The English and British Empires, c.1497-1800
Compiled by Michael S. Smith

        This is a guide to Britain's territories, colonies, and possessions from the fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, the period covered by the English Short Title Catalogue. The aim of this guide is to provide easy reference to all of Britain's possessions during this period and to more fully define the scope of the ESTC. "The British Empire," used generally here to signify the period from the creation of England's first colony (outside Ireland) through the eighteenth century, is a term with several connotations. It sometimes refers to the period beginning in 1603 when James VI and I, upon ascension, "joined" Scotland with England and Wales. Scotland's union with England, however, did not occur formally until 1707, from which point the term "Great Britain" is used officially. The "Empire" can also refer (as is usually the case) to the aggrandizement of Britain's possessions over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and to the eventual decline of the empire in the twentieth. Due to the current chronological limits of the ESTC, however, this guide does not deal with any aspects of the British Empire after 1800.
        "British possessions" includes all forms of imperial rule, whether settlements, royal colonies, dominions, or protectorates. While the technical differences between types of possessions are not applied in this guide, every British territory is listed from the time it came under British control to the time (if applicable within the ESTC's scope) it gained independence. Thus this guide is contained under four main headings: the name of the possession, the year it was acquired, the year of independence, and relevant comments to explain changes in the status of the territory and changes in territorial "ownership." The fate of colonies after 1800 is excluded. Users of this guide should also be aware of the following:

        · US MARC country codes are given for each territory and are included in brackets under each territory's name. If a US MARC country code does not exist for a particular territory, "no code" is listed.

        · For ease of use, some territories which comprise a larger regional entity are included under the name of the larger entity, even if anachronistic. So, for example, the provinces now part of Canada are listed under "Canada," despite its later creation, and the Thirteen Colonies are listed under "United States." In these cases, the US MARC country codes are not given for separate provinces, states, or territories because the ESTC uses only the codes of the larger entities.

        The main sources used for this guide are T. O. Lloyd, The British Empire 1558-1983 (Oxford, 1984) and John Stewart, The British Empire: An Encyclopedia of the Crown's Holdings, 1493 through 1995 (London, 1996). I have cross-referenced the information in these two books with a number of other sources to ensure accuracy. For more information, users might consult the following:
C A. Bayley, ed., Atlas of the British Empire. (New York, 1989)
U. J. Marshall, ed., The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire. (Cambridge, 1996)
J Holland, ed. The Cambridge History of the British Empire. (Cambridge, 1929-1963)
James Olson and Robert Shadle, ed., Historical Dictionary of the British Empire. (Westport, 1996)

Foundations of Modern Britain series:
Alan G. R. Smith, The Emergence of a Nation State. The Commonwealth of England, 1529-1660. (Longman, 1984)
Geoffrey Holmes, The Making of a Great Power. Late Stuart and Early Georgian Britain 1660-1722. (Longman, 1993)
Geoffrey Holmes and Daniel Szechi, The Age of Oligarchy. Pre-Industrial Britain 1722-1783. (Longman, 1993)
Eric Evans, The Forging of the Modern State. Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870. (Longmand, 1983)
Keith Robins, The Eclipse of a Great Power. Modern Britain 1870-1975. (Longman, 1983)

 (Note: when using an endnote or reference link, hit the back button on your browser to return to your previous place.) 

