British America

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British America and
the British West Indies [lower-alpha 1]
1585–1783 (before British North America)
British America.png
British colonies in continental North America (red) and the island colonies of the  British West Indies  of the  Caribbean Sea  (pink), after the French and Indian War (1754–1763) and before the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)
StatusColonies of England (1585–1707)
Colonies of Scotland
Colonies of Great Britain (1707–1783)
CapitalAdministered from London, England
Common languagesEnglish (de facto official)
Spoken languages:
Anglicanism, Protestantism
Demonym(s) British American
Government Constitutional monarchy
James VI and I (first)
George III (last)
Currency Pound sterling, Spanish dollar, bills of credit, commodity money, and many local currencies
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Royal flag of France.svg New France
Statenvlag.svg New Netherland
Sweden-Flag-1562.svg New Sweden
Flag of New Spain.svg Spanish Florida
British North America Flag of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg
Confederation period Flag of the United States (1777-1795).svg
Spanish Florida Flag of New Spain.svg
British West Indies Flag of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg

British America comprised the colonial territories of the English Empire, and the successor British Empire, in the Americas from 1607 to 1783. [1] These colonies were formally known as British America and the British West Indies immediately prior to thirteen of the colonies seceding in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and forming the United States of America.


After the conclusion of war in 1783, the term British North America was used to refer to the remainder of Great Britain's possessions in what became Canada, the British West Indies in reference to its various island territories, Belize, and Guyana. The term British North America was used in 1783, but it was more commonly used after the Report on the Affairs of British North America, published in 1839 and generally known as the Durham Report.

Imperial history

Military Governors and Staff Officers in garrisons of British North America and West Indies 1778 and 1784 Military Governors and Staff Officers in British North America and West Indies 1778 and 1784.jpg
Military Governors and Staff Officers in garrisons of British North America and West Indies 1778 and 1784
A 1710 British map of North America by John Senex, Charles Price, and John Maxwell Senex, Price, and Maxwell North America 1710 UTA.jpg
A 1710 British map of North America by John Senex, Charles Price, and John Maxwell
Fort George and New York City, c. 1731 A view of Fort George with the city of New York, from the SW.jpg
Fort George and New York City, c.1731

A number of English colonies were established in America between 1607 and 1670 by individuals and companies whose investors expected to reap rewards from their speculation. They were granted commercial charters by Kings James I, Charles I, and Charles II, and by the British Parliament. Later, most colonies were founded, or converted to, royal colonies. In 1607, the London Company (fully titled the Virginia Company of London, but better known as the "Virginia Company") founded the first permanent settlement on the James River at Jamestown, Virginia upstream from Chesapeake Bay. English settlement in the Somers Isles (or Islands of Bermuda), 640 miles off Cape Hatteras, began in 1609 with the wreck of the Sea Venture, leaving the Virginia Company in de facto possession of Bermuda. The company's charter was extended in 1612 to officially encompass the archipelago, and settlers were despatched to join the three men remaining there from the Sea Venture (and plans were begun for an under-company that would become the Somers Isles Company). This was followed, in 1620, with the Pilgrims establishing the Plymouth settlement in New England. English Catholics settled the Province of Maryland in 1634, under Cecilus Calvert, second Lord Baltimore.

A state department in London known as the Southern Department governed all the colonies beginning in 1660 along with a committee of the Privy Council, called the Board of Trade and Plantations. In 1768, Parliament created a specific state department for America, but it was disbanded in 1782 when the Home Office took responsibility for the remaining possessions of British North America in Eastern Canada, the Floridas, and the West Indies. [2]

British America gained large amounts of territory with the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the French and Indian War in America and the Seven Years' War in Europe. At the start of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, the British Empire included 23 colonies and territories on the North American continent. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the Revolutionary War, and Britain lost much of this territory to the newly formed United States. In addition, Britain ceded East and West Florida to the Kingdom of Spain, which in turn ceded them to the United States in 1821. The Atlantic archipelago of the Bahamas had been administratively grouped with the North American continent, but with the loss of the Floridas was grouped with the British colonies of the Caribbean as the British West Indies. Most of the remaining colonies to the north (including the continental colonies and the archipelago of Bermuda, the nearest landfall from which was North Carolina, but the nearest other British territory from which became Nova Scotia) formed the Dominion of Canada in 1867, with the colony of Newfoundland (which had been the Dominion of Newfoundland from 1907 to 1934, before reverting to a colony) joining the independent Commonwealth realm of Canada in 1949, and Bermuda, elevated (by the independence of the thirteen colonies that became the United States) to the role of an Imperial fortress and the most important British naval and military base in the Western Hemisphere (due to its location, 1,236 km (768 mi) south of Nova Scotia, and 1,538 km (956 mi) north of the British Virgin Islands, and handily placed for naval and amphibious operations against its nearest neighbour, the nascent United States, during the 19th century), remains as a British Overseas Territory today.

In the Caribbean, the British West Indies and other European sugar colonies were at the center for the Atlantic slave trade. [3] [4]

Imperial administration after 1783

From 1783 through 1801, the British Empire, including British North America, was administered by the Home Office and by the Home Secretary, then from 1801 to 1854 by the War Office (which became the War and Colonial Office) and Secretary of State for War and Colonies (as the Secretary of State for War was renamed). From 1824, the British Empire was divided by the War and Colonial Office into four administrative departments, including NORTH AMERICA, the WEST INDIES, MEDITERRANEAN AND AFRICA, and EASTERN COLONIES, of which North America included: [5]

North America

The Colonial Office and War Office, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for War, were separated in 1854. [6] [7] The War Office, from then until the 1867 confederation of the Dominion of Canada, split the military administration of the British colonial and foreign stations into nine districts: North America And North Atlantic; West Indies; Mediterranean; West Coast Of Africa And South Atlantic; South Africa; Egypt And The Sudan; INDIAN OCEAN; Australia; and China. North America And North Atlantic included the following stations (or garrisons): [8]

North America and North Atlantic

North American colonies in 1775

The Thirteen Colonies that became the original states of the United States were:

New England Colonies
Middle Colonies
Southern Colonies

Colonies and territories that became part of British North America (and from 1867 the Dominion of Canada):

Colonies that became part of British North America (but which would be left out of the 1867 Confederation of Canada:

Colonies and territories that were ceded to Spain or the United States in 1783:

Colonies in the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, and South America in 1783

Divisions of the British Leeward Islands
Island of Jamaica and its dependencies
Other possessions in the British Windward Islands

See also


  1. Formerly called English America before the Act of Union in 1707.

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  1. "Rights: Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America".
  2. Foulds, Nancy Brown. "Colonial Office". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  3. Lambert, David. "An introduction to the Caribbean, empire and slavery". British Library. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  4. Swingen, Abigail L. (2015). The Slave Trade, the Asiento, and the National Interest, 1698–1718. Yale University Press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300187540.001.0001. ISBN   9780300187540 . Retrieved 19 May 2022.{{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  5. Young, Douglas MacMurray (1961). The Colonial Office in The Early Nineteenth Century. London: Published for the Royal Commonwealth Society by Longmans. p. 55.
  6. Maton, 1995, article
  7. Maton, 1998, article
  9. "Rhode Island Royal Charter of 1663". Secretary of State of Rhode Island . Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  10. "Charles II Granted Rhode Island New Charter". 8 July 1663. Retrieved 14 April 2011.