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The Thirteen Colonies
Traditionally, when we tell the story of “Colonial America,” we are talking about the English colonies along the Eastern seaboard. That story is incomplete by the time Englishmen had begun to establish colonies in earnest, there were plenty of French, Spanish, Dutch and even Russian colonial outposts on the American continent but the story of those 13 colonies is an important one. It was those colonies that came together to form the United States.
English Colonial Expansion
Sixteenth-century England was a tumultuous place. Because they could make more money from selling wool than from selling food, many of the nation’s landowners were converting farmers’ fields into pastures for sheep. This led to a food shortage; at the same time, many agricultural workers lost their jobs.
The 16th century was also the age of mercantilism, an extremely competitive economic philosophy that pushed European nations to acquire as many colonies as they could. As a result, for the most part, the English colonies in North America were business ventures. They provided an outlet for England’s surplus population and (in some cases) more religious freedom than England did, but their primary purpose was to make money for their sponsors.
The Tobacco Colonies
In 1606, King James I divided the Atlantic seaboard in two, giving the southern half to the London Company (later the Virginia Company) and the northern half to the Plymouth Company. The first English settlement in North America had actually been established sone 20 years before, in 1587, when a group of colonists (91 men, 17 women and nine children) led by Sir Walter Raleigh settled on the island of Roanoke. Mysteriously, by 1590 the Roanoke colony had vanished entirely. Historians still do not know what became of its inhabitants.
In 1606, just a few months after James I issued its charter, the London Company sent 144 men to Virginia on three ships: the Godspeed, the Discovery and the Susan Constant. They reached the Chesapeake Bay in the spring of 1607 and headed about 60 miles up the James River, where they built a settlement they called Jamestown. The Jamestown colonests had a rough time of it: They were so busy looking for gold and other exportable resources that they could barely feeed themselves. It was not until 1616, when Virginia’s settlers learned how to grow tobacco that it seemed the colony might survive. The first African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619.
In 1632, the English crown granted about 12 million acres of land at the top of the Chesapeake Bay to Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. This colony, named Maryland after the queen, was similar to Virginia in many ways. Its landowners produced tobacco on large plantations that depended on the labor of indentured servants and (later) African slaves.
But unlike Virginia’s founders, Lord Baltimore was a Catholic, and he hoped that his colony would be a refuge for his persecuted coreligionists. Maryland became known for it’s policy of religious toleration for all.
The New England Colonies
The first English emigrants to what would become the New England colonies were a small group of Puritan separatists, later called the Pilgrems, who arrived in Plymouth in 1620. Ten yearas later, a wealthy syndicate known as the Massachusetts Bay Company sent a much larger (and more liberal) group of Puritans to establish another Massachusetts settlement. With the help of local natives, the colonists soon got the hang of farming, fishing and hunting, and Massachusetts prospered.
As the Massachusetts settlements expanded, they generated new colonies in New England. Puritans who thought that Massachusetts was not pious enough formed the colonies of Connecticut and New Haven (the two combined in 1665). Meanwhile, Puritans who thought that Massachusetts was too restrictive formed the colony of Rhode Island, where everyone including Jews enjoyed complete “liberty in religious concernments.” To the north of the Massachusetts colony, a handful of adventurous settlers formed the colony of New Hampshire.
The Middle Colonies
In 1664, King Charles II gave the territory between New England and Virginia, much of which was already occupied by Dutch traders and landowners called patroons, to his brother James, the Duke of York. The English soon absorbed Dutch New Netherland and renamed it New York, but most of the Dutch people (as well as the Belgian Flemings and Walloons, French Huguenots, Scandinavians and Germans who were living there) stayed put. This made New York one of the most diverse and prosperous colonies in the New World.
In 1680, the king granted 45,000 square miles of land west of the Delaware River to William Penn, a Quaker who owned large swaths of land in Ireland. Penn’s North American holdings became the colony of “Penn’s Woods,” or Pennsylvania. Lured by the fertile soil and the religious toleration that Penn promised, people migrated there from all over Europe. Like their Puritan counterparts in New England, most of these emigrants paid their own way to the colonies they were not indentured servants and had enough money to establish themselves when they arrived. As a result, Pennsylvania soon became a prosperous and relatively egalitarian place.
The Southern Colonies
By contrast, the Carolina colony, a territory that stretched south from Virginia to Florida and west to the Pacific Ocean, was much less cosmopolitan. In its northern half, hardscrabble farmers eked out a living. In its southern half, planters presided over vast estates that produced corn, lumber, beef and pork, and–starting in the 1690s–rice. These Carolinians had close ties to the English planter colony on the Caribbean island of Barbados, which relied heavily on African slave labor, and many were involved in the slave trade themselves. As a result, slavery played an important role in the development of the Carolina colony. (It split into North Carolina and South Carolina in 1729.)
