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British colonization of the Americas

European colonization
of the Americas

British colonization of the Americas (including colonization under the Kingdom of England before the Act of Union) began in the late 16th century, before reaching its peak after colonies were established in North, Central and South America and in the Caribbean, and a protectorate was established in Hawaii. The British were one of the most important colonizers of the Americas and their American empire came to rival the Spanish American colonies in extent.
This British conquest caused dramatic upheaval upon the indigenous civilizations in America both directly through British military force and indirectly through cultural disruption and introduced European diseases. Though many of the indigenous societies had a developed warrior class, and long history of warfare, they were not able to withstand the superior British force and eventually succumbed. Many of the conquered peoples vanished.
The effect of European diseases and superior weapons on the native populations was often dramatic. Despite a long history of warfare and a developed warrior class among some of the native cultures, targeted native cultures were not able to withstand the British conquest, and eventually succumbed. In some cases, the conquered peoples vanished, and in other cases they were incorporated into the colonial system.
After the American Revolutionary War, British territories in the Americas were granted more responsible government until they were prepared for independence. In this way, two countries in Northern and Central America, ten in the Caribbean, and one in South America have received their independence from the United Kingdom. Today, the United Kingdom retains eight overseas territories in the Americas, which it grants varying degrees of self-government. In addition, nine former British possessions in the Americas are Commonwealth Realms, independent of, but in personal union with, the United Kingdom.
Three types of colonies existed in the British Empire during the height of its power. These were charter colonies, proprietary colonies and royal colonies.


  • 1 North America
    • 1.1 English North America
    • 1.2 Scottish North America
    • 1.3 British North America
    • 1.4 British North American colonies
  • 2 British Caribbean colonies
  • 3 British Central and South American colonies
  • 4 Effects on natives

North America

English North America

The Kingdom of England established colonies along the east coast of North America, from Newfoundland in the north, to as far as Florida in the south. Initially, the name "Virginia", named after Queen Elizabeth I, was applied to the entire coast, including what is now the Canadian Maritimes provinces. Early colonies included: St. John's, Newfoundland, claimed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583; the Roanoke Colony, founded in 1585 and 1587; and the Jamestown Settlement, in 1607. The Popham Colony, which was also founded 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 1630. 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) for details.
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.
England also took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland (including the New Amsterdam settlement) which was renamed the Province of New York in 1664. With New Netherland, the English came to control the former New Sweden (in what is now Delaware), which the Dutch had conquered earlier. This became part of Pennsylvania.

Scottish North America

There was also an early unsuccessful attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to establish a colony at Darién, and the short-lived Scottish colonisation of Nova Scotia (Latin: "New Scotland") from 1629 to 1632. Thousands of Scotsmen also participated in the English colonization even before the two countries were united in 1707. (for more information, see Scottish colonization of the Americas.)

British North America

The Kingdom of Great Britain acquired the French colony of Acadia in 1713 and then the rest of New France and the Spanish colony of Florida in 1763. The most-populated region of 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 small part of the Hudson Bay drainage which is south of the 49th parallel went to the United States in 1818.
Thirteen of Great Britain's colonies rebelled, beginning in 1776, primarily over representation, local laws and tax issues, and established the United States of America.
Great Britain also colonised 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 ceded to Britain by 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 (both created in 1905), as well as the Northwest Territories, the Yukon Territory (created 1898, following the start of the Klondike Gold Rush), and Nunavut (created in 1999).

