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Colonial America | 13 Colonies

By the 1700s, there were 13 British colonies in North America that were located along the Atlantic coastline. Historians divide these colonies into three regions: New England, Middle, and Southern. The differences in their geography, climate, and natural resources allowed people to produce different products and services which influenced the development of their industries and economy. The colonial regions also varied in their demographics and the structure of their governments. Some early local governments were more democratic than others. The different characteristics in each region influenced the colonists’ opportunities and way of life.

Student Activities for 13 Colonies

Essential Questions for Colonial America in the 1700s

  1. What were the original 13 colonies and how were they divided up regionally?
  2. How did the natural resources and climate present in the different regions affect the development of their economies?
  3. What were some of the reasons Europeans immigrated to the 13 colonies to settle in the 1600s and 1700s?
  4. What were the first forms of local governments like in the 13 colonies and how did they differ?

New England Colonial Region


The New England Region was the northernmost region and included Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The climate in New England is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. While the winters were harsh, the cold weather provided a respite from insects and germs that could cause disease. New England has rocky soil, thick forests, many rivers, and easy access to the sea.


Because of these natural resources, New England’s economy included a variety of industries. The climate and soil made it possible to cultivate the land on small farms. Crops such as corn, squash, onions, and beans could be planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Farms could also maintain apple orchards and livestock. The many rivers and easy access to the sea allowed for fishing, trapping, and trading. Cape Cod was named after the abundance of codfish. Whaling was a lucrative business as whale oil was used in every colony for soap, candles, and lamp oil. Lumber from the dense forests provided wood for building houses and ships.


The first Europeans to permanently settle in New England were the Pilgrims in 1620, followed by the Puritans in 1630. They came in part to escape religious persecution by the Church of England. Religion guided every aspect of their daily lives. The Puritans were very strict in their religious beliefs and were not accepting of other religions. Because of this, an outspoken minister named Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts and left to found a new colony in Rhode Island. He was followed by Anne Hutchinson who also spoke out against some of the strict Puritan practices and was banished. The Rhode Island colony offered more religious freedom.


The colonists in New England created a more democratic system of government than they were afforded in Europe. They held town meetings where colonists could meet and vote on local issues. Men who owned land were permitted to vote and they elected representatives and local officials and governors.

Middle Colonial Region


The Middle Region included New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The climate is similar to the New England region, with hot summers and cold winters. The area has large rivers and river valleys like the Mohawk River Valley in New York and the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. It has fertile soil and a longer growing season than New England. The region has many forests as well as an abundance of minerals like iron, coal, and copper. Harbors in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware made the middle region an ideal place for shipping and trade.


The resources of the middle region allowed colonists to develop a strong economy. They farmed the rich soil cultivating wheat, corn, vegetables, and tobacco and raised livestock such as dairy cattle. The rivers provided a means of transportation for trade as well as trapping. Many other colonists were merchants, miners, sailors, or lumbermen.


The Middle Colonies attracted diverse groups of Europeans. New York was first settled by the Dutch before it became a British colony. Immigrants from Germany and Ireland also flocked to the middle colonies because of its opportunities. Similarly to the Puritans, Quakers faced persecution in England for their religious beliefs. William Penn was granted permission by King Charles II in 1681 to found a colony in Pennsylvania where the Quakers could live peaceably.


In New York, colonists had less power in their government. As a royal colony, their governor was appointed by the king. The governor in turn appointed other officials. Pennsylvania was a bit more democratic. Men with property were allowed to vote for members of an assembly who would write their laws.

Southern Colonial Region


The Southern Region is the southernmost region and included Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The climate is very hot and humid in the summers and mild in the winters. There are forests, accessible harbors along the coast, rivers, and swamps.


Because of the long growing season, the southern colonies were able to produce an abundance of cash crops such as tobacco, rice, indigo, and cotton. These were farmed on large plantations that required a lot of manual labor. To increase their profits, southern plantation owners used the labor of Africans that were stolen from Africa and forced into slavery. While slavery existed in every colony in the 1700s, it was particularly entrenched in the south. Lumbering and trading were other industries in the southern colonies.


Similarly to the Puritans and the Quakers, Catholics faced religious persecution in England. Cecilius Calvert (also known as Lord Baltimore) founded the colony of Maryland in 1634. He sought to make money from the regions’ rich resources and also provide a safe haven for Catholics who were denied rights not only in England but in other colonies. Georgia, on the other hand, became a British colony in 1732 for the purpose of keeping the Spanish in Florida from trying to advance northward. To begin the colony, British debtors were offered the chance to avoid jail time by agreeing to help settle the land. They were given the opportunity to cultivate fifty acres of land in order to pay off their debts.


At first, slavery was illegal in Georgia. However in 1752, all white men were given the right to vote for members of an assembly after which new laws were passed that made slavery legal. In Maryland, white men with property were allowed to vote for members of an assembly that was the lawmaking body.

In these activities, students will learn about the key parts of daily life, industries, forms of government and demographics in the three colonial regions of the 13 colonies in the 1700s.

Frequently Asked Questions about 13 Colonies

Why were the 13 Colonies established?

The 13 Colonies were established for various reasons, primarily driven by economic opportunities, religious freedom, and political autonomy. Economic motivations included the pursuit of profitable resources and trade opportunities, as seen in colonies like Virginia, which was initially established for tobacco cultivation. Religious freedom played a crucial role in the founding of colonies like Massachusetts, founded by Puritans seeking refuge from religious persecution in England, and Pennsylvania, established by William Penn as a haven for Quakers. Additionally, some colonies like Georgia were set up as social experiments or as buffers against Spanish territories. Over time, these colonies developed their own unique identities and social structures, but all were tied to the economic and political goals of British expansion and influence in the New World.

What were the major differences among the 13 Colonies?

The 13 Colonies exhibited significant differences in their economies, social structures, and cultural practices. Economically, the Northern colonies (New England) focused on shipbuilding, fishing, and small-scale subsistence farming, while the Middle colonies were known for their diverse agriculture and were often termed the "breadbasket" for their grain production. The Southern colonies, with their longer growing seasons, focused on cash crops like tobacco, rice, and indigo, often relying heavily on slave labor. Socially and culturally, the colonies varied from the Puritanical strictness of Massachusetts to the religious tolerance in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. These differences were shaped by factors like geography, the origins of their settlers, and their specific economic activities.

What were the key differences between the Northern and Southern Colonies?

The key differences between the Northern (New England) and Southern Colonies largely centered around climate, economy, and social structure. The Northern Colonies, with their harsher climate and rockier soil, focused on small-scale farming, fishing, and shipbuilding. They had a more diverse economy with a focus on manufacturing and trade. The society was more urbanized, with education and religious observance playing significant roles. In contrast, the Southern Colonies, benefiting from a warmer climate and fertile soil, developed economies based on large plantations growing cash crops like tobacco and rice, heavily reliant on slave labor. These differences in economy also led to distinct social structures, with the South having a more rigid class system compared to the more egalitarian society of the North.

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