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The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


British Colonies in the Americas (New England)
AD 1583 - 1783

The English crown made its first tentative efforts to establish overseas settlements in the sixteenth century. Maritime expansion, driven by commercial ambitions and by competition with France, accelerated in the seventeenth century and resulted in the establishment of settlements in North America and the West Indies. With the Spanish very active in South America and the Gulf of Mexico, and as far north as their newly-founded colony in Florida, early explorative efforts from the British Isles were generally either aimed at islands or much further north, mainly towards Newfoundland and the New England coast of the modern USA.

Unlike the New Spain colony, or New France to the north and west of New England, the British colonies did not have one overall viceroy in charge. Instead, each newly-founded colony or province had its own governor, most of whom answered directly to the English crown (and later the British crown). Some other colonies were attempts at creating new homes which could be independent of the perceived injustices in England or Scotland).

However, Britain's American colonies came to rival those of the Spanish in terms of wealth and military might. Thanks to this, when they became independent, they were ideally placed to extend that might and over much of North America, usually to the cost of the Native North American tribes.

The term 'New England' applies today only to six states in the north-eastern USA, these being Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The name was coined by John Smith in 1616, and was officially recognised in 1620. The colonies overall bore no collective label, except for the brief 'Dominion of New England' in 1686-1689 which was universally abhorred and was ditched as soon as King James II had been removed from the throne.

Instead the term 'British Colonies' is used here for all of the British settlements and provinces, whether English, Scottish, Welsh or otherwise, and across the entire colonial period up until the Revolutionary War (the American War of Independence) and the refocus of colonial activities by Britain on what is now Canada.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Britain's Bloody History: Plymouth, Laura Quigley, from Indian Tribes of the New England Frontier (Osprey No 428 Men-at-Arms Series), Michael Johnson, from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)


Explorer John Cabot sets sail from Bristol in England to become the first European since the Vikings to make landfall in Newfoundland, arriving on 24 June. The later city of St John in Newfoundland is named after him, although the exact location of his landfall is disputed. The name is first recorded on a Portuguese map of 1519.

John Cabot
John Cabot, Italian navigator and explorer, surveyed the Newfoundland coast for Henry VII of England, making him the first European visitor to the Americas since the Vikings


The first English colony in North America is chartered on 5 August at St John's Bay, Newfoundland, by Sir Humphrey Gilbert. The colony comprises mainly of Portuguese and French fishing villages, but Sir Humphrey sinks with his ship in a storm before he can make it home. No settlement is made there until 1604.

1585 - 1587

FeatureThe English Roanoke Colony is founded in late 1585 or early 1586 on Roanoke Island (in modern North Carolina). Founded by Sir Walter Raleigh to establish a permanent settlement in the Virginia Colony (which itself is named for Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen), the first stockaded town is named Fort Raleigh.

Dwellings are probably more like barracks for the initial colonists - elongated English-style cottages with wattle-and-daub-covered walls and perhaps internal divisions. Hidden by outer banks, the island is protected from being spotted by passing Spanish ships. The colony is abandoned the following year, leaving a hundred and eight colonists starving, who are then massacred by the natives.

An attempt by John White to re-establish the colony in 1587 also fails, with the settlers disappearing utterly after three years without supplies from England, which is involved in a war with Spain. Only the bones of a single man are found, along with the word 'Croatoan', the name of a native tribe, etched onto a tree.

As this has almost certainly been scratched out by one of the colonists, the presumption is that they have joined that tribe in order to survive. They become known as the 'Lost Colony' after John White returns to them from his drawn-out trip home for supplies to find them gone.

Roanoke Colony
The Roanoke Colony, located on the large island to the lower centre-left of the illustration, was founded in 1586, but by the following year it had failed


With little or no Spanish Colonial control, the Mosquito Coast along the Atlantic makes a perfect haven for Dutch and English pirates who are searching for safe bases from which to launch attacks on gold-laden shipping from New Spain.


FeatureBy this time, three distinctive native tribes of the Eastern Woodland dominate the territory now known as Virginia (see feature link). These tribes speak three different languages - Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian - and live in organised villages along the banks of the coastal waterways, in woodlands and mountain valleys.

When Europeans begin arriving in the region, they meet Indian people of the coastal plain which is inhabited by an Eastern Algonquin empire, today collectively known as Powhatan. The south-western coastal plain is occupied by Iroquois, Nottoway, and Meherrin. The Piedmont is home to two Sioux confederacies: the Monacan and the Manahoac.


The settlement of St John in Newfoundland is founded, making it the oldest incorporated settlement in North America. The settlement is used on a seasonal basis until it becomes permanent in 1620.

Iroquois natives
The Iroquois, shown here in the 1800s, settled the eastern areas of the Eastern Woodlands in large numbers in the first millennium AD, but gradual eastwards encroachment into Algonquian lands saw the Iroquoian Meherrin and Nottoway living amongst them in eastern Virginia and North Carolina by the time the Europeans arrived

1606 - 1607

The Virginia Company is chartered by James I of England when two companies are given the rights to settle the coast of North America. The Virginia Company of London, or London Company, is centred on the James River in Virginia, while the Virginia Company of Plymouth, or Plymouth Company, is to handle the coastal strip to the north, although it fails to get started (this territory becomes known as New England).

FeatureRobert Hunt, vicar of Holy Cross Church in Hoath, England (see feature link), in 1594, arrives at the James River colony in 1607 and celebrates the first Anglican communion in the new colonies, thereby laying the basis for the Episcopalian church in the later United States. The Popham Colony, or Sagadahoc Colony, is founded by the Plymouth Company in 1607, but is abandoned in 1608.


FeatureJames Fort is founded, the earliest part of the later Jamestown Colony (1609). Captain John Smith encounters Pocahontas (real name Matoaka or Amonute). She is about twelve years old, with an estimated date of birth of 1595 and is the daughter of Powhatan, the chief of the Powhatan confederacy of native tribes (see feature link). Smith later recounts how she saves him from execution at the hands of the natives when he is captured (and see 1611, below).

Captain John Smith trades with the Powhatan
John Smith is shown in this illustration trading with the native Americans who resided close to James Fort, although his explorations took him much further afield, across the northern edge of Chesapeake Bay and into Susquehannock territory (click or tap on image to view full sized)

However, this would appear to be a ritualised 'mock execution', performed in order to adopt Smith as a weroance - the English becoming, in Powhatan's eyes, yet another sub-tribe to be controlled and brought under his influence, assimilation being more subtle than conquest.

Smith is also paraded before the Rappahannock in case he may be the murderer of one of their minor chiefs. Smith is declared innocent, not fitting the description of the murderer.

A staunch opponent of Smith's is Captain Gabriel Archer. He is deeply involved in the colony's politics and leads some of the first expeditions up the James River, seeking gold and silver. He takes a deadly dislike to Smith, and conspires unsuccessfully to have him executed in the colony - Smith's second lucky escape.


FeatureExploring the northern edge of Chesapeake Bay, Captain John Smith meets the Susquehannock for the first time. He is especially impressed with their size, deep voices, and the variety of their weapons. Their height must indeed be exceptional, because the Swedes also comment on it thirty years later.

He also meets a group of Manahoac, who live in at least seven villages to the west of the early European settlement, above the falls of the Rappahannock River. The Manahoac are friends of the Monacan and enemies of the powerful Powhatan.

Map of the Powhatan confederacy AD 1600
The Powhatan confederacy (the pale orange area) was formed towards the end of the sixteenth century, and under its second paramount chief it rapidly expanded to cover territory which is now divided between the states of Delaware and Maryland (click or tap on map to view full sized)

In the same year, one of the Nansemond towns is raided and houses and canoes are destroyed in order to force the Indians to give the settlers corn. John Smith and his men demand four hundred bushels of corn or the village will be demolished. The Indians agree and the English leave with most of the tribe's corn supply.

1609 - 1610

The Bermuda islands are settled by the London Company in 1609, followed by the founding of the Jamestown Settlement on 14 May 1610 in an area which contains no native settlements, making it the first permanent English settlement in North America.

