The Thirteen Colonies were the colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America, starting with Virginia in 1607 and ending with Georgia in 1733. The colonies were Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Each colony developed its own system of self-government. Americans were mostly independent farmers who owned their own land and voted for their local and provincial government.
England made its first successful colonization efforts at the start of the 17th century. During this era, English proto-nationalism and national assertiveness blossomed under the threat of Spanish invasion, assisted by a degree of Protestant militarism and the energy of Queen Elizabeth. Practical considerations (such as commercial enterprise, overpopulation, and the desire for religious freedom) played their parts. The main waves of settlement came in the 17th century.
Colony Types and Sponsors
There were three types of British colonies: Joint Stock, Royal, and Proprietary. All three had the goal of making money. The British crown controlled royal colonies. A single person or family owned proprietary colonies, also called charter colonies. Investors owned Joint Stock colonies. A Joint Stock colony would sell shares.
It was expensive to start a colony; colonizers needed ships, people, equipment, security forces, building supplies, tools, weapons, and food. Once a colony found financing, the settlers would head off to the Americas. They would find natural resources, ship them back to England, and enrich the colony’s sponsors.
The first successful English colony was Jamestown, established in 1607 near Chesapeake Bay. The business venture was financed and coordinated by the London Virginia Company, which was a joint stock company looking for gold. The Jamestown colony became a small city within the larger colony of Virginia (which became an economically successful colony due to tobacco).
New England Colonies
Unlike most of the Chesapeake or southern colonies, which were established to make a profit, New England colonies tended to be established for religious reasons.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. After drawing up the Mayflower Compact, in which gave themselves broad powers of self-governance, they established the small Plymouth Colony. William Bradford was their main leader.
The Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony 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; many died soon after arrival, but the others found a healthy climate and an ample food supply. Unlike the cash crop-oriented plantations of the Chesapeake region, the Puritan economy was based on the efforts of self-supporting farmsteads who traded only for goods they could not produce themselves. There was a generally higher economic standing and standard of living in New England than in the Chesapeake. Along with agriculture, fishing, and logging, New England became an important mercantile and shipbuilding center, serving as the hub for trading between the southern colonies and Europe.
The Massachusetts settlement spawned 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. 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, which became a haven for other refugees from the Puritan community, such as Anne Hutchinson. Providence Plantation was founded in 1636 by Rev. Roger Williams on land provided by the Narragansett. Other colonists who disagreed with Puritans in Massachusetts settled to the north, mingling with adventurers and profit-oriented settlers to establish more religiously diverse colonies in New Hampshire and Maine.
The Middle Colonies
The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of diversity—religious, political, economic, and ethnic. The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken over by the British and renamed New York, 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.
The Colonial South
The colonial South included the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake region and the lower South. The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina. It was a private venture, financed by a group of English Lords Proprietors who hoped that a new colony in the south would become profitable like Jamestown. Carolina was not settled until 1670, and even then the first attempt failed because there was no incentive for emigration to that area. Eventually, however, the Lords combined their remaining capital and financed a settlement mission to the area. The expedition located fertile and defensible ground at what was to become Charleston, thus beginning the English colonization of the mainland.
The original settlers in South Carolina established a lucrative trade in provisions, deerskins, and Indian captives with the Caribbean islands. The settlers came mainly from the English colony of Barbados and brought African slaves with them. The cultivation of rice was introduced during the 1690s via Africans from the rice-growing regions of Africa.
James Oglethorpe established the Georgia Colony in 1733 as a common solution to two problems. At that time, tension between Spain and Great Britain was high, and the British feared that Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas. Oglethorpe decided to establish a colony in the contested border region of Georgia and populate it with debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned according to standard British practice. This plan would both rid Great Britain of its undesirable elements and provide her with a base from which to attack Florida. The first colonists arrived in 1733.