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What are the Oldest Cities in America?
North American Indians were on the North American continent from as early as 11,000 BC. But these early colonizers did not live in permanent settlements and left little in the way of permanent buildings. The Anasazi built towns such as Chetro Ketl, and the great complex of abandoned towns in Chaco Canyon, in what is now New Mexico. Mesa Verde is another ancient city that is over a thousand years old and was built by the Pueblo Indians. However, almost all of these ancient pueblos were abandoned and now stand as ruins rather than vibrant cities. The one exception being Acoma listed below.

Mexico City is probably the oldest city in North America, as a continuation of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, founded in about 1325. St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada was settled in 1528, and claims to be the oldest European-settled city in North America. St. John's earned its name when the explorer John Cabot became the first European to sail into its harbor on the Feast of St. John, June 24, 1497. It's also the easternmost city on the North American continent.

The oldest continuously occupied cities in the United States:

Acoma, New Mexico: Forty minutes drive east of Grants, New Mexico, lies the Pueblo (village) of Acoma, built on a sandstone mesa 367-feet above a valley and approximately 7,000 feet above sea level. The pueblo was built on a mesa for defensive purposes, keeping rival raiding tribes at bay. Native verbal history says Acoma was first inhabited about 700 AD although modern archeological evidence suggests it has been continuously occupied from 1150, making it America's oldest continually inhabited city. It is presently inhabited by a small population of Keresan-speaking Native Americans.

St. Augustine, Florida: Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. Twenty-one years before the first English Settlement at Roanoke, Virginia and 42 years before the foundation of Jamestown, the Spanish established St. Augustine.

Spanish explorer Don Juan Ponce de Leon had landed in mainland America in 1513 and claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, meaning "Land of Flowers". Between 1513 and 1563 the Spanish tried to settle Florida but all their settlements failed.

Finally, in 1565, the Spanish destroyed a French garrison on the St. Johns River, Florida and defeated the French fleet. Near the destroyed French fort, San Agustín was founded by the Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, on August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Parts of the original Spanish colonial settlement from the late sixteenth century remain today in St. Augustine in the layout of the town and in the narrow streets and balconied houses. Thirty-six buildings of colonial origin remain and another 40 that are reconstructed models of colonial buildings also contribute to the atmosphere of the town.

Jamestown, Virginia: In May 1607, English explorers with the Virginia Company landed on Jamestown Island, 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Almost immediately the colonists were attacked by Algonquian natives, who would continue with their attacks for years, and the newcomers were forced to build a wooden fort. Endemic corruption in the Virginia Company in England convinced King James 1 that he should revoke the company's charter and the Jamestown fort became a crown colony in 1624. The fort remained intact until the 1620s, but disappeared as a town sprang up around the old wooden battlements. Jamestown was named the capital of Virginia until the statehouse burned down in 1698 and the capital moved to Williamsburg. The town effectively became a ghost town with only a few occupants until a military post was located at Jamestown during the American Revolution, and in 1861 the island was occupied by Confederate soldiers who built an earth fort impede a Union advance up the James River. Little further attention was paid to Jamestown until preservation was undertaken in the twentieth century.

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the U.S. and also the oldest European city west of the Mississippi. Santa Fe also features the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors.

The first Spanish Governor-General of New Mexico established his capital in 1598 at San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles north of modern day Santa Fe. The second Governor-General moved his capital south to Santa Fe in 1607 and the city has remained a capital ever since. The city was the capital for the Spanish "Kingdom of New Mexico," and then the Mexican province of Nuevo Mexico, the American territory of New Mexico (which contained modern Arizona and New Mexico) and since 1912 the US state of New Mexico.

Santa Fe was originally occupied by Pueblo Indians from 1050 to 1607. The conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado described the Indian settlement in 1540, 67 years before the founding of the city of Santa Fe.