In the same year, the Cuper's Cove settlement is founded in Newfoundland by the Society of Merchant Venturers. It is abandoned in the 1620s. The winter of 1609-1610 is an especially harsh one.

The Jamestown settlers are besieged by Powhatan natives as the opening phase of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609-1614), and have insufficient food to last the winter. First they eat their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice, and snakes. Some are driven to eat the leather of their shoes. As the winter crawls on, nothing is spared to maintain life.

The period is known as the 'Starving Time' to historians, and is one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The final stage of that horror is when the living have to resort to cannibalising the bodies of the dead.

Written documents suggest this to later historians, but in 2013 archaeologists discover the proof to back it up in the form of human bones which display clear signs of chops and cuts, probably by an inexperienced butcher, and possibly by a woman, who make up the majority of the fort's inhabitants.

Jamestown parish church
The 1617 Jamestown parish church is in a location which today is increasingly at risk of flooding due to global warming, so four of its most notable internments were archaeologically excavated in 2013 and examined closely to confirm their identities: Captain Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, Captain William West, and the colony's first Anglican preacher, Reverend Robert Hunt

Relief finally arrives in the form of Lord De La Warr, who sails into the settlement with food and new colonists. After six months of siege and starvation, only sixty of the original three hundred settlers have survived.

Sir Ferdinando Wainman is part of De La Warr's expedition. A military man, he takes charge of the community's defences. Like many early settlers he doesn't adapt to the harsh Virginia climate and he dies a few months later from disease, becoming the first English knight to be buried in the Americas.

Captain William West is a relative of Sir Ferdinando and he arrives on the same ship. He is killed by the natives near the location of present-day Richmond. Like Sir Ferdinando, he is buried in an elaborate human-shaped coffin, both being laid to rest in the colony's burial site (the first church is built in 1617, either over these important graves, or they are moved to its chancel soon afterwards).

1610 - 1616

The 'Citie of Henricus' settlement is founded in 1611 by Sir Thomas Dale (now in Chesterfield County, Virginia) as an alternative to the swampy Jamestown Settlement area. The native Arrohattec who had until very recently lived in this area appear to have become extinct, leaving their village a ghost town.

FeatureFrom 1610 Pocahontas becomes a friend of the newly-founded Jamestown Colony. When she visits the Patawomeck on behalf of her father in 1613, she is taken hostage by the weroance, Japasaws. He has been helping the English in their efforts to evade Powhatan's intention of starving them into submission (see feature link).

Japasaws trades her to an English sea captain named Samuel Argall, in exchange for a copper kettle! This results in a truce in the First Anglo-Powhatan War and Pocahontas becomes a pawn in the politics of the day.

Powhatan warriors
Warriors of the Powhatan confederacy watch over their fellows in this early illustration which also seems to show English colonists and a stockaded settlement

When Powhatan refuses to trade for his daughter, Pocahontas becomes resident at Henricus, where she is treated extremely courteously by the English. She is baptised as a Christian, taking the name Rebecca, and she meets tobacco plantation owner Captain John Rolfe who is pioneering a new strain of tobacco plant. The two marry on 5 April 1614,

The marriage leads to peace talks and the end of the Powhatan-driven war. A son is born to the couple on 30 January 1615, named Thomas Rolfe. The family sail to England to promote the colony in 1616, with Pocahontas being greeted at court by James I. She dies at Gravesend in March 1617 of an unspecified illness (smallpox is suspected).

1615 - 1618

The London and Bristol Company creates the Renews settlement in Newfoundland in 1615 (but it is abandoned in 1619). The same company founds the New Cambriol settlement (also in Newfoundland), only for it also to be abandoned before 1637. In 1618 the Society of Merchant Venturers founds the Bristol's Hope settlement in Newfoundland, but it is abandoned in the 1630s.


FeatureOn 21 November, the Pilgrim Fathers arrive at Cape Cod in New England on the Mayflower (this land had formerly been the Plymouth Company territory). They are leaving behind them the confused religious situation in England, hoping to found a new and better community in the New World (see feature link).

Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower
Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower - little did they realise what horrors awaited them on the coast of the New World (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ61-206)

1622 - 1624

The Province of Maine (the far north-eastern corner of the modern USA) is founded in 1622, its name perhaps originating from the French province of the same name in New France. But it is not all plain sailing for the English in the Americas.

The Jamestown Massacre devastates the Jamestown Settlement and the Citie of Henricus on Good Friday, 22 March 1622. Natives of the Powhatan confederacy launch a surprise attack which leaves a quarter of the colony's population dead (347 people, although the Patawomeck refuse to participate in the massacre). They are led in this Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1644) by Opechancanough.

In 1623, the Province of New Hampshire is settled immediately to the south of Maine, but in response to the native attack, in 1624 King James dissolves the charter company controlling the Jamestown colony and Virginia becomes an English royal colony.


The English colonists defeat the Powhatan, the only Eastern Algonquin confederacy which had been strong enough to challenge the nearby Susquehannock people. The Susquehannock are freed up by the Powhatan defeat, so now the Delaware - and also the Dutch of New Netherland - are attacked by the Susquehannock from the Susquehanna Valley.

Map of the Susquehannock AD 1600
The Susquehannock territories were centred around the river which bore their name, but extended far to the east, towards Lake Erie where they abutted the generally peaceful Erie people and north to the Iroquois nations, who certainly were not peaceful (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1628 - 1629

Salem Colony is founded. The following year it is merged with the new Massachusetts Colony, which takes its name from the local natives. Nova Scotia (New Scotland) is founded opposite and to the south-west of Newfoundland between 1629-1632. The Province of Maine borders it to the west.


A fleet of eleven ships leaves England, bound for New England, with colonists led by the Puritan John Winthrop. He has collected people together to settle the new world, which offers religious freedom from the Anglican Church which is still seen by some as being too steeped in Catholicism despite its separation from the Catholic Church almost a century before. By the year's end the colonists found the city of Boston, naming it after the town in Lincolnshire in England.

1631 - 1641

Proceeding outwards from North America, the earl of Warwick's Providence Island Company is formed on Providence Island in the Caribbean (now part of Colombia). The company makes contact with the Miskito and establishes friendly relations with the king and his people. Two English bases are founded in the region and, in 1638, the kingdom of Mosquitia is officially recognised by England.

Susquehannock warriors
Their height and deep voices, plus the variety of Susquehannock weapons, made a deep impression on the early Europeans who met them, notably John Smith in 1608 and the first Swedish settlers a generation later

1633 - 1636

Connecticut Colony is founded in 1633 out of territory which is part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. It is named from an Algonquian native word for 'long river', Quinatucquet. The nearby Province of Maryland (named after the Virgin Mary) is founded a year later.

The Conoy and Patuxenet welcome these new colonists but the Susquehannock are not nearly as friendly, especially when settlements begin to creep steadily up the western side of Chesapeake Bay from Fort St George on the St Mary's River.

The New Albion colony is also chartered to settle areas of Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but it fails by 1649. In 1636, the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations are founded, as is the New Haven Colony, north of Rhode Island (only to be merged with the neighbouring Connecticut Colony in 1662).

1637 - 1638

The death of a settler from the British Colonies leads to the destruction of between six and seven hundred Native Americans. The remainder are sold into slavery in Bermuda. On 26 May 1637, the Mystic Massacre is a major event in the early days of the Pequot War.

English colonists, with Mohegan and Narragansett allies, attack a large Pequot village on the Mystic River in what is now Connecticut, killing around five hundred villagers. The war itself takes place in Connecticut and Rhode Island, pitching the Pequot against an alliance of the Mohegan, Narragansett, and Niantic.

Warships of the English Civil War
Warships at the time of the English Civil War, with ninety of them mustered in Plymouth Sound in 1625 (with the kind permission of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Library of Toronto)


The first wave of Swedish and Finnish settlers arrive under the leadership of Peter Minuit (former director-general of New Netherland). They create New Sweden when they settle land on the lower Delaware (claimed by the Dutch) and build Fort Christina. The land is claimed to have been purchased from the local Delaware and Susquehannock, although they counter the claim with accusations of land theft.

