Founding of the Thirteen Colonies

The 13 Original Colonies were the first places that Europeans landed and lived in North America. This land was not called The United States of America because it was not a nation yet. The Colonies were helped, owned, and governed by The British Empire.  So, the colonists followed British law, paid taxes to the British government, and were the subjects of King George III of England. The Colonies were a part of the British Empire but unlike the people in England, colonists had no participation, representation, or influence, in the British government. They were to observe and serve the interests of England.

HRH King George III of England

The Colonies were founded by individuals and leaders from different groups of people. Many of the first colonists had come to the new land from Europe to escape prejudice and persecution.  Others came for opportunity, adventure, or by force as endentured servants and slaves. Informally associated groups organized together to form colonies within 3 regions: New England Colonies, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies. Each of the 3 regions and their colonies were established by groups of people that came together from similar backgrounds, countries, beliefs, or ideals, to work to a common purpose – one of prosperity.

William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, from Clements Library, University of Michigan
Permission must be received in advance, in writing, from the Director of the Clements before publication, duplication, or other use of this image.

The 13 Original Colonies would later become the first states in The United States of America.  But only after a great war for independence from Great Britain had been won.  With the victory of the American colonies against the British Empire in The Revolutionary War came a new nation.  And a revolutionary idea the world had never seen: a government by the people, of the people, and for the people,  The United States of America.


Chart of the Thirteen Original Colonies

Learn about the New England, Middle, and Southern Colonies

Embarkation of the Pilgrims from the Mayflower by Robert Walter Weir. Public Domain / Brooklyn Museum

by Martin Kelly
Updated June 19, 2017

The British Empire settled its first permanent colony in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. This was the but the first of 13 colonies in North America. The 13 colonies can be divided into three regions: New England, Middle, and Southern colonies. The chart below provides additional information including the years of settlement and founders of each.

The New England colonies included Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620 (when the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth) but was incorporated into Massachusetts Bay in 1691.

The group that left England for America in the Mayflower were called the Puritans; they believed in a strict interpretation of the writings of John Calvin, who dismissed the beliefs of both the Catholics and the Anglicans. The Mayflower first made its way to Mashpee on Cape Cod, but after a disastrous interaction with the Native people in the region, they crossed Cape Cod Bay to Plymouth.

The Middle Colonies were located in the area now described as the Mid-Atlantic and included Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. While the New England colonies were made up largely of British Puritans, the Middle Colonies were very mixed. Settlers in these colonies included English, Swedes, Dutch, Germans, Scots-Irish and French, along with Native Americans and some enslaved (and freed) Africans.

Members of these groups included Quakers, Mennonites, Lutherans, Dutch Calvinists, and Presbyterians.

The first “official” American colony was formed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. In 1587, a group of 115 English settlers arrived in Virginia. They arrived safely on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina.

By the middle of the year, the group realized they needed more supplies, and so they sent John White, governor of the colony, back to England. White arrived in the midst of a war between Spain and England, and his return was delayed.

When he finally made it back to Roanoke, there was no trace of the colony, his wife, his daughter, or his granddaughter. Instead, all he found was the word “Croatoan” carved in a post. No one knew what had happened to the colony until 2015 when archaeologists discovered clues such as British-style pottery among Croatoan remains. This suggests that the people of the Roanoke colony may have become part of the Croatoan community.

The first “official” American colony was formed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607; by 1752 the colonies included North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. The Southern Colonies focused most of their efforts on cash crops including tobacco and cotton. In order to make their plantations pay, they employed enslaved Africans.

Colony Name Year Founded Founded By Became Royal Colony
Virginia 1607 London Company 1624
Massachusetts 1620 – Plymouth Colony
1630 – Massachusetts Bay Colony
Puritans 1691
New Hampshire 1623 John Wheelwright 1679
Maryland 1634 Lord Baltimore N/A
Connecticut c. 1635 Thomas Hooker N/A
Rhode Island 1636 Roger Williams N/A
Delaware 1638 Peter Minuit and New Sweden Company N/A
North Carolina 1653 Virginians 1729
South Carolina 1663 Eight Nobles with a Royal Charter from Charles II 1729
New Jersey 1664 Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret 1702
New York 1664 Duke of York 1685
Pennsylvania 1682 William Penn N/A
Georgia 1732 James Edward Oglethorpe 1752