In 1732, inspired by the need to build a buffer between South Carolina and the Spanish settlements in Florida, the Englishman James Oglethorpe established the Georgia colony. In many ways, Georgia’s development mirrored South Carolina’s.
In 1700, there were about 250,000 European and African settlers in North America’s thirteen English colonies. By 1775, on the eve of revolution, there were nearly 2.5 million. These colonists did not have much in common, but they were able to band together and fight for their independence.
The Plymouth Colony
In September 1620, during the reign of King James I, around 100 English men and women–many of them members of the English Separatist Church–set sail for the New World aboard the Mayflower, a three-masted merchant ship. The ship landed on the shores of Cape Cod, in present-day Massachusetts, two months later, and in late December anchored at Plymouth Rock, where they would form the first permanent settlement of Europeans in New England. Though more than half the original settlers died during that grueling first winter, the survivors were able to secure peace treaties with neighboring Native American tribes and build a largely self-sufficient economy within five years.
Journey to the New World
Among the group traveling on the Mayflower in 1620 were close to 40 members of a radical Puritan faction known as the English Separatist Church. Feeling that the Church of England had not sufficiently completed the necessary work of the Protestant Reformation, the group had chosen to break with the church altogether. The Separatists had sought religious freedom before, fleeing England in 1607 and 1608 to settle in the Netherlands, first in Amsterdam and later in the town of Leiden, where they remained for the next decade. Wanting to secure their English language and heritage, and seeking more economic opportunity, the group–later known as the Pilgrims–laid plans for a voyage to the New World aboard the Mayflower.
Rough seas and storms prevented the ship from reaching its initial destination–a region near the Hudson River–and after 66 days it reached the shores of Cape Cod, anchoring at the site of Provincetown on November 21. They sent an exploratory party ashore, and on December 18 docked at Plymouth Rock, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. The explorer John Smith had named the area Plymouth, and the settlers decided the name was appropriate, as the Mayflower had set sail from the port of Plymouth in England.
Surviving the First Year in Plymouth Colony
For the next few months, many of the settlers stayed on the Mayflower while ferrying back and forth to shore to build their new settlement. In March, they began moving ashore permanently. More than half the settlers fell ill and died that first winter, victims of an epidemic of disease that swept the new colony. Soon after they moved ashore, the Pilgrims were introduced to a Native American man named Tisquantum, or Squanto, who would become a member of the colony. A member of the Pawtuxet tribe (from present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island) who had been kidnapped by the explorer John Smith and taken to England, only to escape back to his native land, Squanto acted as an interpreter and mediator between Plymouth’s leaders and local Native Americans, including Chief Massasoit of the Pokanoket tribe. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims famously shared a harvest feast with the Pokanokets; the meal is now considered the basis for the Thanksgiving holiday.
All the adult males aboard the Mayflower had signed the so-called Mayflower Compact, a document that would become the foundation of Plymouth’s government. Though the Separatists were a minority in the group, they formed its powerful center, and would entirely control the colony’s government during its first 40 years. William Bradford, a leader of the Separatist congregation, was one of the framers of the Mayflower Compact, and would serve as Plymouth’s governor for 30 years after its founding. Bradford also kept a voluminous journal chronicling the ship’s voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony.
Growth and Decline of the Plymouth Colony
With peace secured, the colonists in Plymouth were able to concentrate on building a viable settlement for themselves rather than spend their time and resources guarding themselves against attack. Squanto taught them how to plant corn, which became an important crop, as well as where to fish and hunt beaver. Though Plymouth would never develop as robust an economy as later settlements–such as Massachusetts Bay Colony–agriculture, fishing and trading made the colony self-sufficient within five years after it was founded.
Many other European settlers followed in the Pilgrims’ footsteps to New England. As the settlers sought to occupy more and more land in the region, relations with Native Americans deteriorated, and sporadic violence broke out that would culminate decades later in the bloody King Philip’s War of 1675. By that time, the ideal of Plymouth Colony–conceived in the Mayflower Compact as a self-contained community governed by a common religious affiliation–had given way to the far less lofty influences of trade and commerce, and the devout Pilgrims had fragmented into smaller, more self-serving groups. Still, the original concept served as the foundation for many later settlements. These included John Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1630, which became the most populous and prosperous colony in the region. Plymouth’s influence in New England declined accordingly, until it was absorbed by Massachusetts in 1691.
