So what is the "accepted" terminology for the British Colonies prior to 1776?

+3 votes
Having most of my family from New England, I am slightly concerned about how to designate the birth, death, marriage, and other events that call for a location. Some of my family (the Stetsons) were here pretty early, during the days of the Massachussetts Bay colony. Is that the proper term?

Just curious. Personally, I prefer BCA - British Colony in America but I understand that is a no-no for some reason.

Thanks for your thoughtful response.


asked in Policy and Style by Roy Lamberton G2G6 Mach 1 (14.3k points)

2 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer

I looked up the same thing on Wikipedia a this is a summary for Massachusetts:

1620 - settlement began in Plymouth Colony.

1628 - founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony. This was the beginning of large scale colonization.

1692-1776, Province of Massachusetts Bay. It included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

Named for the Massachusett tribe, which once inhabited the area.

6 February 1788 admitted to the United States of America as the 6th state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

answered by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (276k points)
selected by Roy Lamberton
Thanks - will undertake to update all my New England ancestors'

Then there's the Mid Atlantic (PA and MD and DE) and the rest of the South.


Some colonial documents from New England use "New England" as part of the place name. One that I found especially interesting was the 1681 will of Roger Nevinson of Surrey (England), quoted in his son's profile, that provided a bequest to his son "my loving Sonne John Nevinson of Water=down in New England," referring to Watertown, Massachusetts, but with no mention of Massachusetts.

I think one has to remember that prior to the 1700's, everyone thought of themselves as "English" and were a society pretty much organized around the town and church. If I remember my history, many colonies only allowed one church - Jefferson campaigned against the church of England being supported by taxes, AND being the only church allowed in the Virginia Colony.

Maryland was almost all Roman Catholic in the early days because the Cecil's of England were Catholic.

and so it goes. Thanks for your help and insight -- rsl
The Englishness of the colonists is related to one part of the problem with "British Colonial America." Until 1707 (at least) when Scotland and England were united, these were colonies of England, not British colonies.
+6 votes

Welcoome, Roy!

British Colonial America (or your BCA) is a modern designation. We strive to use the place names as the people of the time used them. "Our guiding principle is the same as the one for Name Fields: U'se their conventions instead of ours.'   Applied to locations, this means using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist."

Admittedly, particularly in the beginning, this can be a challenge! My general practice, when I am unsure, is to look up "Modern Name" in Wikipedia. The history section will usually give you the names and dates the original names were in use.

answered by Jim Parish G2G6 Pilot (126k points)
While I like BCA, I can see why you want the original names.

Would be nice if WikiTree popped up the right location based on the town and date.... Probably a major programming feat given the number of small towns and how they changed names over the years.


Thanks for your help.


The pop-up name chooser is from Family Search and they don't care about historically accurate names. Roy if you ancestors are from the New England states, New England is what was used in most wills. I don't generally read wills from other places so don't know what to use in those cases

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