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Lesson 08. The Thirteen Colonies Planted

In this lesson, we will continue our study of the American Government, moving from the general principles of American government to its development in history. To complete the objectives of this lesson, complete the following tasks:

  1. Study the lesson for Mastery.
  2. Complete the lesson Assessment.

The Right of Discovery

Columbus and his successors made known to Europe the continent of North America. These vast regions, Spain, England, and France divided among themselves. The Right of Discovery, as the rule was called by which this division was made, embraced, when fully developed, these ideas:

  1. The Christian nation that discovers a heathen land owns it to the exclusion of all other Christian nations;
  2. This nation, to complete its title, must, within a reasonable time, occupy and use this land;
  3. The native inhabitants are only the occupants of the land and not its owners.

Lands that a Christian power thus appropriated were vested in the king as its representative. This, in the case of England, it is important to remember; for the American Revolution hinged upon the fact.

First Division of North America

In the years 1512-1540 Spanish navigators discovered the southern parts of the United States bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida. In 1497-98 John Cabot, a Venetian adventurer, who had made his home some time before at Bristol, England, sailing with a commission given him by Henry VII of that country, first discovered the continent, and sailed along its eastern shore from a high latitude to Chesapeake Bay. In 1534, 1535, and 1540, Jacques Cartier, a French navigator, sailing under the flag of the King of France, discovered the Gulf and River St. Lawrence and the valley that these waters drain. These discoveries gave Spain the southern, England the central, and France the northern parts of North America, and at the same time left many disputes as to claims and boundary lines to be afterwards settled by negotiation and the sword. The three powers proceeded at their own time and in their own way to found colonies in their new dominions.

London and Plymouth Companies

England was slow to begin colonization, and even then her first efforts proved disastrous failures. But in 1606, King James I, by one charter, created the London and Plymouth Companies, and divided his American dominions between them. To the London Company, which had its headquarters in London, he assigned the zone between 34° and 41° north latitude, and to the Plymouth Company, having its seat in Plymouth, the zone between 38° and 45°. Within their respective limits, the companies were authorized to establish colonies of the king’s subjects, care being taken to prevent disputes within the strip covered by both grants, by prohibiting either one to make a settlement within one hundred miles of one previously made by the other. Each colony was to be subject to the king, and to be governed by a local council of its company in England, at the king’s pleasure. It was expected in 1606 that there would be but two colonies, or at the most but two groups of colonies, but this expectation failed, and in the end thirteen colonies, divided into three groups, appeared. The two companies were short-lived, and yet they played important parts in American history. Other companies appeared on the scene, but none so prominently as these two original ones.

Colonies Planted by Companies

The colonies of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Georgia were planted by mercantile corporations clothed with political powers. Such companies played a great part in the days when the maritime nations of Europe were establishing themselves in America and in the other countries discovered by the navigators of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The stockholders were merchants, politicians, adventurers, courtiers, patriots, reformers, and philanthropists — two or more of these characters often appearing in the same man. Their motives are sufficiently suggested by the names applied to them. Few of the stockholders became colonists. The Massachusetts Bay Company was the only one that was merged in the colony that it planted.

Colonies Planted by Proprietors

New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the two Carolinas, were planted by proprietors. New York and New Jersey, too, although planted by a Dutch company, were for a time following 1665 proprietary colonies. The proprietors were actuated by the same motives as the stockholders of the companies, and more or less by personal ambition into the bargain. They were really sub-kings of their several provinces, and could depute their powers to subordinates. They commonly remained in England, committing their executive functions to governors, but they occasionally came to America and governed in person for a time.

Voluntary Colonies

Plymouth (later merged with Massachusetts), Connecticut, and Rhode Island were not planted by companies or proprietors. They were rather founded by groups of individuals, not bound together by charters or by articles of incorporation, but only by moral bonds. The founders and the colonists were the same persons. They were not at first recognized by the crown, much less supported, and Plymouth never obtained such recognition. In no other colonies were cherished civil and religious ideas so powerful a motive as in these.

Agency of the Home Government

The agency of the home government was limited to three things:

  1. grants of lands;
  2. grants of commercial privileges;
  3. grants of civil rights and political powers.