On May 14, 1607, a group of roughly 100 members of a joint venture called the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America on the banks of the James River. Famine, disease and conflict with local Native American tribes in the first two years brought Jamestown to the brink of failure before the arrival of a new group of settlers and supplies in 1610. Tobacco became Virginia’s first profitable export, and a period of peace followed the marriage of colonist John Rolfe to Pocahontas, the daughter of an Algonquian chief. During the 1620s, Jamestown expanded from the area around the original James Fort into a New Town built to the east; it remained the capital of the Virginia colony until 1699.
English Settlement in the New World
After Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage in 1492, Spain dominated the race to establish colonies in the Americas, while English efforts, such as the “lost colony” of Roanoke (1587), met with failure. In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a new venture, the Virginia Company, to form a settlement in North America. At the time, Virginia was the English name for the entire eastern coast of North America north of Florida; they had named it for Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen.” The Virginia Company planned to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.
Roughly 100 colonists left England in late December 1606 on three ships (the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery) and reached Chesapeake Bay late the next April. After forming a governing council including Christopher Newport, commander of the sea voyage, and John Smith, a former mercenary who had been accused of insubordination aboard ship by several other company members the group searched for a suitable settlement site. On May 14, 1607, they landed on a narrow peninsula virtually an island in the James River, where they would begin their lives in the New World.
Surviving the First Years
Known variously as James Forte, James Towne and James Cittie, the new settlement initially consisted of a wooden fort built in a triangle around a storehouse for weapons and other supplies, a church and a number of houses. By the summer of 1607, Newport went back to England with two ships and 40 crewmembers to give a report to the king and to gather more supplies and colonists. The settlers left behind suffered greatly from hunger and illness, as well as the constant threat of attack by members of local Algonquian tribes, most of which were organized into a kind of empire under Chief Powhatan.
An understanding reached between Powhatan and John Smith led the settlers to establish much-needed trade with Powhatan’s tribe by early 1608. Though skirmishes still broke out between the two groups, the Native Americans traded corn for beads, metal tools and other objects (including some weapons) from the English, who would depend on this trade for sustenance in the colony’s early years. After Smith returned to England in late 1609, the inhabitants of Jamestown suffered through a long, harsh winter, during which more than 100 of them died. In the spring of 1610, just as the remaining colonists were set to abandon Jamestown, two ships arrived bearing at least 150 new settlers, a cache of supplies and the new English governor of the colony, Lord De La Warr.
The American Revolution (1775-83) is also known as the American Revolutionary War and the U.S. War of Independence. The conflict arose from growing tensions between residents of Great Britain’s 13 North American colonies and the colonial government, which represented the British crown. Skirmishes between British troops and colonial militiamen in Lexington and Concord in April 1775 kicked off the armed conflict, and by the following summer, the rebels were waging a full-scale war for their independence. France entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonists in 1778, turning what had essentially been a civil war into an international conflict. After French assistance helped the Continental Army force the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1779, the Americans had effectively won their independence, though fighting would not formally end until 1783.
Lead Up to the Revolutionary War
For more than a decade before the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, tensions had been building between colonists and the British authorities. Attempts by the British government to raise revenue by taxing the colonies (notably the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Tariffs of 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773) met with heated protest among many colonists, who resented their lack of representation in Parliament and demanded the same rights as other British subjects. Colonial resistance led to violence in 1770, when British soldiers opened fire on a mob of colonists, killing five men in what was known as the Boston Massacre. After December 1773, when a band of Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded British ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor, an outraged Parliament passed a series of measures (known as the Intolerable, or Coercive Acts) designed to reassert imperial authority in Massachusetts.
In response, a group of colonial delegates (including George Washington of Virginia, John and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, Patrick Henry of Virginia and John Jay of New York) met in Philadelphia in September 1774 to give voice to their grievances against the British crown. This First Continental Congress did not go so far as to demand independence from Britain, but it denounced taxation without representation, as well as the maintenance of the British army in the colonies without their consent, and issued a declaration of the rights due every citizen, including life, liberty, property, assembly and trial by jury. The Continental Congress voted to meet again in May 1775 to consider further action, but by that time violence had already broken out. On April 19, local militiamen (clashed with British soldiers in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, marking the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War.
Declaring Independence (1775-76)
When the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, delegates–including new additions Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson–voted to form a Continental Army, with Washington as its commander in chief. On June 17, in the Revolution’s first major battle, colonial forces inflicted heavy casualties on the British regiment of General William Howe at Breed’s Hill in Boston. The engagement (known as the Battle of Bunker Hill) ended in British victory, but lent encouragement to the revolutionary cause. Throughout that fall and winter, Washington’s forces struggled to keep the British contained in Boston, but artillery captured at Fort Ticonderoga in New York helped shift the balance of that struggle in late winter. The British evacuated the city in March 1776, with Howe and his men retreating to Canada to prepare a major invasion of New York.
