In 1620, the Plymouth Pilgrims declared self-rule with the Mayflower Compact. Though Plymouth eventually became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, this social contract became the model for the traditional New England town meeting.
The American Colonies were semi-autonomous almost from their inception, with the first legislature convening in Virginia in 1619. Nevertheless, England still had a governor answering directly to the King or Queen.
Each formal British colonial settlement based its structure on a charter in which was contained the governing rules of the colony. In general, these charters set rules for the election of legislators, who were responsible for running the colony and providing for its defense. They also ensured the governor's salary was paid. Over time, the legislators assumed more and more power, eventually revolting at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.