After seeing the successes of Spain's colonies in New Spain (Mexico, Florida, Cuba, etc.) and France's colonies in New France (Canada along the St. Lawrence River), England decided to start colonies of its own. The first try was at Roanoke, North Carolina. It failed, because all the people there disappeared! When the group of English sailors returned, all they found was the word 'Croatoan' carved into a tree. (Even to this day, we don't know what happened to the Roanoke settlers!)
The next try, at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, was a success, but it almost failed due to a harsh winter, starving time, Indian attacks, and disease. Also, the people settling Jamestown didn't really know how to work hard; John Smith taught the colonists how to work and survive, and John Rolfe taught them how to grow what would become the colony's cash crop: tobacco.
Jamestown, named for King James of England, eventually became the capital of the Colony of Virginia, named for Queen Elizabeth I.
The next English colony was founded at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, by a group of separatists from the Church of England. They left England because they were persecuted, or made fun of, there. Since they did not want to be part of the Church of England, they were treated badly in England. They decided to sail to North America to have religious freedom. They sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a ship called the Mayflower.
We often call the separatists 'pilgrims.' A pilgrim is anyone who goes on a journey for religious reasons. When they arrived in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, they agreed to create laws for their new colony. They wrote the Mayflower Compact, which was this agreement for self-rule. Today, our Thanksgiving celebration commemorates the pilgrims' feast with Squanto and his Native American tribe that helped the pilgrims survive in the cold, hard Massachusetts climate.
Eventually, both Jamestown and Plymouth became very successful colonies; more and more people left England to move there, and then Great Britain decided to create even more colonies. Eventually, Britain created over twenty different colonies in or around North America, 13 of which we will study in 4th grade.