1642 - 1644

Problems between the colonists and the Susquehannock have increased to such a degree that the governor of Maryland declares the Susquehannock to be enemies of the colony, to be shot on sight. By 1644, attempts at securing a peaceful resolution have failed, and Susquehannock trade with the English is temporarily halted.

1644 - 1646

FeatureThe Second Battle of Virginia - sometimes referred to as the start of a Third Anglo-Powhatan War - takes place in 1644, with the native Powhatan confederacy still under Opechancanough. This bookends the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1644). The result is that the English completely crush the Powhatan and take control of eastern Virginia (see feature link), while allowing the Susquehannock to extend their own dominion beyond Powhatan territory.

Fort Christina
Founded by the first settlers of New Sweden in 1638, Fort Christina on the lower Delaware was named in honour of Queen Christina of Sweden

In 1645, the Susquehannock end their hostilities with Maryland and sign a treaty which cedes their claims in Maryland between the Choptank and Patuxent rivers. The Susquehannock hardly notice the brief interruption of trade with the English because the settlers of New Sweden have more than made up the difference. The Susquehannock are also able to continue to trade with New Netherland by using the portages between the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Hudson rivers to New Amsterdam.


Spain has not settled the Bahamas, although it had enslaved and deported a substantial number of natives to work in Cuba and Hispaniola until that population had dwindled to nothing by 1515. Now the first permanent European settlement is established there by English Puritans who are known as the 'Eleutheran Adventurers'.


English troops take the island of Jamaica in the West Indies from New Spain, making it a hub for rum production and slave trading, as well as a colonial hub for British West Indies colonial territories.

1660 - 1669

The Iroquois strike the Delaware throughout the Delaware Valley and throughout the 1660s, effectively taking them out of the war. For the Susquehannock, the worst blow is a smallpox epidemic which strikes in 1661. Their population is devastated to a point from which it never recovers.

The Susquehannock nevertheless manage to hold on. A treaty is signed between them, the Passyunk Lenape, and Maryland, ending the lingering hostility with the English. The agreement provides firearms and ammunition, since the Maryland colonists are well aware of the value of the Susquehannock as a buffer against the New Netherland-allied Iroquois.

Map showing Lenni-Lenape territory
The Lenni-Lenape were distributed as shown in this map, located mainly in New Jersey and adjacent territories, including the western section of Long Island, with a questionable group of possible Munsee speakers alongside them (click or tap on map to view full sized)

In 1663, with English help, the Susquehannock are able to turn back a major Iroquois invasion. In the following year the English take New York from the Dutch (see 1664-1667, below), and shortly afterwards form their own alliance with the Iroquois. In 1666 Maryland, however, does not feel entirely assured by this and renews its treaty with the Susquehannock.

The year 1667 coincides with another outbreak of smallpox, so the Iroquois make peace with New France and their native allies and this allows them to concentrate on their war with the Susquehannock.

With the support of Maryland, the Susquehannock fight on in an increasingly bitter struggle, but by autumn 1669 they are down to only three hundred warriors and are forced to ask the Iroquois for peace. The Iroquois response to their offer is to torture and kill the Susquehannock ambassador who delivers it.

1664 - 1667

An English fleet attacks and captures the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, renaming it the 'Province of New York' after the Duke of York (later James II). It includes territory belonging to the modern states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

The capture of New Amsterdam leads to the Second Anglo-Dutch War the following year, which ends with the Netherlands agreeing to the English ownership of the colony in exchange for Suriname.

In addition, English colonists are far more numerous than the Dutch, and the conquest of New York opens new areas for their settlement. The Dutch have at least paid for native lands, but the English claim the land by right of discovery and pay only when absolutely necessary. Connecticut Puritans found Newark in 1666 and begin expanding into New Jersey.

The fall of New Amsterdam
As one Indian war rumbled on and another started up, Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant was forced to surrender New Amsterdam to the British on 8 September 1664, allowing the colony's new owners to rename it New York City (click or tap on image to view full sized)


The Province of South Carolina receives its first permanent settlement. The Province of Georgia is settled around the same time. Also in 1760, the Hudson's Bay Company is incorporated by English royal charter as 'The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay'.

In the vast north-western region of what is now Canada which it eventually comes to control, it acts as the de facto government until more accountable forms of colonial government can be formed to take over.

1673 - 1674

New York is seized by the Dutch during the Third Anglo-Dutch war, but is returned as part of the Treaty of Westminster in 1674. Also in 1674, parts of the province of New York are divided to become the province of New Jersey.

Chief Mehocksett of the New Jersey Delaware and his brother, Chief Petequoque, together with Chief Socoroccett, sell parcels of land to the English which, because the colonists have a habit of not paying, leads to confrontations with the Rankoke, Sawkin, and Soupnapka tribes, which requires a peace conference with New York's Governor Edmund Andros, the fourth incumbent of the post.


The Iroquois finally defeat the Susquehannock. Driven from Pennsylvania, the survivors settle on the upper Potomac River at the invitation of the governor of Maryland, although in reality there is no refuge for them. The location may be acceptable to a royal governor, but it is deeply resented by the local colonists.

Susquehanna Valley
The Susquehanna Valley became the focus of Susquehannock settlement from around the middle of the twelfth century, well before any Europeans had reached the Americas on a permanent basis

After several depredations (probably by Iroquois), a thousand-man 'army' which is little more than an armed mob assembles under Colonel John Washington (great-grandfather of George Washington).

In direct defiance of the orders of Virginia's governor, Washington's militia under the command of Nathaniel Bacon besieges the Susquehannock in an old fort on the Potomac and, following the murder of six of their sachems, they abandon the fort and launch a series of retaliatory raids on the Virginia and Maryland frontier.

Most of the blame for these raids falls on the Virginians' Pamunkey and Occaneeche allies and leads to their near annihilation by the colonists during Bacon's Rebellion the following year.

Afterwards, the Susquehannock move north but are attacked by Maryland militia near Columbia, Maryland, where many are killed. Some manage to reach safety with the Meherrin in North Carolina. More moderately, the Lenape have already sold some of their northern New Jersey lands to the English settlers in 1673 and they sell more in 1681.

1675 - 1676

King Philip's War (the First Indian War) erupts in New England between settlers of the British Colonies and the Native Americans as a result of tensions over colonial expansion activities. The bloody war rages up and down the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts and in the Plymouth and Rhode Island colonies, eventually resulting in six hundred colonists and three thousand natives being killed, including women and children on both sides.

Bacon's Rebellion
Nathaniel Bacon refused to follow Governor Berkley's accommodation-not-annihilation approach to dealing with the native Americans - instead he was happy to support the dissatisfied settlers who had suffered from poor crops and high taxes and wanted the natives punished and pushed out

King Philip (the colonist's nickname for Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag who is also leading the Narragansett in this war) is hunted down and killed on 12 August 1676, in a swamp in Rhode Island.

Known as the 'Great Swamp Fight of Rhode Island', the fight ends the war in southern New England. In New Hampshire and Maine, the Saco people continue to raid settlements for another year and-a-half.


The remaining Susquehannock have little choice but to surrender to the Iroquois. Considering the circumstances, they are treated well. Under the terms of the agreed peace, the Susquehannock are resettled amongst the Mohawk and Oneida.

There they become members of the Iroquois 'covenant chain' (a series of alliances and treaties developed during the seventeenth century, primarily between the Iroquois league and the British Colonies, with other Native American tribes added).

Their dominion over the Delaware and other former allies is also surrendered to the league. During the following years, several Susquehannock rise to leadership as Iroquois war chiefs. Although treated with respect, the Susquehannock are not free.


The Province of Pennsylvania is founded, although areas of the territory have already been settled by Dutch and Swedes since 1631. It is named after the owner of the Royal Charter, the Quaker William Penn, 'Penn-silva-nia'; silvia being Latin for forest or woods.

