United States Colonial era

The colonial history of the United States covers the history from the start of European settlement until the 13 colonies of Britain declared independence in 1776.

In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched colonisation programs in eastern North America. Some of these early attempts failed. 

Occasionally one colony took control of another during wars between their European parents, but they did not expel the previous inhabitants, but instead lived side by side in peace.


New SpainSpain established several colonies and some of these early attempts failed. In 1526, Lucas Vçzquez de Ayllùn founded the colony, San Miguel de Guadalupe, in an undetermined regions somewhere in present day Georgia and South Carolina. The colony only lasted a short while before disintegrating. Pçnfilo de Narvçez attempted to start a colony in Florida in 1528 that ended in disaster. The Spanish Colony of Pensacola in West Florida (1559) was destroyed by a hurricane in 1561. Fort San Juan was established in 1567 in the interior of North Carolina but was destroyed by local Native Americans just 18 months later. The Ajacan Mission, founded in 1570 near the site of the later English colony of Jamestown, failed the next year.

At one time, Spain claimed and controlled all North America west of the Mississippi and south of the Canadian border. Additionally, Spain claimed what are now the states of Louisiana, Florida, and parts of Georgia and Mississippi.

Throughout the 16th century, Spain explored the southwest from Mexico with the most notable explorer being Francisco Coronado whose expedition rode throughout modern New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado, the panhandle of Oklahoma, and Kansas. The first colonisation was under Don Juan de Oûate in 1598 where the first settlement in San Juan de Los Caballeros near Espaûola, New Mexico and later Santa Fe, New Mexico around 1609. The second era came in 1692 under Diego de Vargas.

Spain, from 1769 until the independence of Mexico in 1820, sent missionaries and soldiers who created a series of Catholic missions, accompanied by garrisons, towns, and ranches, along the southern and central coast of California. The California Missions comprised a series of 21 outposts linked by The Royal Road. When the United States conquered California in 1846-48, the missions had been closed and apart from Native Americans there were about 10,000 Californios concentrated in southern California. 


New FranceThe French established several colonies that failed, due to weather, disease or conflict with other European powers. A small group of French troops were left on Parris Island, South Carolina in 1562 to build Charlesfort, but left after a year. Fort Caroline established in present-day Jacksonville Florida in 1564, lasted only a year before being destroyed by the Spanish from St Augustine. In 1604, Saint Croix Island Maine was the site of a short-lived French colony.

New France was the vast area explored and claimed by France. It was composed of several colonies. They were Acadia, Canada, Newfoundland, Lousiana, Ile-Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island), and Ile Saint Jean (Prince Edward Island). Although all of these territories would come under British control in the 18th century, only portions of Canada and Louisiana became parts of the United States.

Pays d'en Haut region "up country" or "upper country"] was an expression used in the to refer to the area to which the voyageurs travelled to trade. It referred to what is now northwest Québec, most of Ontario, the area west of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes and beyond to the Canadian prairies. Later usage was limited to the prairies and today the term is used in Québec to refer to the northwestern part of the province. By 1660, New France had pushed inwards and founded Green Bay, Saint Ignace, Sault Sainte Marie, Vincennes, and Detroit in 1701. By 1773, the population of Detroit was 1400, and it became part of the British province of Quebec by the Quebec Act of 1774. At the end of the War for Independence in 1783, the region south of the Great Lakes formally became part of the United States.

The Illinois country by 1752 had a population concentrated around Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Sainte Genevieve.

French Louisiana, first settled at Mobile in 1702, started its growth when significant numbers of French immigrants arrived in New Orleans in 1718. The areas around New Orleans and west of the Mississippi were given to Spain in 1760. Louisiana was taken back by France in 1800, and sold to the United States in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase.


New Netherland, chartered in 1614, was a colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in what became New York State and parts of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The peak population was less than 10,000. The Dutch established a patroon system with feudal-like rights given to a few powerful landholders; they also established religious tolerance and free trade. The colony's capital, New Amsterdam, founded in 1625 and located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan, would grow to become a major world city. The city was captured by the English in 1664; they took complete control of the colony in 1674 and renamed it New York. However the Dutch landholdings remained, and the Hudson River Valley maintained a traditional Dutch character until the 1820s.


New Sweden was a Swedish colony along the Delaware River Valley from 1638 to 1655. It was centered at Fort Christina, now in Wilmington Delaware. The small colony was captured by the Dutch in 1655 and merged into New Netherland.


Russia explored the area that became Alaska starting with the Second Kamchatka expedition in the 1730s and early 1740s. The Russian-American Company was formed in 1799 for the purpose of buying sea otters for their fur from native hunters. In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska and nearly all Russians left except a few missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church working among the natives. 


British colonial government

Each colony had a paid colonial agent in London to represent its interests.

