This video is part of a series of 20 animated maps.

View series: The United States: a territorial history

An example of an animated map

Birth of the United States

This map is part of a series of 20 animated maps showing the history of The United States: a territorial history.

Between the 15th and the 18th century, the major European powers competed for the land and resources of the New World.

In North America, Great Britain gradually established its colonies in the Atlantic coastal regions, but its northward expansion was blocked by French territories in Canada, especially in the area around the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. Meanwhile Spain was extending its territory in the South, especially in Florida.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the “French and Indian Wars”, prevented France from expanding further. Spain claimed the Western regions of the continent, but was forced to give up Florida. All the territory from the Atlantic to the Mississippi was now under British rule.

Relying on its position as a powerful maritime nation, Great Britain adopted an ambitious colonial policy in the New World; its thirteen colonies of settlers had already coalesced into a dynamic economic, commercial and cultural entity.

These thirteen colonies are usually grouped into three geographical sub-groups:

New England with the colonies of

New Hampshire

Massachusetts Bay

Rhode Island

and Connecticut  

The Central Colonies:

The province of New York

New Jersey


and Delaware  

and finally, the Southern colonies of:



The two Carolinas, North and South

and Georgia.

The Northern and Central colonies, with their high population density, built up their economy on small farm holdings, industry and trade. The South was dominated by large agricultural plantations producing tobacco and rice, made possible by a servile black workforce who represented a considerable proportion of the local population.

The British government wanted to maintain its control over the colonies and their expansion to the West. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited, temporarily, settlers from moving west of the Appalachians.

But the American colonists refused to accept “taxation without representation” and were impatient with delays in developing new territories. This situation quickly led to a major rift between them and the British government. On July 4, 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from the Crown and, with help from the French, defeated the British troops in the long War of Independence.

In signing the second Treaty of Paris in 1783, the United Kingdom recognized the 13 colonies as “free and sovereign states” and ceded all its territories as far as the Mississippi River.

In the South, the United States of America handed Florida back to Spain, in recognition of its support during the War of Independence.