1580s, the Virginia Colony was founded in 1606 and settled in 1607.
The Virginia Company established the first two settlements in the area in 1607; Jamestown was on the north bank of the James River, while Popham Colony was on the Kennebec River in what is now Maine.
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Famine, sickness, and warfare with nearby Native American groups all contributed to the demise of the Popham colony within its first two years.
Jamestown was founded on territory that belonged to the Powhatan Confederacy, and it was on the verge of collapse until reinforcements and supplies finally arrived by ship in 1610.
In the early 1600s, tobacco emerged as Virginia’s first lucrative export, and its cultivation had far-reaching effects on the state’s culture and population distribution.
Virginia became a crown colony under British rule in 1624, when King James I canceled the Virginia Company’s license.
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The Virginia colony became the Commonwealth of Virginia, one of the original thirteen states in the United States, after proclaiming independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1775, before the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted.
2. New York – 1626
Located on the northeastern coast of North America, the Province of New York was a British proprietary colony and then a royal colony from 1664 to 1776. New York gained freedom as one of the Middle Colonies and later helped form the United States.
Charles II of England bestowed upon his brother James, Duke of York, the Dutch colony of New Netherland in the New World in 1664.
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James mustered a fleet to wrest control of the island from the Dutch, and the island’s governor promptly surrendered to the English navy despite receiving no official acknowledgement from the Dutch West Indies Company. The Duke of York, the province’s new namesake, was the original proprietor.
The local representatives of the revolutionary New York Provincial Congress took over the government on May 22, 1775, renamed the province the “State of New York” in 1776, and approved the first New York Constitution the following year, 1777.
Although a British governor was officially in office, much of the rest of the upper part of the colony was held by the rebel Patriots during the American Revolutionary War, and so New York Town was used as the British military and political headquarters of operations in British North America.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially ended British claims to New York, and the state declared its independence.
On November 25, 1783, after the British army had finally evacuated all of New York, General George Washington’s Continental Army returned to the city in a spectacular procession.
3. Massachusetts Bay – 1630
One of the first thirteen states of the United States was the British colony of Massachusetts Bay, also known as the Province of Massachusetts Bay. William III and Mary II, king and queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, respectively, granted the charter on October 7, 1691.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the direct descendant of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, all of which were included in the charter that went into effect on May 14, 1692.
Maine became an independent state in 1820, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became Canadian provinces after being colonies until 1697.
The Massachusett Indians were an Algonquian people who are responsible for the state’s name. Many different phrases have been used to describe where Great Blue Hill is located within the Blue Hills, but all of them pertain to the same general area.
4. Maryland – 1633
From 1632 to 1776, Maryland was part of the Province of Maryland, an English and then British province in North America, before it joined the other twelve of the Thirteen Colonies in their rebellion against Great Britain and became the U.S. state of Maryland.
In the southern part of St. Mary’s County, on a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay, and surrounded by four tidal rivers, you’ll find the county seat and original town, St. Mary’s City.
Province of Maryland grew along very similar lines to Virginia despite early competition with the colony of Virginia to its south and the Dutch colony of New Netherland to its north.
Like its neighbor Virginia, Maryland’s economy quickly became concentrated on the growing of tobacco, for sale in Europe. Early towns and population concentrations clustered around the rivers and other waterways that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
The events preceding up to the American Revolution were heavily participated in by the Province of Maryland, which, like New England, formed committees of correspondence and held a tea party.
After people of Maryland signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, bringing about the end of British colonial power, the old order was overthrown.
5. Rhode Island – 1636
One of the original Thirteen Colonies, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations are located on the Atlantic coast of the United States and was established by Roger Williams.
From 1636 to 1707, it was a part of England; from 1707 to 1776, it was a British colony; and finally, in 1776, it became the United States of America.
Native Americans known as the Narragansett gave their name to the contemporary city of Narragansett, Rhode Island, because they inhabited the area before the English colonists arrived. As early as 1622, Europeans were establishing a trade center in what is now known as Warren, Rhode Island, on the site of an ancient Native American village called Sowams.
6. Connecticut – 1636
Formerly known as the Connecticut River Colony, the English settlement in New England eventually became known as the Connecticut Colony or Colony of Connecticut.
On March 3, 1636, it was established as a town for a Puritan congregation, and in 1637, following fierce fighting with the Dutch, the English took full control of the area.
As time went on, the colony became the setting for the brutal Pequot War between the settlers and the indigenous Pequot people.
As a result of the Charter Oak incident, which took place at Jeremy Adams’ inn and tavern, Connecticut Colony played a crucial part in the development of independent government in the New World.
Saybrook Colony in 1644 and New Haven Colony in 1662 were two more English settlements in what is now the state of Connecticut that were absorbed into the Colony of Connecticut.
7. New Hampshire – 1638
New Hampshire, formerly a British colony, later became a British province in North America.
In 1629, its first named proprietor, Captain John Mason, took inspiration from the county of Hampshire in southern England and gave the area between the Merrimack and Piscataqua rivers an English name.
The province became the State of New Hampshire in 1776, when it declared independence from the British crown and merged with eleven other colonies to form the new nation of the United States.
Timber and fishing were the backbone of the provincial economy. Although lucrative, the timber trade often caused friction between the crown and its subjects because the latter wanted to keep the best trees for ship masts.
Despite the Puritan leaders of Massachusetts’ long reign, New Hampshire’s population has always been more religiously diverse, thanks in part to early settlers who fled persecution for their faith in Massachusetts.
At initially, the province wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about independence, but after the fighting broke out in Lexington and Concord, many of its residents sided with the revolutionaries.
Upon Governor John Wentworth’s departure from New Hampshire in August 1775, the state’s citizens quickly drafted and ratified a new constitution early in 1776. The 1783 Treaty of Paris formalized the colonies’ independence as the United States.
