Colonial America

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

A 'game changing' development for historians and researchers of early America, Colonial America enables access to a vast archive of circa 70,000 manuscript documents ‚Äď now fully searchable using Handwritten Text Recognition technology.

Outstanding Academic Title 2018 and 2020
Choice Reviews

Sourced from The National Archives UK, Colonial America offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822. Described as an ‚Äėindispensable‚Äô resource for researchers of the early-modern Atlantic world and winner of Library Journal‚Äôs ‚ÄėBest Reference‚Äô Award, scholars and researchers have clamoured for access to this material for years.


Colonial America offers transformative research possibilities with full-text searching across all manuscript documents using Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR).

HTR is a groundbreaking search technology utilising artificial intelligence to deliver document-level full-text search results in manuscript material. The HTR application uses complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to determine possible combinations of characters in handwritten documents. This enables relevant handwritten text to be identified at document level, allowing users to easily navigate between highlighted search results. Read more or watch the demonstration video.

Modules include:

Module I: Early Settlement, Expansion 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‚Äôs 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.

Module II: Towards Revolution (2016)

Focusing on the 1760s and 1770s, this module covers 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.

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 ‚ÄėDunlap‚Äô edition of the Declaration of Independence printed on the night of the 4th-5th July 1776.

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

This module traces the colonies' legal and political evolution between 1636-1782. Copies of council and assembly minutes record debates on international politics, including Britain’s war with Spain, expeditions against the French in Canada, and trade regulations. Court journals also trace legal cases and trials heard in the colonies, whilst a series of official correspondence and revisions of acts reveal attempts to increase the jurisdiction of British officials in the colonies, expand settlement, and improve public facilities and trade. The extensive revisions and annotations of these documents also expose the internal (and often personal) political agendas of their creators.

Module V: Growth, Trade and Development

The preponderant part of the final 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‚Äôs despatches to London from his 1791 expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The shipping returns reveal a trade network focusing on internal trade within the American colonies and the Caribbean, and with frequent connections across Europe.

Key Data

Period Covered

  • 1606-1822

Source Archive

  • The National Archives, UK

Material Types

  • 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

Editorial Board

  • Max Edelson, University of Virginia
  • Craig Gallagher, Boston College
  • Patrick Griffin, Notre Dame University
  • Tim Lockley, University of Warwick
  • James Sidbury, Rice University
  • Mark Spencer, Brock University
  • Neil York, Brigham Young University


  • Beginning and expansion of English settlement
  • The development of colonial institutions
  • Colonial legislation
  • Education
  • Economic and industrial development
  • Settlers‚Äô 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

Key Features

  • Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) search technology delivering document-level full-text search results across all handwritten manuscript documents, view demo.
  • A five-module collection of complete set of CO 5 files from The National Archives, including material extracted from parent files and stored separately.
  • Comprehensive compilation of metadata for manuscript documents ensuring maximum searchability and ease of access for researchers.
  • Essays by leading academics to explore and contextualise the original material.
  • Map gallery showcasing extensive collection of colour maps associated with the material.


Remarkable, multilayered product

When completed, Colonial America will offer all 1,450 volumes of the CO5 series (records of the British Colonial Office, class 5) from the National Archives, UK, spanning 1606 to ......

This unique scholarly resource is suitable for academic institutions that support researchers working in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American history.

This specialized academic database collects the 1450 volumes of the "CO 5" collection from the National Archives in the UK, covering the period 1606 to 1822. "CO 5" consists of ......

This is a rich and extensive digital archive enhanced by thorough and thoughtful organization and judicious application of technology.

Colonial America is an extensive digital resource built using the Colonial Office document collection (mostly manuscripts) held by the National Archives in London. The collection includes original correspondence between the ......

Highly recommended. Beginning students through researchers/faculty; professionals/practitioners.

The Colonial America curated collection is a welcome addition to the growing lineup of digitized primary source materials related to early America. A collaboration between publisher Adam Matthew and the ......

Highly recommended to historians, professors, and scholars of the colonial American period

This is the second installment of Adam Matthew's prolific database series, Colonial America. This five-module digital series began in 2015 with Module 1: Early Settlement, Expansion, and Rivalries ......

Highly recommended. Beginning students through researchers/faculty; professionals/practitioners.

In addition to assembling for easy access the early documents of the American Revolution, Colonial America: Module 2 also connects scholars to a large cache of British colonial documents concerning ......

Adam Matthew assumes a leading position in eighteenth-century studies with Colonial America

Review Summary: Colonial America is a uniquely rich resource for all historians and researchers of the earlymodern Atlantic world. It opens The National Archives UK to a much broader audience ......

The release of documents in The American Revolution collection opens the door to a wealth of new primary research material

As the third of five planned modules, release of this latest component offers researchers an intimate lookat the turmoil of the 1770s and 1780s as the American colonists struggled to ......

Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.

Colonial America, a primary source database from Adam Matthew, features the entire archive of documents ... from the agencies that oversaw the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean,‚ÄĚ covering ......

Supporting Material

Usage Case Studies

Going to the Source: Understanding Usage of Primary Source Materials Worldwide

Read the white paper written by Michael Levine-Clark, Dean, University of Denver Libraries: At a public university in the western US, a history professor built a class around Colonial America. For ...... View full case study

Structuring a class around Adam Matthew’s Colonial America collection

Dr Jessica Stern, Professor of History at Cal State Fullerton, built her whole class around Adam Matthew’s Colonial America database, and the documents within it, which come from the CO5 series ...... View full case study