Name of Colony Acquisition Date Independence Date Comments
[no code]
1615 --- The British settled this Indonesian island until 1624, when it was taken by Holland. Britain eventually recaptured the island in 1796.(1) 
Andaman Islands  
1789 1796  
1650 ---
1632 --- Invaded by France in 1666 but restored to England in 1667 by the Treaty of Breda.
1629 --- Taken by Spain in 1782 but returned to Britain in 1783.(2) 
Banda Islands  
[no code]
1616 1800 Controlled by the Dutch from 1622 to 1654 (when it returned to British control) and from 1664 to 1796 (when it returned to British control again for four years).(3)
[no code]
1602 1682
Note from Dianne Lewis: The English East India Company maintained a trading house in that port for those years, but this was always subject to the pleasure of the Sultan of Bantam (Banten). They built no fort, and had no armed men. See David Bassett's London University PhD Thesis (1955) THE F ACTORY OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY AT BANTAM.
1625 ---
Belize (British Honduras)  
1638 ---
[no code]
1685 ---
Bengal (see India)
1609 ---
Bombay (see India)
British Guiana (present day Guyana)   
1620 --- Lost to France in 1782 but regained in 1796.
British North Borneo  
1762 1775
British Virgin Islands  
1666 (1672) --- Acquired from Spain in 1666, occupied by the British for the next six years, and formally annexed in 1672.
--Canada East (Lower Canada; Quebec) 1763 --- The Quebec Act of 1774 incorporated Ohio and Mississippi into Canada East.
--Canada West (Upper Canada; Ontario) 1763 (1791) --- From 1763 to 1791, Canada West, or Ontario, was technically part of Quebec. Quebec was split into two parts (East and West) in 1791.
--Cape Breton Island (part of Nova Scotia) 1629 --- Controlled by France from 1632 to 1745 and from 1749 to 1758; recaptured by Britain in 1758 and formally ceded to her in 1763, becoming part of Nova Scotia.(4)
--New Brunswick 1713 --- Settled by the British beginning in 1713; a part of Novia Scotia (itself under British control) until it became a separate (but still British) province in 1784.
--Newfoundland 1497(5) ---
--Northwest Territories 1670 --- Area covered by Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territory; settled during the seventeenth-century expeditions of the Hudson's Bay Company
--Nova Scotia 1713 --- Treaty of Utrecht ceded Nova Scotia to Britain but left Cape Breton Island to France (see Cape Breton Island above).
--Prince Edward Island 1763(6) ---
--Rupert's Land 1670 --- Claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 (and part of the Northwest Territories), the Land comprises the basin of Hudson Bay.
Cape Colony (Cape of Good Hope)  
1795 ---
Carolina see United States  
Cayman Islands  
1670 ---
Connecticut (see United States) 
1762 1763 Occupied by the British for less than one year, when it was returned to Spanish rule in 1763.(7)
Delaware (see United States)
1763 --- Taken by France in 1778 but regained by Britain in 1784.(8)
Falkland Islands  
1766 1770 Spain took control from 1770 to 1771, abandoning the islands in 1774.
1763 1783 Britain created provinces of East and West Florida when she acquired the territory from Spain in 1763; the Treaty of Paris restored Florida to Spain in 1783.(10)
Fort James/Gambia  
1661 --- Taken by France in 1695, but mostly abandoned until 1713. Re-settled by British trading companies in 1765.(11)
Georgia (see United States) 
Ghana (see Gold Coast)   
1704 ---
Gilbert and Ellice Islands  
1764 ---
Gold Coast (present day Ghana)  
1621 --- Coined "British Gold Coast Settlements" in 1707.(12)
1609 --- Ruled by France from 1649 until its capture by Britain in 1762. France held Grenada again from 1779 to 1783.
1759 1795 Returned to France in 1763 and held by France until the British retook it in 1794 (they held it for a year).(13)
1757 (1774) --- (See endnote)(14)
--Bengal 1681 ---
--Bombay(15) 1661 ---
--Madras 1640 ---
--Surat(16) 1612 ---
1169 --- (See endnote)(17)
1655 ---
Kent Island(18)  
[no code]
1631 1638
Madras (see India)
1607 (1691) English settlers began occupying Maine in 1607. The territory became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1652 and was formally recognized (by royal charter) as part of Massachusetts in 1691; the region, though no longer technically "Maine," was still under British control (until 1776).
