Oldest Cities in America

7 Oldest Cities in America

It’s become common knowledge that European colonization of the Americas first occurred in 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Soon after Columbus arrived, settlers from various European countries began to establish colonies throughout the New World.

While the earliest colonies were established in the present-day Caribbean islands and South America, the cities listed in this articles are the oldest found in the United States. Several of the cities on this list were the site of important events in American history and all of them are still populated today.

7. Weymouth, Massachusetts – Est. 1622

 Current Population: ~55,972
 Founded By: Thomas Weston
 Named For: Weymouth, Dorset

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Weymouth, Massachusetts was first settled in 1622 by Thomas Weston and initially called Wessagusset Colony. This first colony was a failure as the men who founded it were disorganized and consuming their food too quickly and didn’t have enough supplies stored for the winter.

In order to try and survive, Weston and his men began trading with the Pilgrims in Plymouth and the local Native American tribes.

However, conflict between the Wessagusset colonists and the surrounding tribes escalated and resulted in the death of a local chief, Pecksuot, and several of his men as well as about five of the English settlers.

The colony was dissolved in 1623 and unsuccessfully resettled a few more times before finally becoming a permanent settlement in 1635 and renamed Weymouth.

6. Plymouth, Massachusetts – Est. 1620

 Current Population: ~58,271
 Founded By: The Pilgrims of the Mayflower
 Named For: Plymouth, England

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Plymouth, Massachusetts was the second permanent English settlement in North America and was founded by members of the English Separatist Church, who are commonly referred to as the Pilgrims. The town and the story of the Pilgrims have become an integral part of American history.

The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth after seeking a new home where they could practice religious freedom and have more economic opportunities. These settlers set foot on the famed Plymouth Rock and established the first town in the area that would eventually become New England.

One of the most famous events to take place in Plymouth was the first Thanksgiving, which took place in the fall of 1621 when the Pilgrims and the Pokanoket tribe shared a harvest feast.

5. Albany, New York – Est. 1614

 Current Population: ~98,11
 Founded By: Dutch settlers and Henry Hudson
 Named For: Scottish Duke of Albany  

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The area that would later become Albany was first discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson – his voyage to find a faster trade route ended here once his ship was unable to continue moving along the river he was sailing on (this river would eventually be known as the Hudson River).

Around 1614, Dutch explorer, Hendrick Christiaensen, built Fort Nassau as a fur-trading post and military defense structure. He built it beside the present day Hudson River, which is within present day Albany – Fort Nassau was the first Dutch settlement in North America.

Initially, the Dutch named their new settlement Beverwijck, but the English changed the city’s name to Albany after they captured New Netherland from the Dutch in 1664. In 1673, the city briefly held by the Dutch once again and renamed Willemstadt. The English finally took permanent control of the city in 1674 and its name has stuck since then.

4. Hampton, Virginia – Est. 1610

 Current Population: ~136,454
 Founded By: English settlers
 Named For: Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton  

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Hampton was founded in 1610 by English settlers who had sailed south of Jamestown, near the entrance to the Hampton River, to establish their own small town with a small Anglican church.

This old colonial city has a rich history and the city’s national monument, Fort Monroe, played an important role in the American Civil War. Unlike most of Virginia, Fort Monroe remained under Union control.

Fort Monroe soon became the first site of “contraband” policies when in 1861, Major General Benjamin Butler refused to return three escaped slaves to a Confederate officer, declaring them to be “contraband of war.”

After Confederate soldiers burned down the town of Hampton, several contraband slaves built the Grand Contraband Camp on the town’s ruins — this was the first self-contained African American community in the U.S.

Today, the area around Hampton is home to Langley Air Force Base, NASA Langley Research Center, and the Virginia Air and Space Center.

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico – Est. 1607

 Current Population: ~83,875
 Founded By: Pedro de Peralta
 Named For: Francis of Assisi  

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

While Santa Fe is not the oldest city in the U.S., it is the oldest capital city in the U.S. and the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi. Although the city is typically known as Santa Fe, its official name is still La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (“The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi”).

The city is home to the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors — one of the oldest buildings in America — and the country’s oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta. The Fiesta was first celebrated in 1712 as a way to commemorate the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico in 1692.

Santa Fe was first designated as the capital city of the territory in 1610 and was never moved even after New Mexico became a state.

2. Jamestown, Virginia – Est. 1607

 Current Population: ~13,787
 Founded By: Virginia Company of London
 Named For: James VI and I   

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Jamestown was established by the Virginia Company of London as James Fort — it was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. After a brief period of abandonment in 1610, Jamestown was considered a permanent settlement and it served as the capital of the Virginia colony for 83 years, from 1616 – 1699.

The first settlers to arrive in Jamestown faced many difficulties including starvation, disease, and war with the Powhatan Indians.

The colony’s most famous leader was Captain John Smith, who had successfully managed to establish trading with the Powhatan Indians for food. However, Smith had to return to England in 1609 after a gunpowder accident and the colonists faced the “starving time” as well as warfare with the Powhatan Indians.

The colonists were just about to abandon the colony in 1610 when a new group of settlers from England arrived with supplies and leaders who successfully turned things around in the colony.

1. St. Augustine, Florida – Est. 1565

 Current Population: ~14,280
 Founded By: Pedro Menéndez de Avilé
 Named For: Saint Augustine of Hippo 

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

St. Augustine is known for being the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States. This makes St. Augustine the oldest city in America. The area that would later become St. Augustine was a part of Juan Ponce de León’s 1513 claim to La Florida — which makes St. Augustine the oldest city in Florida.

The city started out as a Spanish military base that was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who became Florida’s first governor. Eventually, the town grew around the fort and served as the Spanish seat of power in Florida for over 200 years.

When Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819, St. Augustine was designated as the capital of the Florida territory until it was moved to Tallahassee in 1824.

Some of the cities most notable buildings include the Basilica Cathedral of St. Augustine (one of the oldest Catholic buildings in the U.S.), the Plaza de la Constitución, and the Oldest House (the oldest surviving residence in the city that was built around 1706).


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