For those who don’t know, when we speak about colonial America, we refer to the English colonies located along the Eastern seaboard.

The story is important and demonstrates how they came together to form the United States of America.

Read on to find out more about this important historical event.

Education resources


The expansion of English colonialism

In the 16th century, England was in a mess. A bout of financial hardship and an unexpected famine among the working-class citizens had led to widespread suffering. On the positive side of their misfortune, they had discovered that selling wool was an extremely profitable venture, more so than selling food items. Many of the landowners began converting their fields and spare assets for rearing sheep.

However, these businessmen failed to consider that the land was essential for growing food, so what occurred was a disaster. Not only did many agricultural workers lose their jobs, but a prevalent food shortage led to famine in the poorer areas of England.

Mercantilism also came about around this time. It was an extremely competitive economic philosophy that drove wealthy countries to acquire as many colonies as possible for business ventures and heightened their power. England took advantage of this. They realized that if they needed more agricultural land, they could use what was available from other isles — all they needed to do was send their army overseas to conquer the military from those locations.

This is why and how the British easily conquered the 13 colonies in America. The destinations located in the north were predominantly used for housing the surplus English population, which provided more religious freedom. At the time, England was an extremely oppressive place to live, hence why some citizens were inclined to leave and start a free life compared to the one they had been living at home.

If you would like to know more about which colony was utilized for what purpose, here is a list of the 13 colonies used by the British during the 16th century:

The Tobacco Colonies

The Plymouth Company and the London Colony (later renamed the “Virginia Company”) were separate areas of the Atlantic seaboard. They were coined by King James I in 1606. The first English settlement in America had been founded 20 years earlier in the Roanoke colony, but this had mysteriously dissipated by 1590. This made the ‘Tobacco Colonies’ the first long-lasting British colonies.

After Jamestown was founded in 1607, the colonialists were so busy digging for gold that they forgot to grow food for themselves. With starvation looming, the group eagerly began to grow crops. This is when they discovered how to grow tobacco and managed to save themselves from perishing from its profits. By selling the substance to other countries overseas, they could buy food and water to keep themselves alive.

As their name suggests, tobacco continued to be a popular crop in these colonies and was grown in various areas. It grew along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in Virginia and Maryland. In South Carolina, it grew on lowland plains near rivers or creeks. In North Carolina and Georgia, tobacco was harvested from hillside fields terraced into many levels, like steps.

There were also large plantations growing tobacco on flat land further inland from Charleston that would eventually become part of Georgia. Finally, there were isolated small farms throughout New England where individual farmers raised their crops for personal consumption or sale to neighbors or merchants, who came by regularly with wagons full of goods to trade for provisions, such as grain from local farmers.

The Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies were colonies in what is now the southeastern United States, which included parts of the present-day states of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Back in the 16th century, this was known as the Carolina colony and was inhabited by hardscrabble farmers who desperately raked up a living. Another half was populated by estates that grew corn, beef, pork, and lumber. They even began growing rice here in later years.

Many people who worked here were involved in the slave trade due to their close ties with Barbados. Their mass labor was primarily carried out by imported African citizens, who were rarely congratulated for their strenuous efforts. Sadly, these people did most of the work to find The Southern Colonies, and their names are not documented anywhere. Only now can we appreciate this in a world where we are keen to abolish this cruel division for good.

In 1732, the Georgia colony was founded by James Oglethorpe. This acted as a buffer between South Carolina and the Spanish settlements in Florida.

The Middle Colonies

These were the largest colonies out of the 13 and are known today as some of the major states within the US. Highly established and unbeatable in size and culture, these were the business hotspots for England until they declared independence. New York and Pennsylvania have retained the same name for five centuries.

But how exactly were they formed, and why were they established later compared to some others? When King Charles II gave the territory between New England and Virginia to his brother in 1664, New York was founded. It became one of the most diverse colonies out of the thirteen due to the multitude of cultures and nationalities that congregated there, with nobody eager to move away from its bustle due to all of the new commodities on offer.

Pennsylvania was next. Home to people from all over Europe, it was 45,000 square miles in size and was also one of the most diverse areas in terms of religion and culture. The area itself became affluent due to most people paying their way. They established themselves well upon arrival and soon became high in rapport worldwide.

The New England Colonies

New England, the first area settled by Europeans in North America, was the home to two colonies. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony were a group who sought religious freedom and established their communities for this reason. They also saw economic benefits to founding their new colony; it was easier for them to have farmland cleared by Native Americans. Here, colonialists learned how to fish, farm, and hunt for meat that could be sold abroad.

There were six other New England Colonies that were founded for political reasons. These were:

  • Connecticut (1636)
  • Rhode Island (1636)
  • New Hampshire (1679)
  • Maine (1749)
  • Vermont (1791)
  • The expanded Massachusetts Bay Colony absorbed Plymouth Colony after it fell apart in 1691

The Revolutionary War

England’s rule over these colonies did not last for long due to the harsh and greedy implications behind their motives. After the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre, just two public demonstrations were carried out to declare the unhappiness of the colonies. There were plenty more opportunities for citizens to show their disapproval of British leadership.

The Revolutionary War was fought over taxes. The colonies were angry about the Stamp Act, which forced them to pay taxes on all printed materials. Without newspapers, nobody could learn about the world around them due to the absence of radio and television. Hence when the citizens could not afford to pay the tax, this was met with public outcry. This act was repealed in 1766, but many colonists felt Great Britain unfairly taxed them.

Thankfully, peace came from a well-needed uprising, although this one was less violent. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, thanks to a universally agreed vote to be independent. The colonies united, and the United States of America was born.

The Treaty of Paris

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, officially ending the Revolutionary War. With it came several changes for the 13 colonies. The British Parliament agreed to recognize American independence and cede all lands east of the Mississippi River. This amounted to more than 1/4th of British territory before the war started, but it still left most Native Americans living on land claimed by European powers.

In addition, many of these Native people were not treated well during this time because they resisted colonial settlement on their land, and some even fought against European expansionism into North America.

And there you have it – the story of how the 13 colonies came together to create the United States. To discover more historical facts, visit our website today for some fascinating reads.