The Thirteen American Colonies


The first colonies in North America were founded on the eastern coast. After European explorers had sailed up and down the Atlantic coast of North America English, Dutch and French settlers followed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The English founded the first permanent settlement in America in 1607. The first colony was called Jamestown, situated in today’s Virginia. The colony was named after the English king, James I. The first colonists hoped to find gold in the New World and to get rich quickly. But the settlers had many problems during the first winters and hardly managed to survive.

In 1620 a second group of colonists, the Pilgrims, left England on the Mayflower. They set up a colony at Plymouth, in today’s Massachusetts. Other English colonies sprang up all along the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Georgia.

In 1624 Dutch settlers founded a settlement along the mouth of the Hudson River. They called it New Amsterdam. About forty years later English settlers drove the Dutch away and renamed the town New York.

In the 18 th century more and more colonists arrived in the New World. Conflicts arose between the English and the French colonists who founded settlements in Canada, in the St.Lawrence Valley, along the Mississippi River and around the Great Lakes. This led to a war between England and France in the middle of the 18 th century.

By 1750 there were 13 English colonies in North America. They were divided into three groups:

  • The New England Colonies : Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire
  • The Middle Colonies : Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey
  • The Southern Colonies: Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia


Why the colonists came

Colonists had many reasons for leaving Europe and coming to the New World. Some only had a small area of farming land in Europe and expected to get bigger farms in America. Others were fed up with wars and rebellions that went on in Europe and made it unstable. They wanted peace and a quiet life. Another group thought it was easy to make money and get rich quickly in America. Farmers in the south saw a chance to earn a lot by growing and selling tobacco.

But most people came for religious reasons. Many European kings and queens forced their people to have the same religion that they had. Most settlers came to America because they wanted religious freedom.



Colonists and the Native Americans


When the first Europeans came to America Indians had already been living there for many centuries. At first the Indians were friendly. They taught the colonists how to grow crops and survive the harsh winters. The colonists traded with the Indians and gave them things that they hadn’t known before. As time went on, the Indians saw that the growing number of colonists needed more land and wanted to expand to the west. They pushed them westward and took away more and more of their land.



Economy of Colonial America

The American colonies were farming land. Colonists grew their own food, basically corn and wheat. They raised cattle that gave them meat, milk and butter and kept chicken and sheep. They also went hunting and fishing.

In New England farms had little land but in the southern colonies farms were much bigger. On these plantations colonists grew tobacco and other products which they sold to England and other colonies. As time went on more and more slaves came to Virginia and other southern colonies to work on tobacco farms.

The first factories appeared in the Middle Colonies. They produced iron and textiles.



People were very religious in the American colonies. Parents taught their children to read the Bible because it was often the only book they had. Colonial families often paid a teacher to run a private grammar school which taught them maths, Latin and other subjects. In the richer colonies of the South most children were taught at home by private teachers.

Wealthy families sent older children back to Europe to study at colleges and universities. In 1636, the first university, Harvard, was founded in America.

Children in the colonies learned many practical things from their parents. Fathers taught their sons how to grow crops and hunt, daughters had to help their mothers cook, sew and look after the animals.



American colonists were very religious people. Many of them left Europe because they could not believe in their faith freely. As there were no churches people went to meeting houses to pray together.

Many different religious groups came up all along the eastern coast. In New England, people were Puritans who led very strict lives. Pennsylvania became the home of the Quakers. They believed that all people were equal in front of God. Southern colonists were mostly Baptists and Anglicans.

As time went on immigrants from other countries brought their religion with them and spread their beliefs across the colonies. Towards the end of the 18 th century Catholics, Jews and other groups lived in America.




Government and law

All colonies had a governor who was chosen by the English king. Most of them had assemblies, like the parliament in England. They passed laws and collected taxes. Only people who paid taxes and owned land had the right to vote in an assembly. Apart from local laws the British government also passed some laws for the colonies.

Not all people had the same rights. Women were not allowed to vote and married women were not allowed to own land. In some colonies people had to be a member of a religion in order to have the right to vote.





Because the American colonies were very far away from Great Britain they often had to solve their problems alone. It took months for news and laws to get there. At times Britain did not pay very much attention to the colonists and their needs.

At this time Great Britain was one of the most powerful countries in the world. They led many wars, which cost a lot of money. When the British defeated the French they gained control of Canada and the land east of the Mississippi. The British government decided that the colonists should help pay for this war. They collected new taxes from the colonists and made them trade with Great Britain alone.

American colonists were not represented in British parliament. When they refused to pay taxes Britain sent soldiers to America to restore order in the colonies. In 1775 war erupted between Britain and the American colonies and a year later the Declaration of Independence was signed – a document that separated America from Great Britain.




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  • apart from = except for
  • appear = show up, come up
  • arise – arose = to come up
  • assembly = meeting , a group of people who get together to make laws
  • at times = sometimes, not always
  • Baptists = a group of people who believe that baptism should only be for people who understand it
  • basically = mainly
  • belief = faith, religion
  • century = a hundred years
  • corn = a tall plant with large yellow seeds; you cook it or feed it to animals
  • decide = to make a choice
  • defeat = to win over someone
  • divide = separate
  • earn = to get money by working
  • equal = the same
  • erupt = break out
  • expand = to get bigger
  • explorer = someone who travels to an unknown place and tries to find out more about it
  • faith = believing in your god
  • fed up = to be angry at someone or because of something
  • force = to make someone do something
  • found – founded = start, create
  • freedom = liberty
  • gain control of =to be in power of and govern an area
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • grammar school = a school in the American colonies which taught children reading, writing and other subjects
  • Great Lakes = the five big lakes on the border between the USA and Canada
  • grow crops = to grow plants that you use as food
  • hardly = almost not
  • harsh = cruel, bad, cold
  • immigrant = a person who leaves his home country and goes to another country to live and work there
  • iron = hard metal that is used to make steel
  • law = a rule that you must follow or obey
  • little = not very much
  • local = here: only in America
  • manage = to be able to do something
  • mouth = where a river flows into the sea
  • needs = what they need for everyday life
  • own = have
  • parliament = a group of people who are elected to make laws in a country
  • permanent = lasting
  • plantation =large area of land on which tobacco or other plants are grown
  • practical = useful
  • pray = to say words to God
  • raise cattle = to feed cows so you can get milk and meat from them
  • refuse = if you do not want to do something that someone tells you to do
  • restore order = to keep peace
  • right = something that you are officially allowed to do
  • run = control, to be the head of
  • separate = break free from
  • set up = create
  • settlement = village, town
  • settler = someone who goes to a live in a place where not many people have lived before
  • sew = to use a needle and thread to repair clothes
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • situated = where something is
  • slave = someone who is owned by another person and works for them without getting paid
  • solve = work out
  • spread = expand
  • spring up = come up, start
  • strict = to have many rules that you must follow
  • survive = to live on and not to die
  • tax = money that you must pay to the government
  • textiles = material that you use to make clothes
  • tobacco = dried brown leaves that you smoke in cigarettes
  • towards = near
  • trade = to give someone something and get something else in return
  • unstable = things change very often and the situation becomes worse
  • vote = to elect someone
  • wealthy = rich
  • westward = to the west
  • wheat = plant from which white bread is made