By June 1776, with the Revolutionary War in full swing, a growing majority of the colonists had come to favor independence from Britain. On July 4, the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence, drafted by a five-man committee including Franklin and John Adams but written mainly by Jefferson. That same month, determined to crush the rebellion, the British government sent a large fleet, along with more than 34,000 troops to New York. In August, Howe’s Redcoats routed the Continental Army on Long Island; Washington was forced to evacuate his troops from New York City by September. Pushed across the Delaware River, Washington fought back with a surprise attack in Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas night and won another victory at Princeton to revive the rebels’ flagging hopes before making winter quarters at Morristown.
From the 13 original British colonies, the United States has grown into 50 states and one federal district that together span more than 3.5 million square miles. Their natural environments, populations and other characteristics vary widely, but they all share sovereignty with the federal government and have their own constitution, legislature, judiciary, executive branch and capital city.
The 50 states of the United States of America appear below in alphabetical order, each with the year in which they ratified the present U.S. Constitution
Admitted in 1819 as the 22nd state, Alabama forms a roughly rectangular shape on the map, elongated in a north-south direction. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, and Mississippi to the west. The Florida panhandle blocks Alabama’s access to the Gulf of Mexico except in Alabama’s southwestern corner, where Mobile Bay is located. Montgomery is the state capital.
Admitted to the union as the 49th state in 1959, Alaska lies at the extreme northwest of the North American continent and is the largest peninsula in the Western Hemisphere. It is bounded by the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean to the north; Canada’s Yukon territory and British Columbia province to the east; the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to the south; the Bering Strait and the Bering Sea to the west; and the Chukchi Sea to the northwest. The capital is Juneau.
Arizona is the sixth largest state in the country in terms of area. Its population has always been predominantly urban, particularly since the mid-20th century, when urban and suburban areas began growing rapidly at the expense of the countryside. Some scholars believe that the state’s name comes from a Basque phrase meaning “place of oaks,” while others attribute it to a Tohono O’odham (Papago) Indian phrase meaning “place of the young (or little) spring.” Arizona achieved statehood on Feb. 14, 1912, the last of the 48 coterminous United States to be admitted to the Union.
Arkansas ranks 27th among the 50 states in area, but, except for Louisiana and Hawaii, it is the smallest state west of the Mississippi River. Its neighbors are Missouri to the north, Tennessee and Mississippi to the east, Louisiana to the south, Texas to the southwest, and Oklahoma to the west. The name Arkansas was used by the early French explorers to refer to the Quapaw people—a prominent indigenous group in the area—and to the river along which they settled. The term was likely a corruption of akansea, the word applied to the Quapaw by another local indigenous community, the Illinois. Little Rock, the state capital, is located in the central part of the state.
California is bounded by the U.S. state of Oregon to the north, by the states of Nevada and Arizona to the east, by the Mexican state of Baja California to the south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It was admitted as the 31st state of the Union on Sept. 9, 1850, and by the early 1960s it was the most populous U.S. state. The fluid nature of the state’s social, economic, and political life has for centuries made California a laboratory for testing new modes of living.
Colorado is classified as one of the Mountain states, although only about half of its area lies in the Rocky Mountains. It borders Wyoming and Nebraska to the north, Nebraska and Kansas to the east, Oklahoma and New Mexico to the south, and Utah to the west. Colorado was admitted to the Union on Aug. 1, 1876, as the 38th state. The capital is Denver.
One of the original 13 states and one of the six New England states, Connecticut is located in the northeastern corner of the country. In area it is the third smallest U.S. state, but it ranks among the most densely populated. Lying in the midst of the great urban-industrial complex along the Atlantic coast, it borders Massachusetts to the north, Rhode Island to the east, Long Island Sound (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean) to the south, and New York to the west. Hartford, in the north-central part of the state, is the capital. The state is roughly rectangular in shape, with a panhandle of Fairfield county extending to the southwest on the New York border. The state’s greatest east-west length is about 110 miles (180 km), and its maximum north-south extent is about 70 miles (110 km). Connecticut takes its name from an Algonquian word meaning “land on the long tidal river.” “Nutmeg State,” “Constitution State,” and “Land of Steady Habits” are all sobriquets that have been applied to Connecticut.
The first of the original 13 states to ratify the federal Constitution, Delaware occupies a small niche in the Boston–Washington, D.C., urban corridor along the Middle Atlantic seaboard. It is the second smallest state in the country and one of the most densely populated. The state is organized into three counties from north to south, New Castle, Kent, and Sussex all established by 1682. Its population, like its industry, is concentrated in the north, around Wilmington, where the major coastal highways and railways pass through from Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the north and east into Maryland on the south and west. The rest of the state comprises the northeastern corner of the Delmarva Peninsula, which Delaware shares with Maryland and Virginia (hence its name). Most state government operations are located in Dover, the capital.