Plymouth Colony, Massachussetts. On December 21, 1620, 102 disillusioned English puritans sailing on the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock on the eastern shore of Cape Cod Bay in what is now southeast Massachusetts. By the end of that winter, half of the pilgrims were dead, including their leader John Carver. The colony continued for a number of decades often close to collapse. The Plymouth colony was eventually surpassed in population and wealth by the nearby Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered in modern Boston, In 1691, Plymouth was annexed by the Boston colony officially ending Plymouth as a separate colony. The city of Plymouth, Massachusetts claims a city charter dating back to 1620.

Hampton, Virginia: Located at the tip of the Virginia peninsula on Chesapeake Bay, Hampton, Virginia is the oldest continuously settled English community in the United States. The Indian village of Kecoughtan, had been visited by English colonists before they sailed up the James River to settle in Jamestown. In 1610, the English returned to the Indian village and began the construction of Fort Henry and Fort Charles at the mouth of Hampton Creek. In 1619, the settlers chose an English name for the community, Elizabeth City. The settlement became known as Hampton in 1680, and in 1705, Hampton was recognized as a town.

Newport News, Virginia: This port of entry city in southeastern Virginia lies on the north side of Hampton Roads at the mouth of the James River. Along with Portsmouth, Hampton, and Norfolk, it constitutes the Port of Hampton Roads. The actual date of settlement and how it got its name is disputed. It is estimated to have been settled as early as 1611, but official records only begin in 1621 when 50 colonists arrived from Ireland. The origin of the place-name is obscure but is traditionally associated with Captain Christopher Newport, and Sir William Newce, who arrived from Ireland in 1621.

Albany, New York: The area was visited in 1609 by English navigator Henry Hudson during his exploration of the river that was later named for him. The area was first settled in 1614 when Fort Nassau was created by Dutch traders. Ten years later a group of Belgian Walloons built Fort Orange nearby. The settlement that grew around Fort Orange was made independent in 1652 and renamed Beverwyck, or "town of the beaver." Following the surrender of Fort Orange to the British in 1664, the city's name was changed to honor the Duke of York and Albany.

Ten oldest continuously occupied U.S. cities:

1) Acoma, New Mexico, 1150
2) St. Augustine, Florida, 1565
3) Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1609
4) Hampton, Virginia, 1610
5) Newport News, Virginia, 1611/21
6) Albany, New York, 1614/24
7) New York, New York, 1624
8) Quincy, Massachusetts, 1625
9) Salem, Massachusetts, 1626
10) Jersey City, New Jersey, 1629
About the Author
Kevin Fields is the editor of City Bloc a website that brings together demographic, statistical and census data and analysis on every US city and county.
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Sep 17th 2007, by editor:
You have omitted the towns of Dover NH and New Castle NH both of which were being explored in 1609 and both established townships in 1623 you may want to add these to your list although I realize they are not large cities. However they were both established before some of the other towns you list on your page.

Thank you,
Noel Nason
Dec 19th 2007, by briandemiami:
As to the oldest European city in the U.S.-- The first English settlement, Roanoke, was actually on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. It is not the same as Roanoke, Virginia.
May 14th 2008, by jay:
It's sad that people forget that Texas was explored and later settled by the Spanish starting in the early 1500's. There are several cities and towns that had their origins in old missions and forts, even roads (El Paso/Ysleta). While they may not be quite as old as some of the one's mentioned in the list. La Junta, Texas definitely deserves mention. In 1532, when Cabeza DeVaca was exploring Texas he came to a village at a junction (La Junta) on the Rio Grande River. The Spanish eventually established a mission and fort there (Presidio) It has been continuously occupied since 1500 B.C. (THAT'S 1500 B.C.) Whether y'all want to include this in your list or not is up to you. I just thought you might like to know.


regards, Jay G.
May 26th 2008, by editor:
And..........what about QUEBEC CITY founded in 1608? It does not appear on your list - at least I did not see it.

Colette Dorais
Feb 25th 2010, by Adam O:
Penitas TX 78576 was founded in 1526 still part of Mexico yes it still exists. Founded by Cabeza De Vaca I believe incorporated in 1990 got to be some kind of record. I know Texas recognizes it because Gagging there is a plaque in my church from Texas historic commission thx. Adan O
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