FeatureFeatureHe had been baptised in the church of All Hallows by The Tower in London in 1644, a year after his father (also William Penn) had been married at the Guild Church of St Martin-within-Ludgate (see feature links for both churches).

Delaware Stockbridge
The remnants of a great many tribes of the eastern seaboard congregated as the Stockbridge, Brotherton, and Housatonic, seeking protection amongst numbers - this oil painting is entitled 'Delaware Indians sign the Treaty of Penn', by Benjamin West

Having been expelled from Oxford and arrested for his Quaker beliefs, Penn entertains the curious notion that his royal charter does not override native rights to the land. Before beginning his 'Holy Experiment' - a colony with religious tolerance - Penn sends William Markham to negotiate the purchase of south-eastern Pennsylvania.

In November, Penn arrives and signs a treaty at Shackamaxon (Philadelphia) with Tamanend, the sachem chosen by several groups of Lenape to represent them for the occasion. The agreement has been described by Voltaire as 'the one treaty with the Indians which the whites never broke'.


William Penn attempts to sign a treaty with the Susquehannock, only to learn that they (like the Delaware) first need Iroquois approval. Subsequent dealings by the Pennsylvania government of the British Colonies concentrates on the Iroquois and ignores the subservient tribes.


Surveyors mark out Wall Street in New York along the line of the original New Amsterdam stockade.

1688 - 1697

The North Yarmouth Skirmish involves the Abnaki. This forms a prelude to the First French-Indian War (1689-1697) which is also known as King William's War or the Second Indian War to the English settlers.

Battles which take place in 1689 include Lachine near Montreal (involving the Iroquois), and Dover, New Hampshire (involving the Ossipee, Pennacook, and Pigwacket). The Schenectady Massacre, and the battles of Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, and Fort Loyal, Falmouth, all occur in 1690, the last of these again involving the Abnaki.

The 1691 Battle of Saco also involves the Abnaki, with the Battle of York, Maine, taking place in 1692. The war simmers until the 1697 Battle of Haverhill, Massachusetts ends in defeat for the Abnaki. The subject Lenape lose two-thirds of their warriors during the war whilst serving as Iroquois auxiliaries.

First French Indian War
The First French-Indian War involved a complex mixture of British, French, and many Indian tribes all pitched against one another, with allegiances shifting according to circumstance


The Plymouth colony at Cape Cod is merged with the Massachusetts Bay colony. King William's War (1690-1697) sees the New French territory of Acadia captured by the British, but it is returned as part of the peace settlement.


The British dismantle the defensive wall around the former Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

1702 - 1713

Acadia is recaptured from New France by the British during Queen Anne's War and this time it remains in British hands, as confirmed by the Treaties of Utrecht in 1713, becoming part of the territory of Nova Scotia.

Within the same time period, the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713 largely involves the Tuscarora people alone, and takes place in Northern Carolina. Under Chief Hancock they attack several settlements, killing settlers and destroying farms. The conflict includes the Neuse/Pamlico Settlement of 1711 and the 1712 Barnwell Campaign against the Tuscarora and their allies.

In 1713, James Moore and allied Yamasee warriors defeat the raiders in 'Moore's Fight'. The final defeat of the Tuscarora occurs at the hands of Tom Blount, with a treaty subsequent being agreed.

Government House, Bahamas
Government House stands on Mount Fitzwilliam hill, in the Bahamas, a Georgian construction of stuccoed-coral-rock on Duke Street

1704 - 1718

During William Penn's lifetime, things go relatively well. To make room for the English, the Lenape move west to the upper Schuykill, Brandywine, and Lehigh valleys, with the settlers' Delaware Colony being detached from Pennsylvania in 1704.

By 1718 - the same year in which Britain restores its control of the Bahamas following a takeover by pirates from 1706 - the Iroquois have assumed complete control of the affairs of the Lenape - an arrangement which has been encouraged by Pennsylvania's governors to ensure that the Lenape do not come under the influence of New France. When William Penn dies in the same year, his three sons by his second marriage inherit his estate but apparently none of his honesty.


Pennsylvania's authorities 'establish' the infamous 'Walking Purchase' agreement, a treaty supposedly signed in 1686 in which the Lenape cede the land between the junction of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers as far west as a man can walk in a day and a half (about sixty-four kilometres, or forty miles).

This is bad enough, but Penn's son, Thomas, hires three of the fastest men in the colony and offers a prize to the one who can cover the greatest distance.

The Walking Purchase Agreement
The Lenape were taken in by the proposed terms of Pennsylvania's 'Walking Purchase' agreement and ended up losing twice as much land as anticpated

Running on a prepared path, the winner goes twice the distance anticipated by the Lenape, which costs them most of the Lehigh valley. Realising they have been cheated, the Lenape expect the Iroquois to defend their interests, but the Iroquois are furious that the Lenape have dared to sign a treaty without their permission. Pennsylvania also takes the precaution of bribing them to stay angry and enforces the agreement.

1744 - 1748

The Treaty of Lancaster is signed in 1744, in which the Iroquois give permission to the British to build a trading post at the forks of the Ohio (at Pittsburgh), but both Pennsylvania and Virginia interpret the agreement to mean that the Iroquois are ceding their claims to Ohio.

Pennsylvania's claim is more modest and also focuses on eastern Ohio, but Virginia sees itself as master of the entire Ohio Valley, westwards to the Illinois River, and including Kentucky and lower Michigan.

The War of the Austrian Succession is a wide-ranging conflict which encompasses the North American King George's War, two Silesian Wars, the War of Jenkins' Ear, and involves most of the crowned heads of Europe in deciding the question of whether Maria Theresa can succeed as archduke of Austria and, perhaps even more importantly, as Holy Roman emperor.

King George's War
King George's War was just one phase in a complicated power struggle between Britain and France for control of North America, and also for political and military dominance in Europe, and the native Americans were forced to take sides in the struggle

Austria is supported by Britain, the Netherlands, the Savoyard kingdom of Sardinia, and Saxony (after an early switchover), but opposed by an opportunistic Prussia and France, who had raised the question in the first place to disrupt Habsburg control of Central Europe, backed up by Bavaria and Sweden (briefly). Spain joins the war in an unsuccessful attempt to restore possessions lost to Austria in 1715.

The War of Jenkins' Ear pitches Britain against Spain between 1739-1748. The Russo-Swedish War, or Hats' Russian War, is the Swedish attempt to regain territory lost to Russia in 1741-1743. King George's War is fought between Britain and France in the French Colonies in 1744-1748.

The First Carnatic War of 1746-1748 involves the struggle for dominance in India by France and Britain. Henry Pelham, leader of the English government in Parliament, is successful in ending the war, achieving peace with France and trade with Spain through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Austria is ultimately successful, losing only Silesia to Prussia.

1747 - 1749

Plans for opening Ohio to settlement get underway when Virginia grants a charter to the Ohio Company. Pennsylvania considers the Ohio tribes to be subject to the Iroquois, but when they refuse the league's orders to return to the Susquehanna, it is obvious that something needs to be done.

Logstown expedition 1749
As shown by this modern image, a French expedition visited Logstown in 1749 (location of the eponymous 1752 treaty), under the command of Pierre-Joseph Celeron de Blainville


With British traders subverting the loyalty of their allies, and the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee defying its authority, New France decides to militarily enforce its claims to Ohio. It turns first to the Detroit tribes (Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Wyandot), usually its most dependable allies, but the tribes are thinking of trading with the British themselves and do not want to fight the Ohio tribes.

In June, Charles Langlade, a French-Ojibwe of mixed blood, leads a war party of 250 Ojibwa and Ottawa from Mackinac and destroys the Miami village and British trading post at Piqua, Ohio.

Following the initial shock of this attack, the tribes of the French alliance fall into place, and the French follow up their success by building a line of forts across western Pennsylvania to block British access to Ohio. Most Delaware and Shawnee have no desire to be controlled by the French and therefore turn to the Iroquois for help.

