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British Colonization of the Americas


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British North America

The English established colonies along the east coast of North America from Newfoundland as far south as Florida. Initially, the name “Virginia”, named after Queen Elizabeth I was applied to the entire coast, including what is now the Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland. Early colonies included the Jamestown Settlement founded in 1607 as the first successful English colony in North America. The Popham Colony, which was founded also in 1607 in present-day Maine, was abandoned after one year. The Cuper’s Cove settlement was founded in Newfoundland in 1610. The Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620, and after the 1620s a series of colonies were established along the northeast coast of North America, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which was founded in 1632. The early colonies consisted of English farmers and gentlemen as well as some hired foreigners (mainly woodcutters from Poland). See British colonial grants in North America (1621-1639).

A number of English colonies were established under a system of Proprietary Governors who were appointed under mercantile charters to English joint stock companies to found and run settlements.

There was also an early unsuccessful Scottish attempt at a colony at Darién, and the short-lived colonisation of Nova Scotia from 1629 – 1632 also by Scotland.

England also took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland (including the New Amsterdam settlement) which was renamed New York in 1664. With New Netherland the English came to control the former New Sweden which the Dutch had conquered earlier. This became part of Pennsylvania. Britain acquired the French colony of New France and the Spanish colony of Florida in 1763. New France became the Canadas.

In the north the Hudson’s Bay Company actively traded for fur with the Indians, and had competed with French fur traders. The company came to control the entire drainage basin of Hudson Bay called Rupert’s Land. The Hudson Bay drainage south of the 49th parallel went to the United States in 1818.

Thirteen of Britain’s colonies rebelled, beginning in 1776, primarily over representation, local laws and tax issues, and established the United States of America.

Britain also colonized the west coast of North America, notably the Oregon Country jointly with the United States from 1818 to 1846. The colonies of Vancouver Island, founded in 1849, and New Caledonia, founded in 1846 were later combined and named British Columbia.

In 1867 the colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada (the southern portion of modern-day Ontario and Quebec) combined to form a self-governing dominion, named Canada, within the British Empire. Quebec (including what is now the southern portion of Ontario) and Nova Scotia (including what is now New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) had been conquered from the French. The colonies of Prince Edward Island and British Columbia joined over the next six years, and Newfoundland joined in 1949. Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory were ceded to Canada in 1870. This area now consists of the provinces of Manitoba (admitted after negotiation between Canada and a Métis provisional government in 1870), Saskatchewan, and Alberta, as well as the Northwest Territories, the Yukon Territory, and Nunavut.

British North American colonies

  • Roanoke Colony founded 1586, abandoned the next year. Second attempt in 1587 disappeared (also called the Lost Colony).
  • Virginia Company, chartered 1606
  • London Company

    Jamestown Settlement, founded 1607

  • Plymouth Company
  • Popham Colony, founded 1607, abandoned 1608

  • Society of Merchant Venturers (Newfoundland)
  • Cuper’s Cove, founded 1610
    Bristol’s Hope, founded 1618

  • Bermuda – The islands were settled from 1612 by a London company. They remain a British territory.
  • Plymouth Council for New England
  • Plymouth Colony, founded 1620, merged with Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691

  • Province of Maine, granted 1622, dissolved 1677
  • Province of New Hampshire, later New Hampshire settled in 1623, see also New Hampshire Grants
  • Dorchester Company Colony (Dorchester Company planted a unsuccessful fishing colony on Cape Ann at modern Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1624)
  • Salem Colony, later Salem, Massachusetts, settled in 1628, merged with Massachusetts Bay Colony the next year
  • Massachusetts Bay Colony, later part of Massachusetts, founded 1629
  • New Scotland, in present Nova Scotia, 1629-1632
  • Connecticut Colony, later part of Connecticut founded 1633
  • Maryland Colony, later Maryland, founded in 1634
  • New Albion, chartered in 1634, failed by 1649-50.
  • Rhode Island Colony, later Rhode Island, first settled in 1636
  • New Haven Colony, founded 1638
  • Province of New York captured 1664
  • Province of New Jersey, later New Jersey, captured in 1664
  • divided into West Jersey and East Jersey after 1676, each held by its own company of Proprietors.

  • Rupert’s Land, territory of the Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670
  • Pennsylvania Colony, later Pennsylvania, founded 1681 as English colony, although first settled by Dutch and Swedes
  • Delaware Colony, later Delaware, separated from Pennsylvania in 1704
  • Carolina Colony
  • North Carolina, first settled at Roanoke in 1586, became separate colony in 1710
    South Carolina Colony, first permanent settlement in 1670, became separate colony in 1710.