[no code]
1795 ---
Malaya (part of present day Malaysia)   
1786 ---
Maryland (see United States)
Massachusetts (see United States)
[no code]
1708 1782
1632 --- Held by France in 1664, from 1666 to 1667, and in 1782.
Mosquito Coast  
[no code]
1655 ---
[no code]
1628 ---
New Brunswick (see Canada)
New Caledonia(20)  
1698 1700
Newfoundland (see Canada)
New Hampshire (see United States)
New Jersey (see United States)
New South Wales (now part  of Australia)  
1770 ---
New York (see United States)
Norfolk Island  
1788 --- Discovered by James Cook in 1774 but not settled until 1788 (it began as a penal colony).
North Carolina (see United States)
Northwest Territories (see Canada)
Nova Scotia (see Canada)
Ontario (see Canada)
[no code]
1786 ---
Pennsylvania (see United States)
1762 1764
Pitcairn Island  
1790 ---
Prince Edward Island (see Canada)
Prince Edward Islands(21)  
1776 ---
Quebec (see Canada)
Rhode Island (see United States)
Roanoke Island  
[no code]
1585 1589? Settled by an expedition sent by Walter Raleigh; the settlers returned to England a year later. In 1587, the island was settled again, but the settlement disappeared sometime before the end of the 1580s.(22)
Rupert's Land (see Canada)
Saint Domingue(23)  
[no code]
1795 1798
Saint Eustatius  
[no code]
1665 --- Possession of the island changed hands many times between England and Holland. During the seventeenth century, England controlled the island from 1665 to 1668, from 1672 to 1682, and from 1690 to 1696.(24) The British occupied it again in 1781.
Saint Helena  
1658? --- Settled by the East India Company around 1658/1659. The Dutch occupied the island from January to May 1673.
Saint Kitts(25)  
1623 --- Controlled by France from 1666 to 1671.(26)
Saint Lucia  
1663 --- France took control in 1667, after which time possession switched back and forth. Britain apparently held the island from 1762 to 1763, from 1781 to 1783, in 1794, and from 1796 onwards.(27)
Saint Pierre (and Miquelon)  
1702 --- A French territory controlled by the British sporadically during the eighteenth century, from 1702 to 1763, from 1778 to 1783, and from 1796 into the early nineteenth century.(28)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines  
(1627) --- A grant to the earl of Carlisle in 1627 placed St. Vincent in British hands, but the British did not settle the island until the 1760s.
(1765) --- (See endnote)(29)
South Carolina (see United States)
Surat (see India)
Surinam (Dutch Guiana 
1650 --- Held by Britain from 1665 to 1668, when it was given to Holland (in exchange for New Amsterdam).(30) The Dutch held it until 1799, when the British reoccupied it.
1661(31) 1684
1797 ---
Turks and Caicos Islands  
1678 ---
United States of America/Thirteen Colonies  
--Carolina 1629 1729 In 1729, Britain divided Carolina into North and South Carolina.
--Connecticut 1636 (1662) 1776 In 1662 the colony of Hartford became Connecticut by royal charter.
--Delaware 1664 1776 Became a formal possession of James, Duke of York, in 1674, but was transferred to William Penn in 1681; technically part of Pennsylvania until 1704.
--Georgia 1733 1776
--Maryland 1632 1776
--Massachusetts 1629 (1620) 1776 The Mayflower arrived in the region (Plymouth) in 1620, the settlers forming Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony; Massachusetts was recognized by royal charter in 1629.
--New Hampshire 1629 (1679) 1776 "Created" in 1629 (although settled a few years before), New Hampshire remained under the control of the Massachusetts colonial government. It became a separate royal province in 1679/1680.
--New Jersey 1664 1776
--New York 1664 1776
--North Carolina 1729 1776 (See entry for Carolina above.)
--Pennsylvania 1664 1776
--Rhode Island 1636 (1663) 1776 Settled by former inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636; made a formal colony by royal charter in 1663.
--South Carolina  1729 1776 (See entry for Carolina above.)
--Virginia 1607 (1624) 1776 The English established settlements at Jamestown in 1607; Virginia became a formal crown colony by royal charter in 1624.

