Caribbean initially provided England's most important and lucrative colonies, but not before several attempts at colonisation failed. An attempt to establish a colony in Guiana in 1604 lasted only two years, and failed in its main objective to find gold deposits. Colonies in St Lucia (1605) and Grenada (1609) also rapidly folded, but settlements were successfully established in St. Kitts (1624), Barbados (1627) and Nevis (1628). The colonies soon adopted the system of sugar plantations successfully used by the Portuguese in Brazil, which depended on slave labour, and—at first—Dutch ships, to sell the slaves and buy the sugar. To ensure that the increasingly healthy profits of this trade remained in English hands, Parliament decreed in 1651 that only English ships would be able to ply their trade in English colonies. This led to hostilities with the United Dutch Provinces—a series of Anglo-Dutch Wars—which would eventually strengthen England's position in the Americas at the expense of the Dutch. In 1655, England annexed the island of Jamaica from the Spanish, and in 1666 succeeded in colonising the Bahamas.
England's first permanent settlement in the Americas was founded in 1607 in Jamestown, led by Captain John Smith and managed by the Virginia Company. Bermuda was claimed by England after the 1609 shipwreck there of the Company's flagship and in 1615 was turned over to the newly formed Somers Isles Company. The Virginia Company's charter was revoked in 1624 and direct control of Virginia was assumed by the crown, thereby founding the Colony of Virginia. The Newfoundland Company was created in 1610 with the aim of creating a permanent settlement on Newfoundland, but was largely unsuccessful. In 1620, Plymouth was founded as a haven for puritan religious separatists, later known as the Pilgrims.Fleeing from religious persecution would become the motive of many English would-be colonists to risk the arduous trans-Atlantic voyage: Maryland was founded as a haven for Roman Catholics (1634), Rhode Island (1636) as a colony tolerant of all religions and Connecticut (1639) for Congregationalists. The Province of Carolina was founded in 1663. With the surrender of Fort Amsterdam in 1664, England gained control of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, renaming it New York. This was formalised in negotiations following the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in exchange for Suriname. In 1681, the colony of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. The American colonies were less financially successful than those of the Caribbean, but had large areas of good agricultural land and attracted far larger numbers of English emigrants who preferred their temperate climates.
In 1670, King Charles II granted a charter to the Hudson's Bay Company, granting it a monopoly on the fur trade in what was then known as Rupert's Land, a vast stretch of territory that would later make up a large proportion of Canada. Forts and trading posts established by the Company were frequently the subject of attacks by the French, who had established their own fur trading colony in adjacent New France.
Two years later, the Royal African Company was inaugurated, receiving from King Charles a monopoly of the trade to supply slaves to the British colonies of the Caribbean. From the outset, slavery was the basis of the British Empire in the West Indies. Until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, Britain was responsible for the transportation of 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas, a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic. To facilitate this trade, forts were established on the coast of West Africa, such as James Island, Accra and Bunce Island. In the British Caribbean, the percentage of the population of black people rose from 25 percent in 1650 to around 80 percent in 1780, and in the 13 Colonies from 10 percent to 40 percent over the same period (the majority in the southern colonies). For the slave traders, the trade was extremely profitable, and became a major economic mainstay for such western British cities as Bristol and Liverpool, which formed the third corner of the so-called triangular trade with Africa and the Americas. For the transported, harsh and unhygienic conditions on the slaving ships and poor diets meant that the average mortality rate during the middle passage was one in seven.
In 1695, the Scottish parliament granted a charter to the Company of Scotland, which established a settlement in 1698 on the isthmus of Panama, with a view to building a canal there. Besieged by neighbouring Spanish colonists of New Granada, and afflicted by malaria, the colony was abandoned two years later. The Darien scheme was a financial disaster for Scotland—a quarter of Scottish capital was lost in the enterprise—and ended Scottish hopes of establishing its own overseas empire. The episode also had major political consequences, persuading the governments of both England and Scotland of the merits of a union of countries, rather than just crowns. This occurred in 1707 with the Treaty of Union, establishing the Kingdom of Great Britain.