  • Province of Georgia, later Georgia; first settled in about 1670, formal colony in 1732
  • Nova Scotia, site of abortive Scottish colony in 1629, British gained complete control from French in 1763
  • Quebec, called Canada under French rule. Canada was the most developed of New France’s colonies. British gained complete control of French Canada with the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
  • East Florida, acquired from Spain in 1763 in exchange for returning Cuba, lost to Spain in 1779
  • West Florida, acquired from Spain in 1763 in exchange for returning Cuba, lost to Spain in 1779
  • Prince Edward Island, separated from Nova Scotia 1769
  • New Brunswick, separated from Nova Scotia in 1784
  • Ontario, separated from Quebec in 1791 as Upper Canada
  • Vancouver Island, Hudson’s Bay Company fort in 1843, royal charter in 1849, merged with British Columbia in 1866.
  • British New Caledonia, also called Columbia, administered by Hudson Bay Company from 1846, became colony and renamed British Columbia in 1858.

    British Caribbean Colonies

    In order of settlement or founding:

  • Saint Kitts – The island was settled by Sir Thomas Warner in 1623. The following year the French also settled part of St Kitts. After they massacred the Caribs, the British and French turned on each other and St Kitts changed hands between the two several times before the 1783 Treaty of Paris gave the island to Britain.
  • Barbados – The island was settled in 1625. It became independent in 1966.
  • Nevis – The island was permanently settled in 1628. It became independent in 1983.
  • Bahamas – The islands were settled from 1629. They became independent in 1971.
  • Antigua – The island was settled in 1632. It became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981
  • Barbuda – The island was settled about 1632. It became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981.
  • Montserrat – The island was settled in 1632. It was occupied by the French in 1664-68 and 1782-84. It remains a British territory.
  • Anguilla – The island was settled in 1650. Its government was united with St. Christopher from 1882 until 1967, when it declared its separation. It was brought back under British administration in 1969. It remains a British territory.
  • Jamaica – The island was conquered from Spain in 1655. It became independent in 1962.
  • British Virgin Islands – The islands were settled from 1666. They remain a British territory.
  • Turks and Caicos Islands – The islands were first permanently settled in the 1750s. They remain a British territory.
  • Dominica – The island was captured from the French in 1761. The French occupied it again from 1778 to 1783. Dominica became independent in 1978.
  • Trinidad and Tobago – The island of Tobago was captured in 1762. The island of Trinidad was captured from the Spanish in 1797. The two governments were joined in 1888. They became independent in 1962.
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – Saint Vincent was colonized in 1762. France captured it in 1779 but returned it to Britain in 1783. The islands were formerly part of the British colony of the Windward Islands from 1871 to 1958. The nation gained full independence in 1979.
  • Grenada – The island was conquered from France in 1762. The French reoccupied it from 1779 to 1783. It became independent in 1974.
  • Saint Lucia – The island was captured from the French in 1778, but returned to them in 1783. In 1796 and in 1803 it was captured again, to be permanently annexed by Britain in 1814. St Lucia became independent in 1979.
  • Cayman Islands – The islands were acquired from Spain in 1870. It remains a British territory.

British Central and South American Colonies

  • Belize – English adventurers starting in the mid-1600s, used Belize as a source for logwood, a tree used to make a wool dye. The area was claimed by Spain but they had not settled it or been able to control the natives. The Spanish destroyed the British colony in 1717, 1730, 1754 and 1779. The Spanish attacked a final time in 1798 but were defeated. The colony was known as British Honduras until 1973. Belize became fully independent in 1981.
  • Mosquito Coast – This area was first settled in 1630. It was briefly assigned to Honduras in 1859, then ceded to Nicaragua in 1860.
  • British Guiana – The English began colonies in the Guiana area in the early 17th century. In the Treaty of Breda, the Dutch gained control of these colonies. Britain later controlled various colonies in the area. The Congress of Vienna (1815) awarded the settlements of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo in the Guiana region to Great Britain; they were united as British Guiana in 1831. It became independent as Guyana in 1966.
  • Falkland Islands – First settled by the British in 1765 and under British control since 1833, save for a brief Argentine invasion during the Falklands War in 1982.
  • Source Wikipedia