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
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
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
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
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
is the oldest capital city in North America 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 and the country’s oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta, which 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
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
the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States. The area that would later become St. Augustine was a part of Juan Ponce de León’s 1513 claim to La Florida. St. Augustine 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).