Colonial History

The colonial history of the United States covers the history from the start of European settlement and especially the history of the 13 colonies of Britain until they declared independence in 1776. In the late 16th century, England, Scotland, France, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands began to colonize eastern North America. Many early attempts—notably the English Lost Colony of Roanoke—ended in failure, but several successful colonies were established. European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups. No aristocrats settled permanently, but a number of adventurers, soldiers, farmers, and tradesmen arrived. The Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the English Quakers of Pennsylvania, the English Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, and the “worthy poor” of Georgia, among others—each group came to the new continent and built colonies with distinctive social, religious, political and economic styles.

Historians typically recognize four distinct regions in the lands that later became the Eastern United States. From north to south, they are: New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay Colonies (Upper South) and the Lower South. Some historians add a fifth region, the frontier, which was never separately organized. By the time European settlers arrived around 1600-1650, the majority of the Native Americans living in the eastern United States had been decimated by new diseases, introduced to them decades before by explorers and sailors.