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 13 British colonies established between 1607 and 1770. 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)
  1. North Carolina (ratified the Constitution on November 21, 1789)
  2. 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.

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 at Jamestown, Virginia. Many of the settlers had come to the New World to escape religious persecution or in hopes of economic gains.

In 1620, the Pilgrims, a group of religious dissidents from England, 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 fed them, 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

While the 13 colonies were 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 “common law.” 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 the Crown protect their “Rights as Englishmen,” particularly the right of “no taxation without representation.”

The colonists’ continued and growing grievances with the British government under the rule of King George III would lead to the colonists’ issuance of the Declaration of Independence 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.