The Story of the Thirteen Colonies Once Under British Rule

Before the fifty states or even the United States, America had the Thirteen Colonies. Now, just about everyone in the U.S. has heard of the Thirteen Colonies, the colonies belonging to Britain before America declared independence in 1776. The colonies were, as follows: the Province of Massachusetts Bay (now Massachusetts and Maine), Province of New Hampshire, Colony of Rhode Island and providence Plantations, Connecticut Colony, Province of New York (now New York and Vermont), Province of New Jersey, Province of Pennsylvania, Delaware Colony, Province of Maryland, Colony and Dominion of Virginia (now Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia), Province of North Carolina, Province of South Carolina, Province of Georgia.



Under a royal governor appointed by the king, each colony had its own limited local self-government system they had developed. Their governments were based off the common law system in England and were comprised mainly of wealthy farmers and landowners who voted for local and provincial governments while also serving on local juries. When a decision was made, it first had to be approved by the colony’s governor and home government before going through.

Each colony was given its name by its founder and proprietor then had to be approved by the king in England before being given in the founding charters. Though there was no political significance to it, nine colonies had “Province of….” in their names. Later on, residents dropped the name, turning into simply New Jersey, for example

When British Parliament began unfairly taxing American colonists in the 1760s and 70s, they were met with a series of protests because of taxation without representation. Together, the thirteen colonies banded to unite their militaries and governments to oppose the British government. The American Revolutionary War, fought between American colonists against the British and American loyalists (those loyal to the British crown), began in 1775. Under the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the colonies declared their freedom from Britain. The war lasted until the Battle of Yorktown in fall 1781, but did not end officially until 1783. If the colonies had not received assistance from mainly France, but also Spain and the Netherlands, the war would have been won by the much stronger and more organized British military.

King James I gave the southern half of the Atlantic seaboard to the London Company (Virginia Company) when he divided it into two in 1606. The northern half was given to the Plymouth Company. Twenty years before, Sir Walter Raleigh settled on the island of Roanoke in 1587 with a group of colonists he led that consisted of ninety-one men, seventeen women, and nine children. But, the Roanoke colony entirely disappeared in 1590, only three years later. To this day, it is still unknown what happened to the colony. This had been the first English establishment in America, though it didn’t last long.

Only a few months after James I’s charter in 1606, the London Company sent 114 men to Virginia on three of their ships called the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant. The following spring, the men reached Chesapeake Bay, heading sixty miles up the James River until landing upon what would become Jamestown, Virginia. For the colonists in Jamestown, life was not easy as they spent much of their time trying to find gold and other resources to be exported back to England. In the midst of it all, they hardly had time to find themselves food. Nine years later, it seemed that the colonists may actually have a chance of survival in Jamestown when they learned how to grow tobacco in 1616. Only three years later, slaves arrived in Virginia to grow tobacco for the first time.

The English crown gave Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, 12 million acres at the top of the Chesapeake in 1632. This land became known as Maryland, named after the wife of Charles I of England, who had become king in 1625, Henrietta Maria of France. Maryland and virginia were very similar to each other. Both colonies were known for their production of tobacco on large plantations owned by the wealthy and relied on the labor of servants and African slaves. Maryland later became known because it tolerated all religions. Lord Baltimore, a Catholic, had hoped for his colony to be a refuge for those persecuted coreligionists, unlike Virginia and its founders. These two colonies, along with North Carolina, founded by Sir Robert Heath, became known as the Tobacco Colonies.

In 1620, a small group of Puritan separatists left England and immigrated to what would be known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. These “pilgrims”, as they became known” were the first settlers in the New England Colonies when they arrived on the famous Mayflower ship, though more than half of the pilgrims died that first winter, as they were unprepared for the harsh weather. To establish another settlement en years after the Pilgrims arrived, the Massachusetts Bay Company had a much larger and more liberal group of Puritans sent to Massachusetts to start another settlement in Massachusetts. The new colonists were assisted by natives in the area and learned to farm, fish, and hunt. Unlike Jamestown, which struggled, Massachusetts and its colonists prospered and lived in decent conditions.

More colonists settled in New England as Massachusetts expanded. Some Puritans found that Massachusetts was not pious enough, so they decided to settle and begin their own colonies known as Connecticut and New Haven. In 1665, the two settlements combined and New Haven is now a city in Connecticut and home to Yale University. Other Puritans found Massachusetts too restrictive, and settled in Rhode Island, a colony where everyone lived with religious freedom, including the Jews that were frowned upon at the time. New Hampshire was settled by a group of adventurous colonists north of Massachusetts.

