The term colony is derived from the Latin colonia, which named an agricultural settlement created for soldiers who had finished their service. In English, until the late nineteenth century the term colony retained its etymological meaning, designating a place to which settlers went, usually to establish themselves in agriculture. The term had connotations of natural, wholesome, and healthy expansion; “colonists” were engaged in bettering themselves, settling unimproved lands, and adding to the wealth of the world and of the nation.
   Some mid-Victorian writers insisted that the United States was Britain’s best colony, because that was where British settlers found the best opportunities. The term had no necessary connotations of political subordination, and Victorians often compared their colonies to those of the Hellenistic world, which had of course not been governed from their home cities. Increasingly, however, influenced by the fact that the largest and most prominent British dependencies, those in Canada and Australasia, were also colonies in the etymological sense. It became common to refer to all imperial dependencies as “colonies.” The Royal Colonial Society, for instance, later the Royal Colonial Institute, was founded in 1868 and subsumed all imperial topics under the rubric of “colonial.” Although critics of imperial expansion often observed that many British possessions, particularly those acquired in Africa in the late nineteenth century, were not really colonies in the original sense, the term came to apply to all dependent territories, and therefore acquired by the twentieth century a connotation of subordination. Since World War II, the term colonialism has become a synonym for the term imperialism and has come to denote unjust political subjection. The British government at this writing still retains a small number of colonies but finds it necessary to refer to them as “British Overseas Territories.”
    Bodelsen, C. A. Studies in Mid-Victorian Imperialism. London: Heinemann, 1960;
    Lewis, George Cornewall. An Essay on the Government of Dependencies. London: John Murray, 1841.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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