Educator Resources for Building the Thirteen Colonies

The 13 colonies gave birth to a new nation. But they were founded with a much simpler goal: to get rich. In the early 1600s, England joined other European powers in the race to snatch up as much land as possible in the New World. Natural resources like gold and sugarcane were making Spain and Portugal very wealthy. To catch up, England established colonies along America's East Coast. Starting with Virginia, the Crown issued charters that gave private companies the right to settle the land—despite the fact that native peoples already lived there. In exchange, the colonies would send resources home to England, feeding a system of trade and profit known as mercantilism. On the backs of enslaved Africans kidnapped as part of the Triangular Trade, the Southern Colonies churned out cash crops such as tobacco, rice, and cotton. The Middle Colonies provided grain, corn, and iron ore. The New England Colonies shipped fish, lumber, and whale oil. As long as the money continued to flow, England mostly left the colonies alone—they governed themselves while staying loyal to the Crown. But over time, that independence was threatened by English monarchs who took a more hands-on approach. Heavy taxes imposed to help pay for the French and Indian War would eventually lead the colonies down the road to revolution. But first things first—click "play" to learn more about how those colonies were built!