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13 Original Colonies

The 13 original colonies had their beginnings under Queen Elizabeth I and saw its first permanent settlements under King James I of England. They would begin in Jamestown and eventually spread across the entire Atlantic coast, with exception of Florida.

Each colony had its own founder and own set of ideas and each tended to be formed from outcasts in English society. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay fled persecution, the Quakers of Pennsylvania did the same as did the Catholics of Maryland.

The result would be 13 original colonies with an independent mindset that would realize itself in the American Revolutionary War.

13 Original Colonies: Beginnings

In 1492 Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered a New World. Although he died thinking he had reached India his discovery laid the foundations for expansion in Europe.

Soon the Spanish Conquistadors and the Portuguese Explorers founded global empires for their respective countries. France and the Dutch Republic also became involved in the New World by exploring the northern part of North America while Spain focused its energy on the Spanish Main.

Although this was a time of great discovery one European power was silent.

In 1497 John Cabot sailed for the New World under the English flag. He landed on the east coast of what is now America. King Henry VII sent Cabot on a second voyage in which he never returned.

King Henry VII died 12 years later and his son King Henry VIII took control of England. Unfortunately, global expansion was not on Henry VIII’s to-do-list. Instead, he warred with France, divorced and executed wives, split from Rome, raided the monasteries, built lavish castles all over England and proceeded to die in debt despite his father leaving him a large fortune.

England entered a time of reform and exploration was not a top priority, but the reforms would aid in future endeavors. After the death of Henry VIII and his sickly son Edward, Queen Mary took to the throne and threw England into a dark time in their history.

She executed many protestants and had little interest in the New World. She would die after attaining the nickname “Bloody Mary” and her sister, Queen Elizabeth would come to the throne and usher in a Golden Age for a country that had been wrapped up in religious civil war for decades.

Under her, England experienced an age of Renaissance. She began to profit from the trans-Atlantic trade, the reforms put into place by Henry VII and Henry VIII began to pay dividends and the defeat of the Spanish Armada made England the most powerful nation in Europe.

Soon English authors began to press for England to expand into a global empire. Elizabeth commissioned Sir Francis Drake who would circumnavigate the world and became infamous.

She also commissioned Humphrey Gilbert to sail towards Newfoundland and Sir Walter Raleigh founded the colony of Virginia and Roanoke. Although these attempts did little to establish England as a global empire it laid the groundwork for Elizabeth’s successor, King James.

During the reign of King James England expanded its global reach and began to colonize the New World. The first permanent settlement, Jamestown was established. 15 years later the Pilgrims set sail and founded Plymouth.

Shortly after the death of King James, the Puritans founded Massachusetts Bay which led to the founding of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Soon colonies were founded from New Hampshire to Georgia.

13 Original Colonies Facts

New England Colonies

New England was first chartered by Captain John Smith and the Frenchman Samuel de Champlain. Soon it would be colonized by the Pilgrims and Puritans. New England did not have the fertile soil of the Middle and Southern colonies.

What is lacked in fertile soil is gained in timber which allowed them to trade with England, who had timber shortages? The Puritan city of Boston had a harbor which led to a robust fishing and whaling industry.

Valuable furs were also a great resource for trade.  Soon the people of New England found themselves in a thriving trade with the Caribbean Islands, Iberian Peninsula, France, and other European powers. This led to much wealth.

Massachusetts Bay Colony

The largest colony in the British colonial empire was, for a short time, the Massachusetts Bay Colony which was settled by the Puritans and governed by John Winthrop.

Massachusetts grew quickly in what is known as the Great Migration and absorbed the infamous Plymouth colony. Boston was its largest city and for a time the largest city in all the British Colonial Empire.

Connecticut Colony

Connecticut Colony was founded by Thomas Hooker and was an off-shoot of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Fundamentals Orders of Connecticut were put into place and would make Connecticut one of the most stable colonies in America, even during the American Revolutionary War. Its founders were also Puritans and its largest city was Hartford.

New Haven Colony was a colony that was absorbed by Connecticut after the English Civil War. New Haven settlers were not happy with being absorbed which would result in Connecticut having two separate capitals until the late 19th century.

Rhode Island Colony

Rhode Island Colony was also an off-shoot of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and it was founded by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.