8. Delaware – 1638
Land on the western shore of the Delaware River Bay formed the Delaware Colony, one of the Middle Colonies in North America. Lenape and perhaps Assateague Native Americans lived in the region in the early 1700s.
Near 1638, Swedes established the colony of New Sweden at Fort Christina in modern-day Wilmington. In 1655, the Dutch conquered the colony and incorporated it into New Netherland.
In 1664, the English defeated the Dutch and in 1682, William Penn, the Quaker Proprietor of northern Pennsylvania, leased “the three lower counties on the Delaware River” from James, the Duke of York (future King James II).
From 1682 until 1701, the Lower Counties of Delaware were a part of Pennsylvania’s administration; in 1701, they petitioned for and were granted their own colonial legislature. Until 1776, the governor of both colonies was based in Philadelphia. Quakers made up a large portion of the original English colonists in Delaware.
At the outset of the American Revolutionary War, the assembly of Delaware agreed to sever relations with both Great Britain and Pennsylvania, thereby establishing the state of Delaware.
9. North Carolina – 1653
Between the years of 1712 and 1776, the province of North Carolina existed in what is now the United States as a British colony. It was one of the original 13 colonies that made up the United States and one of the five Southern colonies.
Until the colonies declared independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, the monarch of Great Britain was represented in the colonies by the Governor of North Carolina.
South of the British colony of Virginia and north of Spanish Florida, King Charles II gave the Charter of Carolina in 1663. Eight noble proprietors were given titles to the land by him.
In exchange for their help in 1660, when Charles was restored to the throne, he gave them the land. All or portions of what are now the U.S. states of North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida were included in these grants.
The executive branch included the governor and his council, while the legislative assembly was known as the House of Burgesses. Officials in each province were chosen by the lord proprietors or, after 1728, by the King himself.
Prior to the Revolution, the majority of English inhabitants were indentured slaves who had settled in the area mostly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The most rapidly expanding British colony in North America before to the Revolutionary War was North Carolina.
10. South Carolina – 1663
Clarendon Province, afterwards renamed Province of South Carolina, existed in British North America from 1712 to 1776.
It was one of the original 13 colonies that made up the United States and one of the five Southern colonies. Until the colonies declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the British monarch was represented in the colonies by the Governor of South Carolina.
The name “Carolina” was originally used in the 1663 Royal Charter, which was named after King Charles II. The name comes from the Latin word for “Charles” (Carolus).
In 1670, people first began to settle in what is now known as Charles Town. The lords proprietor, an eight-member group of nobility who had received the property from King Charles II, intended to establish a Christian settlement there.
The colony’s northern and southern halves split apart over time, in part because the rightful heirs to the original lords proprietor paid little attention to either.
As a result of internal strife, a deputy governor was installed in 1691 to oversee the northern portion of the Province of Carolina. In 1712, the province was finally split in two, creating the states of North Carolina and South Carolina.
11. New Jersey – 1664
The Middle Colonies of Colonial America included the Province of New Jersey, which later became the state of New Jersey in the United States in 1783.
Before the fall of Fort Amsterdam in 1664, the province had been colonized by Europeans as a portion of New Netherland, but it was thereafter ruled by the English as a proprietary colony.
In honor of the Bailiwick of Jersey in the English Channel, the English christened the province. For a short time in 1673–1674, the Dutch Republic reasserted its authority.
After that, it was split into East Jersey and West Jersey, two separate governmental entities that weren’t brought together until 1702 to form a single royal colony.
It wasn’t until 1773 that the province’s borders were set in stone, but before then, they extended into what is now a part of the state of New York.
12. Pennsylvania – 1682
By virtue of a land grant from King Charles II of England in 1681, William Penn established the Province of Pennsylvania (also known as the Pennsylvania Colony) in North America.
Pennsylvania (which literally means “Penn’s Woods”) is named after William’s father, the admiral Sir William Penn.
One of the two most important colonies during the Restoration period was the Province of Pennsylvania. The Penn family retained control of the colony’s charter until the American Revolution, after which it was transferred to the newly formed Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, one of the original thirteen states.
Part of the province known as “the lower counties on Delaware,” this colony declared independence during the American Revolution and became one of the original thirteen states.
To the colony came Quakers, Germans, and Scots-Irish pioneers. To maintain peace with the Quakers, the Lenape advocated nonviolence. However, conflicts continued to erupt long after the deaths of William Penn and Tamanend.
Quakers came to the area in search of religious freedom but instead maligned the Lenape’s beliefs. Philly became into a significant shipping hub and economic center.
13. Georgia – 1732
One of the southern colonies of British America was called the Province of Georgia (also Georgia Colony). It was the British Empire’s final colony in what would become the United States of America. According to the initial gift, the province only included a thin sliver that reached out into the Pacific.
George II, for whom the colony was named, issued a corporate charter to General James Oglethorpe on April 21, 1732. On June 9, 1732, the King’s privy council ratified the charter.
Oglethorpe planned to build a colony to help “the worthy poor” and those who had been imprisoned in England due to debt. Many of the colonists did not agree with General Oglethorpe’s stringent restrictions, like as the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.
He was against slavery and advocated for a system of local farms instead of the widespread plantations in the northern colonies. A lot of colonists would have liked larger land grants, but they were only given small parcels.
It was also intended as a “garrison province” to protect the southern British colonies from Spanish Florida, and as a buffer state between Spain and the British possessions.
Because Oglethorpe wanted to create a province populated by “sturdy farmers” who could patrol the frontier, slavery was explicitly forbidden in the colony’s charter. By 1751, slavery was legal again, and by 1752, the colony had become a royal colony.