District of Columbia
Washington, D.C., is the capital city of the United States, located between Virginia and Maryland on the north bank of the Potomac River. The city is home to all three branches of the federal government, as well as the White House, the Supreme Court and the Capitol Building. More than 500,000 people live in Washington, D.C.
Admitted as the 27th state in 1845, Florida is the most populous of the Southern states. The capital is Tallahassee, located in the northwestern panhandle. Geographic location has been the key factor in Florida’s long and colorful development, and it helps explain the striking contemporary character of the state.
The largest of the U.S. states east of the Mississippi River and by many years the youngest of the 13 former English colonies, Georgia was founded in 1732, at which time its boundaries were even larger including much of the present-day states of Alabama and Mississippi. Its landscape presents numerous contrasts, with more soil types than any other state as it sweeps from the Appalachian Mountains in the north (on the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina) to the marshes of the Atlantic coast on the southeast and the Okefenokee Swamp (which it shares with Florida) on the south. The Savannah and Chattahoochee rivers form much of Georgia’s eastern and western boundaries with South Carolina and Alabama, respectively. The capital is Atlanta.
Hawaii (Hawaiian: Hawai‘i) became the 50th U.S. state on Aug. 21, 1959. Hawaii is a group of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean. The islands lie 2,397 miles (3,857 km) from San Francisco, Calif., to the east and 5,293 miles (8,516 km) from Manila, in the Philippines, to the west. The capital is Honolulu, located on the island of Oahu.
Idaho’s area is twice that of the six New England states combined. Its boundaries—with the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north and the U.S. states of Montana and Wyoming to the east, Utah and Nevada to the south, and Oregon and Washington to the west—are both historical and geographic in derivation. The boundary with British Columbia follows the 49th parallel of north latitude, while the border with Utah and Nevada follows the 42nd parallel; both lines were established by treaty—the northern between the United States and Britain in 1846 and the southern between the United States and Spain in 1819. The border with Montana follows the Continental Divide, while the border with Wyoming incorporates a small slice of Yellowstone National Park. Idaho’s border with Oregon and Washington is a 480-mile (770-km) straight stretch except between the Idaho cities of Weiser and Lewiston, where Hells Canyon of the Snake River serves as a natural boundary. Boise is the state capital.
Illinois stretches southward 385 miles (620 km) from the Wisconsin border in the north to Cairo in the south. In addition to Wisconsin, the state borders Lake Michigan to the northeast, Indiana to the east, Kentucky to the southeast, Missouri to the west, and Iowa to the northwest. Illinois was named for the Illinois Indians. The capital is Springfield, in the west-central part of the state.
Indiana sits, as its motto claims, at “the crossroads of America.” It borders Lake Michigan and the state of Michigan to the north, Ohio to the east, Kentucky to the south, and Illinois to the west, making it an integral part of the American Midwest. Except for Hawaii, Indiana is the smallest state west of the Appalachian Mountains. With a name that is generally thought to mean “land of the Indians,” Indiana was admitted on Dec. 11, 1816, as the 19th state of the union. Its capital has been at Indianapolis since 1825.
Iowa was admitted to the union as the 29th state on Dec. 28, 1846. As a Midwestern state, Iowa forms a bridge between the forests of the east and the grasslands of the high prairie plains to the west. Its gently rolling landscape rises slowly as it extends westward from the Mississippi River, which forms its entire eastern border. The Missouri River and its tributary, the Big Sioux, form the western border, making Iowa the only U.S. state that has two parallel rivers defining its borders. Iowa is bounded by the states of Minnesota to the north, Wisconsin and Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, and Nebraska and South Dakota to the west. Des Moines, in the south-central part of the state, is the capital. The state name is derived from the Iowa Native American people who once inhabited the area.
Kansas is bounded by Nebraska to the north, Missouri to the east, Oklahoma to the south and Colorado to the west. Lying amid the westward-rising landscape of the Great Plains of the North American continent, Kansas became the 34th state on Jan. 29, 1861. In that year the capital was located in Topeka by popular election, outpolling nearby Lawrence by some 2,700 votes. The state’s name is derived from that of the Kansa, or Kaw, whose name comes from a Siouan-language phrase meaning “people of the south wind.”
Rivers define Kentucky’s boundaries except on the south, where it shares a border with Tennessee along a nearly straight line of about 425 miles (685 km), and on the southeast, where it shares an irregular, mountainous border with Virginia. Flowing generally northwestward, the Tug and Big Sandy rivers separate Kentucky from West Virginia on the east and northeast. On the north, Kentucky’s boundary follows the Ohio River to the Mississippi, meeting the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois en route. The Mississippi River then demarcates Kentucky’s short southwestern border with Missouri. The capital, Frankfort, lies between the two major cities— Louisville, which is on the Ohio River, and Lexington.
