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Complete CO5 files from The National Archives, UK, 1606-1822



Colonial America offers access to a unique collection of manuscript and printed material from the archive of the British government in London. Covering the period 1606 to 1822, this digital resource consists of the complete series of Colonial Office 5 files – the original correspondence between London and the American colonial governments. Each of the 1,450 files has been divided into its constituent documents (c.70,000 in total) and are full-text searchable, enabling fascinating new research opportunities.

Despatches on a huge variety of topics were sent to London from every colony in the Americas. Themes covered in the material include:

  • The beginning and expansion of English settlement

  • The development of colonial institutions

  • Colonial legislation

  • Education

  • Economic and industrial development

  • Settlers’ relationships with Native Americans

  • English/British relations with the Dutch, French and Spanish

  • Trade and protectionism

  • Taxation

  • Militias, garrisons and military preparedness

  • Warfare

  • Alliances and diplomacy

  • Peace negotiations

  • Naval matters

  • Piracy and privateering

  • Tobacco, sugar and other commodities

  • Religious matters

  • Slavery and the slave trade

  • Non-British immigration

  • Surveying and exploration

  • Colonial relationships with the British government

  • The Glorious Revolution

  • Political protest and unrest

  • The American Revolution

Click titles below for detailed information:

Module I: Early Settlement, Expansio​n and Rivalries (2015)

The first module of Colonial America documents the early history of the colonies, and includes founding charters, material on the effects of 1688’s Glorious Revolution in North America, records of piracy and seaborne rivalry with the French and Spanish, and copious military material from the French and Indian War of 1756-63.

Full dates: 1606-1776
Bulk dates: 1660s-1750s

The following highlights give some illustration of the diversity of material featured:

  • Charters and commissions relating to the founding of Virginia (1606) 
  • A printed proclamation by Edmond Andros, Jacobite governor of New England, condemning the invasion of England by William of Orange (1688) 
  • Pamphlets both supporting and opposing Jacob Leisler, leader of a rebellion against the government of New York (1689-91) 
  • Major Peter Schuyler’s holograph journal of his expedition to Canada and action against the French at the Battle of La Prairie during King William’s War (1691)
  • Records on piracy (in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and as far afield as Madagascar) and of the trials of pirates, such as that of John Hougling, Cornelius Franc and François Delaunée of the Peace off Virginia (1700) 
  • Lists of accounts of expenditure for the subsistence of Palatine (German) settlers in New York, in exchange for their labour in the production of naval stores (1710-12) 
  • Numerous petitions and remonstrances, including several from representatives of various colonies both in favour of and against the restrictions on trade contained in the Navigation Acts; one to King George II from the people of South Carolina altering him to the poor defences of the colony and the threat to it from Spain (1742-3); and one for the relief of Georgia, invaded by the Spanish (1742-3) 
  • The proceedings against, and the defence of, the Rev. Thomas Bosomworth, accused of treason due to his and his mixed-race wife’s activities among the Creek Indians (1749) 
  • Copious military material from the French and Indian Wars (1756-63), including George Washington’s account of a mission to the French fort on the Ohio (1753-4); the commission of General James Wolfe as commander-in-chief of ‘an Expedition against Quebec, by the way of the River St Lawrence’ and his secret instructions for the mission; and a transcript of the interrogation of a French deserter (1756) 
  • Maps of the lands ceded to the Cherokee by Georgia in 1773; of forts, such as those at Oswego (New York), Louisbourg (Nova Scotia) and Newport (Rhode Island); of routes used by the French and territorial claims associated with them; and of various lakes, river systems and mountain ranges all over eastern North America 

This module focuses on the 1760s and 1770s and the social and political protest that led to the Declaration of Independence, including legal materials covering the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. It is also particularly rich in material relating to military affairs and Native Americans. 