From the Iroquois perspective, the French and British seem like two thieves fighting over their land, but they decide that the French are the more immediate threat. The league signs the Logstown Treaty, which reconfirms their 1744 cession of land and gives the British permission to build a blockhouse at Pittsburgh. Before it is finished however, the French burn it.

British capture of Fortress Louisbourg in 1745
The capture of Fortress Louisbourg by the British in 1745 was a good indicator of the way things were developing as far as French interests in North America were concerned, although a final British victory was far from certain

1754 - 1758

In May a conference is held at Albany between representatives of the British Colonies and Iroquois League to prepare for war with New France. Unable to defend Ohio, the Iroquois cede it to Pennsylvania, but they fully intend to keep the Wyoming and Susquehanna valleys.

Unfortunately, an Albany trader manages to get some of the minor Iroquois representatives drunk, and when they sober up they discover that they have signed an agreement with a Connecticut land company which opens up the valleys to settlement.

Rather than achieve unity, the conference ends with the Iroquois furious with the British about this treaty, Pennsylvania protesting Connecticut's attempt to claim its territory, and the Delaware threatening to kill any whites who try to settle in the Wyoming Valley.

Meanwhile, Virginia has decided to act on its own and sends an expedition commanded by a twenty-two year-old militia major named George Washington to demand the surrender of Fort Duquesne, the new fort built by the French at Pittsburgh. Major Washington gets himself into a fight with French soldiers and starts the French-Indian War.

The Fourth French-Indian War erupts, starting with the Battle of Great Meadows. Two more battles are fought in 1754, these being Fort Necessity and Braddock's Defeat, with Crown Point (Lake George) taking place in 1755 against the Mohawk and the Caughnawaga who are led by Hendrick, while in earlier battles the Mingo people are led by Half-King. In 1756, Oswego is the only battle.

Quebec in 1700
By the start of the eighteenth century, The New France capital of Quebec was a thriving colonial city, the focus of French colonial attempts to create a powerful new state in North America

In 1757 the siege of Fort William Henry involves the Upper Great Lakes Indians - generally Iroquois, Ottawa, and Abnaki from Canada. When the fort's red-coated British and blue-coated troops of the British Colonies are forced to surrender after days of bombardment, they are offered all the honours of war.

The French General Montcalm allows them to march back to Fort Edward with their weapons and possessions intact. His native allies have other ideas, however. After rampaging through the fort to kill and scalp the wounded and dig up corpses for the same treatment, they charge into the assembled body of retreating British and massacre between seventy and one hundred and eighty of them.

Colonel Munro and various other scattered survivors eventually reach the protection of Fort Edward (the massacre is portrayed with brutal realism in the 1992 film, Last of the Mohicans, although Munro is killed in this version).

The following year, 1758, sees battles take place at Louisburg and Fort Frontenac with little native involvement.

1759 - 1763

In 1759 General James Wolfe claims New France for Britain with victory over the French near Quebec, although he dies achieving it. It takes a further two years for British forces to end French opposition to their gains within the territory but the province of Quebec is eventually secured for Britain.

General James Wolfe
General James Wolfe completed his victory over the French - giving the British nominal control of the vast and still largely unexplored northern territories - but paid for it with his life in 1759

Governors of the Province of Quebec
AD 1760 - 1791

The English explorer John Cabot become in 1497 the first European since the Vikings to make landfall in Newfoundland. The first English colony in North America was chartered on 5 August at St John's Bay, Newfoundland, but the colony's founder failed to arrive. Subsequently, English colonial interests had largely been focussed farther south, leaving the north to the French.

The explorer Jacques Cartier made three voyages across the Atlantic between 1534 and 1542. The land he discovered in North America (largely focussing on the Quebec region of modern Canada) was claimed for King Francis I. Cartier heard two captured guides speak the Iroquoian word 'kanata', meaning 'village'. By the 1550s, the name 'Canada' had begun appearing on maps. Each French province had its own governor, but the governor-general of New France was the ultimate authority in the colonies.

During the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), and following their acceptance of defeat, the French abandoned most of the region to the British. Upon the surrender of Montreal in September 1760, the British Colonies gained territory to the north of New England which would later become Upper Canada (from 1791). By gaining control of this and the rest of New France between 1760 and 1763, Britain secured for itself the vast northern territories which today form the eastern half of Canada.

The post of governor of Quebec was a direct continuation of the former French position, mainly involving the control of British military forces and the territory's defence. However, very shortly after this date the thirteen British colonies to the south-east would be embroiled in the American War of Independence, with the result that Quebec assumed an increasingly important role in British interests in North America.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Indian Tribes of the New England Frontier (Osprey No 428 Men-at-Arms Series), Michael Johnson, from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and The Canadian Encyclopaedia: Upper Canada.)

1760 - 1763

Despite the death of General James Wolfe in 1759, his victory has gained the vast province of Quebec for Britain. As part of the ongoing war, Havana in Cuba is seized and looted on 13 August 1762, but is restored to Spain the following year in exchange for Florida. The borders of the territory which are to be handed over are never entirely confirmed and remain contested (in words only) until after the creation of the USA.

New France is also formally handed over to Britain by France and is renamed the province of Quebec. The territory of the British thirteen colonies is confirmed as lying between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian Mountains, with a band of Crown lands reserved for native tribes to the east, although that territory is also claimed as part of the vast territory of Louisiana.

Proclamation of 1763
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 has long been debated by historians in reference to its influence on the later revolutionary war, but it was a genuine attempt to respect the territorial rights of the native Americans following the conclusion of the French-American War

1760 - 1763

Sir Jeffrey Amherst

First British governor of Quebec. Recalled & criticised.

1761 - 1765

The Pontiac War involves initial battles in the Ohio river valley at forts Pitt and Miami, with the Delaware, Huron, Miami, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Seneca, and Shawnee all taking part under the collective leadership of Pontiac of the Ottawa, the 'Delaware Prophet'. Battles and sieges in 1763 are at Fort Detroit, Niagara, Presque Island, Sault St Marie, Mackinac, and Venango, with a final fight at Bushy Run.

In the same year the Seneca launch a double ambush of a British supply train and its supporting contingent of troops in what becomes known as the Devil's Hole Massacre, on 14 September 1763.

1763 - 1764

Thomas Gage

Temporary governor. A competent administrator.

1764 - 1768

James Murray

Civilian governor. Resign through lack of support.


In the summer, Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee attend a conference with William Johnson at Fort Niagara and make peace with the British. In August, Colonel John Bradstreet, with 1,200 men, advances west along the southern shore of Lake Erie to attack the remaining hostile Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Wyandot.

En route, Bradstreet meets the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee chiefs at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania), and concludes a preliminary peace treaty. He reaches Detroit in September, where another treaty is signed with the remainder of Pontiac's allies.

Shaken by the uprising, the British government issues the 'Proclamation of 1763', closing the frontier to further settlement to the west of the Appalachians. In the east, the law angers the colonists and starts them on the path to revolution.

In the west, the frontiersmen simply ignore it and settle illegally in western Pennsylvania, beginning with the Redstone and, appropriately enough, Cheat rivers. The British military simply cannot stop them. By 1774, there are 50,000 whites occupying territory to the west of the Appalachians.

Delaware Indians
A contemporary sketch of an unidentified tribe of Delaware Indians, with the mass of European influences - especially in terms of dress - suggesting that it may be from the mid or late 1700s


Prime Minister George Grenville, unpopular at home in Britain with the king and the people, attempts to regain favour by lowering domestic taxes at the expense of the colonies, introducing the Stamp Act (repealed in 1766). The laws give rise to widespread protests in America which eventually boil over into the War for Independence.

In the colonies, General Thomas Gage (the former temporary governor of Quebec) has rejected Bradstreet's treaty with the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee because it has been signed without first consulting William Johnson. Bradstreet is ordered to move south and attack the Delaware and Shawnee villages in Ohio.