Louisiana is delineated from its neighbors—Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and Texas to the west—by both natural and man-made boundaries. The Gulf of Mexico lies to the south. The area of Louisiana includes more than 3,000 square miles (7,770 square km) of inland waters. The capital is Baton Rouge.
The largest of the six New England states in area, Maine lies at the northeastern corner of the country. Its area, including 2,270 square miles (5,880 square km) of inland water, represents nearly half of the total area of New England. Maine is bounded to the northwest and northeast by the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, respectively, and to the west by New Hampshire. The famed rocky coastline of the state is angled from southwest to northeast along the Atlantic Ocean. Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820, as the 23rd state; its capital is Augusta. The Algonquian-speaking peoples inhabiting the region called it “Land of the Frozen Ground,” and there are two theories of the derivation of the state’s English name: that it was named for the former French province of Maine and that it was so named for being the “mainland,” as opposed to the coastal islands.
One of the original 13 states, Maryland lies at the center of the Eastern Seaboard, amid the great commercial and population complex that stretches from Maine to Virginia. Its small size belies the great diversity of its landscapes and of the ways of life that they foster, from the low-lying and water-oriented Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay area, through the metropolitan hurly-burly of Baltimore, its largest city, to the forested Appalachian foothills and mountains of its western reaches.
One of the original 13 states and one of the six New England states lying in the northeastern corner of the country, Massachusetts (officially called a commonwealth) is bounded to the north by Vermont and New Hampshire, to the east and southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by Rhode Island and Connecticut, and to the west by New York. It is the sixth smallest of the U.S. states in area. The capital is Boston. English explorer and colonist John Smith named the state for the Massachuset tribe, whose name meant “near the great hill” believed to refer to Blue Hill, which rises south of Boston in an otherwise flat area. Massachusetts’s residents represent an amalgamation of the prototypical Yankee spirit of an earlier America and the energies of the later immigrants who flocked to its cities in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Although by the size of its land Michigan ranks only 23rd of the 50 states, the inclusion of the Great Lakes waters over which it has jurisdiction increases its area considerably, placing it 10th. The capital is Lansing, in south-central Michigan. The state’s name is derived from michi-gama, an Ojibwa (Chippewa) word meaning “large lake.”
Minnesota became the 32nd state of the Union on May 11, 1858. A small extension of the northern boundary makes Minnesota the most northerly of the 48 conterminous U.S. states. (This peculiar protrusion is the result of a boundary agreement with Great Britain before the area had been carefully surveyed.) Minnesota is one of the north-central states. It is bounded by the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario to the north, by Lake Superior and the state of Wisconsin to the east, and by the states of Iowa to the south and South Dakota and North Dakota to the west.
Mississippi’s name derives from a Native American word meaning “great waters” or “father of waters.” It became the 20th state of the Union in 1817. Jackson is the state capital.
To the north of Missouri lies Iowa; across the Mississippi River to the east, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee; to the south, Arkansas; and to the west, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. With the exception of Tennessee, Missouri has more neighboring states than any other U.S. state. Bisecting the state is the Missouri River, flowing from Kansas City in the west, through the state’s capital, Jefferson City, in the center, to just above St. Louis in the east, where it joins the Mississippi. Missouri was the name of a group of indigenous people who lived in the area at the time of European settlement; the French named the river after the native community, and the river, in turn, gave its name to the state.
Only three states Alaska, Texas, and California have an area larger than Montana’s, and only two states Alaska and Wyoming have a lower population density. Montana borders the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan to the north and the U.S. states of North Dakota and South Dakota to the east, Wyoming to the south, and Idaho to the west. Although its name is derived from the Spanish montaña (“mountain” or “mountainous region”), Montana has an average elevation of only 3,400 feet (1,040 metres), the lowest among the Mountain states. The Rocky Mountains sweep down from British Columbia, trending northwest-southeast into western Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The eastern portion of the state, however, is a gently rolling landscape, with millions of grazing cattle and sheep, and with only scattered evidence of human habitation. It forms a part of the northern Great Plains, shared with Alberta, Saskatchewan, North and South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming. Helena is the capital.
Nebraska was admitted to the Union as the 37th state on March 1, 1867. Nebraska is bounded by the state of South Dakota to the north, with the Missouri River making up about one-fourth of that boundary and the whole of Nebraska’s boundaries with the states of Iowa and Missouri to the east. The boundary with Kansas to the south was established when the two territories were created by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. In the southwestern part of the state, the boundary with Colorado forms a right angle (south and west), which creates Nebraska’s panhandle, to the west of which is the boundary with Wyoming. Lincoln, in the southeastern part of the state, is the capital.