Full dates: 1693-1792 
Bulk dates: 1750s-1770s 

Particularly interesting material in this module includes:

  • Intercepted French military correspondence (often enciphered), with translations (1756-1761) 
  • A table of British officers killed and wounded at the Battle of Ticonderoga (1758)
  • Military diary of an expedition up the St John’s River (1758) 
  • Sections of the journey of James Murray, covering the siege of Quebec and his command of the city following its surrender by the French (1759-60) 
  • The articles of surrender of Montreal (in French) (1760) 
  • Journal of the ‘Congress to Augusta’ (Georgia), detailing talks between the British and four Indian nations (1763) 
  • Descriptions of French and German settler villages (1767) 
  • Narrative of Facts Relative to American Affairs, a direct response of the British government to disturbances in the American colonies, detailing the early stages of the revolution and the wrangles over duties and customs, particularly in Massachusetts (1768) 
  • Estimates of the expense of the policing frontier between North Carolina and Cherokee hunting grounds (1768) 
  • A deed addressed to King George III from the Six Nations Indians (1768) 
  • A petition from the citizens of Virginia entitled ‘No taxation without representation’ (1768) 
  • ‘A description of the manner of making tar in Sweden’ (with illustrations) (1770) 
  • Commissions granting military appointments to William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton at the beginning of the Revolutionary War to restore peace to the rebelling colonies (1776) 
  • Numerous maps and building plans, including of forts and army encampments along the St Lawrence River (1760), a plan of the town and harbour of Nassau in the Bahamas (1770), and a map of Georgia showing towns, rivers, forts, Indian boundary lines, paths, and hunting lands, drawn up as part of material relating to the cession of Indian lands (1774)
Module III: The American Revolution (2017)

This module charts the upheavals of the 1770s and 1780s which saw the throwing off of British rule in the Thirteen Colonies. Contents include volumes of intercepted letters between colonists, the military correspondence of the British commanders in the field and material produced by the Ordnance Office and the office of the Secretary at War, as well as two copies of the ‘Dunlap’ edition of the Declaration of Independence printed on the night of the 4th-5th July 1776. 

Full dates: 1735-1822 
Bulk dates: 1770s-1780s

Module IV: Legislation and Politics in the Colonies (2018)

The material in this module consists mostly of the text of acts of assembly and the minutes of assembly and council sessions, building up to a comprehensive picture of the colonies’ legislative and political evolution.

Full dates: 1638-1783
Bulk dates: 1710s-1760s

Module V: Growth, Trade and Development (2019)

The preponderant part of this module consists of correspondence with the Board of Trade. There are also details of land grants, shipping returns and financial accounts, as well as George Vancouver’s despatches to London from his 1791 expedition to the Pacific Northwest.

Full dates: 1668-1799
Bulk dates: 1690s-1770s


The National Archives’ CO 5 file class consists of the original correspondence and entry books of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for the Southern Department and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, together holding responsibility for the British possessions in mainland North America and the Caribbean.

The material is predominantly bound into volumes organised either by subject or by colony, and includes: 

  • Letters
  • Charters and commissions

  • Orders to officials

  • Court records

  • Land grants and cadastral lists

  • Maps and building plans

  • Diaries

  • Newspapers

  • Printed pamphlets, broadsides and speeches

  • Texts of acts of assemblies

  • Military documents

  • Petitions

  • Public notices and proclamations

  • Financial documents

  • Shipping lists


S. Max Edelson
University of Virginia

Craig Gallagher
Boston College

Patrick Griffin
Notre Dame University

Tim Lockley
University of Warwick

James Sidbury
Rice University

Neil York
Brigham Young University


  • Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) search technology delivering document-level full-text search results across all manuscript documents
  • c.70,000 documents with extensive metadata
  • Interactive Government Structure Chart feature, illustrating how colonial governance was organised
  • Map gallery, showcasing the detailed and colourful map material in the collection
  • Biographies of hundreds of contemporary British and American personalities
  • Essays by leading scholars, exploring and contextualising the material