The 13 American colonies were founded in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Most were created by emigrants escaping religious persecution. From Massachusetts in the north to Georgia in the south, the colonies ran along 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) of coastline and covered an area of over 1.1 million square kilometres (430,000 square miles). The population in the 1770s was 2.5 million. The equivalent of modern-day Manchester in an area the size of Britain, France and Germany combined! Vast distances and rough terrain made travelling overland difficult. Most of the population lived in Atlantic ports, the largest being Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Brunswick. The seaboard, the northern lakes and navigable rivers were critical to all trade and transport.
The colonies and their inhabitants were enormously diverse. The lumber, livestock and grain-producing North had little in common with the tobacco, cotton and indigo-producing South. The prosperous coastal townsfolk had more to do with British government than the independently-minded inland settlers. Although most were British Protestants, there were colonists from all over Europe with a variety of religious faiths.
The American colonies were not only vast, they were a long way from Britain. Although the Atlantic crossing could be made in only five weeks, journeys of two months were not unknown. By the end of the 18th century, most colonies were administered by a royal governor, his council and an elective colonial assembly. As royal representatives, the governors controlled the troops in their colonies.
There were about 7,000 British troops in the colonies. Some of these garrisoned the remote forts controlling the Proclamation Line (the divide between Native American and colonial territory) and the main overland routes. The remainder policed the towns and ports. As well as defending settlers from border attacks by Native Americans, smuggling and civil disturbances were the main problems faced by the Army.