Oldest States in America

America is rich in history and is home to many historic states. Many of these historic states are also home to the oldest towns in America, such as New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The following is a list of the oldest states in America:

Delaware:

Date Ratified: December 7, 1787

Formed from: Colony of Delaware

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Delaware earned itself the nickname “The First State” when it became the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787.

Delaware was settled by the Swedes in 1638 before it was captured by the Dutch in 1655 and incorporated into the New Netherlands Colony. The English seized control of the colony in 1664 and it became part of the English colonial territory before eventually becoming the first U.S. state in 1787.

Delaware became the first state to ratify the constitution because, unlike other states at the time, there was unanimous support among the Delaware politicians to do so.

Many other states at the time opposed the considerable power that was given to the federal government in the proposed constitution, which made the process of ratifying it in those states a much more complicated process. Delaware had no such issues.

In fact, as a small state, Delaware was concerned that if it didn’t have the backing of a federal government it would be taken advantage of by the larger states surrounding it so it was more than eager to ratify the new constitution and strengthen its political standing.

The date of the ratification, December 7, is now known in the state as Delaware Day as a way to commemorate the occasion.

Pennsylvania:

Date Ratified: December 12, 1787

Formed from: Province of Pennsylvania

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Pennsylvania was first settled in 1681 when it became an English colony after King Charles II issued William Penn a royal deed. Penn was a Quaker and promoted religious tolerance in the colony and it soon became a haven for Quakers and others seeking refuge from religious persecution in the colonies.

Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the constitution nearly a week after Delaware did so.

Pennsylvania had a number of anti-Federalist critics who didn’t approve of the Constitution and found it lacking. Fortunately, the constitution was still ratified because the pro-Constitution forces had two-thirds majority at the state ratification convention.

Unfortunately, anti-Federalists made a powerful argument against the constitution at the convention, a document called the Pennsylvania Minority Report, which was then passed around to other states and became part of a widespread effort to reject the U.S. Constitution.

New Jersey:

Date Ratified: December 18, 1787

Formed from: Province of New Jersey

Region: Mid-Atlantic

New Jersey was first settled in 1660 by the Dutch, Swedes, and Finns and incorporated into the New Netherlands colony.

In 1664, the English seized New Netherlands and gave it to two proprietors: Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkley and officially named it New Jersey after the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel.

In 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and also the first state to sign the Bill of Rights in 1789.

Georgia:

Date Ratified: January 2, 1788

Formed from: Province of Georgia

Region: South

Georgia was founded by James Oglethorpe in 1732 after he received a royal charter for the colony from King George II, after whom the colony was named.

Although Georgia was originally divided between loyalists and patriots throughout the Revolutionary War, the British occupation of Georgia in the latter half of the war pushed many Georgians over to the patriot side.

On January 2, 1788, Georgia became the first southern state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The ratification of the U.S. Constitution inspired Georgians to rewrite its state constitution in 1789 and, as a result, divided the powers of the government more evenly among the three branches.

Connecticut:

Date Ratified: January 9, 1788

Formed from: Connecticut Colony

Region: New England

Settled by both English Puritans and Dutch settlers in the early 17th century, Connecticut officially became an English colony on March 3, 1636.

On January 9, 1788, Connecticut voted in favor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution by an overwhelming majority after delegate Oliver Ellsworth gave a speech reminding fellow Connecticut citizens of the disadvantages Connecticut faced under the Articles of Confederation and explained that the U.S. Constitution would protect small states like theirs from such disadvantages.

Massachusetts:

Date Ratified: February 6, 1788

Formed from: Province of Massachusetts Bay

Region: New England

Settled by English Puritans in 1620, Massachusetts was home to two English colonies in the early 17th century, Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that eventually merged into one colony called the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Massachusetts is also home to one of the oldest towns in America, Plymouth, which was settled in 1620 by the Mayflower pilgrims.

Massachusetts became the birthplace of the American Revolution in the 18th century and was the location of the first battle of the Revolutionary War in 1775.

Massachusetts delegates were divided on ratifying the U.S. Constitution until Governor John Hancock proposed that Massachusetts recommend several amendments to the Constitution, including a Bill of Rights.

John Adams spoke in favor of the plan and it persuaded enough delegates to vote in favor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution, which they did on February 6, 1788.

Maryland:

Date Ratified: April 28, 1788

Formed from: Province of Maryland

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Maryland was founded by Cecilius Calvert in 1632 and settled in 1634 after Calvert received a royal charter from Charles I of England. The colony was named after King Charles’s wife, Queen Henrietta Maria.

On April 28, 1788, the majority of Maryland delegates voted in favor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution, despite much debate about the merits of this newly proposed government.

South Carolina:

Date Ratified: May 23, 1788

Formed from: Province of Carolina

Region: South

Settled by the English in 1670, the colony was named after King Charles I. In 1712, the colony was divided into South Carolina and North Carolina in 1712. In 1719, South Carolina was taken back from the proprietors and made into a royal colony.

On May 23, 1788, South Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution, making it the second southern state to do so.

New Hampshire:

Date Ratified: June 21, 1788

Formed from: Province of New Hampshire

Region: New England

Settled by English colonists in 1623, New Hampshire was incorporated as the colony of New Hampshire in 1629 and was named after the English county of Hampshire.

New Hampshire is also home to one of the oldest towns in America, Dover, which was settled in 1623.

In 1641, New Hampshire was absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony until Charles II issued a colonial charter for the province in 1679 and it became known as the Province of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire was absorbed by the Dominion of New England in 1686 until the dominion was overthrown in 1691 and New Hampshire became the Province of New Hampshire colony again.

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ratified the U.S. Constitution, making it the third New England state to do so.

Sources:
“A Brief History of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Almanac.” NH.gov, nh.gov/almanac/history.htm
“The Seventh State.” Maryland State House, msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdstatehouse/html/7thstate.html
“Maryland’s History.” Maryland.gov, sos.maryland.gov/mdkids/Pages/Maryland%27s-History.aspx
“The Ratification of the U.S. Constitution in Massachusetts.” Massachusetts Historical Society, masshist.org/objects/cabinet/february2003/february2003.htm
“Today in History – January 9.” Library of Congress, loc.gov/item/today-in-history/january-09/
“Timeline: Settlement of the Colony of Connecticut.” Connecticut History, connecticuthistory.org/timeline-settlement-of-the-colony-of-connecticut/
“Early History.” Connecticut’s Official State Websites, portal.ct.gov/about/early-history
Glass, Andrew. “Georgia enters the Union: Jan. 2, 1788.” Politico, Jan 1. 2017, politico.com/story/2017/01/georgia-enters-the-union-jan-2-1788-233087
“Establishing the Georgia Colony, 1732-1750.” Library of Congress, loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/colonial-settlement-1600-1763/georgia-colony-1732-1750/
“United States Constitution.” NJ.gov, nj.gov/state/archives/docusconstitution.html
“Remembering the day Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution.” Constitutional Center, constitutioncenter.org/blog/remembering-the-day-pennsylvania-ratified-the-constitution
“A Short History of New Jersey.” NJ.gov, nj.gov/nj/about/history/short_history.html
“Indigenous People of Pennsylvania.” Messiah University, libguides.messiah.edu/history/indigenous
“The Dutch on the Delaware.” New Netherland Institute, newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/additional-resources/dutch-treats/the-dutch-on-the-delaware
“About Delaware Day.” Delaware.gov, delawareday.delaware.gov/about-delaware-day/

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of Historic Sites USA. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in New England after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism.

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