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British colonization of the Americas (including colonization sponsored by the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland before the 1707 Acts of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker) began in the late 16th century and reached its peak when colonies had been established throughout the Americas and a protectorate had been established over the Kingdom of Hawaii in the Pacific Oceanmarker. The British were one of the most important colonizers of the Americas, and their American empire came to rival the Spanish American colonies in military and economic might.

This British colonization caused dramatic upheaval among the indigenous civilizations in the Americas, both indirectly through British military force and directly through cultural disruption and introduced diseases. Many of the indigenous societies had developed a warrior class and a long history of warfare to such an extent that they were able to withstand the technologically superior British force as seen in the French-Indian War, Pontiac's Rebellion, and countless raids against unprotected and isolated settlements. The rapidity, silence, and ferocity of their war parties proved disastrous against the colonial-style of waging war. It is said that an Iroquois warrior could be self-sufficient in the forest for months at a time eating only grounded corn, maple sap, and whatever the land provided.

After the American War of Independence, British territories in the Americas were granted more responsible government until they were gradually granted independence in the twentieth century. In this way, two countries in North America, ten in the Caribbeanmarker, and one in South America have received their independence from the United Kingdommarker. 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, which are now independent of the United Kingdom, are Commonwealth Realms.

Britain in the Americas
Three types of colonies existed in the British Empire in America during the height of its power in the eighteenth century. These were charter colonies, proprietary colonies and royal colonies.

North America

English colonies in North America

Plaque in St. John's, Newfoundland, commemorating Gilbert's founding of the British overseas Empire

A number of English colonies were established under a system of independent Proprietary Governors, who were appointed under mercantile charters to English joint stock companies to found and run settlements, most notably the Virginia Company, which created the first successful English settlement at Jamestownmarker (and the second, at Bermudamarker).

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 also came to control the former New Sweden (in what is now Delawaremarker), which the Dutch had conquered earlier. This later became part of Pennsylvaniamarker after it was established in 1680.

Scottish colonies in North America

There was also an early unsuccessful attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to establish a colony at Dariénmarker, and the short-lived Scottishmarker colonisation of Nova Scotiamarker (New Scotland) from 1629 to 1632. Thousands of Scotsmen also participated in the English colonization even before the two countries were united in 1707

British colonies in North America

The Kingdom of Great Britainmarker acquired the French colony of Acadia in 1713 and then Canada and the Spanish colony of Floridamarker in 1763. After being renamed the Province of Quebecmarker, the former French Canada was divided in two Provinces, the Canadas, consisting of the old settled country of Lower Canada (today Quebec) and the newly settled Upper Canada (today Ontario).

In the north, the Hudson's Bay Company actively traded for fur with the indigenous peoples, and had competed with French fur traders. The company came to control the entire drainage basin of Hudson Baymarker called Rupert's Land. The small parts of the Hudson Bay drainage which are south of the 49th parallel went to the United Statesmarker in the Anglo-American Convention of 1818.

Thirteen of Great Britain's colonies rebelled with the Revolutionary War, beginning in 1775, primarily over representation, local laws and tax issues, and established the United States of Americamarker, which was recognized internationally with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3 of that year (1783).

Great Britain also colonised the west coast of North America, indirectly via the Hudson's Bay Company licenses west of the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia and New Caledonia fur districts, most of which were jointly claimed as the Oregon Country by the United States from 1818 until the 49th Parallel was established as the international boundary west of the Rockies by the Oregon Treaty of 1846. The colonies of Vancouver Island, founded in 1849, and the Colony of British Columbia, founded in 1858, were combined in 1866 with the name Crown Colony of British Columbia until joining Confederation in 1871. British Columbia also was expanded with the inclusion of the Stikine Territory in 1863, and upon joining Confederation with the addition of the Peace River Block, formerly part of Rupert's Land.

In 1867, the colonies of New Brunswickmarker, Nova Scotiamarker, and the Province of Canada (the southern portion of modern-day Ontariomarker and Quebecmarker) combined to form a self-governing dominion, named Canadamarker, 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 Islandmarker) had been ceded to Britain by the French. The colonies of Prince Edward Island and British Columbia joined over the next six years, and Newfoundlandmarker 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 Manitobamarker (admitted after negotiation between Canada and a Métis provisional government in 1870), Saskatchewanmarker, and Albertamarker (both created in 1905), as well as the Northwest Territoriesmarker, the Yukon Territorymarker (created 1898, following the start of the Klondike Gold Rush), and Nunavutmarker (created in 1999).

