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Brief History of the 13 Original Colonies in a Nutshell

Updated on September 18, 2013

What are the 13 Colonies?

Fifty nifty United States from 13 original colonies...

Anyone else remember that song? How about what the 13 colonies actually were and when they were founded? Do you remember all the details?

There are many fantastic, in-depth histories of the 13 Colonies, but this is a to the point timeline of the 13 original American colonies. They are listed in chronological order and given in two separate hubs. Each colony's section contains its basic founding date, purposes, and a few lesser-known tidbits that may impress your friends at trivia one day.


Virginia was the first permanent English colony in what is now the United States. Jamestown, Virginia was founded in 1607, 20 years after the foundation of the "lost colony" at Roanoke, the first real attempt made by English to colonize in the New World. The Roanoke colony disappeared without a trace, and its fate remains unknown to this day. Because schools tend to focus on Massachusetts, the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, many people do no realize that Jamestown was the first English settlement. When I worked at Colonial Williamsburg, countless visitors asked me what Jamestown was and were shocked to hear Massachusetts was not the first colony.


Massachusetts was the second English colony, founded 13 years after Virginia in 1620. One of the most important dates in Massachusetts's early history is November 21, 1620. This was the day when the Mayflower Compact, the colony's governing document for many years, was signed. The Mayflower, the original boat bringing settlers from England to Massachusetts, carried 102 passengers, 41 of whom were Christian Puritan Separatists. This minority group ended up being one of the most remembered groups of people in early Colonial American history. Called the Leiden group underway, the Puritan's presence in the colony lead to the general name Pilgrim being applied to all who were aboard the Mayflower. The story of the Puritans is one of the most repeated, and most misrepresented, stories in American history.

The story goes that the Puritans fled religious persecution in Europe to found a colony based on religious tolerance. Evicted from England for their beliefs, the Puritans were then exiled to Holland. After difficult relations with the Dutch, the Puritans decided to take the risky journey to the New World. In reality, the Puritans were fleeing religious toleration. They thought England was too lenient and wanted to "purify" the church so it would conform to their strict views on morality and religious conduct. The Plymouth colony they founded in 1620 was not based on religious toleration, but on the desire to create an isolationist vision of their religious utopia.

In 1628, more Puritans founded Salem and, in 1630, John Winthrop secured the Massachusetts Bay Charter and founded the city of Boston.

New Hampshire

An oft-forgotten colony, New Hampshire was the third English settlement. First settled in 1623, one of the most notable early inhabitants was John Wheelwright, brother-in-law of the famous Jean Hutchinson. Also a Puritan, Wheelwright was a clergyman and founded the town of Exeter, New Hampshire.

Over the years, New Hampshire and Massachusetts vied for control of the colony. Eventually, New Hampshire was officially separated from Massachusetts by King Charles II, but governors of Massachusetts also governed New Hampshire between the years 1699 and 1741.

New Hampshire prides itself on being the first colony to create its own constitution and revolt, but it should be noted that this constitution still mentioned English supremacy and reaffirmed New Hampshire as ENglish! Now that's something most people are eager to overlook.

New Jersey

New Jersey was also founded in 1623. Sort of. It was founded by the Dutch as New Netherlands. It did not become the English colony of New Jersey until it was seized by the English in 1664 as part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The Dutch disputed the English claim to the land, but English monarch Charles II granted the colony to Lord John Berkley and Sir John Carteret.

New York

Up next is New York, founded in 1624 as New Amsterdam. These Dutch colonists were the people who made the most infamous land purchase in history when they bought Manhattan Island for 60 Gilders worth of beads, roughly $24 of stuff today. While this trade is frequently decried as Europeans taking unfair advantage of the local native tribe, the beads in question were highly-prized blue beads that were worth a lot more to the natives than to the Dutch. Also, the natives continued to use the island as a hunting ground, so they did not vacate the land or stop using it. Furthermore, no solid documentary evidence tells historians that a) this transaction ever really took place and b) the Lenape Indians actually 'owned' Manhattan. Maybe they simply got some beads they could trade for lots of other goods for 'selling' some land they didn't even own!

The English and Dutch struggled for control of New York for 10 years before England finally took full control in 1674. This may actually be the worst real-estate trade in history. As part of the treaty that cemented English ownership of New York, England agreed to abandon Run Island to the Dutch. Run Island is a tiny piece of land, only 3 km by 1 km, in the Banda chain of islands in Indonesia. At that time, Run Island was the world's only source of nutmeg and important to the Dutch spice empire. Today, almost nobody has ever heard of Run Island but New York is world famous.

