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The Thirteen Colonies were a group of British colonies on the east coast of North America founded in the 16th and 17th centuries that declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States. The thirteen were: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional and legal systems, and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were only part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in present-day Canada and the Caribbean as well as East and West Florida. In the 18th century, the British government operated its colonies under a policy of mercantilism, in which the central government administered its possessions for the economic benefit of the mother country. However, the Thirteen Colonies had a high degree of self-government and active local elections, and increasingly resisted London's demands for more control. In the 1750s the colonies began collaborating with each other, instead of dealing directly with Britain. These inter-colonial activities cultivated a sense of shared American identity and led to calls for protection of the colonists' "Rights as Englishmen", especially the principle of "no taxation without representation". Grievances with the British government led to the American Revolution, in which the colonies established a Continental Congress and declared independence in 1776.
- 1 The Thirteen Colonies
- 2 Growth
- 3 Other divisions prior to 1730
- 4 Population
- 5 Government
- 6 Other British colonies
- 7 Historiography
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
The Thirteen Colonies
Each of the thirteen colonies developed its own system of self-government, based largely on independent farmers who owned their own land, voted for their local and provincial government, and served on local juries. In some of the colonies, especially Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, there were also substantial populations of African slaves. Following a series of protests over taxes in the 1760s and 1770s, these colonies united politically and militarily in opposition to the British government and fought the American Revolutionary War, 1775–1783. In July 1776, they formed a new nation called the "United States of America," and declared independence. The new nation achieved that goal by winning the American Revolutionary War with the aid of France, the Netherlands and Spain.
Besides these thirteen, Britain had another dozen in the New World. Those in the British West Indies, Newfoundland, the Province of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Bermuda, and East and West Florida remained loyal to the crown throughout the war (although Spain conquered Florida before the war was over). Although there was a certain degree of sympathy with the Patriot cause in several of them, their geographical isolation and the dominance of British naval power precluded any effective participation. Especially in the case of Quebec and Florida, the British crown had only recently acquired those lands, and many of the issues facing the Thirteen Colonies did not apply to them.
Contemporary documents usually list the thirteen colonies of British North America in geographical order, from the north to the south.
- Province of Massachusetts Bay, later Massachusetts and Maine, a crown colony
- Province of New Hampshire, later New Hampshire, a crown colony
- Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, later Rhode Island, a crown colony
- Connecticut Colony, later Connecticut, a crown colony
- Province of New York, later New York and Vermont, a crown colony
- Province of New Jersey, later New Jersey, a crown colony
- Province of Pennsylvania, later Pennsylvania, a proprietary colony
- Delaware Colony (before 1776, the Lower Counties on Delaware), later Delaware, a proprietary colony
- Province of Maryland, later Maryland, a proprietary colony
- Colony and Dominion of Virginia, later Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia, a crown colony
- Province of North Carolina, later North Carolina and Tennessee, a crown colony
- Province of South Carolina, later South Carolina, a crown colony
- Province of Georgia, later Georgia, northern sections of Alabama and Mississippi, a crown colony
Other divisions prior to 1730
- Dominion of New England
- Created in 1685 by a decree from King James II that consolidated Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Province of New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey into a single larger colony. The experiment collapsed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89, and the nine former colonies re-established their separate identities in 1689.
- Massachusetts Bay Colony
- Settled in 1630 by Puritans from England. The colonial charter was revoked in 1684, and a new charter establishing an enlarged Province of Massachusetts Bay was issued in 1691.
- Province of Maine
- Settled in 1622 (An earlier attempt to settle the Popham Colony in Sagadahoc, Maine (near present-day Phippsburg and Popham Beach State Park) in 1607 was abandoned after only one year). The Massachusetts Bay Colony claimed the Maine territory (then limited to present-day southernmost Maine) in the 1650s. Parts of Maine east of the Kennebec River were also part of New York in the second half of the 17th century. These areas were formally made part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in the charter of 1691.
- Plymouth Colony
- Settled in 1620 by the Pilgrims. Plymouth was merged into the Province of Massachusetts Bay in the charter of 1691.
- Saybrook Colony
- Founded in 1635 and merged with Connecticut Colony in 1644.
- New Haven Colony
- Settled in late 1637. New Haven was absorbed by Connecticut Colony with the issuance of the Connecticut Charter in 1662, partly as royal punishment by King Charles II for harboring the regicide judges who sentenced King Charles I to death.