1.  John Stewart, The British Empire. An Encyclopedia of the Crown's Holdings, 1493 through 1995. (London, 1996), p. 73.

2. Ibid., p. 83.

3. Ibid., p. 86.

4. Ibid., p. 124.

5. Newfoundland is Britain's oldest colony and essentially the first settlement of "the British Empire." English settlers colonized it from 1497 on, and it was formally recognized as a British-owned territory by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

6. Stewart (p. 218) dates the beginning of British presence on Prince Edward Island in 1700 because the English took a small part of it in that year. But the island did not become a British colony until it was annexed as part of Nova Scotia in 1763, the date which Lloyd (p. 407) uses for acquisition. The French name for the island, "Ile St. Jean" was actually used until 1798 when it was renamed for Prince Edward.

7. Ibid., p. 124.

8. According to Stewart, Britain gained Dominica in 1761. But, according to T. O. Lloyd, Britain did not gain possession of this small sugar island until 1763, when it was awarded to Britain by the terms of the Treaty of Paris. See T. O. Lloyd, The British Empire 1558-1983. (Oxford, 1984), p. 83.

9. Because Florida was not part of the Thirteen Colonies, it has its own separate entry.

10. Stewart, The British Empire, pp. 132-133.

11. Ibid., pp. 133-134.

12. Ibid., pp. 139-140.

13. Ibid., p. 146.

14. For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, India was largely under the control of the East India Company, which had been operating in India since 1600. England's participation in the spice trade on the Indian subcontinent led to territorial holdings and to the establishment of factories, and England "acquired" various portions of the subcontinent over the course of the next century. This explains the inclusion here of separate dates of acquisition for different parts of India (the dates for Bengal, Bombay, etc. have been taken from Stewart, The British Empire).
        British India as a single unit did not develop until the second half of the eighteenth century. T. O. Lloyd follows the general tendency to date British control of India in 1757, after Robert Clive successfully defeated the Nawab in 1756 and recovered Calcutta the following year. Others, such as Stewart, date the beginning of British rule in 1774, the year of the passing of the East India Regulating Bill, which brought the Company into closer government supervision and placed Bengal under a holding office. From 1783-1784, two bills solidified British rule by granting control to the Crown and by establishing a Board of Commissioners.

15. See endnote #31.

16. First English trading post in India.

17. English rule in Ireland begins roughly around 1169, although it would be another 632 years before an act of union made Ireland an official part of the United Kingdom. 1169 is the date that Henry II's conquest of Ireland began; he arrived on the island in 1171 and gained Ulster by the terms of the Treaty of Windsor in 1175.

18. In Chesapeake Bay. See Stewart, The British Empire, p. 165.

19. Because Maine was not part of the Thirteen Colonies, it has its own separate entry.

20. Also known as Darien Colony. See Stewart, p. 189.

21. Not to be confused with Prince Edward Island, which is part of Canada. These islands lie in the Indian Ocean.

22. For more information, see Stewart, The British Empire, p. 227 and Lloyd, The British Empire, p. 15. When it was settled in 1585, Raleigh named the island "Virginia," after Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen."

23. Stewart (pp. 229-230) states that this Spanish colony (also known as Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, and, later, Haiti) became a British colony for about three years. However, cross-references with other sources have not shown any corroboration on either the fact or the period of British rule.

24. Stewart, The British Empire, p. 230.

25. Sometimes called Saint Christopher.

26. Stewart, The British Empire, p. 232.

27. Ibid., p. 233.

28. Ibid., p. 234.

29. Stewart (p. 237-8) dates British presence in Senegal as early as the 1690s, but, to be precise, it was not a British possession at this time. The British captured a nearby island and, in the 1750s, occupied the areas in Senegal that had been settled by the French and were being run by the French East India Company. Control of bases in Senegal alternated between France and England during the Seven Year's War. It was not until roughly 1765 when portions of Senegal were colonized by Britain.

30. Lloyd, The British Empire, p. 40.

31. The Treaty with Portugal of 1661 transferred possession of Tangier to England as part of Catherine of Braganza's dowry. Bombay also came as part of the marriage arrangement.
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Last Update: June 2, 1998.