Explore by Timeline: Colonial America and the Revolution (1565-1783)
First Permanent English Settlement at Jamestown
In 1607, colonists established the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. By 1640, England had multiple colonies in New England, Maryland, and Virginia. Seventeenth-century colonists continued vernacular European building traditions, though they adapted them to harsher American climate. While thatched roofs and half-timbering were soon abandoned, New England house builders retained English medieval techniques such as an overhanging second story.
Though the Dutch and Swedish had also claimed portions of the Atlantic coast during the seventeenth century, by the early 1700s those holdings had become part of the British Empire. English culture therefore became the dominant influence on American architecture for years to come.
Earliest Public Building Constructed in Santa Fe
Spain established Santa Fe as the capital of New Mexico in about 1609. In 1610, colonists began constructing the Palace of the Governors. Regarded as the first European-American government building in the New World, the Palace of the Governors faced an open plaza near the center of the city grid. Colonists employed a blend of Spanish and Native American building techniques. While local adobe was the principal construction material, the building’s wood colonnades and door frames followed Spanish traditions.
Today, only a small portion of the original seventeenth-century construction exists within the extensively restored building.
Georgian Architecture Takes Root
A wealthy upper class intent on emulating the latest English fashions arose in America during the eighteenth century. Inigo Jones brought the architecture of the Italian Renaissance, which was inspired by the classicism of Ancient Rome, to England during the seventeenth century. These ideals eventually spread to America by way of an assortment of pattern books, including Palladio’s "The Four Books of Architecture" (1663) and James Gibbs’s "A Book of Architecture, containing designs of buildings and ornaments" (1728).
The style that developed out of this movement was named Georgian after the English monarchs who reigned during the height of its popularity. Used for both domestic and public buildings, the Georgian style flourished in America until the Revolutionary War. Although its loose interpretation of classical forms was based on English sources, it marked the beginning of the Neoclassicism movement that would dominate American architecture for the next three hundred years.
Revolutionary War Begins
On April 19, 1775, shots rang out at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, marking the beginning of the American Revolution. The following year on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee presented a resolution to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia:
"That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence during the next three weeks while Congress recessed. After reconvening and making minor changes to the document, Congress officially adopted the Declaration on Independence on July 4, 1776.
First Postmaster General Appointed
On July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin Postmaster General, a position he held until November 7, 1776. Franklin established a communications system that was the predecessor of the present-day U.S. Postal Service. Early post offices were predominantly housed in rented space.
In 1810, the government purchased Blodgett’s Hotel on E Street in northwest Washington D.C. Originally designed by James Hoban (architect of the President’s House) during the late eighteenth century, the imposing brick building housed the General Post Office on the first floor and the Patent Office on the upper floors. In 1828, Charles Bulfinch designed an extension to accommodate a city post office. The building burned in 1836 and the General Post Office relocated to Benjamin Ogle Tayloe’s Mansion House, until a new building was built on the site in 1841.
British Surrender at Yorktown
After more than six years of fighting, the troops of Generals George Washington and Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau surrounded the British army at Yorktown. Following a siege that lasted less than three weeks, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to Washington, effectively ending the Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781. The war was not officially over, however, until the Treaty of Paris was signed two years later on September 3, 1783 and Britain formally recognized the United States.
After the war ended, the country began the momentous task of creating a new federal government—and constructing buildings in which to house it.