- East Jersey and West Jersey
- Settled as part of New Netherland in the 1610s, New Jersey was captured (along with New York) by English forces in 1664. New Jersey was divided into two separate colonies in 1674, which were reunited in 1702.
- Province of Carolina
- Founded in 1663. Carolina colony was divided into two colonies, North Carolina and South Carolina, in 1712. Both colonies became royal colonies in 1729.
Note: the population figures are estimates by historians; they do not include the native tribes outside the jurisdiction of the colonies. They do include natives living under colonial control, as well as slaves and indentured servants.
By 1776 about 85% of the white population was of English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh descent, with 9% of German origin and 4% Dutch. These populations continued to grow at a rapid rate throughout the 18th century primarily because of high birth rates, and relatively low death rates. Immigration was a minor factor from 1774 to 1830. Over 90% were farmers, with several small cities that were also seaports linking the colonial economy to the larger British Empire.
Slavery was legal and practiced in each of the Thirteen Colonies. In most places it involved house servants or farm workers. It was of economic importance in the export-oriented tobacco plantations of Virginia and Maryland, and the rice and indigo plantations of South Carolina. About 287,000 slaves were imported into the Thirteen Colonies, or 2% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. Combined with a very high birth rate, the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching nearly 4 million by the 1860 census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England. However, Tadman attributes this to very high birth rates: "U.S. slaves, then, reached similar rates of natural increase to whites not because of any special privileges but through a process of great suffering and material deprivation".
Religion and education
The colonies were religiously diverse. Religion was strong in New England and other points, but before the First Great Awakening of the 1740s most colonists were religiously inactive. The Anglican Church of England was officially established in most of the South, but there were no bishops and the churches had only local roles. Education was widespread in the northern colonies, which had established colleges led by Harvard College, College of New Jersey (Princeton), and Yale College, while the College of William and Mary trained the elite in Virginia. Public schooling was rare outside New England.
The Royal government in London after 1680 took an increasing interest in the affairs of the colonies—which were growing rapidly in population and wealth so as to rival the homeland. In 1680, only Virginia was a royal colony; by 1720 half were under the control of Royal governors. These governors were appointees closely tied to the government in London. Historians before the 1880s emphasized American nationalism. However, intellectual leadership after that was held by the "Imperial school" led by Herbert L. Osgood, George Louis Beer, Charles McLean Andrews, and Lawrence H. Gipson. They dominated colonial historiography into the 1940s. They emphasized, and often praised, the attention London gave to all the colonies. There was never a threat (before the 1770s) that any colony would revolt or seek independence.
British settlers did not come to the American colonies with the intention of creating a democratic system, yet by doing so without a land-owning aristocracy they created a broad electorate and a pattern of free and frequent elections that put a premium on voter participation. The colonies offered a much broader franchise than England or indeed any other country. White men with enough property could vote for members of the lower house of the legislature, and in Connecticut and Rhode Island they could even vote for the governor. Legitimacy for a voter meant having an "interest" in society – as the South Carolina legislature said in 1716, "it is necessary and reasonable, that none but such persons will have an interest in the Province should be capable to elect members of the Commons House of Assembly." Women, children, indentured servants and slaves were subsumed under the interest of the family head. The main legal criterion for having an "interest" was ownership of property, which was narrowly based in Britain, and nineteen out of twenty men were controlled politically by their landlords. London insisted on it for the colonies, telling governors to exclude men who were not freeholders (that is, did not own land) from the ballot. Nevertheless, land was so widely owned that 50% to 80% of the white men were eligible to vote.
The colonial political culture emphasized deference, so that local notables were the men who ran and were chosen. But sometimes they competed with each other, and had to appeal to the common man for votes. There were no political parties, and would-be legislators formed ad-hoc coalitions of their families, friends, and neighbors. Outside Puritan New England, election day brought in all the men from the countryside to the county seat to make merry, politick, shake hands with the grandees, and meet old friends, hear the speeches and all the while toasting, eating, treating, tippling, gaming and gambling. They voted by shouting their choice to the clerk, as supporters cheered or booed. Candidate George Washington spent £39 for treats for his supporters. The candidates knew they had to "swill the planters with bumbo (rum)." Elections were carnivals where all men were equal for one day and traditional restraints relaxed.