The three forms of colonial government in 1776 were provincial, proprietary, and charter. These governments were all subordinate to the king in London, with no explicit relationship with the British Parliament. Beginning late in the 17th century, the administration of all British colonies was overseen by a Board of Trade.

Provincial colonies: New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and eventually Massachusetts, were provincial colonies. The provincial government was governed by commissions created at pleasure by the monarch. A governor (and in some provinces his council) were appointed by the crown.

Proprietary colonies: Pennsylvania (which included Delaware), New Jersey, and Maryland were proprietary colonies. They were governed much as royal colonies except that lords proprietors, rather than the king, appointed the governor.

Charter colonies: Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, and Connecticut were charter colonies. The Massachusetts charter was revoked in 1684, and was replaced by a provincial charter that was issued in 1691. Charter governments were political corporations created by letters patent, giving the grantees control of the land and the powers of legislative government.USA 1775

The colonies

The 1606 grants by James I to the London and Plymouth companies with the stipulation that neither found a settlement within 100 miles of each other.

The most notable English failures were the lost colony of Roanoke (1587-90) in North Carolina and Popham Colony in Maine (1607-8). It was at the Roanoke Colony that the first English child, Virginia Dare, was born in the Americas.

 The Kingdom of Scotland tried to establish a colony in Central America called New Caledonia in the 1690s, but it was a total failure.

Chesapeake Bay area

The first successful English colony was centred on Jamestown, established in 1607 near Chesapeake Bay. The business venture was financed and coordinated by the London Virginia Company. Its first years were difficult. The colony subsequently named Virgina (VA on map) survived and flourished by turning to tobacco as a cash crop.
Maryland (MD), granted by charter from Charles I to Lord Baltimore in 1632s was named in honour of the king's wife. It was a predominantly Catholic settlement.

The Puritans

The Puritans, a much larger group than the Pilgrims, established the Massachusetts Bay Colony (MASS) in 1629 with 400 settlers. They sought to reform the Church of England by creating a new, pure church in the New World. By 1640, 20,000 had arrived. The Massachusetts settlement parented other Puritan colonies in New England, including the New Haven, Saybrook, and Connecticut colonies. During the 17th century the New Haven and Saybrook colonies were absorbed by Connecticut (CONN).

Roger Williams, who preached religious toleration, separation of Church and State, and a complete break with the Church of England, was banished and founded Rhode Island Colony (RI), which became a haven for other refugees.

Other New England settlements

The Pilgrims were a small Protestant sect based in England and the Netherlands. One group sailed on the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.

Other colonists who disagreed with Puritans in Massachusetts settled to the north in New Hampshire and Maine. These small settlements were absorbed by Massachusetts when it made significant land claims in the 1640s and 1650s, but New Hampshire (NH) was eventually given a separate charter in 1679. Maine remained a part of Massachusetts until achieving statehood in 1820.

Dominion of New England

Under King James II of England, the New England colonies (as well as New York and the Jersies) were briefly united as the Dominion of New England (1686-89). Governor Edmund Andros seized colonial charters, revoked land titles, and ruled without local assemblies, causing anger among the population. Taking advantage of the overthrow of James II in 1689 Bostonians revolted, arresting Andros. The Dominion of New England was dissolved and governments resumed under their earlier charters. However, the Massachusetts charter had been revoked in 1684, and a new one was issued in 1691 that combined Massachusetts and Plymouth into the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Middle Colonies

The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken over by the British and renamed New York (NY) but large numbers of Dutch remained in the colony. New Jersey began as a division of New York, and was for a time divided into the proprietary colonies of East and West Jersey. Many German and Irish immigrants settled in these areas, as well as in Connecticut. A large portion of the settlers who came to Pennsylvania were German. Philadelphia became the center of the colonies.

Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 as a proprietary colony of the Quaker William Penn. It came to include the territory of Delaware, which had once been part of New Netherland, and had government independent of that established in Philadelphia, but was never a separate colony.

Lower South

The colonial South included the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake region (Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware) and the lower South: Carolina, which eventually split into North (NC) and South Carolina (SC) and Georgia (GA).

Carolina, North and South

The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina. It was a private venture, financed by a group in 1663. Carolina was not settled until 1670 at Charles Town. By 1729, the proprietary government had collapsed and the Proprietors sold both colonies back to the British crown.


The Georgia Colony was established in 1733 as a common solution to two problems. At that time, tension between Spain and Great Britain was high, and the British feared Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas and it was to be settled with debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned according to standard British practice. The first colonists arrived in 1733.

East and West Florida

In 1763, Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain, which established the colonies of East (E FL) and West Florida (W FL). The Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution. They were returned to Spain in 1783 (in exchange for the Bahamas), at which time most of the British left. The Spanish then neglected the Floridas and few Spaniards lived there when the United States purchased the area in 1819.

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