The Thirteen Colonies had an incredibly rocky start, running out of food and surrounded by Indian tribes which were not pacified until much later. Yet 200 years later, the population in the colonies eclipses many if not every other European colonial settlement in the Americas, including - New Granada, New Spain, Rio de la Plata, New France and Louisiana.

For example, 1770 Boston was larger and more economically active than Montreal, New Orleans, Veracruz, Havana, Buenos Aires or Cartagena, and yet taking just Boston would not allow one to dominate the entire area as opposed to the other cities in which the loss thereof is usually enough for you to claim the entire colony on the peace table.

So how and why were the 13 colonies so successful?

  • It's not meaningful to compare population sizes as a measure of "success" without accounting for differences in geographical area. – Semaphore Nov 23 '14 at 16:16
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    Which time period are you even referring to? Your premise is highly questionable anyway: Boston's population in 1770 is 20,000; Mexico City had perhaps 70,000 by 1750. – Semaphore Nov 23 '14 at 16:24
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    I was going to have this an answer until I realised I didn't want to spend the time to harvest references: The reasons were primarily geographic. 1) Fewer tropical diseases; 2) Land that was easier to cultivate (less swamps/jungles); 3) Britain's approach to funding colonies and extracting value was more nuanced than Spanish monoculture cash crops and silver mines (thanks to banking concepts introduced by the Dutch); 4) Relatively more open to general immigration; and a population boom in England to supply it. – LateralFractal Nov 24 '14 at 1:58

The main difference is that most of the British 13 colonies were "settlements," while the French and Spanish holdings were really "colonies."

"New France" was based on the trade in furs, sugar, and other commodities, and had less than 100,000 people in total. The people that came over were "careerists" in the above trade, not people who planned to settle for a long time.

Similarly, most of the Spanish colonies were founded and based on the gold trade (Mexico and Peru). This was less true of Buenos Aires, which was arguably the most successful of the Spanish colonies. That is, it was a real settlement based on the production of foodstuffs such as grain and cattle.

On the other hand, most of the British colonies were founded by true settlers, who planned to live and work in (rather than plunder) the Americas. Moreover, they were mostly led by religious, or other idealists, who had a vested interest in seeing the settlements succeed: John Winthrop, a Puritan, in New England, Lord Baltimore (a Catholic) in Maryland, William Penn, a peace-loving Quaker in Pennsylvania, James Oglethorpe, a prisoner's rights advocate in Georgia, etc.

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    +1. Religious incentivisation of successful settlement is an interesting consideration. – LateralFractal Nov 24 '14 at 22:26

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