The British colonies that populated the Atlantic Coast of North America during the 17th and 18th centuries were known as the 13 Colonies.
The 13 Colonies declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776, and came together in order to form the United States of America.
After the displacement of the Native Americans, the population in America consisted of white colonists from Europe and slaves from Africa. Between 1625 and 1775, the colonial population rose from around 2000 to 2.4 million.
After fighting the Seven Years’ War with the French, the British Crown sought to control the colonial settlers in America in order to enrich the British Empire.
Though the colonists initially appreciated the support from Britain against France, they resented the British mercantile laws and the various taxes that were introduced.
This friction led to the colonies staging the American Revolution and forming the Continental Congress between 1765 and 1783.
The 13 Colonies fought the American Revolutionary War and founded the United States of America on July 4, 1776; a modern constitutional liberal democracy, the first of its kind.
Mercantilism had been established in the European political landscape by the early 16th century. It was characterized by its focus on maximizing exports and minimizing imports leading to colonization, tariffs, and subsidies.
In an attempt to expand their economies the French, British, Dutch, Spanish, and few other European nations occupied territories in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
In the Americas, the British, French, and Spanish fought hard to gain maximum control over the fertile lands and robust trade with the natives.
The French were preoccupied with their internal conflicts and could not take advantage of the various possibilities that North America provided.
Similarly, the Spanish involvement in South America prevented them from reaping the benefits of readily available fertile lands.
The European extension of the Seven Years’ War or the French and Indian War gave maximum control to the British in 1763.
The British victory also subdued the Native American uprisings such as the Pontiac’s war establishing greater control over the region.
The 13 colonies that were thus formed were called Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
The settlers came from various European countries either driven by religious persecution or in search of better standards of living. They cooperated with the British in the French and Indian War.
The colonists first excavated the lands for precious metals such as gold or silver as that was the primary focus of the British Empire. The efforts were met with little success.
However, with the introduction of the African slaves by Dutch traders, the colonists diverted their attention towards cash crops such as tobacco. This achieved more success.
How were the 13 Colonies formed?
King James I of England in 1606, had given authority to Plymouth Company and London Company to colonize America by building permanent settlements. The first colony was soon established by the London Company called the Colony and Dominion of Virginia in 1607.
The Plymouth company successfully established the Plymouth Colony in 1620 after a small stint at Popham Colony on the Kennebec River.
The Plymouth Council for New England sponsored several colonization projects which resulted in the formation of the Plymouth Colony by the Pilgrims or the English Puritan Separatists.
There were settlements with populations from France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, however, after the war, they too came under the British authority. The last colony was established with the Province of Georgia in 1732.
The colonies were divided into 3 regions, namely, New England Colonies, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies. They were governed by the Southern department in London in 1660 but as the colonies grew, newer departments were formed for the purpose.
New England colonies included the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Province of New Hampshire, Connecticut Colony, Colony of Rhode Island.
The Middle colonies consisted of Delaware Colony, Province of Newyork, Province of New Jersey, Province of Pennsylvania.
The Southern colonies were made up of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, the Province of Maryland, the Province of North Carolina, the Province of South Carolina, and the Province of Georgia.
The New England Colony was created by a group of Puritan separatists. They were driven by the need to distance themselves from the Church of England because they believed it had become corrupted.
To meet this end, they first moved to the Netherlands but soon after sailed in a ship called Mayflower headed for America. After a difficult 10 weeks on the Mayflower, the 102 passengers and 30 crew reached Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The Pilgrims, the adventurers and tradesmen aboard the ship created a united community which was called the Plymouth Colony. William Bradford led this colony and several other Englishmen joined later with their families.
The Pilgrims hoped to reform the Church of England and encouraged the creation of a new church that preaches tolerance and is completely separate from the state.
Due to food insecurity and diseases over 20,000 Pilgrims died by 1640, however, some other Pilgrims were able to find a better climate and abundant food leading to new colonies called New Haven, Saybrook, and Connecticut Colonies.
The colonies of New Hampshire and Maine were more religiously diverse as many adventurers and profit-seeking settlers expanded toward the North.
The Middle colonies were dominated by the fur trade and Dutch traders had settled on the Delaware River, Hudson River, and Connecticut River by 1609. The Dutch Colony of New Netherland was formed by the Dutch West India Company.
Though the Colony failed to attract Dutch settlers, it became successful in the fur trade and also the African slave trade.
Sweden had established the colony of New Sweden in 1638. This operation was also led by Peter Minuit of the Dutch West India Company. The Swedish colonists conducted massive trade with the Southern English colonies and transported tobacco to Europe produced in Virginia.
Various conflicts between the Dutch and English like the Anglo-Dutch Wars were fought and eventually the control of the British was extended to the middle colonies.
Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn in 1681 and largely consisted of the Quaker people and Scottish-Irish people.
