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Founders of the 13 Colonies

   

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This page presents short passages describing the life and times of nine "founders" of the 13 colonies.

 

Home >> United States History >> 13 Colonies >> 13 Colonies Important People

     

John Smith

John Rolfe

Christopher Newport

     
     

the Lords Proprietors

Thomas Hooker

Roger Williams

     
     

William Penn

Lord Baltimore

James Oglethorpe

     
 

John Smith

 
 

John Smith played a major leadership role in establishing the Jamestown Colony in 1607. Smith was both a soldier and explorer in his early life, which prepared him well for life in the wilderness. Smith brought order and discipline to a Jamestown colony full of disease, sickness, and gentlemen who refused to work. Under his leadership people started working, stopped dying, and worked together to plant crops, built forts, and ship products back to England. He was successful in trading with, and stealing from, the local Powhatan Indians, who realized quickly that Smith was the key to the colony’s survival. If Smith failed to procure the goods he needed from the Powhatans, he used force, which included torching entire villages. In 1609, Smith returned to England after suffering severe burns in a gunpowder explosion. Upon Smith’s return to England, the Powhatans ceased trading with the colonists, prompting the start of what came to be known as "The Starving Time" during the winter of 1609-1610.

 

John Rolfe

 

When John Rolfe arrived at the Jamestown Colony, he threw himself into developing and cultivating tobacco in North America. He was able to produce tobacco much different from native Virginia tobacco, which did not appeal to the market in England or the settlers in Virginia.  He began exporting a sweeter tobacco beginning in 1612, transforming the Virginia Colony into a successful economic venture.  After sending his first harvest of four barrels of tobacco to England in March 1614, Rolfe soon began exporting much larger quantities of the new cash crop.   New plantations quickly grew along the James River, where shipments could be exported along the river wharfs.  Rolfe’s strain of tobacco became the mainstay of farming plantations for many generations to come.  Almost 400 years later, tobacco remains a prominent component of Virginia’s economy.

In 1613, Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan tribe chief, was converted to Christianity and renamed Rebecca.  Intrigued by Powhatan’s daughter, Rolfe struggled with the moral dilemma of marrying a ‘heathen’, finally writing a lengthy letter to the governor requesting permission to marry her.  Permission was granted, and the newlyweds settled into Rolfe’s plantation, Varina Farms, across the James River.  Their marriage helped to create peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan tribes, allowing commerce and trade not only with Powhatans but also with their surrounding allies. 

 

Christopher Newport

 

Christopher Newport was a former pirate who sailed with Sir Francis Drake on Drake’s famous raid on Cadiz, Spain. He is best known as the Captain of the Susan Constant, one of three boats that first sailed to Jamestown in 1607. It is thought that he chose the site of the Jamestown colony.

During the initial settlement period at Jamestown, Newport became the colony’s "lifeline," making several trips back and forth between Jamestown and England delivering vital supplies and additional settlers to the beleaguered colony. It was Christopher Newport who brought an injured John Smith back to Europe in 1609. Later that year, a new ship under his command, the "Sea Voyage," ran aground on Bermuda during a hurricane. Newport and 150 settlers remained stuck on the island for more than a year before making it once again to Jamestown. On his last voyage to Jamestown in 1610, Newport brought John Rolfe. Rolfe would engineer a new kind of tobacco that would become the key to the colony’s eventual prosperity.

 

Lords Proprietors

 

The Lords Proprietors was a group of eight English noblemen awarded the Province of Carolina in 1663 by Charles II for its efforts in helping him regain the throne. One of the proprietors, known as Lord Shaftsbury, drafted the Fundamental Constitution of Carolina, the colony’s first set of governing laws. As part of the constitution, the "eldest" of the Proprietors was named the "Palatine," or, leader of the group. George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, was named as the colony’s Palatine. Two other proprietors, John Berkeley and George Carteret, were important figures in the Province of New Jersey as well.

The Lord’s Proprietors offered religious freedom, freedom from taxes called quitrents, political representation in government, and large land grants for English settlers who agreed to settle in Carolina. By 1700, over 6,600 settlers had come to Carolina, and by 1712, the colony was split between North and South Carolina. The settlers, however, were in constant danger from attacks by the Spanish and the local natives. Between 1712 and 1716, the settlers fought off large-scale attacks from the Spanish, French, and natives in both Queen Anne’s War and the Yamassee War. In 1729, seven of the eight original Lord’s Proprietors (r their heirs) sold their interests in the colony back to the Crown. Only John Carteret, heir of Georgre Carteret retained his interest.