King Charles II handed over the territory between New England and Virginia to his brother James, the Duke of York in 1664, despite the fact that most of this land was occupied by Dutch traders and those known as patroons, who were wealthy landowners. Dutch New Netherland was taken over by the English, renaming it New York. Majority of the Dutch, among others such as Belgian Flemings and Walloons, French Huguenots, Scandinavians, and Germans, would not leave and stayed. Because of this, New York became one of the most diverse and prosperous colonies not just in America, but the whole of the “New World”.

Quaker William Penn was granted 45,000 square miles of land in America just west of the Delaware River by King Charles II of England in 1680. William Penn was a wealthy landowner from Ireland. His settlements in America was called “Penn’s Woods,”, becoming what we know as Pennsylvania. Europeans immigrated to Penn’s settlement because of his promise of religious toleration and the land’s fertile soil for farming. Many of these new immigrants had enough money to buy their way to the colonies and make their home there without becoming indentured and working as servants. Pennsylvania soon became a prosperous colony and was relatively egalitarian.

Unlike many of the colonies in New England, colonists residing in the Southern Colonies did not live lusciously. In the Carolina colony, stretching south of Virginia to Florida, farmers worked hard though barely made a living out of it in the north. In the south, planters owned large estates and produced beef, pork, corn, lumber and rice, beginning in the 1690s. Carolinians held close relations with Barbados, a British colony in the Caribbean known for its plantations. Many Carolinians became involved with the slave trade as slavery played a large role in the colony’s development due to the reliance of slave labor in Barbados. In 1729, the Carolina colony split and became North Carolina and South Carolina.

Englishman James Oglethorpe was inspired to build a buffer between Spanish settlements in Florida and the British Carolinas in 1732. He established the Georgia colony with a plan of it being a safe haven for those who had been imprisoned as debtors.



Overtime, the population of the Thirteen Colonies grew greatly. It went from 1,980 in 1625 to 270,000 in 1700 and 2,400,000 in 1775 shortly before the American Revolution. About 85% of the population by 1776 was of British descent from England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. Only 9% were from Germany or had ancestors who had immigrated from Germany, and the very small 4% of Dutch origins. Through the 18th century, the population was increasingly rapidly because of higher birth rates as the death rates stayed low.

Slavery was legal in most of the Thirteen Colonies and was practiced by many. Most slaves worked in the household or farms. Slavery was especially prominent in Virginia and Maryland’s tobacco plantations and South Carolina’s rice and indigo plantations. Over a 160 year period, more than 287,000 slaves were imported to the U.S. from Africa. Of the 12 million Africans taken into slavery, only 2% went to America while the rest of them were taken to work in the Caribbean sugar colonies and Brazil. While life expectancy in the caribbean was short for slaves, in the American colonies, it was much higher. From 1620-1700 21,000 slaves were brought from Africa with 189,000 from 1701-1760 and 63,000 from 1761-1770, reaching a total of 287,000 slaves traded in the Slave Trade and brought from Africa by 1780. By 1860, there were over 4 million slaves overall. Because there were many more slave births than deaths, the numbers grew rapidly up until the American Civil War.

After 1680, the British government began to take more interest into the colonies’ affairs as the population only grew and grew. The population growth and wealth had began to rival that of Britain’s Prior to 1680, Virginia was the only royal colony, but half were by 1720. These colonies were put under control of a Royal governor the king appointed and kept close to the government in the UK. Eventually, all thirteen colonies came to be controlled by a Royal governor.

When they came to America, British settlers had no intention of turning their colonies into democracies. But unlike Britain, they did not have a land owning aristocracy and instead a broad electorate was created and there were frequently free elections that many residents participated in. Unlike not only Britain but all of the world, the colonies offered a broad franchise and gave their (male) citizens the rights to vote. Property-owners were given the rights to vote for their members of the lower house of the legislature. In both Connecticut and Rhode Island, colonists were even allowed to vote for their governor. In 1716 the South Carolina legislature stated that “it is necessary and reasonable, that none but such persons will have an interest in the Province should be capable to elect members of the Commons House of Assembly”. For someone to vote the only needed to be “interested” in society as their own legitimacy. Women, children, indentured servants, and slavers were not able to vote but were instead included under the interest of the head of the family. While in Britain, most people did not own any land, in the colonies most did, and that was the only criteria for voting, owning land. The British government ordered governors to only allow “freeholders” to vote. Between 50% and 80% of men in the colonies owned land and were eligible to vote.