The Southern colonies began with the success of Jamestown which was established in 1607, at the Chesapeake Bay.
Though the initial years for the business venture were difficult due to the diseases, lack of food, and wars with Native Americans, Jamestown prospered when the colonists shifted their focus on tobacco plantations instead of digging for gold.
In the Province of Carolina, the settlement at Charleston showed promise due to its fertile and defensible ground. The southern colonies encouraged the migration of Catholic immigrants and largely depended on African slave labor.
Key Events and Additional Context
The end of the French Indian War had established the authority of the British over the 13 Colonies of America.
The discontent among the settlers intensified against their new rulers when the British parliament imposed several taxes on the colonists to reimburse the losses incurred in the French Indian War.
The mercantile laws introduced in the 13 colonies after the war sought to enrich the British Empire by levying taxes and several restrictions on the colonists.
The fur trade with the natives was regulated via licenses issued by the crown and settlements in the Ohio Country were forbidden unless approved by the British government.
The colonists strongly rebelled against the British Empire after the Proclamation of 1763 which imposed several restrictions on expanding the colonial settlements beyond the Appalachians.
The French Indian War was mainly fought for the control of the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley. This caused the movement of people across colonies and a sense of American identity had been sown among the colonists.
Though the colonists appreciated British help during the war, many colonial settlers had martyred for the cause. They did not agree with Britain’s demands as there was no representation of the colonial settlers in the British parliament.
The distance between the colonies and the Empire caused inefficient government by King George III even though each colony had its own local government.
George Washington had trained Americans for the war which benefited the American cause, however, when the British elite accused the settlers of not reimbursing the royal coffers, the settlers argued the human loss they had incurred.
Such disputes and the mutual distrust of the British troops and settlers gradually set the stage for the American Revolution.
American Revolution and Independence
Between 1764 and 1767, the British leaders imposed taxes on the colonists to balance the debt due to the Seven Years’ War. Sugar Tax of 1764, Currency Act of 1764, Stamp Act of 1765, Townshend Acts of 1767 were among such taxes.
The Proclamation of 1763 also restricted the expansion of settlements in the Indian Reserve, the region that the colonists considered their gains from the war.
This outraged the settlers and sowed the seeds of discontent. The Proclamation was ignored by many settlers and they established their farms in the Ohio Valley anyway.
The taxes were resented by the settlers because the British Parliament had no representatives from the colonies and as such, they were viewed as a violation of the ‘Rights of the Englishmen’.
The motto of ‘No taxation without representation’ was presented to oppose the duties and taxes that were levied without prior consultation with the colonial legislatures.
A secret organization was created in the 13 Colonies by Samuel Adams. It was created to protect the rights of the European colonists and to attack the tax policies of the British.
Tensions further intensified when the British passed the Tea Act of 1773 to teach a lesson to the colonists. They reduced the taxes on the tea sold by the East India company which caused losses to the American colonies.
As a result, the colonial distrust grew and they decided to boycott the tea. In 1773, the Sons of Liberty dumped thousands of pounds of tea into the harbor in an event called the Boston Tea Party.
In 1774, all the 13 colonies were in opposition to the British Rule due to the restrictions imposed on them by the Intolerable Acts. It hampered self-government in the colony of Massachusetts and proposed ludicrous demands.
For example, the colonists were commanded to give their homes to house British military commanders irrespective of their will. The laws also restricted trials against soldiers or Crown officials in America and made them mandatory to be held in England.
The colonists had lost hope of reconciliation with the British Parliament and formed the First Continental Congress in September 1774 in Philadelphia. They pledged their allegiance to the King but refused to acknowledge the British Parliament as authority over the colonial matters.
The boycott of English goods by the colonies proved to be successful as the value of the British merchandise fell dramatically. Though there were fears of confrontation with the colonists, the British government refused to send support to the 13 Colonies.
By now the 13 Colonies were divided into Patriots and Loyalists. The former rejected British rule in the colonies and the latter supported it.
Thomas Gage, the governor of Massachusetts enlisted the Loyalists against the Patriots and commanded the seize of Patriot arsenals. The Patriots were able to defend themselves against the Loyalists in the Battles of Lexington and Concord before laying siege in Boston.
The American Revolution came to a head when an army was raised against the British by George Washington, Several pacts were signed by the 13 delegates in the First and Second Continental Congress and individual constitutions for each state were suggested.
The 13 Colonies had signed various treaties among themselves and by May 1775 their armed resistance against the British was in full form. They soon printed their own money and drove the British to surrender in Boston.
The 13 colonies declared their independence from the British in 1776. They enlisted help from Spain and France and won the American Revolutionary War fought between 1776 to 1783.
On September 3, 1783, Britain acknowledged her defeat and the independence of the United States in the Treaty of Paris.