At the same time, Bouquet's army moves west from Fort Pitt, trapping the Delaware and Shawnee in between. In November, the Delaware and Shawnee sign a peace with Britain at Coshocton and release the two hundred white prisoners they are holding. Pontiac makes his own peace with the British, but is disgraced by his capitulation and failure to take Detroit.

1766 - 1768

Sir Guy Carleton

Lieutenant-governor. Promoted.

1768 - 1778

Sir Guy Carleton

Former lieutenant-governor. Recalled 1770-1774 & 1778.

1770 - 1774

Hector Theophilus de Cramahé

Huguenot lieutenant-governor.


British troops kill three members of a mob in the 'Boston Massacre' - a propaganda coup for the colonials. In fairness to the soldiers, the confrontation had started off with a mob surrounding a lone sentry and verbally abusing him. Several further soldiers and an officer who come to his assistance are attacked with clubs and stones - and even snowballs. One of the panicked troops fires off a shot and his colleagues join in.

1774 - 1775

In September 1774, an American provisional government is established and the American Revolutionary War, or War of Independence, begins. The first blood to be shed is at the Battles of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. The British win both, as well as successfully defending West Florida.

Fort Laurens
Fort Laurens was built by the revolutionary Americans at Bolivar in what is now Ohio, in a failed attempt to use it as a staging point to attack the British

1776 - 1783

On 4 July 1776, Britain's thirteen earliest colonies on the east coast of North America make a public declaration of independence. In revenge for the British seizure of Havana in Cuba in 1762, the Spanish governor of Louisiana supplies gunpowder to the revolutionary forces.

The British are defeated at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point in the war, but it still takes the revolutionary forces over seven years to force Britain to declare that it will cease hostilities and withdrawn its troops and Hessian allied units from the thirteen colonies.

The victors declare a United States of America. Britain is left with Bermuda, New Brunswick (formerly part of Nova Scotia), Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and the Province of Quebec (formerly New France). Florida is ceded back to Spain, with the colonial possessions in the Canadas now being Britain's main focus of attention.

1778 - 1786

Sir Frederick Haldimand

Swiss. Returned to England in 1784.

1786 - 1791

Sir Guy Carleton

Second term of office. Later first governor-general of Canada.


British Quebec is renamed Lower Canada as a partner to the new Upper Canada which is created to accommodate Loyalists fleeing the USA. Ontario is separated from Quebec at the same time. The governor-general becomes the official representative of the British king in North America, charged with maintaining the territory's borders.

Governors-General of the Province of Canada (Upper & Lower)
AD 1791 - 1867

Following defeat in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the French had to abandon most of the region to the British. When Montreal was surrendered in September 1760, the British Colonies gained territory to the north of New England which would later become Upper Canada (from 1791), with this being governed from Quebec.

However, in 1765 British Prime Minister George Grenville, unpopular at home iwith the king and the people, attempted to regain favour by lowering domestic taxes at the expense of the colonies, introducing the Stamp Act. The laws gave rise to widespread protests in America which eventually boiled over into the War for Independence despite the law being repealed in 1766.

With the loss of the thirteen British colonies to what soon became the United States of America, Canada became the main focus of British interests in North America. The governor-general became the official representative of the British king in North America, charged with maintaining the territory's borders. Initially, from 1791, the province's territory was governed in the form of two smaller provinces - Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

The first of these consisted of modern Southern Ontario and all of the Pays d'en Haut areas of Northern Ontario which had formed part of New France. The 'upper' reflected its geographic position along the Great Lakes, with much of this being above the headwaters of the Saint Lawrence River.

The second consisted of the southern part of today's Province of Quebec and the Labrador area of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador (although Labrador was transferred to Newfoundland in 1809). The 'lower' referred to its geographic position farther downriver from the headwaters of the St Lawrence River than Upper Canada. In 1840 they were united to form the province of Canada.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Journeys: A History of Canada, R D Francis, Richard Jones, & B Donald (Nelson Education, 2009), from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: Discover Canada - Canada's History (Government of Canada), and The Canadian Encyclopaedia: Upper Canada.)

1791 - 1796

Sir Guy Carleton

First governor-general, and former governor of Quebec.


By now, many members of the Piscataway are settling in Upper Canada, joining other Indian ex-allies of the British. Today, descendants of these northern migrants live on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reserve in Ontario, Canada. Although the larger tribe has been destroyed as an independent, sovereign entity, descendants of the Piscataway still survive.

William Woodward painting of the Piscataway
In 1699, two gentleman planters, Burr Harrison and Giles Vandercastel, became the first settlers to explore the interior of what is now Loudoun County and the first to record a meeting with Loudoun's native Indians, the Piscataway (William Woodward oil on canvas, 2003)

In the same year, 1793, following moves in the British Parliament to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, Upper Canada under Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe becomes the first province in the British empire to move towards full abolition.

1796 - 1799

Robert Prescott

Former governor of Martinique (1794). Recalled by London.

1799 - 1805

Robert Shore Milnes

Former Lt-Gov of Lower Canada.


By now the Meherrin tribal structure seems either to be on the verge of collapse or has already collapsed. This century soon sees the end of the last paramount chief until 1975 and other tribal members may now be viewed as direct citizens of the North Carolina government. Tribal Meherrin are taken under the protection of the Haudenosaunee. Some Meherrin migrate to Canada and join the Six Nations on the Grand River Reserve. Some Tuscarora join them.

1805 - 1807

Thomas Dunn

Former Lt-Gov of Lower Canada. Died in Quebec in 1818.

1806 - 1807

The ministry of Lord Greville in the British Parliament results in one momentous achievement - the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Aside from its positive effects, this also has negative effects, notably in the African kingdom of Asante. Canada, however, embraces the prospect of the act - which for the moment pertains to British waters only - becoming universal across the empire.

1807 - 1811

Sir James Henry Craig

Also Lt-Gov of Lower Canada (1807-11).

1812 - 1815

Sir George Prevost

Former Lt-Gov of Lower Canada. Recalled.

1812 - 1814

The War of 1812 begins as the USA declares war on Britain over the interdiction of trade with Napoleonic France. At the heart of the declaration is the USA's desire to capture Britain's Canadian provinces to create a single nation in North America.

American soldiers invade Canada with the confident expectation of a quick and easy victory  which, with a Canadian population of just 500,000 scattered among dozens of isolated settlements stretching from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic seaboard, seems entirely likely.

Burning of Washington 1814
The attack and burning of Washington in 1814 resulted from the British operating from other flanks in support of the Canadian border's defenders, and was a direct consequence of US forces burning Government House and the parliament buildings in Toronto (then known as York)

However, a few thousand British regulars, plus colonial militias and Native American allies such as Tecumseh of the Shawnee, continually shock the American troops and drive them back across the border. Modern Canada can be said to be formed by this success.

FeatureAt the conclusion of the war, the 49th parallel is established as the border between Rupert's Land and the US west to the Rocky Mountains (see feature link for a view of the latter). The Red River Colony is ceded to the US and joint control of Oregon Country is commenced.

1816 - 1818

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke

Former Lt-Gov of Nova Scotia. Retired due to ill health.

1818 - 1819

Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond

Former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Killed by rabies.

1820 - 1828

Earl of Dalhousie

Former Lt-Gov of Nova Scotia. Later Gov-Gen of India.

1828 - 1830

Sir James Kempt

Former Lt-Gov of Nova Scotia.

1830 - 1835

Lord Aylmer

Also Lt-Gov of Lower Canada. Recalled.

1832 - 1833

FeatureBritish Prime Minister Earl Grey's most remarkable achievement is the Reform Act, which sets in train a gradual process of electoral change. Around 130 years of parliamentary reform begin with this act and culminates in universal suffrage for men and women over the age of eighteen, plus secret ballots and legitimate constituencies (see feature link).

Grey also introduces restrictions on the employment of children, and sees the abolition of slavery in the British empire in 1833. Thousands of slaves subsequently escape from the USA by 'following the North Star' and settling in Canada via the Underground Railroad, a Christian anti-slavery network.

