The Original 13 US States

Photo of the recreated Plymouth colony of 1620
Plymouth Colony Plantation Recreates World of The Pilgrims. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The first 13 states of the United States of America were comprised of the original British colonies established between 17th and 18th centuries. While the first English settlement in North America was the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, established 1607, the permanent 13 colonies were established as follows:

The New England Colonies

  • New Hampshire Province, chartered as a British colony in 1679
  • Massachusetts Bay Province chartered as a British colony in1692
  • Rhode Island Colony chartered as a British colony in 1663
  • Connecticut Colony chartered as a British colony in 1662

The Middle Colonies

  • New York Province, chartered as a British colony in 1686
  • New Jersey Province, chartered as a British colony in 1702
  • Pennsylvania Province, a proprietary colony established in 1681
  • Delaware Colony (before 1776, the Lower Counties on the Delaware River), a proprietary colony established in 1664

The Southern Colonies

  • Maryland Province, a proprietary colony established in 1632
  • Virginia Dominion and Colony, a British colony established in 1607
  • Carolina Province, a proprietary colony established 1663
  • Divided Provinces of North and South Carolina, each chartered as British colonies in 1729
  • Georgia Province, a British colony established in 1732

Establishment of the 13 States

The 13 states were officially established by the Articles of Confederation, ratified on March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states operating alongside a weak central government.

Unlike the current power-sharing system of “federalism,” the Articles of Confederation bestowed most governmental powers to the states. The need for a stronger national government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.



The original 13 states recognized by the Articles of Confederation were (in chronological order):

  1. Delaware (ratified the Constitution on December 7, 1787)
  2. Pennsylvania (ratified the Constitution on December 12, 1787)
  3. New Jersey (ratified the Constitution on December 18, 1787)
  4. Georgia (ratified the Constitution on January 2, 1788)
  5. Connecticut (ratified the Constitution on January 9, 1788)
  6. Massachusetts (ratified the Constitution on February 6, 1788)
  7. Maryland (ratified the Constitution on April 28, 1788)
  8. South Carolina (ratified the Constitution on May 23, 1788)
  9. New Hampshire (ratified the Constitution on June 21, 1788)
  10. Virginia (ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788)
  11. New York (ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788)
  12. North Carolina (ratified the Constitution on November 21, 1789)
  13. Rhode Island (ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790)

Along with the 13 North American colonies, Great Britain also controlled New World colonies in present-day Canada, the Caribbean, as well as East and West Florida by 1790.

Today, the process by which U.S. territories attain full statehood is left largely to the discretion of Congress under of the U.S. Constitution, which states, in part, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States…” 

Brief History of the US Colonies

While the Spanish were among the first Europeans to settle in the “New World,” England had by the 1600s established itself as the dominant governing presence along the Atlantic coast of what would become the United States.

The first English colony in America was founded in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Many of the settlers had come to the New World to escape religious persecution or in hopes of economic gains.

In September 1620, the Pilgrims, a group of oppressed religious dissidents from England, boarded their ship, the Mayflower and set sail for the New World. Arriving off the coast of what is now Cape Cod in November 1620, they established a settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

After surviving great initial hardships in adjusting to their new homes, colonists in both Virginia and Massachusetts thrived with the well-publicized assistance of nearby Native American tribes.

While increasingly large crops of corn kept them fed, tobacco in Virginia provided them with a lucrative source of income.

By the early 1700s a growing share of the colonies’ population was comprised of African slaves.

By 1770, the population of Britain’s 13 North American colonies had grown to more than 2 million people.

By the early 1700s enslaved Africans made up a growing percentage of the colonial population. By 1770, more than 2 million people lived and worked in Great Britain's 13 North American colonies.

Government in the Colonies

On November 11, 1620, before establishing their Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims drafted the Mayflower Compact, a social contract in which they basically agreed that they would govern themselves. The powerful precedent for self-government set by the Mayflower Compact would be reflected in the system of public town meetings that guided colonial governments across New England.

While the 13 colonies were indeed allowed a high degree of self-government, the British system of mercantilism ensured that the colonies existed purely to benefit the economy of the mother country.

Each colony was allowed to develop its own limited government, which operated under a colonial governor appointed by and answerable to the British Crown. With the exception of the British-appointed governor, the colonists freely elected their own government representatives who were required to administer the English system of “.” Significantly, most decisions of the local colonial governments had to be reviewed and approved by both the colonial governor and the British Crown.

A system which would become more cumbersome and contentious as the colonies grew and prospered.

By the 1750s, the colonies had started dealing with each other in matters concerning their economic interests, often without consulting the British Crown. This led to a growing feeling of American identity among the colonists who began to demand that the Crown protect their “,” particularly the right of “no taxation without representation.”

The colonists’ continued and growing grievances with the British government under the rule of would lead to the colonists’ issuance of the in 1776, the American Revolution, and eventually, the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Today, the American flag prominently displays thirteen horizontal red and white stripes representing the original thirteen colonies.