List of British colonies in North America

The British Colonies in North America, 1763-1775

Non-colonial British territories in North America

  • Rupert's Land, territory of the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in 1670 and transferred to the new Dominion of Canadamarker in 1867 as the Northwest Territoriesmarker
  • Columbia District, the trading district of the Columbia Department of the Hudson's Bay Company from 1821 to the Oregon Treaty of 1846, by which most of the Columbia District was formally annexed to the United States. HBC lands south of the 49th Parallel were guaranteed by the Oregon Treaty but ownership and compensation issues were not fully resolved until 1861.
  • New Caledonia, fur district. First settled in 1805, administered by Hudson's Bay Company from 1821, until incorporated as the Colony of British Columbia in 1858.
  • Stikine Territory, aka Stickeen Territories, founded in 1862 in response to the Stikine Gold Rush in order to prevent an American takeover.
  • North-Western Territory, a Hudson's Bay Company trading area covering lands north and northwest of Rupert's Land and, after 1863, north of the Stikine Territory's original boundary at the 62nd Parallel. Its remnant was incorporated at the Yukon Territory after the part of it south of the 60th Parallel was amalgamated to British Columbia.
  • Nova Albion, never incorporated or settled, exact location unknown, claimed by Sir Francis Drake and one of the precedents for the British claims to the Pacific Northwest during the Oregon boundary dispute.
  • the southeastern Alaska Panhandlemarker was leased from the Russian Empiremarker, from 1839 to 1867, until the lease was ignored by both the Russians and Americans and, subsequently, by the Canadian and the British imperial governments, despite British Columbia's protests.

Central and South America, Caribbean

British Caribbean colonies

In order of settlement or founding:
  • Saint Kittsmarker - 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 Nevismarker in 1983.
  • Barbadosmarker - The island was settled in 1625. It became independent in 1966.
  • Nevismarker - The island was permanently settled in 1628. It became independent as Saint Kitts and Nevis in 1983.
  • Providence Island - part of an archipelago off the coast of Nicaraguamarker, this island was settled in 1630 by Englishmarker Puritans. The colony was conquered by the Spanishmarker and became extinct in 1641. The island today is Providencia Islandmarker which is administered by Colombiamarker. Providence Island was a sister colony to the more well known Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • Antiguamarker - The island was settled in 1632. It became independent as Antigua and Barbudamarker in 1981
  • Barbudamarker - The island was settled about 1632. It became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981.
  • Montserratmarker - The island was settled in 1632. It was occupied by the French in 1664-68 and 1782-84. It remains a British territory.
  • Bahamasmarker - The islands were settled from 1647. They became independent in 1971.
  • Anguillamarker - 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.
  • Jamaicamarker - The island was conquered from Spain in 1655. It became independent in 1962.
  • British Virgin Islandsmarker - The islands were settled from 1666. They remain a British territory.
  • Cayman Islandsmarker - 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.
  • Dominicamarker - 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 Tobagomarker - 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 Grenadinesmarker - 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 British Windward Islands from 1871 to 1958. The nation gained full independence in 1979.
  • Grenadamarker - The island was conquered from France in 1762. The French reoccupied it from 1779 to 1783. It became independent in 1974.
  • Saint Luciamarker - 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

  • Belizemarker - English adventurers starting in 1638, used Belize as a source for logwood, a tree used to make a wool dye. The area was claimed by Spainmarker 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 Guatemalanmarker claims to Belize delayed independence, full independence was granted in 1981.
  • Mosquito Coast (Nicaraguamarker's Caribbean Coast) - This area was first settled in 1630. It was briefly assigned to Hondurasmarker in 1859 along with the Bay Islands north of the country, then ceded to Nicaraguamarker in 1860 and the area was disputed until a treaty in 1965 divided the Mosquito coast for each country.
  • British Guiana - The English began colonies in the Guiana area in the early 17th century. In the Treaty of Breda, the Dutchmarker gained control of these colonies. Britain later controlled various colonies in the area. The Congress of Vienna 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 Guyanamarker in 1966.
  • Falkland Islandsmarker - The first British base of 1765 was abandoned in 1776. The Islands have been under British control since the Argentine administration was expelled in 1833, save for a brief Argentine occupation during the Falklands War in 1982.

See also


  1. William Vaughan and New Cambriol: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
  2. Nicholas Canny, The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume I: The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century , 2001, ISBN 0-19-924676-9.
  3. The Early Settlement of St. John's, [1], 1998, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project, Memorial University of Newfoundland, accessed August 27, 2006
  4. Paul O'Neill, The Oldest City: The Story of St. John's, Newfoundland, 2003, ISBN 0-9730271-2-6.
  5. Colony of Avalon, [2], Colony of Avalon Foundation, Revised March 2002, accessed August 27, 2006

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