The government did not found a single colony. Generally, the crown required some compensation for its grants, a price for the lands in the case of the grant to Penn, but commonly a rent or a share in the profits of the enterprise. Profits, however, there were none, and rents were small. England, in the long run, derived great commercial advantages from her colonies; but the original founders commonly lost the money that they embarked in them. Many of the companies and proprietors surrendered their charters to the crown. It is important to note that the Thirteen Colonies were not the creatures of government or the children of patronage, but the results of private enterprise and public spirit ; for the fact had much to do with the development of the Colonial character.

Classes of Colonists

There were more classes of colonists than classes of colonies. Some men were moved by the love of adventure ; some came out indentured for a term of years to the company or proprietor that paid their passage money; a few were criminals, who chose emigration rather than confinement in prison. All, or nearly all, sought to better their material condition in life.

Many sought civil, political, or religious liberty. There was some admixture of nationalities from the first. In the Southern and Northern groups, few or none but Englishmen were found; but in the Middle group, there were also Dutch, Swedes, and Germans. Later, there was an infusion of Scotch, Irish, and French blood. Still, at the beginning of the eighteenth century the population was largely homogeneous. Taken together, the American emigration was of an excellent quality throughout. It was said of New England: “God sifted a whole nation that He might send choice grain out into this wilderness.”

Ideas of the English Colonists

English colonial ideas can best be presented by putting them in contrast with the ideas of the Spanish and French colonists.

The Spaniards sought in the New World adventure, dominion, and, above all else, gold and silver. Some stress they also laid on the evangelization of the Indians. The French ideas were discovery and exploration, the fur trade, the conversion of the Indians, and the enhancement of the glory of France. Neither the Spanish nor the French colonists brought with them new ideas to plant in new soil; neither sought civil, political, or religious rights; neither longed for better government or a freer church; neither cared anything or knew anything of the passion for social improvement that was so powerful a factor at the time in England and in the English colonies.

The English colonists were by no means destitute of the qualities that characterized their neighbors, but their master-ideas were industrial, political, and religious. They pursued agriculture, the fisheries, and commerce; they sought their fortunes in the field and shop and on the sea, rather than in the forest or in mines of precious metals; they were more interested in establishing states and churches where they could be free, than in converting the savages. The communities that they planted throbbed with industrial and commercial, civil and political life. Accordingly, the English colonies, if less romantic, chivalrous, and picturesque than the Spanish and French colonies, were more practical, more modern, more in harmony with the great forces of our present civilization.

The colonizing impulse that originated in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and that led to the colonies of Virginia and New England, was due in great part to the desire on the part of that sovereign and her advisers to limit the power of Spain in the New World, and to promote the expansion of England and the Protestant religion.

The Rights of Englishmen

The charter of 1606 contained a guarantee, forever irrevocable, unless by consent of both parties, that became the great bulwark of colonial rights and liberties in the contests of a later day. The king said:

Also, we do, for us, our heirs, and successors, declare, by these presents, that all and every the persons being our subjects, which shall dwell and inhabit within every and any of the said several colonies and plantations, and every of their children and posterity, which shall happen to be born within any of the limits and precincts of the said colonies and plantations, thereof, shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises and immunities of free denizens and natural subjects within any of our other dominions, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within this our realm of England, or in any other of our dominions.

In after times this pledge was sometimes called the Colonial Constitution. It was also repeated in later charters. The several colonies will now be described more in detail.

I. The Southern Colonies


The political history of the United States begins with the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, by the London Company in 1607. The charter, which was renewed and somewhat changed in 1609 and 1612, gave the people no voice whatever in the government of the colony; they were wholly subject to the company and to the king, and there was much dissatisfaction and murmuring in consequence. The first concession to popular rights was made in 1619, when Governor Yeardley, in order that the planters might have a hand in governing themselves, called upon them to choose representatives to a legislative assembly. This assembly, called the House of Burgesses, was the first legislative body that sat in America. Two years later, the company issued an ordinance creating a General Assembly, consisting of a Council of State appointed by the company, and the Burgesses chosen by the people. This colonial legislature was authorized to make general laws and orders for the behalf of said colony and the good government thereof; provided, however, that no such law or order should continue in force unless ratified by the company. In 1624. the Court of King’s Bench declared the charter forfeited to the crown, and Virginia became a royal colony. This, however, did not change the constitution of 1619 and 1621.