Frequently, we focus in on a couple of colonies and only a handful of events. This single-minded focus causes us to forget so much of our history. For example, many people are not even aware that several of the 13 Colonies were not founded by the English. Hopefully this brief history of the American Colonies has helped you learn something new and interesting about the era!


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    • profile image


      15 months ago

      Family from France

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      Yep - it's linked in the box on the bottom right. =)

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 

      6 years ago

      I figured it was something like that. Do you have a hub that talks about the other colonies?

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      I saw exactly what happened, Freeway Flyer - I wanted to highlight the Wheelwright connection ended up moving some things to the wrong spot. All better now!

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      Ahaha - something must have gone wrong when I was splitting these hubs into two parts! You are absolutely correct. I have Rhode Island correct, but it looks like it's text capsule took over New Hampshire's, too! I'll get that fixed up.

      You are correct - the two groups were different in Massachusetts. I chose not to go into great detail because this is meant to be a basic overview, not an in-depth history lesson, but that could be a great topic for an additional hub!

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 

      6 years ago

      Great topic, however . . .

      Just a couple of little questions. Did you mix up New Hampshire with Rhode Island? My understanding is that Hutchinson (along with Roger Williams) were instrumental in founding the "rebel" colony of Rhode Island, not New Hampshire.

      Also, I have usually heard the Pilgrims (Separatists) and Puritans described as two different groups. They were both Calvinists, but the Separatists wanted to break off from the Church of England, the Puritans hoped to clean it up. Plymouth also had no formal charter when it started, and was later absorbed into the Puritan colony of Massachusetts.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      Fantastic! I think you've given my history hubs more love today than they've gotten in the whole last year. I love history, but it's not what most people are looking for on the internet.

    • Flinter-50cal profile image


      6 years ago from SE Minnesota

      I can really appreciate the amount of work you must have done to summarize troves of info. Well done! Concise, clear, and very informative. Another thumbs up, useful, and informative for both Part I and Part II.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I love colonial history and I'm always happy to talk or write about it.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Since I read the about Colonial America when I was in school, I was so much interested in this topic. Later I watched movies and read books.

      This is brief but comprehensive article.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      You're right, it's something we just never really think about. Also, Florida changed hands several times. It was founded by the Spanish, captured by Britain, given back to Spain and finally acquired by the US in 1822!

    • GoGreenTips profile image

      Greg Johnson 

      7 years ago from Indianapolis

      Really interesting article on the colonies. I myself enjoy reading about history, especially history that we often overlook or history we take for granted as true.

      Really always assumed that all the colonies were English ones and never thought that the English and dutch had disputes over the land.

      I guess if the Dutch had one the disputes then history would have been very different?

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Very good synopsis on the 13 colonies here Natashalh. Meant to tell you about the time at Yorktown when I had to get some ice for a swelling. The lady in charge at first didn't want me going to where the ice machine was but finally relented since she couldn't leave her station. Maybe because of all the seniors and handicapped people back there making tourists' do-dads huh lol. Welcome to Hubs Natash, that's some great advice from phdast7.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you so much for the advice. It never even occurred to me to think about what time of day to publish things. I have been consistently impressed by (and thankful for) how helpful other Hubbers have been.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Natasha - Very good and very readable Hub. Colonial American history has never been my thing, but you made this interesting and easy to follow.

      More importantly, you are already doing several things "right" that new Hubbers often struggle with. First, You provided numerous visual pieces to engage your reader (maps, graphs, photos, seals, line drawings...all are good).

      Second, you understand, either instinctively or consciously, the need for white space. We have some fabulous writers on HP who write one lone, interminable, hard on the eyes and the brain - paragraph in every Hub. You divided your material into manageable paragraphs. Hooray!

      Third, you drew the reader's attention to other resources available through Amazon, but you didn't go crazy and pack your hub full of advertisements. I am impressed.:) Nice work. :)

      P.S. Posting similar topic Hubs too close together usually decreases your audience. A few days to a week or two apart is better.

      Also, in my experience, there is a better audience for history and other heavy topics (politics, social issues) from about 7pm to 2am. I found that things I posted in the morning or mid day, didn't get seen by the people likely to be most interested.

      However, for recipes, sewing, household tips, child-rearing, crafts etc., I get more hits if I post those between 7am and 9am. OK, That is my entire store of wisdom. :)

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for reading! I'll try to get the second half up soon.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      thank u very much!!


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