The British Colonies

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Time Line

1584 Sir Walter Raleigh explores the Atlantic coast and claims the Virginia territory for England.
1585-1590 Establishment and disappearance of colony on Roanoke Island.
1607 London Company establishes Jamestown colony near Chesapeake Bay.
1619 Twenty African servants arrive in Chesapeake colony; they are the fi rst Africans to come to North America.
1620 Mayfl ower reaches Cape Cod Bay; Pilgrims, religious separatists, settle Plymouth Colony, sign Mayfl ower Compact.
1629 Puritans found Massachusetts Bay Colony by royal charter.
1632 Lord Baltimore establishes the colony of Maryland on the Chesapeake.
1636 Roger Williams establishes the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
1638 Religious dissenters found the colony of Connecticut.
1700 African slave trade is firmly established in the British colonies.


The British Colonies

Of the European nations that established a presence north of Latin America, the British were the most successful. The British colonies are those that ultimately became the United States of America. These original thirteen colonies were founded for a variety of reasons, including religious freedom, economic opportunity, the desire for self-government, and escape from debt.

The Protestant Reformation that had begun in Europe in 1517 had created a new desire for religious self-determination. This was often impossible to achieve in Europe, where the subjects were bound to worship according to the preference of the monarch. One reason for Europeans to sail to the New World was to escape from such rules. In the New England colonies, however, the oppressed quickly became the oppressors; the Puritans forced their religious beliefs and practices on everyone in the colony, just as the Catholics and later the Protestants had done in Europe. When religious tyranny led to judicial murders in Massachusetts, the era of theocracy was broken; the other Atlantic coast colonies built the free exercise of religion into their constitutions.

The New World offered almost unlimited economic opportunities. Fertile farmland was to be had for the asking. All the new towns and villages needed blacksmiths, innkeepers, ministers, midwives, and teachers. Settling new colonies also meant a chance for political power; governors and other officials were needed to fill positions of authority.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:  The British Colonies Practice Test

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