British North American colonies

The British Colonies in North America, 1763-1775

The British Colonies in North America, 1763-1775

  • Roanoke Colony, founded 1586, abandoned the next year. Second attempt in 1587 disappeared (also called the Lost Colony).
  • Virginia Company, chartered 1606 and became the Virginia Colony in 1624
  • London Company
    • Jamestown Settlement, founded 1607.
    • Bermuda, these islands, located in the North Atlantic, were first settled in 1609 by the London Virginia Company; Administration passed to The Somers Isles Company, formed by the same shareholders, in 1615. Also known officially as The Somers Isles, they remain a British overseas territory.
    • Citie of Henricopolis, founded in 1611 as an alternative to the swampy Jamestown site and was destroyed in the Indian massacre of 1622.
  • Plymouth Company
    • Popham Colony, founded 1607, abandoned 1608
  • Society of Merchant Venturers (Newfoundland)
  • Cuper's Cove, founded 1610, abandoned in the 1620s
  • Bristol's Hope, founded 1618, abandoned in the 1630s
  • London and Bristol Company (Newfoundland)
  • Renews, founded 1615
  • St. John's, Newfoundland, chartered by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583; seasonal settlements ca. 1520; informal year-round settlers before 1620.
  • Plymouth Council for New England
  • Plymouth Colony, founded 1620, merged with Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691
  • Ferryland, Newfoundland granted to George Calvert, 1st Lord Baltimore in 1620, first settlers in August 1621 Province of Maine, granted 1622, dissolved 1677
  • South Falkland, Newfoundland, founded 1623 by Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland
  • Province of New Hampshire, later New Hampshire settled in 1623, see also New Hampshire Grants
  • Dorchester Company Colony, (Dorchester Company planted an 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
  • Province of Maryland, later Maryland, founded in 1634
  • New Albion, chartered in 1634, failed by 1649-50.
  • Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, first settled in 1636
  • New Haven Colony, founded 1638
  • Province of New York, captured 1664
  • Province of New Jersey, captured in 1664
  • divided into West Jersey and East Jersey after 1674, each held by its own company of Proprietors.
  • Rupert's Land, territory of the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in 1670
  • Province of Pennsylvania, later Pennsylvania, founded 1681 as an 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
  • Province of South Carolina, 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 colony 1713, but this did not permanently include Cape Breton Island until 1758.
  • Quebec, which had been called Canada under French rule. Canada was by far the most settled portion of New France. Britain gained complete control of French Canada in 1759-1761, during the Seven Years' War; France ceded title with the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
  • East Florida and West Florida, acquired from Spain in 1763 in exchange for returning Cuba, taken from Spain in 1761; the Floridas were recovered by Spain in 1779.
  • Island of St. John, separated from Nova Scotia 1769, renamed Prince Edward Island in 1798
  • New Brunswick, separated from Nova Scotia in 1784
  • Ontario, separated from Quebec in 1791 as Upper Canada
  • New Caledonia, also called Columbia, first settled in 1805, administered by Hudson Bay Company from 1821, became colony and renamed British Columbia in 1858.
  • Vancouver Island, Hudson's Bay Company fort in 1843, royal charter in 1849, merged with British Columbia in 1866.

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. It became independent as Saint Kitts and Nevis in 1983.
    • Barbados - The island was settled in 1625. It became independent in 1966.
    • Nevis - The island was permanently settled in 1628. It became independent as Saint Kitts and Nevis in 1983.
    • 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.
    • Bahamas - The islands were settled from 1647. They became independent in 1971.
    • 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.
    • Cayman Islands - The islands were acquired from Spain in 1670. It remains 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.

    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, whereupon its name changed to 'Belize'. Although Guatemalan claims to Belize delayed independence, full independence was granted 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 - The first British base of 1765 was abandoned in 1774. The Islands continued under British control since the Argentine settlement was expelled in 1833, save for a brief Argentine occupation during the Falklands War in 1982.



Effects on natives

European diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles and typhus) to which the native populations had no resistance, and cruel systems of forced labor, decimated the American population. The diseases usually preceded the British invaders, and the resulting population loss (between 30 and 90 percent in some cases) severely weakened the native civilizations' ability to resist the invaders. After conquering an area, the colonists usually enslaved the native people, using them for forced labor. However disease continued to kill them off in large numbers, and so African slaves, who had already developed immunities to these diseases, were quickly brought in to replace them.


Further Reading:

History of the Americas

British colonization

Courland colonization

Danish colonization

Dutch colonization

French colonization

German colonization

Portuguese colonization

Russian colonization

Scottish colonization

Spanish colonization

Swedish colonization

Viking colonization

Welsh colonization




SEE ALSO:  British Colonisation of the Americas | Crown Colnies  | DecolonisationDivide and Conquer | Cash Crop | European Colonial Powers


This page hase been updated on 12.08.2008, Copyright:©2007 All Rights Reserved
















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