Both founded a different area of Rhode Island and both were expelled from Massachusetts Bay due to their religious beliefs. Rhode Island would become the first colony to establish complete religious freedom.

Although small, Rhode Island had a huge impact on the American Revolutionary War in that it was the birthplace of Nathanael Greene.

New Hampshire Colony

New Hampshire Colony had been chartered by John Mason and given its name in 1622. However, it went through a long period of instability which stagnated growth.

In 1741 King George II decreed the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. New Hampshire would go on to join the American Revolution as an independent government in 1776.

Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies had rich soil, allowing the area to become a major exporter of wheat and other grains. The lumber and shipbuilding industries enjoyed success in the Middle Colonies, and Pennsylvania saw moderate success in the textile and iron industry.

The Middle Colonies were the most ethnically diverse British colonies in North America, with settlers coming from all parts of Europe. Civil unrest in Europe and other colonies saw an influx of immigrants to the Middle Colonies in the 18th century.

With the new arrivals came various religions which were protected in the Middle Colonies by written freedom of religion laws. This tolerance was unusual and distinct from other British colonies.

New Jersey Colony

King Charles II chartered the colony of New Jersey as a proprietary colony and eventually became two separate colonies when it was divided into East and West New Jersey. New Jersey was consolidated into one Royal Colony in 1702.

During the American Revolutionary War, New Jersey was governed by William Franklin who was a loyalist supporter of England and the son of Benjamin Franklin.

Pennsylvania Colony

Pennsylvania Colony was founded by the Quaker William Penn in 1681. It became known for economic growth, fair treatment of the natives, and religious freedom.

Pennsylvania’s largest city Philadelphia was the largest city in the 13 original colonies by the time of the American Revolution. It was also the place for the signing of the Declaration of Independence and where Thomas Jefferson penned the famous document.

New York Colony

New York began as New Netherlands until it was captured from the Dutch in 1664. New York was once a part of the Dominion of New England but split from it after Leisler’s rebellion. At the time of the Revolution New York City was the most important harbor in the colonies.

It was the gateway to the St. Lawrence River which divided the middle colonies from the New England colonies. It abstained from ratifying the Declaration of Independence but later signed.

Delaware Colony

When William Penn received his land grant of Pennsylvania in 1681, he received the Delaware Colony area from the Duke of York, and dubbed them “The Three Lower Counties on the Delaware River”. 

In 1701, after he had troubles governing the ethnically diverse Delaware territory, Penn agreed to allow them a separate colonial assembly. Delaware expelled the royal officials in 1775 and became part of the American Revolution.

Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies became the breadbasket of the colonies due to its large agriculture economy.

They would also be home to some of the most important battles of the American Revolutionary War: Camden, Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown. The five southern colonies are Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina (founded as the Carolinas), and Georgia.


Virginia Colony gets its name from the Virgin Queen of England, Elizabeth I. Its first colony was a mysterious failure when all of the people from Sir Walter Raleigh‘s Roanoke colony disappeared.

Later, Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement in the New World. By the time of the revolution, Virginia was the largest colony in both land and population.

Many influential men came from the colony such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Lee, and Patrick Henry. After John Adams’ Presidency, it would go on to create what is known as the Virginia Dynasty.


Maryland colony was founded by Lord Baltimore as a haven for those who were Catholic. However, the land prices were so cheap that Protestants flocked Maryland as well and caused much division.

Lord Baltimore passed the Acts for Religious Tolerance in 1649 which made it the second colony, after Rhode Island, to allow religious freedom.

The Carolinas

North Carolina and South Carolina were originally named the Carolinas and not divided until 1712. One of its founders was the highly influential John Locke, who some regard as the greatest political philosopher of all-time.

The colony developed a large export of tobacco, lumber, and pitch which gave the people of the region the nickname, Tarheel. Both South Carolina and North Carolina would join in the American Revolutionary War.


Georgia Colony was founded by James Oglethorpe who founded it as a haven for debtors. In the beginning, his rules were strict which stagnated growth but he eventually lightened up which caused it to grow quickly.

By 1776 Georgia, the youngest colony signed the Declaration of Independence against Britain. It’s the largest city at that time was Savannah.

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