History of the North American Colonies (Members Only)

History of the North American Colonies

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Our digital history of the North American Colonies focuses on the group of thirteen British colonies that emerged along the Atlantic coast of North America. Founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, they began fighting the American Revolutionary War in April 1775 and formed the United States of America by declaring full independence from Britain in 1776.

These colonies were grouped into New England (including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut); the Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware; and the southern colonies of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. These thirteen colonies were part of Britain’s New World possessions that included territories in Canada, Florida, and the Caribbean. As such, the colonies developed very similar legal and governmental systems, and all came to be dominated by Protestant English-speakers.

While all the colonies needed to become economically self-sustaining, the founding of the New England colonies (and the colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania) was motivated by religion. But the other colonies, beginning with Virginia Colony in 1607, were founded for business and economic expansion. The Middle Colonies derived from an earlier Dutch colony known as New Netherland. The colonial population grew from about 2,000 in 1625 to 2.4 million in 1775, displacing Native Americans. This population included slaves, which were legal to own in all of the colonies prior to the American Revolutionary War. In the 18th century, the British government administered its colonies under a policy of mercantilism, in which Britain bought raw materials from its colonies to produce manufactured goods that were then sold to the colonies.

The Thirteen Colonies largely governed themselves, and London was generally happy to let them do so as long as everybody made money. But the French and Indian War (1754–1763) against France and its Indian allies led to demands from Britain and that the colonies should help pay for the costs of their own defense. As the resentment of the colonists grew, it fostered a sense of shared American identity and a new American nationalism. Then, the colonists demanded protection of their “Rights as Englishmen”, especially the right of “no taxation without representation.”

These kinds of conflicts with the British government over such taxation and rights led to the American Revolution. It was essentially a tax rebellion at first. But soon , the colonies formed the Continental Congress and declared their independence from Britain. After eight years, and with considerable help from France, the Revolutionary War was at last won and the United States of America achieved nationhood.

That said, here’s our assortment… please enjoy! When you’re done perusing a map, click the ⇠ back arrow link in the upper left of your screen (not the < link), and you’ll be back here. Any problems, please get in touch at [email protected].

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Native Americans Index | Society: OriginsMigrationPopulationCommunities | Power | Economy | 1492-1650: SocietyReligionPower | 1650-1750: Regions: SouthwestNew FranceNew England: SocietyReligion | Middle Colonies: New York | Louisiana | Chesapeake Colonies | Religion

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