The actual rate of voting ranged from 20% to 40% of all adult white males. The rates were higher in Pennsylvania and New York, where long-standing factions, based on ethnic and religious groups, mobilized supporters at a higher rate. New York and Rhode Island developed long-lasting two-faction systems that held together for years at the colony level, but did not reach into local affairs. The factions were based on the personalities of a few leaders and an array of family connections, however, had little basis in policy or ideology. Elsewhere the political scene was in a constant whirl, and based on personality rather than long-lived factions or serious disputes on issues.
The colonies were independent of each other before 1774 as efforts led by Benjamin Franklin to form a colonial union through the Albany Congress of 1754 had failed. The thirteen all had well established systems of self-government and elections based on the Rights of Englishmen, which they were determined to protect from imperial interference. The vast majority of white men were eligible to vote.
The British Empire at the time operated under the mercantile system, where all trade was concentrated inside the Empire, and trade with other empires was forbidden. The goal was to enrich Britain—its merchants and its government. Whether the policy was good for the colonists was not an issue in London, but Americans became increasingly restive with mercantilist policies.
Mercantilism meant that the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires. The government protected its merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling—which became a favorite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions on trading with the French, Spanish or Dutch. The tactic used by mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on a superb Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. Thus the British Navy captured New Amsterdam (New York) in 1664. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.
Legislation prior to 1763
Britain implemented mercantilism by trying to block American trade with the French, Spanish or Dutch empires using the Navigation Acts, which Americans avoided as often as they could. The royal officials responded to smuggling with open-ended search warrants (Writs of Assistance). In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis argued that the writs violated the constitutional rights of the colonists. He lost the case, but John Adams later wrote, "Then and there the child Independence was born."
However, the colonists took pains to argue that they did not oppose British regulation of their external trade, they only opposed legislation which was thought to impact them internally.
On December 1, 1763, at Hanover Courthouse, Patrick Henry argued the Parson's Cause in the Colony of Virginia, where the legislature had passed a law and it was vetoed by the king. Henry argued, "that a King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects' obedience".
Following their victory in the French and Indian War in 1763, Great Britain took control of the French holdings in North America, outside the Caribbean. The British sought to maintain peaceful relations with those Indian tribes that had allied with the French, and keep them separated from the American frontiersmen. To this end, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 restricted settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains as this was designated an Indian Reserve. Disregarding the proclamation, some groups of settlers continued to move west and establish farms. The proclamation was soon modified and was no longer a hindrance to settlement, but the fact that it had been promulgated without their prior consultation angered the colonists.
Coming of American revolution
Beginning with the intense protests over the Stamp Act of 1765, the Americans insisted on the principle of "no taxation without representation", representation being understood in the context of Parliament directly levying the duty or excise tax, and thus by-passing the colonial legislatures, which had levied taxes on the colonies in the monarch's stead prior to 1763. They argued that, as the colonies had no representation in the British Parliament, it was a violation of their rights as Englishmen for taxes to be imposed upon them. Those other British colonies that had assemblies largely agreed with those in the Thirteen Colonies, but they were thoroughly controlled by the British Empire and the Royal Navy, so protests were hopeless.
Parliament rejected the colonial protests and asserted its authority by passing new taxes. Trouble escalated over the tea tax, as Americans in each colony boycotted the tea and in Boston dumped the tea in the harbor during the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Tensions escalated in 1774 as Parliament passed the laws known as the Intolerable Acts, which, among other things, greatly restricted self-government in the colony of Massachusetts.
In response, the colonies formed extralegal bodies of elected representatives, generally known as Provincial Congresses. Colonists emphasized their determination by boycotting imports of British merchandise. Later in 1774 twelve colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. During the Second Continental Congress the thirteenth colony, Georgia, sent delegates. By spring 1775 all royal officials had been expelled from all thirteen colonies. The Continental Congress was the national government. It raised an army to fight the British and named George Washington its commander, made treaties, declared independence, and recommended that the colonies write constitutions and become states.
Other British colonies
At the time of the war Britain had seven other colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America: Newfoundland, Rupert's Land (the area around the Hudson Bay), Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, East Florida, West Florida, and the Province of Quebec. There were other colonies in the Americas as well, largely in the British West Indies. These colonies remained loyal to the crown.
Newfoundland stayed loyal to Britain without question. It was exempt from the Navigation Acts and shared none of the grievances of the continental colonies. It was tightly bound to Britain and controlled by the Royal Navy and had no assembly that could voice grievances.
