The Founding of the American Colonies

The original 13 colonies of America were founded on the eastern coast of what is now the United States between the years of 1607 and 1733. Originally, the colonies belonged to the English, the Dutch, and the Swedish. By the time of the American Revolution, the colonies were all under British control. The 13 colonies were divided into three regions, the New England colonies, which included Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the middle colonies, which included Delaware and Pennsylvania, and the Southern colonies, which included Maryland and Georgia. Each region was founded for a different reason and attracted a different group of people.


The Pilgrims first arrived at what would become the Massachusetts colony in 1620. They named the spot they landed at Plymouth, after the port they left behind in England. In 1628, a group of puritans arrived in the area with a charter from the Council of New England. By 1691, the three separate groups living in the colony united and became the royal colony of Massachusetts.

Rhode Island

Colonists began to settle in Rhode Island in 1620, but an official colony was not formed until 1636, when puritan Roger Williams was banned from Salem, MA for his thoughts. Compared to Massachusetts, Rhode Island became a colony for people who wanted to practice religion freely. The colony received a royal charter in 1663. The charter for RI later formed the basis for the Constitution of the US.


The colony of Connecticut was originally established by the Dutch in the early 1630s. Thomas Hooker, a puritan minister, arrived in the colony in 1636 and delivered a powerful sermon. Hooker is responsible for founding Hartford, CT. Eventually, the English drove the Dutch out and gained control of CT. The colony received a charter from England in 1662.

New Hampshire

English colonists first began to settle in New Hampshire in 1623, when it was still a part of Massachusetts. In 1638, John Wheelwright founded Exeter, a settlement, and created the Exeter compact, which was similar to the Mayflower compact created by the pilgrims in MA. New Hampshire officially became a royal colony in 1679. A group of Scots-Irish created a settlement in the colony in 1719.

New York

The colony of New York was also originally inhabited by the Dutch. It was originally known as New Amsterdam. In 1664, Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch leader, surrendered to the English. The colony was then renamed New York, after the Duke of York.


Delaware, the 2nd smallest state, and the first state to ratify the constitution, has a rocky history. It was first settled by the Dutch in 1631, but that settlement failed. The Swedes then successfully settled the colony in 1638. In 1655, the Dutch took over, then the English in 1664. Control of the colony when back and forth between the Dutch and the English for years, until it became independent in 1701.

  • State of Delaware - A brief history of Delaware, from the first explorations in the early 1600s to statehood.
  • Delaware History Trail - Information and video about the Delaware History Trail, which takes visitors to 36 different sites.

New Jersey

Like New York, New Jersey was originally colonized by the Dutch and part of the New Netherlands colony. It began to be controlled by the English in 1664 after the Dutch surrendered. The colony was originally divided into East Jersey and West Jersey, but these two halves were united in 1702. As a colony, New Jersey was bigger than it is as a state.


The colony of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a Quaker, in 1681. Penn was given a charter to found the colony by King Charles II. One factor that distinguished PA from the other colonies was religious freedom. The colony attracted settlers from a number of different beliefs and countries, including Germany.


Virginia was the home of the first surviving English colony, Jamestown, founded in 1606. Life in Jamestown was very rough and dangerous and many did not survive. In 1676, the settlement was attacked and almost ruined during Bacon's Rebellion. The colony itself is named for Queen Elizabeth, the virgin queen.


The colony of Maryland was started in 1633 by Lord Baltimore. It was named for Queen Henrietta Maria. A southern colony on the coast, Maryland was a port colony, known for shipbuilding. It was also known for agriculture.

North Carolina

The banks of North Carolina were the site of the first colonizing attempts by the English. The settlement of Roanoke Island began in the 1500s. Roanoke failed and all the settlers mysteriously disappeared. In 1653, the British tried again, and colonists from Virginia began to move to NC.

South Carolina

South Carolina was first settled by the Spanish in 1526 and was known as San Miguel de Guadalupe. In 1663, King Charles II of Britain gave the colony to his supporters through a charter. The city of Charleston, named after the king, was founded in 1700 by another group of English colonists. South Carolina was a colony valued for its agriculture.


The colony of Georgia was started by General James Edward Oglethorpe in 1732. Georgia is named for King George II. Oglethorpe is different from other colony founders because he survived the revolution and was able to see the colonies achieve statehood. Georgia became the fourth state in 1788.