Nevada borders Oregon and Idaho to the north, Utah to the east, Arizona to the southeast, and California to the west. It is the seventh largest of the 50 states. It also, however, is one of the most sparsely settled. Carson City, in the western part of the state, is the capital. Nevada became the 36th state of the Union on Oct. 31, 1864.
New Hampshire (1788)
One of the 13 original U.S. states, New Hampshire is located in New England at the extreme northeastern corner of the country. It is bounded to the north by the Canadian province of Quebec, to the east by Maine and a 16-mile (25-km) stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by Massachusetts, and to the west by Vermont. The capital is Concord, located in the south-central part of the state.
New Jersey (1787)
One of the original 13 states, New Jersey is bounded by New York to the north and northeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, and Delaware and Pennsylvania to the west. The state was named for the island of Jersey in the English Channel. The capital is Trenton.
New Mexico (1912)
New Mexico became the 47th state of the Union in 1912. New Mexico is the fifth largest U.S. state and is bounded by Colorado to the north, Oklahoma and Texas to the east, Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora to the south, and Arizona (which was part of the Territory of New Mexico from 1850 to 1863) to the west. At its northwestern corner New Mexico joins Arizona, Utah, and Colorado in the only four-way meeting of states in the United States. The capital of New Mexico is Santa Fe.
New York (1788)
A constituent state of the United States of America, New York is one of the 13 original colonies. It is bounded to the west and north by Lake Erie, the Canadian province of Ontario, Lake Ontario, and the Canadian province of Quebec; to the east by the New England states of Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut; to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean and New Jersey; and to the south by Pennsylvania. The capital is Albany.
North Carolina (1789)
One of the 13 original states, North Carolina lies on the Atlantic coast midway between New York and Florida and is bounded to the north by Virginia, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by South Carolina and Georgia, and to the west by Tennessee. The terrain of North Carolina is among the wettest in the country, with vast marshlands in the coastal tidewater area and numerous lakes in the Piedmont and Appalachian regions. These three physical regions account for much of the diversity in lifestyles and cultures within the state’s boundaries. The capital is Raleigh.
North Dakota (1889)
North Dakota was admitted to the Union as the 39th state on Nov. 2, 1889. A north-central state, it is bounded by the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the north and by the U.S. states of Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south, and Montana to the west. The North Dakota town of Rugby is considered to be the geographic center of the North American continent. Bismarck, located in the center of the state, is the capital.
Ohio is a constituent state of the United States of America, on the northeastern edge of the Midwest region. Lake Erie lies on the north, Pennsylvania on the east, West Virginia and Kentucky on the southeast and south, Indiana on the west, and Michigan on the northwest. Ohio ranks only 35th in size among the 50 states, and it is one of the smallest states west of the Appalachian Mountains. The state ranks near the top, however, in population. Ohio’s capital, after being located in Chillicothe and Zanesville during the early years of statehood, was finally established in newly founded and centrally located Columbus in 1816. The state takes its name from the Ohio River, which in turn traces its name to an Iroquoian word meaning “great water.”
Oklahoma borders Colorado and Kansas to the north, Missouri and Arkansas to the east, Texas to the south and west, and New Mexico to the west of its Panhandle region. In its land and its people, Oklahoma is a state of contrast and of the unexpected. The terrain varies from the rolling, timbered hills of the east to the treeless high plains that extend from the Panhandle region into Texas and New Mexico. Oklahoma’s east-central region is dominated by the lowlands of the Arkansas River, sweeping in from Colorado and Kansas, and by the Red River, which forms nearly all of its southern border with Texas. The capital is Oklahoma City, near the center of the state.
Oregon is bounded to the north by Washington state, from which it receives the waters of the Columbia River; to the east by Idaho, more than half the border with which is formed by the winding Snake River and Hells Canyon; to the south by Nevada and California, with which Oregon shares its mountain and desert systems; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean, which produces the moderate climate of Oregon’s western lands. The capital is Salem, in the northwestern part of the state.
One of the original 13 American colonies, Pennsylvania is approximately rectangular in shape and stretches about 350 miles (560 km) from east to west and 150 miles (240 km) from north to south. It is bounded to the north by Lake Erie and New York state; to the east by New York and New Jersey; to the south by Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia; and to the west by the panhandle of West Virginia and by Ohio. Harrisburg, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is the capital.