 

Thomas Hooker

 

Known as the "Father of Connecticut," Thomas Hooker was widely known as an outstanding preacher, prolific writer, theologian, and inspiration of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the state’s first constitution. Hooker was from modern day Cambridge (then Newtown), Massachusetts, but became disillusioned with the strict Puritans laws that governed the colony. Only male church members who owned property were allowed to vote. Hooker believed in universal suffrage and opposed the idea that voting should be predicated on church membership. He believed that governing bodies should answer to those that are governed. At odds with the Puritan leadership in Massachusetts, Hooker and 100 of his followers traveled an old Indian road known as the Connecticut Path to modern-day Hartford, Connecticut. Hooker’s teachings and sermons gave rise to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut which established a civil government as well as assured Connecticut was a separate colony from Massachusetts.

 

Roger Williams

 
 

Like many English Puritans, Roger Williams came to Massachusetts as part of “The Great Migration”, the Puritan departure from England and arrival in the new world. When Williams arrived, however, he realized that the Puritan church had not severed all of its ties with the Church of England, and hence, was not pure enough. For this reason, he refused to fill the position of minister in the church of Boston. Williams became even more controversial when he declared the colony’s charter or land-grant invalid because it was not issued by the true owners of the land – the Indians. Williams soon moved to Salem and generated even more controversy by preaching against the taxes that paid church expenses and laws that made attending church mandatory.

Despite his Puritan ties, Williams’ own intolerance of the rules, laws and customs of the Puritans caused him, incidentally, to preach for religious tolerance. He argued against the Puritans laws that controlled the populations. He was one of the first to call for the separation of church and state – a law which now forbids the government to use any religion to influence the people.

The intolerant Puritans often made a point to suppress individuals with divergent views. They feared people like Roger Williams could influence the people and ultimately threaten the church. In the fall of 1635, they voted to banish him. Before the henchmen reached his home, however, Williams ventured off himself toward Narragansett Bay in January of 1636. After many weeks of traveling through the wilderness of New England, Williams purchased land from the local Indians and founded the town of Providence. Williams devised a compact that allowed all residents to vote regardless of their religion. Furthermore, he encouraged religious sects unpopular with the church to settle in Providence. In March of 1644, Williams did receive a charter from the English Parliament. Under his charter of 1647, Providence, Newport, Warwick, and Portsmouth united to eventually form the colony of Rhode Island.

 

William Penn

 

Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 by William Penn. Penn was issued a land grant by King Charles II largely because of a significant debt owed to his father, Admiral Penn. At the time, the grant was one of the largest in terms of area ever known. It was named Pennsylvania, which means Penn’s Woods, after Admiral Penn.

Penn quickly established a government based on religious freedom for the Quakers. Quakers did not believe in the strict rules imposed by the Puritan church. They believed that people could have a direct relation with God, rather than one mediated by a minister. The colony’s religious tolerance soon attracted German and Scottish immigrants, and promoted more peaceful relations with local Indians. Furthermore, it helped Philadelphia grow into the most important city in the thirteen colonies, and it helped established Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where German “Deutsch” political and religious refugees formed farming communities.

 

Lord Baltimore

 

Lord Baltimore, also known as George Calvert, 1st Baron of Baltimore, was interested in the English colonization of the New World to establish a refuge for England’s Catholic population. Calvert was instrumental in the British settlement of Avalon, located off of the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland. Calvert, however, became discouraged with the colony’s cold climate and sought a more temperate place to start a colony farther south.

In 1692, Calvert arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. The residents of Jamestown, however, opposed Catholicism and ordered him to leave. Calvert returned to Virginia determined to earn a charter for his colony from the Crown. Short on money, and in declining health, his persistence finally paid off when he was awarded about 12 million acres of land north of the Potomac River. Calvert, however, died at the age of 52 just five weeks before his charter was approved. Calvert’s son, Cecil, would become the next Lord Baltimore and would be in charge of the colony’s affairs. On November 22, 1663, 200 Catholic colonists left England on the the ships Ark and Dove and landed on March 24, 1664, on what was then called Blackistone Island (now St. Clement’s Island).

 

James Oglethorpe

 

James Oglethorpe was a wealthy British aristocrat, military officer, and member of Parliament who hoped to establish a colony in the New World for English debtors who were crowded into squalid prisons. In the end, few debtors ended in Georgia, but rather, European-born immigrants well-suited to the backbreaking work required to build and sustain a successful colony. Oglethorpe envision a society of farmers who would thrive in the agrarian environment and protect the colony from both the Spanish and Native Americans. It was here, where America’s booming cotton industry was born. The colony’s charter extended religious freedom to all settlers other than Roman Catholics. Oglethorpe and colonists first settled near present-day Savannah in late 1732.

Because Oglethorpe’s original plan included the division of land parcels into manageable, family-run, 50-acre lots, slavery was initially banned in the colony. As the cotton industry grew in Georgia, however, the ban on slavery was lifted, becoming an integral part of the Georgia economic engine for the next 130 years.