The British Empire settled its first permanent colony in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. This was the first of 13 colonies in North America. The colonies can be divided into three regions: New England, Middle colony and Southern colonies.
The New England colonies included Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
The Middle Colonies were those now described as the mid-Atlantic and included Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Settlers in these colonies included English, Swedes, Dutch, Germans, Scots-Irish and French, along with Native Americans and some enslaved and freed Africans.
The Southern colonies were North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. Long before Jamestown, in 1587, a group of 115 English settlers arrived safely on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. By the middle of the year, the group realized they needed more supplies, and they sent John White, governor of the colony, back to England. When White got back to Roanoke, there was no trace of the colony, his wife, his daughter or his granddaughter.
Conflict between the colonies and England was already a year old when colonial leaders convened a Continental Congress at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. In a June 7 session, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution with the famous words: “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
Lee’s words were the impetus for the drafting of a formal Declaration of Independence. A committee of five was appointed to draft the document, and the task itself fell on Thomas Jefferson. Discussion of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence resulted in some minor changes, but the spirit of the document went unchanged. The process of revision by the Continental Congress began July 1. It continued through all of July 3 and into the late afternoon of July 4, when the Declaration was officially adopted.
Of the 13 colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration, and two – Pennsylvania and South Carolina – voted no. Delaware was undecided, and New York abstained. July 4 has been designated a national holiday to commemorate the day the United States laid down its claim to be a free and independent nation.
Benjamin Franklin was a member of the committee of five that drafted the Declaration. Historians consider his contributions vitally important in the history of the movement from 13 individual colonies to one unified nation. He said of the new United States of America: “We must, indeed all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Franklin’s actions as elder statesman and diplomat helped ensure independence. His scientific and literary achievements earned him respect at home and abroad. His significance cannot be understated.