The Thirteen Colonies were British colonies in North America founded between 1607 (Virginia) and 1732 (Georgia). Although Great Britain held several other colonies in North America and the West Indies, the colonies referred to as the “thirteen” are those that rebelled against British rule in 1775 and proclaimed their independence on July 4, 1776. They subsequently constituted the first thirteen states of the United States of America.
Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in America. The colonists who established Jamestown on May 13, 1607, named Virginia in honor of Elizabeth I (1533–1603), the “Virgin Queen” of England. The successful settlement was sponsored by the London Company, a joint-stock venture chartered by King James I (1566–1625) in 1606. Captain John Smith (c. 1580–1631) led the colony.
In 1624 James I revoked Virginia's charter, after which it became a royal colony, which it remained until 1776. Virginia was the first colony to begin the move for independence from England in 1776, and it was a major player in the American Revolution (1775–83). It became the tenth state in the Union on June 25, 1788.
Religious persecution drove a group of English Puritans , who wished to separate from the Church of England, to the New World. These Pilgrims were blown off course in their ship, the Mayflower , and landed on Cape Cod in 1620. They settled in an abandoned village, which they named Plymouth .
In 1629 a nonseparatist Puritan group settled to the north in the Massachusetts Bay colony. The group was headed by the patriarch John
Winthrop (1588–1649). Along with other leaders, Winthrop intended to make the colony an exemplary Christian society. Massachusetts went on to become the sixth state of the Union on February 6, 1788.
New Hampshire gained a separate identity as a royal colony in 1679 when the British government declared that it was not part of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Still, Massachusetts overshadowed New Hampshire throughout the colonial period. The boundary between them was not settled until 1740.
New Hampshire was the only colony to experience almost no military activity during the American Revolution, and it was the first to declare its independence. New Hampshire was the ninth state to enter the Union on June 21, 1788.
Unlike many other colonies, Maryland was established with an almost feudal system in which the land was considered the property of the English lord who governed it. The territory was given as a proprietorship by England's King Charles I (1600–1649) to George Calvert (c. 1580–1632). Lord Calvert later left the land to his son, Cecilius (1605–1675), who is better known as Lord Baltimore. He named the region Maryland after the queen consort of Charles I, Henrietta Maria (1609–1669) of France. The colony of Maryland was fully under Baltimore's control.
Early Dutch settlers in Connecticut were dislodged by the large migration of English Puritans who came to the colony between 1630 and 1642. The Puritans established settlements at Windsor (1633), Wethersfield (1634), and Hartford (1636). In 1639 these three communities joined together to form the Connecticut colony, choosing to be governed by the Fundamental Orders, a relatively democratic framework for which the Reverend Thomas Hooker (c. 1586–1647) was largely responsible.
After a number of years of bitter border disputes, Connecticut received legal recognition as a colony by England in 1662. A relatively autonomous colony and strong supporter of the American Revolution, Connecticut became the fifth state of the Union on January 9, 1788.
In 1636 the English clergyman Roger Williams (c. 1603–1683) established a colony at Providence seeking religious freedom for a group of nonconformists from the Massachusetts Bay colony. Others followed, settling Portsmouth (1638), Newport (1639), and Warwick (1642). In 1644 Williams journeyed to England, where he secured a legislative grant uniting the four original towns into a single colony, the Providence Plantations. Williams secured a charter for Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations from King Charles II (1630–1685) in 1663, which guaranteed religious freedom and substantial local autonomy.
Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785) signed the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from Rhode Island, which became the thirteenth state on May 29, 1790.
The colony of Delaware belonged to three different countries during the seventeenth century. Permanent settlements were made by the Swedes in 1638 (at Wilmington, under the leadership of a Dutchman, Peter Minuit [1580–1638]) and by the Dutch in 1651 (at New Castle). The Dutch conquered the Swedes in 1655, and the English conquered the Dutch in 1664. The English king's brother James (1633–1701), the duke of York (who later became James II, king of England), ceded the colony to the English proprietor William Penn (1644–1718), who kept Delaware closely tied to his family and to his beloved Pennsylvania until 1776.
John Dickinson (1732–1808), a delegate from Delaware, signed both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the federal Constitution.
The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano (c. 1485–1528) discovered the North Carolina coast in 1524. The English courtier Sir Walter Raleigh (1554–1618) sponsored the famous “lost colony” at Roanoke , and in 1629 King Charles I began the settlement in earnest of the colony he called, after himself, “Carolana.” It was set up as a proprietorship. The colony of South Carolina split off from North Carolina in 1719.
In 1729 the proprietors relinquished their rights for money and land, and North Carolina became a royal colony. North Carolina's leaders hesitated before joining the Union, waiting until November 21, 1789, to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The delay helped stimulate the movement for the adoption of a Bill of Rights . North Carolina became the twelfth state.
The English established the first permanent settlement in South Carolina in 1670 under the supervision of the eight lord proprietors who were granted “Carolana” by King Charles II. The colonists settled at Albemarle Point on the Ashley River, and in 1680 they moved across the river to the present site of Charleston.
The original grant had made South Carolina a very large colony, but eventually the separate provinces of North Carolina and Georgia were established, making South Carolina small. The colonists overthrew the proprietors in 1719, and South Carolina voluntarily became a royal colony in 1729. South Carolina took an active part in the American Revolution and became the eighth state on May 23, 1788.
England assumed control of New Jersey after King Charles II granted a region from the Connecticut River to the Delaware River to his brother James, the duke of York. James deeded part of the land to his friends, Baron John Berkeley (1602–1678) and Sir George Carteret (c. 1610–1680), making New Jersey a proprietorship on June 23, 1664. It was later divided into two separate parts, East Jersey and West Jersey, only to be reunited in 1702 by Queen Anne (1665–1714). A royal governor was appointed in 1738. New Jersey played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War and became the third state on December 18, 1787.
As a colony, New York had a checkered history. Originally founded as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1624, British forces conquered it in 1664. King Charles II of England gave the land to his brother James, the duke of York, who renamed the colony New York.
The presence of both Dutch and English colonists in the area created conflicts that haunted New York well into the eighteenth century. By the time of the American Revolution, however, these conflicts lessened, and new conflicts between patriots (Americans who broke from British rule) and Tories (Americans who were loyal to England; also known as Loyalists) replaced them. Because the British army controlled New York City during most of the war, the city became a haven for Loyalists. New York became the eleventh state on July 26, 1788.
Penn, a Quaker who espoused pacifism, tolerance, and equality, was given broad powers to make laws and to run the colony as he saw fit. Penn, however, gave up his lawmaking powers and set up a form of representative government. Many immigrants came to this tolerant colony.
Pennsylvania's most famous patriot resident was the statesman, scientist, and philosopher Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). The Declaration of Independence, which Franklin signed, was declared from Philadelphia. Pennsylvania was the second state to join the Union, on December 12, 1787.
The colony of Georgia was founded in 1732 by James Oglethorpe (1696–1785), a soldier, politician, and philanthropist who had been granted a charter to settle the territory by Great Britain. Named after King George II, Georgia was the last of the thirteen British colonies established in the United States.
Georgians were among the first colonists to sign the Declaration of Independence. Following the American Revolution Georgia was the fourth state overall and the first southern state to ratify the federal Constitution on January 2, 1788.