Nova Scotia had a large Yankee element that had recently arrived from New England, and shared the sentiments of the Americans about demanding the rights of the British men. The royal government in Halifax reluctantly allowed the Yankees of Nova Scotia a kind of "neutrality." In any case, the island-like geography and the presence of the major British naval base at Halifax made the thought of armed resistance impossible.
Quebec was inhabited by French Catholic settlers who came under British control in the previous decade. The Quebec Act of 1774 gave them formal cultural autonomy within the empire, and many priests feared the intense Protestantism in New England. The American grievances over taxation had little relevance, and there was no assembly nor elections of any kind that could have mobilized any grievances. Even so, the Americans offered membership in the new nation and sent a military expedition that failed to capture Canada in 1775. Most Canadians remained neutral but some joined the American cause.
In the West Indies the elected assemblies of Jamaica, Grenada, and Barbados formally declared their sympathies for the American cause and called for mediation, but the others were quite loyal. Britain carefully avoided antagonizing the rich owners of sugar plantations (many of whom lived in London); in turn the planters' greater dependence on slavery made them recognize the need for British military protection from possible slave revolts. The possibilities for overt action were sharply limited by the overwhelming power of Royal Navy in the islands. During the war there was some opportunistic trading with American ships.
In Bermuda and the Bahamas local leaders were angry at the food shortages caused by British blockade of American ports. There was increasing sympathy for the American cause, including smuggling, and both colonies were considered "passive allies" of the United States throughout the war. When an American naval squadron arrived in the Bahamas to seize gunpowder, the colony gave no resistance at all.
East Florida and West Florida were territories transferred from Spain to Britain after the French and Indian War by treaty. The few British colonists there needed protection from attacks by Indians and Spanish privateers. After 1775, East Florida became a major base for the British war effort in the South, especially in the invasions of Georgia and South Carolina. However, Spain seized Pensacola in West Florida in 1781, then recovered both territories in the Treaty of Paris that ended the war in 1783. Spain ultimately transferred the Florida provinces to the United States in 1819.
The first British empire centered on the 13 American colonies, which attracted large numbers of settlers from across Britain. In the 1900s - 1930s period the "Imperial School," including Herbert L. Osgood, George Louis Beer, Charles M. Andrews and Lawrence Gipson took a favorable view of the benefits of empire, emphasizing its successful economic integration.
Mercantilism was the basic policy imposed by Britain on its colonies. Mercantilism meant that the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires. The government protected its merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling—which became a favorite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions on trading with the French, Spanish or Dutch. The goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on a superb Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. Thus the British Navy captured New Amsterdam (New York) in 1664. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.
The shock of defeat suffered by Britain in 1783 caused a radical revision of their policies on colonialism, thereby producing what historians call the end of the First British Empire; of course Britain still owned Canada and some islands in the West Indies. Ashley Jackson writes:
The first British Empire was largely destroyed by the loss of the American colonies, followed by a 'swing to the east' and the foundation of a second British Empire based on commercial and territorial expansion in South Asia.
Much of the historiography concerns the reasons the Americans revolted in the 1770s and successfully broke away. Since the 1960s the mainstream of historiography emphasizes the growth of American consciousness and nationalism, and its Republican value system but stood in opposition to the aristocratic viewpoint of British leaders. In the analysis of the coming of the Revolution, historians in recent decades have mostly used one of three approaches. The Atlantic history view places the American story in a broader context, including revolutions in France and Haiti. It tended to reintegrate the historiographies of the American Revolution and the British Empire. Second the "New social history" approach looks at community social structure to find cleavages that were magnified into colonial cleavages. Third is the ideological approach that centers on Republicanism in the United States. Republicanism dictated there would be no royalty or aristocracy or national church. It did allow for continuation of the British common law, which American lawyers and jurists understood and approved and used in their everyday practice. Historians have examined how the rising American legal profession adapted the British common law to incorporate republicanism by selective revision of legal customs and by introducing more choice for courts.