During the colonial period, political parties were nonexistent, though became a large role in American culture when the colonies became free. Those who ran for governmental positions were notable in their local towns and counties. They competed against each other and tried to appeal to the common man for their votes instead of their parties. In the other colonies, with the exception of New England, on election day, countrymen came out to make speeches and meet with old friends as they shook hands with those of higher ranks and toasted, ate, and gambled. To vote, men shouted their choices to the clerks while the crowd cheered and booed, depending on who they supported. Election days were like carnivals where for one day, all men were treated as equals.

Voting rates were highest in Pennsylvania and New York because supporters were mobilized by their longstanding factions based on both ethnic and religious groups. In most colonies, the voting rates ranged from between 20% to 40% of all land owning white males. Both New York and Rhode Island had developed two-faction systems that lasted for a long time at the colonial level, but were never involved with more local affairs. Based on the personalities of a few of the most prominent leaders and their families, these factions had little policy and ideology basis. In the other colonies, politics was a constant whirlwind based more so on personality than factions or disputes over issues and policy.

Before 1774, the colonies were independent of each other and held their own governments and money systems. Benjamin Franklin had tried, but failed, to unite the colonies through the Albany Congress of 1754. All thirteen colonies had based their governments and elections on the Rights of Englishmen.

In The British Empire, the economy operated under the mercantile system. Trade with other empires and countries was forbidden, as it was restricted only to the empire. From doing this, the goal was to enrich Britain and its merchants along with the government. In the colonies, Americans found themselves feeling restricted by mercantilist policies, though the British government chose to ignore this. A favorite technique to Americans in the 18th century, the British government tried to prevent smuggling as they also attempted colonists from trading with France, Spain, and the Netherlands. The British government’s goal was to enrich Britain because of the captive markets for British industry in the colonies.

The Navigation Acts, a series of English laws that restricted trade in the colonies first enacted in 1651, was avoided by many of the Americans. Royal officials responded to frequent smuggling with open-ended search warrants, or writs of assistance, written orders instructing an official to perform tasks issued by the court. James Otis, a lawyer from Boston, argued that these writs were violating colonists’ constitutional rights. Though he lost the case, later on, well known politician and Founding Father, John Adams, wrote, “Then and there the child Independence was born.” Patrick Henry, who is famous for his “give me liberty, or give me death” speech,” argued at the Hanover Courthouse on December 1, 1763 for Parson’s Cause, which was both a legal and political dispute in the Colony of Virginia. Henry was the judge who presided over the case. Though at the time he was not very well known, he would become so later on.

In 1763, the British also issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 because they wanted to keep peaceful relationships with native american tribes that were allied with the French. The proclamation stopped colonists from settling beyond the Appalachian mountains because the land was a designated Indian Reserve. Some settlers ignored this law though as they continued west to establish farms. The british later on modified the proclamation, but colonists were angered that they had not been consulted when making this decision.

The “no taxation without representation” argument began when parliament passed the Stamp Act of 1765 and protest sin the colonies ensued.  Americans argued that they did not have any representatives in British Parliament and taxes being imposed on them in such a manner violated their Englishmen rights. Even in other British colonies outside of the Thirteen Colonies, people were angered with the taxation, but were unable to protest due to their land being heavily controlled by the Royal Navy.

Parliament continued to reject and ignore the colonists’ arguments and passed more taxes. More commotion came with taxation upon tea. In each colony, Americans boycotted tea. But most famously, was the Boston Tea party in 1773 when Bostonians gathered to throw tea into the harbor. Following this, Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts the next year. Among other things, this act restricted much of the government in the troublesome Massachusetts that had been home to the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre earlier in 1770.

Known by most as the Provincial Congresses, the colonies formed their own bodies of elected representatives in response to Parliament. Colonists continued to boycott the import of merchandise from Britain. Twelve colonies, with the exception of Georgia, sent fifty-six representatives to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Georgia sent delegates to the Second Continental Congress in 1775 which consisted of no more than fifty members at a time. Colonists had succeeded in getting all British royal officials out of the colonies by spring of 1775. The continental Congress became the national government for the colonies as they raised an army to fight against the British. George Washington was named the commander. And on July 4, 1776, the colonies officially declared independence under the Second Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence. And by 1781, they had won the war against Britain with primarily help from the French, but also the Spanish and Dutch.