1835 - 1837

Earl of Gosford

Also Lt-gov of Lower Canada. Resigned his office.

1837 - 1838

During In the 1830s, reformers in Upper and Lower Canada have been agitating towards full democracy, believing progress to be too slow in that direction. Some of them believe that Canada should adopt American republican values or even try to join the United States.

When armed rebellions occur in 1837-1838 in the area outside Montreal and in Toronto, the rebels do not have enough public support to succeed. They are defeated by British troops and Canadian volunteers. A number of rebels are hanged or exiled, although some of the latter eventually return to Canada.

Canadian Rebellion of 1838
Rebellion in Canada was rare, with the only one of note in this period occurring in 1838, during which the rebels realised that they were not supported by the general populace

1837 - 1838

Sir John Colborne

Acting. Lt-Gov of Upper Canada.

1838 - 1839

Earl of Durham

Former British ambassador to Russia.

1839 - 1841

Lord Sydenham

First governor-general of the 'Province of Canada'. Died.


Partially as a reaction to the rebellions of 1837-1838, Upper Canada and Lower Canada are united as the 'Province of Canada'. Reformers such as Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin, in parallel with Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, work with Britain's governors towards achieving responsible government. This forms the basis of the present form of governance in Canada.

1842 - 1843

Sir Charles Bagot

Former British ambassador to Russia. Resigned, ill.

1843 - 1845

Charles Metcalfe

Former acting governor-general of India.

1845 - 1846

The US triggers the Mexican-American War in which it is successful. Britain, which still holds much of the disputed territory of Oregon, is persuaded not to intervene by an agreement called the Oregon Treaty which divides the territory along the 49th parallel in 1846. Britain keeps Vancouver to the north of the line (British Columbia), while the US gains Seattle to the south (Washington and Oregon).

Oregon meeting at Champoeg to form a government
Oregon headed towards statehood following meetings such as the one at Champoeg which decided on the formation of a government (a mural by Barry Faulkner which sits in the house chamber of the Oregon Capitol building)

1846 - 1847

Earl Cathcart

Also Lt-Gov of Canada West.

1847 - 1854

Earl of Elgin and Kincardine

Later viceroy of India (1862).

1854 - 1861

Sir Edmund Walker Head

Also Lt-Gov of Canada East & West.


The colony of British Columbia is founded from the fur district of New Caledonia. The main driving force behind this is the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858, which results in an influx of Americans into New Caledonia.

1861 - 1867

Viscount Monck

Became first governor-general of the dominion of Canada.


Between 1864-1867, representatives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the 'Province of Canada', with British support, work together to establish a new country. These men are known as the 'Fathers of Confederation'. They create two levels of government: federal and provincial.

The result is that in 1867 the old 'Province of Canada' is divided into two new provinces - Ontario and Quebec - which, together with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, form the new country called the 'Dominion of Canada'. Each province will now elect its own legislature and have control of such areas as education and health.


An Irish republican organisation named the Fenian Brotherhood is based in the United States. Starting in this year, in support of Irish independence from Britain they launch a series of raids on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada.

Their cause serves to split the Catholic Irish-Canadian population of Canada while the Protestant Irish generally support Britain and side with the Orange Order against the Fenians.

The US authorities do what they can to prevent the Fenians from launching their raids from US territory, although suspicion exists that what they really could do is a lot more than what they actually achieve. All five Fenian raids between 1866 and 1871 are failures.

The act of Confederation in Canada
The British North America Act of 1867 created Canadian confederation out of the various British-governed territories in North America, uniting all of them into a single body


The United States senate purchases Russian America from Russia for just US$7.2 million. Czar Alexander of Russia allows this because he fears that the British in Canada will invade and seize it. In Canada and Britain the act is seen somewhat differently, as a threat to Britain's Pacific coast colony.

As a reaction, and also as a result of the three years of planning which had preceded this moment, three months later Upper and Lower Canada are united with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on 1 July under the British North America Act, creating the 'Dominion of Canada'.

Viscount Monk remains in office as the last governor-general of the province of Canada and the first of the dominion of Canada. The first Canadian Prime Minister is elected in 1867 to take on the task of directly governing the new state.

Modern Canada (Dominion of Canada)
AD 1867 - Present Day

Canada covers a vast amount of territory - the world's second largest - although great areas of that are wilderness which is largely uninhabited by humans. The bulk of settlement is in the south and south-east which is also where the oldest settlements occur. Canada follows the British pattern of parliamentary democracy with a Prime Minister governing its affairs, and the UK monarch remains Canada's head of state. The country is neighboured to the north by the Arctic, to the north-east by Greenland (an autonomous part of the kingdom of Denmark), and to the south and west by the USA.

Between 1534 and 1542, Jacques Cartier made three voyages across the Atlantic, claiming the land for King Francis I of France. Cartier heard two captured guides speak the Iroquoian word 'kanata', meaning 'village'. By the 1550s, the name 'Canada' began appearing on maps. Patchy initial attempts to create a colony were centred on Quebec, in what would become New France. Two attempts were undertaken in 1541 and 1598, and the second succeeded. By 1627 a permanent governorship was established.

At its height, New France included Acadia (areas of eastern Quebec, the coastal territories, and claims to the New England of the British Colonies as far as Philadelphia, although these became increasingly impractical in the face of English expansion there), plus Canada (modern eastern and central Canada), and Louisiana (a vast territory stretching across much of the east half of modern mid-western USA, most of which was still almost exclusively the domain of Native North American tribes).

Increasingly widespread wars between the French colonies and the British colonies saw the former conquered in 1759, thanks to the efforts of Britain's General James Wolfe. France officially ceded the territory to Britain in 1763 when it became the province of Quebec. In 1791, following the British loss of its own colonies to the south, Quebec was retained and became part of a reorganised colony known as the province of Canada. It became the main focus of British interests in North America, and the governor-general of Canada became the official representative of the British king in North America, charged with maintaining the territory's borders.

Upper and lower Canada were united with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on 1 July 1867 under the British North America Act. By enacting this, the British Parliament created the dominion of Canada, which was autonomous with regard to internal affairs. In part, the move was designed to unify Britain's possessions in Canada in light of the US purchase of Russian America (Alaska and northern California) and the threat to Britain's trade and colonies in the Pacific region of North America.

For modern Canada ties with the US are now vital, especially in terms of trade, but Canada often goes its own way. It is also marked out by its southern neighbour for an element of ridicule, seemingly aimed - for the most part in good humour - at the Scots-French blended English-American accents of its populace. Both English and French enjoy official status, and the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec - where pressure for full sovereignty has abated in recent years - has wide-ranging cultural autonomy. Indigenous peoples make up around four percent of the population of thirty-five million (in 2018). Canada is one of the world's top trading nations, and one of its richest. Alongside a dominant service sector, the country also has vast oil reserves and is a major exporter of energy, food, and minerals.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: The Governor General of Canada, and First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Discover Canada - Canada's History (Government of Canada), and BBC Country Profiles, and Office of the Governor General of Canada, and The Canada Encyclopaedia, and Canada's governor general resigns (The Guardian).)

1867 - 1868

Viscount Monck

First gov-general of Canada. Former Province gov-general.

1868 - 1872

Lord Lisgar



Canada takes over the vast north-west region from the Hudson's Bay Company (incorporated in 1670). The 12,000 Métis of the Red River have not been consulted so, in response, Louis Riel leads an armed uprising and seizes Fort Garry, the territorial capital. Canada's future is in jeopardy, but Ottawa sends troops to retake Fort Garry in 1870. Riel flees to the USA and Canada establishes a new province named Manitoba. Riel is elected to its parliament but never takes his seat.

Hudson's Bay Company trading post
By the mid-1800s, the Hudson's Bay Company controlled the north-west region and its fur trade, with this photo showing the post at Sturgeon River House in late 1870

1871 - 1873

British Columbia is joined to the dominion of Canada in 1871, while Prince Edward Island is added in 1873. In the same year, 1871, the final Irish Fenian Brotherhood raid into Canada is farcical because of the fact that it actually attacks a Hudson's Bay post within the United States, never actually making it across the border which is about three kilometres (two miles) further north. Despite being arrested (twice) the culprits are never charged for their 'invasion'.

