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One often hears of "the thirteen colonies", and of course the colonies were also called "provinces". Were they also sometimes called "states" before the Continental Congress convened?

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    Yes absolutely - the notion of a nation state was still evolving. As someone else commented, the name "United States" was explicitly chosen to express this notion - that the USA was formed of united states. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 16 '16 at 15:02
  • @MarkC.Wallace : But can you cite actual instances written during the time when there was not yet discontent with colonial status? – Michael Hardy Aug 16 '16 at 15:05
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    The clearest examples are the commonwealths of Massachusetts,Virginia, and Pennsylvania. it would take me time to dig up citations, but Franklin's Baitingin the Bear Pit is a result of his presence in England to represent those commonwealths. On the other hand, I confess that I missed the 1774 deadline, so the task is more complex – Mark C. Wallace Aug 16 '16 at 15:51
  • I'm frustrated - I'm relatively sure that I remember reading of Washington using the term during the Siege of Boston, but I no longer rely on my recollections and I can't find a citation. Can anyone else help? – Mark C. Wallace Aug 16 '16 at 16:10
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    Vermont, which was not one of the thirteen colonies, but which issued its separate declaration of independence in 1777, was, during the years before its admission to the Union in 1791, most often called the "State of Vermont" but sometimes the "Commonwealth of Vermont" and I think less frequently the "Republic of Vermont". Some 20th-century historians started using that last term to refer to the status of Vermont between its declaration of independence and its admission to the Union. However, that was not during the colonial era. – Michael Hardy Aug 16 '16 at 18:04
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The governor's Council, also known as the Council of State or simply the Council, consisted of about a dozen of colonial Virginia's wealthiest and most prominent men. Beginning in the 1630s the Crown appointed Council members, although from 1652 to 1660 the General Assembly elected the members. Crown appointments were lifetime appointments. Encyclopedia Virginia

I cannot find any mention of the colonies using the term "state" in the period 1763-1774. I recall an anecdote that George Washington used the term during the seige of Boston, but I cannot (to my great frustration) provide a citation.


One comment raised the question whether this was important: I believe it is, and I'm going to digress for a moment to lay out my opinion as to why. One of the enduring questions of the American Revolution is how the inhabitants transformed from Englishmen to Americans. At what point and by what means did they conclude that it was no longer possible to reach an accommodation with Parliament? The terms "colonies", "provinces", etc., indicate that they perceived themselves to be subjects of the Empire. Terms such as "state", "commonwealth" and "republic" indicate a disposition towards independence. Thus the first use of "state" (or a synonym) is an indicator for the transformation towards independence.

The following material I believe is not responsive to OP request, but may serve as context. (although it is not responsive to the question, sometimes it is useful to fill in the space around the question)

  1. The first use of the term "United States" is described here

    Reed was a colonel in the Continental Army and George Washington's secretary. In January 1776 Reed was on leave in Philadelphia when Moylan, who was filling in for Reed, wrote to him and said that he wanted to go to Spain on a mission to seek help for the fight against Britain “with full and ample powers from the United States of America.” There it is, the earliest documented use of the phrase “United States of America,” in a letter written by Stephen Moylan.

  2. Thomas Jefferson used the term "American States" (hat tip to @Called2Voyage). but this is both dated 1774 and a reference to the union, not to an individual state per se.

  3. Thomas Paine referenced the "United States of America" on 6/29/76. and in Common sense (January 1776)

  4. "A Planter" uses the term (although the Paine advocates would take particular notice of the capitalization):

    “What a prodigious sum for the united states of America to give up for the sake of a peace, that, very probably, itself would be one of the greatest misfortunes!” – A PLANTER

  5. OP points out, "Vermont, which was not one of the thirteen colonies, but which issued its separate declaration of independence in 1777, was, during the years before its admission to the Union in 1791, most often called the "State of Vermont" but sometimes the "Commonwealth of Vermont" and I think less frequently the "Republic of Vermont". Some 20th-century historians started using that last term to refer to the status of Vermont between its declaration of independence and its admission to the Union. However, that was not during the colonial era."

  6. The Carolina Charter of 1663 ". . . do grant full and absolute power, by virtue of these presents, to them the [Lords Proprietors], and their heirs, for the good and happy government of the said province, to ordain, make, enact, and under their seals to publish any laws whatsoever, either appertaining to the publick state of the said province". Now, this mention of "state" is as in "condition", but that is what the term "state" to refer to a political entity grew out of Source. (hat tip to @called2Voyage again!)

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    True - but (a) merges with OP deadline and (b) I think OP is looking for a reference to a specific state, not the abstract generalization of "states". – Mark C. Wallace Aug 16 '16 at 16:52
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    Yes, and despite the fact it was composed prior to the Continental Congress, it was composed to present to it, but I felt it should be mentioned. Thanks for including! – called2voyage Aug 16 '16 at 17:12
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    @user14394 : The question is whether anybody called individual colonies "states" BEFORE the conflict with Britain that ultimately escalated into war in 1775 and independence in 1776. Probably it's best to look at times no later than 1763, since it was in the aftermath of the Seven Years War that Parliament started trying to legislate for the colonies. – Michael Hardy Aug 16 '16 at 19:55
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    @user14394 : The Continental Congress, or the Congress of the Confederation if you like, of course continued to meet after those secret meetings in 1787 when the Constitution was drafted. It didn't get superseded until the Constitution had actually been ratified in 1788 and possibly not until the new federal government replaced it in 1789. – Michael Hardy Aug 16 '16 at 19:57
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    In the Carolina Charter of 1663: "do grant full and absolute power, by virtue of these presents, to them the [Lords Proprietors], and their heirs, for the good and happy government of the said province, to ordain, make, enact, and under their seals to publish any laws whatsoever, either appertaining to the publick state of the said province". Now, this mention of "state" is as in "condition", but that is what the term "state" to refer to a political entity grew out of (Source). – called2voyage Aug 16 '16 at 21:29
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At this page we read:

The British North American colonies occasionally were called states as far back as 1630s;

Just a small data point. This should not discourage others from posting further on this.

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