- American Revolution
- Atlantic history
- British America
- British colonization of the Americas
- Colonial American military history
- Colonial government in the Thirteen Colonies
- Colonial history of the United States
- Colonial South and the Chesapeake
- Cuisine of the Thirteen Colonies
- Economic history of the United States: Colonial economy
- New England Colonies
- Manor of East Greenwich
- Richard Middleton and Anne Lombard, Colonial America: A History to 1763 (4th ed. 2011),
- Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole, eds. '"A Companion to the American Revolution (2004) ch. 63
- Lawrence Gipson, The British Empire Before the American Revolution (15 volumes, 1936–1970), highly detailed discussion of every British colony in the New World in the 1750s and 1760s
- The present state of Vermont was disputed between the colonies of New York and New Hampshire. From 1777 to 1791, it existed as the de facto independent Vermont Republic.
- Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, A century of population growth from the first census of the United States to the twelfth, 1790–1900 (1909) p 9
- Greene (1905) is basic
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- Max Savelle, "The Imperial School of American Colonial Historians." Indiana Magazine of History (1949): 123-134 in JSTOR also online
- Robert J. Dinkin, Voting in Provincial America: A Study of Elections in the Thirteen Colonies, 1689–1776 (1977)
- Thomas Cooper and David James McCord, eds. The Statutes at Large of South Carolina: Acts, 1685–1716 (1837) p 688
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- Daniel Vickers, A Companion to Colonial America (2006) p. 300
- Greene and Pole, eds. '"A Companion to the American Revolution (2004) quote p. 665
- Max Savelle, Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind (2005) pp. 204–211
- George Otto Trevelyan, The American revolution: Volume 1 (1899) p. 128 online
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- Donald William Meinig, The Shaping of America: Atlantic America, 1492–1800 (1986) p. 315; Greene and Pole, Companion ch. 63
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- Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 (Oxford History of the United States) (2007)
- Lawrence Gipson, The British Empire Before the American Revolution (15 volumes, 1936–1970)
- Meinig pp. 313–14; Greene and Pole (2004) ch. 61
- Meinig pp 314–15; Greene and Pole (2004) ch 61
- Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy, An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (2000) ch 6
- Meinig pp 315–16; Greene and Pole (2004) ch 63
- Meinig p 316
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- Max Savelle, Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind (1048) pp. 204-211 online
- William R. Nester, The Great Frontier War: Britain, France, and the Imperial Struggle for North America, 1607-1755 (Praeger, 2000) p, 54.
- Tim McNeese, Colonial America, 1543-1763 (2009)
- Brendan Simms, Three victories and a defeat: the rise and fall of the first British Empire 2008)
- Ashley Jackson (2013). The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP. p. 72.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Ellen Holmes Pearson. "Revising Custom, Embracing Choice: Early American Legal Scholars and the Republicanization of the Common Law," in Gould and Onuf, eds. Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World (2005) pp 93-113
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- Adams, James Truslow. Revolutionary New England, 1691–1776 (1923)
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- Cooke, Jacob Ernest et al., ed. Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies. (3 vol. 1993); 2397 pp.; comprehensive coverage; compares British, French, Spanish & Dutch colonies
- Foster, Stephen, ed. British North America in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (2014)
- Gipson, Lawrence. The British Empire Before the American Revolution (15 volumes, 1936–1970), Pulitzer Prize; highly detailed discussion of every British colony in the New World
- Greene, Evarts Boutelle et al., American Population before the Federal Census of 1790, 1993, ISBN 0-8063-1377-3
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- Hawke, David F.; The Colonial Experience; 1966, ISBN 0-02-351830-8. older textbook
- Hawke, David F. Everyday Life in Early America (1989) excerpt and text search
- Middleton, Richard, and Anne Lombard. Colonial America: A History to 1763 (4th ed. 2011), the newest textbook excerpt and text search
- Taylor, Alan. American colonies (2002), 526 pages; recent survey by leading scholar
- Vickers, Daniel, ed. A Companion to Colonial America. (Blackwell, 2003) 576 pp.; topical essays by experts excerpt
- Andrews, Charles M.Colonial Self-Government, 1652–1689 (1904) full text online
- Dinkin, Robert J. Voting in Provincial America: A Study of Elections in the Thirteen Colonies, 1689–1776 (1977)
- Miller, John C. Origins of the American Revolution (1943)
- Osgood, Herbert L. The American colonies in the seventeenth century, (3 vol 1904-07)' vol. 1 online; vol 2 online; vol 3 online
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- Sarson, Steven, and Jack P. Greene, eds. The American Colonies and the British Empire, 1607–1783 (8 vol, 2010); primary sources
Online primary sources
- 840+ volumes of colonial records; useful for advanced scholarship