In 1632, Charles I. gave the two peninsulas lying on the ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and Potomac River, save the tip of the outer one, to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. The grant was bounded north by the fortieth parallel. The charter gave Calvert the soil in full and absolute propriety, authorized him to plant a colony to be called Maryland, and empowered him to make laws for the government of the colony with the consent of the freemen. Calvert dying, his son Cecilius, who succeeded to the title, planted the colony in 1634. Except the period 1688-1716, when the crown usurped the appointment of the governors, the charter continued in force until 1771. The provision that compelled the proprietary to consult the freemen in making the laws, secured to them from the first a voice in the government, and finally a representative assembly.

The Carolinas

By two charters, bearing the dates of 1663 and 1665, Charles II. gave the territory lying between 29° and 36° 30″, from sea to sea, to eight lords proprietors. These proprietors were authorized to make plantations, to enact laws with the consent of the freemen of the colony, and to appoint governors. In time, two groups of settlements were made ; one on the shore of Albemarle Sound, and the other south of Cape Fear River. In 1729 the proprietors surrendered to the crown their charter and province, which two years later was divided into the two royal colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina.


In 1732 George II created a company that he styled “Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America,” having the following objects:

  1. To strengthen the province of Carolina by creating a new one between it and the Spaniards and Indians;
  2. to provide a refuge for poor debtors in England;
  3. to open an asylum for the persecuted Protestants in Europe, and
  4. to promote the Christianization and civilization of the Indians.

The territory assigned the company lay between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers. For twenty-one years the trustees should make laws and appoint governors for the ruling of the colony. The first settlement was made at Savannah in 1733. The trustees gave up their charter in 1751, and Georgia then took her place among the royal colonies.

II. The Northern Colonies.

The Plymouth Company

This company was less vigorous than its London rival. Its attempt to found a colony on the coast of Maine was defeated. So the king, in 1620, gave it a new charter, with larger powers. This charter covered the zone lying between 40° and 48°, from ocean to ocean, to which it gave the name of New England. The Council at Plymouth, as the board of directors was called, now took a more active part in American affairs. It never founded colonies itself, but it granted lands to those who did found them. After disposing of the whole New England shore, the company, in 1635, surrendered its charter to the king and ceased to exist.


The first permanent settlement in New England was Plymouth, made by the Pilgrims in 1620. At first these seekers after religious freedom were intruders on the territory of the Plymouth Company, for they had no grant of lands; but in 1621 the Council made them a grant, which, however, it did not bound or locate, and authorized them to set up a government. In 1629 the Council gave them a fuller charter; still, as no charter of government was considered valid unless approved by the crown, and as the crown withheld its approval, the government of Plymouth was in this respect irregular and unauthorized.

The Plymouth Compact

Just before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, all the adult males of the company, forty-one in number, signed a compact, under which was carried on for several years a purely democratic government. The freemen, or rather so many of them as were members of the Church, met in general assembly and enacted laws. In 1639 a representative body took the place of this popular legislature. From the beginning, the freemen elected the governor from among their own number. Down to 1691, when Plymouth was merged in Massachusetts, the colony continued a voluntary association.


In 1628 a number of English Puritans who were intent on planting a Puritan colony in New England, obtained from the Council at Plymouth a grant of lands bounded north and south by parallel lines drawn three miles north of Merrimac River, and three miles south of Charles River, extending from ocean to ocean. The next year King Charles II. gave them a charter confirming the grant and conveying to the grantees, who were styled “The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England,” powers of government. What is called “the great emigration” was made in 1630. It was the royal intent that the company should remain in England; but it transferred itself, charter and all, to the shores of Massachusetts Bay, thus merging the company in the colony. At first, the assembly consisted of all the freemen, but a representative legislature was established in 1634. The free-men chose one of their number governor. In 1684 the king’s judges in England declared the charter of 1629 forfeited, and the king attempted to make Massachusetts a royal colony; but the people resisted the attempt, and in 1691 the crown granted a second charter, less liberal, however, than the former one, which continued in force down to the Revolution. This charter merged Plymouth, New Hampshire, Maine, and Nova Scotia in Massachusetts; Nova Scotia and New Hampshire were soon detached ; Maine continued a part of Massachusetts until it became a State in 1820, while Massachusetts and Plymouth were never again separated.


