The thirteen colonies later formed the United States of America. All except Georgia, founded in 1732, resulted from 17th‐cent. crown grants, mainly to companies or proprietors. Most were eventually taken under crown control, so that by 1750 they had similar institutional and political systems. The original Indian inhabitants were gradually dispossessed and marginalized by aggressive settlers.
In the south, Virginia (1607) became a royal province in 1624. Its neighbour, Maryland (see Baltimore), was taken under royal control, but reverted to proprietary rule in 1715. Tobacco, a major export crop, shaped the development of both colonies. The demand for labour was met by indentured servants from the British Isles, who worked for a term of years in return for a free passage. After about 1680 African slaves gradually displaced them. In South Carolina (1663) rice became the great export crop; here slavery was more concentrated and harsher. South Carolina and North Carolina became royal colonies. In Georgia, founded by humanitarians as a refuge for poor persons, attempts to ban slavery and strong drink failed; it developed as a plantation‐based society.
In the north, no staples dominated. Families rather than indentured servants went to Massachusetts (see massachusetts bay company), and to Connecticut, which received a royal charter in 1662. In both, the religious convictions of the early settlers helped shape social and political institutions. Hostilities between congregationalists, baptists, and quakers played a major role in the development of religious toleration in Rhode Island, settled from 1636. New Hampshire, first settled by New England congregationalists, was chartered in 1679.
The middle colonies, founded after 1660, became the great receptacles of continuing white migration. New York was granted to James, duke of York (later James II), in 1664. From it he granted New Jersey to a number of proprietors. Both territories later came under direct royal control. Pennsylvania's (see Penn, William) early life was dominated by members of the Society of Friends. Its southern neighbour, Delaware, was formed from Pennsylvania's three lower counties. New York City and, especially, Philadelphia became substantial urban centres.
In the 17th cent. the colonies were seen in Britain as receptacles for a surplus population, but by the end of the century, the need for a large labour force at home was stressed. Although immigration continued from mainland Britain, its major sources became northern Ireland and protestant Germany. This led to increasing religious diversity as Ulster presbyterians (‘Scotch‐Irish’) and a variety of German baptists, Lutherans, and Moravians arrived. Even so, natural increase more than migration fed population growth. This was formidable, a distinguishing feature in the development of the colonies, underpinning a burgeoning self‐confidence.
British opinion was that the colonies were primarily of value to the development of a profitable maritime commercial empire. Regulatory measures included various acts of trade (‘*Navigation Acts’) from 1651 onwards in the face of Dutch competition. Foreign‐built and/or ‐crewed ships were excluded from colonial trade and most exports and imports were to be carried via English and (after 1707) Scottish ports. In 1696 the foundation of the Board of Trade provided a focus for colonial administration and attempts were made to tighten British control, especially during times of war.
Subjects: British History.