Rhode Island (1790)
One of the original 13 states and one of the six New England states, Rhode Island is bounded to the north and east by Massachusetts, to the south by Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound of the Atlantic Ocean, and to the west by Connecticut. It is the smallest state in the Union—only about 48 miles (77 km) long and 37 miles (60 km) wide—but is, however, one of the most densely populated states. The extreme compactness of area, proportionally large population, and economic activity have tied it closely to its neighboring states. In addition, Rhode Island’s intimate connection to the sea—including more than 400 miles (640 km) of coastline—is the basis of its nickname, the Ocean State. The capital is Providence.
South Carolina (1788)
One of the 13 original colonies, South Carolina lies on the southern Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Shaped like an inverted triangle with an east-west base of 285 miles (459 km) and a north-south extent of about 225 miles (360 km), the state is bounded on the north by North Carolina, on the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the southwest by Georgia. Columbia, located in the center of the state, is the capital and largest city.
South Dakota (1889)
South Dakota became the 40th state of the Union on Nov. 2, 1889. The state has two unique physical features: It contains the geographic center of the United States, which is located just north of Belle Fourche, and it has its own continental divide, as a result of which Lake Traverse, in the southeastern corner of the state, flows northward to Hudson Bay, and Big Stone Lake, on the Minnesota border, flows southward to the Gulf of Mexico. South Dakota is bordered by North Dakota to the north, Minnesota and Iowa to the east, Nebraska to the south, and Wyoming and Montana to the west. The state is split by the upper Missouri River valley into eastern and western regions. Pierre, in central South Dakota, is one of the country’s smallest state capitals.
Tennessee is located in the upper South of the eastern United States and became the 16th state of the Union in 1796. The geography of Tennessee is unique. Its extreme breadth of 432 miles (695 km) stretches from the Appalachian Mountain boundary with North Carolina in the east to the Mississippi River borders with Missouri and Arkansas in the west; its narrow width, only 112 miles (180 km), separates its northern neighbours, Kentucky and Virginia, from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, to the south. Nashville is the capital and Memphis the largest city.
Texas became the 28th state of the Union in 1845. It occupies the south-central segment of the country and is the largest state in area except for Alaska. The state extends nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from north to south and about the same distance from east to west.
Mountains, high plateaus, and deserts form most of Utah’s landscape. The capital, Salt Lake City, is located in the north-central region of the state. The state lies in the heart of the West and is bounded by Idaho to the north, Wyoming to the northeast, Colorado to the east, Arizona to the south, and Nevada to the west. At Four Corners, in the southeast, Utah meets Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona at right angles, the only such meeting of states in the country. Utah became the 45th member of the Union on Jan. 4, 1896.
One of the six New England states lying in the northeastern corner of the country, Vermont was admitted to the Union on March 4, 1791, as the 14th state. It is sparsely populated, and its capital, Montpelier, is one of the least-populous U.S. state capitals. Vermont is bordered to the north by Quebec, Can., to the east by New Hampshire, to the south by Massachusetts, and to the west by New York. From the Canadian to the Massachusetts border, the Connecticut River separates Vermont from New Hampshire. The river, from the mean low-water line on the western bank, is entirely within New Hampshire’s borders.
One of the original 13 colonies, Virginia is bordered by Maryland to the northeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, North Carolina and Tennessee to the south, Kentucky to the west, and West Virginia to the northwest. The state capital is Richmond.
Lying at the northwestern corner of the 48 coterminous states, Washington is bounded by the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north, the U.S. states of Idaho to the east and Oregon to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The capital is Olympia, located at the southern end of Puget Sound in the western part of the state. The state’s coastal location and excellent harbours give it a leading role in trade with Alaska, Canada, and countries of the Pacific Rim. Washington cities have sister cities in several countries, and their professional and trade associations commonly include Canadian members.
West Virginia (1863)
Admitted to the union as the 35th state in 1863, West Virginia is a relatively small state. It is bordered by Pennsylvania to the north, Maryland and Virginia to the east, Kentucky to the southwest, and Ohio to the northwest. The state capital is Charleston.
Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as the 30th state on May 29, 1848. One of the north-central states, it is bounded by the western portion of Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the north and by Lake Michigan to the east. The state of Illinois lies to the south, and Minnesota and Iowa lie to the west and southwest, respectively. The name Wisconsin is an Anglicized version of a French rendering of an Algonquin name, Meskousing, said to mean “this stream of red stone,” referring to the Wisconsin River. Madison, in south-central Wisconsin, is the state capital.
Wyoming became the 44th state of the Union on July 10, 1890. It is the ninth largest U.S. state. It shares boundaries with six other Great Plains and Mountain states: Montana to the north and northwest, South Dakota and Nebraska to the east, Colorado to the south, Utah to the southwest, and Idaho to the west. Cheyenne, the capital, is located in the southeastern corner of the state.