Three groups of emigrants from Massachusetts, which they left because they could not carry out their civil and religious ideas in that colony, planted the same number of towns on the Connecticut River in the years 1634, 1635, and 1636. These towns united under one name in 1639 and adopted a constitution called “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.” In 1639, also, New Haven and some other settlements on Long Island Sound limited in one colony, under the name of New Haven. Neither one of these two colonies had, at first, a charter of government, or even a title to the lands it occupied other than the one obtained from the Indians ; but in 1662 Charles II granted a charter that merged the two colonies in one, defined its boundaries, and endowed it with the most liberal political powers. Save in the period 1685-1690, when it was temporarily set aside, this charter remained in force to the year 1818.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island was also an offshoot from Massachusetts. Roger Williams with some refugees from that colony founded Providence in 1636, and another band of refugees, Rhode Island the year following. These plantations were the purely voluntary undertakings of private individuals. They had at first no grants either of land or of political powers, but a series of charters, the last granted by Charles II. in 1663, united them under the name of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, confirmed the colony in its narrow territory, and conferred upon it the most ample powers of government. Although temporarily suspended when James II. made his attack on the New England charters in 1685, the Rhode Island charter continued in force until 1842.

New Hampshire

In 1622 the Council at Plymouth granted to Captain John Mason and Sir Ferdinando Gorges the territory between the Merrimac and Kennebec Rivers. On the division of this grant, that part lying west of the Piscataqua River fell to Mason, and this was afterwards confirmed to him by a charter given by the Council. Some feeble settlements were made about 1635, under the patronage of the proprietor. Massachusetts, however, claimed the territory under her charter of 1629; and for the most part the New Hampshire settlements were subject to her government until 1692, when New Hampshire became a royal colony.

III. The Middle Colonies.

New York

Captain Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River in 1609, and soon after the Dutch, in whose service he sailed, planted a settlement at its mouth. Extending their explorations east and south, the Dutch laid claim to the whole coast lying between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers; and they ultimately took possession of New Jersey and Delaware, which had been occupied by the Swedes, as well as the valley of the Hudson. But England always claimed these territories, and in 1664 Charles II. gave them to his brother James, Duke of York. The royal duke at once dispatched an armed force to the mouth of the Hudson that compelled the Dutch governor to surrender all New Netherland, as the Dutch called their province. He now renamed it New York. It continued a proprietary colony until 1685, when on the accession of the duke to the throne of England, it became a royal colony. From that time the law-making power, subject to the crown, was vested in a governor and council appointed by the crown, and an assembly elected by the people.

New Jersey

The Duke of York, on coming into possession of New Netherland, immediately granted that part of it lying between the Delaware River and the ocean to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret as lords proprietors. At first there were two colonies. East and West Jersey: but in 1702, when the proprietors surrendered their rights to the crown, the Jerseys were reunited and became a royal colony. For a time. New Jersey had the same governor as New York, but it always had its own separate assembly.


In 1681 Charles II made William Penn a grant of the territory between parallels 39° and 42° north latitude, extending westward from the Delaware River five degrees of longitude. Pennsylvania was founded the next year. Penn, who was empowered by the charter to enact laws conformable to reason and the laws of England, with the consent of the freemen of the colony, pursued a liberal policy. He issued “frames of government,” offering civil, political, and religious rights to such persons as should become settlers within his province. The charter of 1681 continued in force until the Revolution; then the State of Pennsylvania assumed all the political powers that belonged to Penn’s descendants, and paid them a large sum of money for surrendering their property interests in the soil.


The territories composing the present State of Delaware lay within the grant made to Lord Baltimore in 1632, but it never became a part of Maryland. Some settlements that the Swedes had made, passed to the Dutch in 1655; these settlements, with some additional ones made by the Dutch, passed to the Duke of York in 1664 ; and then the country was sold by the Duke to William Penn in 1682. After much disputing. Lord Baltimore surrendered his claim. For a time it was a mere appendage of Pennsylvania; but after 1703, although having the same governor as that colony, it had its own independent assembly. And this state of things continued until Delaware became a State at the opening of the Revolution.

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