British colonization of the Americas

British colonization of the Americas (including colonization under the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland before the 1707 Acts of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain) began in the late 16th century, before reaching its peak after colonies were established throughout the Americas, and a protectorate was established over the Kingdom of Hawaii. The British were one of the most important colonizers of the Americas and their American empire came to rival the Spanish American colonies in extent.

This British conquest caused dramatic upheaval upon the indigenous civilizations in the Americas both directly through British military force and indirectly through cultural disruption and introduced European diseases. Though many of the indigenous societies had a developed warrior class, and long history of warfare, they were not able to withstand the technologically superior British force and eventually succumbed. Many of the conquered peoples vanished or were incorporated into the colonial system.

After the American War of Independence, British territories in the Americas were granted more responsible government until they were prepared for independence. In this way, two countries in North America, ten in the Caribbean, and one in South America have received their independence from the United Kingdom. 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 are Commonwealth Realms, independent of, but in personal union with, the United Kingdom.

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

North America

English colonies in North America

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 Jamestown (and the second, at Bermuda).

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 Delaware), which the Dutch had conquered earlier. This later became part of Pennsylvania 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 Darién, and the short-lived Scottish colonisation of Nova Scotia (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 Britain acquired the French colony of Acadia in 1713 and then Canada and the Spanish colony of Florida in 1763. After being renamed the Province of Quebec, 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 Bay called Rupert's Land. The small parts of the Hudson Bay drainage which are south of the 49th parallel went to the United States 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 America, which was recognized internationally with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), which was signed 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 Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada (the southern portion of modern-day Ontario and Quebec) combined to form a self-governing dominion, named Canada, 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 Island) had been ceded to Britain by the French. The colonies of Prince Edward Island and British Columbia joined over the next six years, and Newfoundland 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 Manitoba (admitted after negotiation between Canada and a Métis provisional government in 1870), Saskatchewan, and Alberta (both created in 1905), as well as the Northwest Territories, the Yukon Territory (created 1898, following the start of the Klondike Gold Rush), and Nunavut (created in 1999).

List of English/British colonies in North America

Non-colonial British territories in North America

  • Columbia District, the trading area 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.
  • New Caledonia, 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 Territory, 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. Its remnant was incorporated at the Yukon Territory after part of it 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.

British Caribbean colonies

In order of settlement or founding:

  • Saint Kitts - 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 Nevis in 1983.
  • Barbados - The island was settled in 1625. It became independent in 1966.
  • Nevis - 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 Nicaragua, this island was settled in 1630 by English Puritans. The colony was conquered by the Spanish and became extinct in 1641. The island today is Providencia Island which is administered by Colombia. Providence Island was a sister colony to the more well known Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • Antigua - The island was settled in 1632. It became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981
  • Barbuda - The island was settled about 1632. It became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981.
  • Montserrat - The island was settled in 1632. It was occupied by the French in 1664-68 and 1782-84. It remains a British territory.
  • Bahamas - The islands were settled from 1647. They became independent in 1971.
  • Anguilla - 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.
  • Jamaica - The island was conquered from Spain in 1655. It became independent in 1962.
  • British Virgin Islands - The islands were settled from 1666. They remain a British territory.
  • Cayman Islands - 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.
  • Dominica - 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 Tobago - 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 Grenadines - 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.
  • Grenada - The island was conquered from France in 1762. The French reoccupied it from 1779 to 1783. It became independent in 1974.
  • Saint Lucia - 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

  • Belize - 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 Spain 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 Guatemalan claims to Belize delayed independence, full independence was granted in 1981.
  • Mosquito Coast (Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast) - This area was first settled in 1630. It was briefly assigned to Honduras in 1859 along with the Bay Islands north of the country, then ceded to Nicaragua 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 Dutch gained control of these colonies. Britain later controlled various colonies in the area. The Congress of Vienna (1815) 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 Guyana in 1966.
  • Falkland Islands - 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


External links

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