1872 - 1878

Earl of Dufferin

Anglo-Irish. Later viceroy of India (1884-1888).

1878 - 1883

Marquess of Lorne

English. m Princess Louise, fourth dau of Queen Victoria.

1883 - 1888

Marquess of Lansdowne

Anglo-Irish. Grandson of PM. Later viceroy of India (1888-94).


Métis and Native Indian rights have again been threatened by westward settlement. A second rebellion in what is now Saskatchewan - the North-West Rebellion - leads to Riel's trial and execution for high treason, a decision which is strongly opposed in Quebec. Riel is seen by many as a hero, a defender of Métis rights and the father of Manitoba.

1888 - 1893

Lord Stanley of Preston


1893 - 1898

Earl of Aberdeen

Lord lieutenant of Ireland (1886 & 1905).

1898 - 1904

Earl of Minto

Later viceroy of India (1905-1910).

1904 - 1905

Following a series of confrontations between British general officers commanding the Canadian militia and the minister of militia and defence, a 'Militia Act' now sets up the militia council of civilians and military officials, including a chief of the general staff. The bill doubles the Canadian 'Permanent Force' to four thousand men to provide a garrison to replace the British at Halifax.

When Earl Grey is appointed governor-general of Canada later in the same year, he is also appointed 'Commander-in-Chief of the Dominion of Canada'. Shortly after he takes office, Alberta and Saskatchewan join the Canadian Confederation.

Canadian advertisement
An advertisement from the Canadian Grocer July-December 1895 shows a noticeably similar style of marketing to that being used in the UK at the same time

1904 - 1911

Earl Grey

Minto's brother-in-law.

1911 - 1916

HRH Duke of Connaught & Strathearn

Son of Queen Victoria.

1914 - 1918

Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Britain, France and Russia are forced to declare war at midnight on 4 August. The First World War (variously called World War I, or the Great War), has begun. As a dominion, Canada is directly involved, along with its newly-formed Royal Canadian Navy (from 1910), most notably in battles such as the Somme in 1916 in which the Newfoundland Regiment effectively ceases to exist on the battle's opening day.

1916 - 1921

Duke of Devonshire

m Lady Evelyn FitzMaurice, dau of Lord Lansdowne of India.

1921 - 1926

Lord Byng of Vimy

Former commander of the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge.


The 1922 National Defence Act which is introduced by Prime Minister William Mackenzie King's Liberal government brings the militia, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian Air Force together under the administration of the Department of National Defence.


Canada is plunged into constitutional crisis by the 'King-Byng Affair'. Lord Byng refuses a request by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, to dissolve parliament and announce a general election. Byng is seen has having overstepped the unwritten but traditional rule of non-interference in Canadian domestic affairs. The ensuing fall-out leads directly to the Statute of Westminster in 1931, not just for Canada but for all of British dominions.

Scalping Knife Mountain
Scalping Knife Mountain in Canada's British Colombia is typical of the rugged and beautiful scenery in western Canada, overlooking the Arrow Lakes in the foreground

1926 - 1931

Marquess of Willingdon

Last 'old form' gov-general of Canada. Later in India (1931).


Canada becomes a separate kingdom from Britain under the terms of the Statute of Westminster. The two countries share the same monarch as head of state, with the younger constitutional monarchy's administration being known as 'Her Majesty in Right of Canada'.

The position of governor-general becomes the equivalent of that of viceroy - the direct representative of the queen of Canada while she resides in Britain - although the actual title does not change and the role is largely removed of its imperial duties because the post now represents the monarch alone, and not the British government.

1931 - 1935

Lord Bessborough

First post-'Statute of Westminster' governor-general.


Following the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, there is growing demand for the government to create a social safety net with minimum wages, a standard working week, and programmes such as unemployment insurance. The Bank of Canada, a central bank which will manage the money supply and bring stability to the financial system, is created in 1934.

However, across the remainder of the decade, immigration drops and many refugees are turned away, including members of the Jewish Diaspora who are attempting to flee Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.

1935 - 1940

Lord Tweedsmuir

John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Died in office.


The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September is the trigger for the Second World War. With both France and Britain, under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, pledged to support Poland, both countries have no option but to declare war on 3 September. Again, Canada supports Britain's efforts in war, under Prime Minister William Mackenzie King's Liberal government.

Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie
Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie was born in Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener, Ontario) in 1874, the son of John King and Isabel Grace King (née McKenzie), and was named after his grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, the first mayor of Toronto

1940 - 1946

Earl of Athlone

Uncle of King George VI. m Alice, gd-dau of Queen Victoria.

1943 - 1944

The earl of Athlone and his wife, Princess Alice, host Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and United States President Franklin D Roosevelt at La Citadelle in Québec on two separate occasions in 1943 and 1944. These meetings, known as the Quebec Conferences, help to decide the strategies of the Western Allies, which eventually lead to victory over Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945.

1946 - 1952

Viscount Alexander of Tunis

Returned to England immediately after the king's death.

1947 - 1949

In 1947, King George VI formally delegates to the governor-general all of the British sovereign's authority in Canada. In 1949, the sole remaining British North American colony, Newfoundland, joins Canada during the term of office of Prime Minister Louis Stephen St-Laurent.

1952 - 1959

Vincent Massey

First Canadian appointee since 1760. Was USA ambassador.


From this point forwards it becomes traditional to rotate the office of governor-general between Anglophone incumbents and those from French-speaking Quebec. The holder of the post remains the British monarch's direct representative in Canada, and fulfils just about all of the monarch's functions there. The post itself also remains one of Canada's oldest, and also one of the oldest continuous posts in any form in any of Britain's overseas territories.

Canada's Parliament building
The centre block of the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa was rebuilt in 1922 following a fire which destroyed the old block in 1916

1959 - 1967

Georges Vanier

Former aide-de-camp of Lord Byng of Vimy. Died in office.

1967 - 1974

Roland Michener

Previously served diplomatically in India and Nepal.

1974 - 1979

Jules Leger

Retired 1979. Died 1980.

1979 - 1984

Edward Schreyer

Former premier of Manitoba.


Canada's last constitutional ties with the United Kingdom, apart from sharing the same monarch as its head of state, are severed under the British Parliament's Constitution Act. The post of governor-general remains in place and the date of 1 July, previously celebrated as 'Dominion Day', is subsequently celebrated as 'Canada Day'.

1984 - 1990

Jeanne Sauvé

First female governor-general. Retired 1990. Died 1993.

1990 - 1995

Raymond John Hnatyshyn

Involved in law before and after office.

1995 - 1999

Romeo Le Blanc

Previously an MP. Died 2009.


The territory of Nunavut (meaning 'our land' in the Inuit language) is created in northern Canada. This vast self-governing region in the Arctic Circle is the first Canadian territory to have a majority indigenous population.

1999 - 2005

Adrienne Clarkson

Born in Hong Kong. First non-military/political gov-general.


In August, Canada sends naval vessels to the Arctic port of Churchill for the first time in thirty years. The move is seen as a challenge to rival territorial claims and follows a spat with Denmark over an uninhabited island.

Port of Churchill, Canada
Despite seemingly being an important strategic location for Canada's security in the Arctic region, the Port of Churchill has been allowed to be run-down even into the 2020s

2005 - 2010

Michaëlle Jean

Former refugee from Haiti.

2010 - 2017

David Lloyd Johnston

Previously involved in academia.

2017 - 2021

Julie Payette

Canada engineer, scientist & former astronaut. Resigned.


Payette resigns her position when an external report finds that she has overseen a toxic work environment in which staff have been bullied to tears. She had been defended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just the previous September (2020) as controversy had grown around the governor-general's office, but he is now urged to take his time in selecting a candidate who is more suitable and qualified for the role, with an administrator handling official functions for the time being.


Richard Wagner

Interim administrator.

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