First Founding Fathers
There are 25 Founding Fathers in Sid Meier's Colonization, and this article discusses who you might want to consider picking first.
Some Founding Fathers are extremely valuable during the first phase of the game, and some are not. Although Adam Smith gives you a great boost in productivity and is a great asset to your Congress, you never build factories early in the game. In other words, Smith is not a priority.
Jefferson, on the other hand, gives you a stunning 50% increase in bells production. And bells you can't do without. Getting Jefferson as quickly as possible greatly increases his value over time. The same would be true for Penn (+ 50% cross production) if your strategy is one based on immigration and you can get a Church up in one of your colonies. As you know, the clock starts ticking from turn one, and squeezing the most out of every turn is the great challenge of Colonization. But not to forget, it also depends on who is actually available to pick at the time.
Suggested priority list
Start with #1 on the following list and move your way down. If #1 on the list is unavailable, pick #2. If none of the four people appear in the list, choose the Exploration category. This increases the chance of getting Hernando de Soto the next time around.
There may be some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are planning high cross production to fuel immigration, William Penn would be a natural choice. If you are planning a conquest-based strategy, you'll need Hernan Cortez.
But as a general strategy, these four Founding Fathers are important regardless of which nation you play as. Onto the list!
1. Hernando de Soto
De Soto gives you access to scouting city rumors and getting a good outcome out of it. Of course you can scout before de Soto, but it's not really worth it. A good tip is to wait until you have de Soto in the Congress before doing any lost city rumor scouting. The sooner you get him, the better. Who knows how many free colonists, treasures and Fountain of Youths are out there. A couple of Fountain of Youths can give you an incredible head start! Therefore -- de Soto first.
Extra tip: If you have a scout, but don't have de Soto yet, move that scout from one colony to the next, allowing his horses to breed. When a colony has 52 horses (usually in a turn or two) move your scout on to the next colony. Spreading horses early will benefit you greatly later on, and this allows you to use your scout to your advantage even though you are waiting for de Soto. In addition, scouts can be used to visit native settlements. You may get some gold out of it. So there is a lot you can do with your scouts while you wait for de Soto.
2. Peter Minuit
It is essential to start improving the land around you colonies as quickly as possible. You'll want to build roads between your colonies and to native settlements that can provide lucrative trade routes. You'll not be able to do this without Minuit without either paying a lot for it or causing native alarm. None of these options are desirable or in many cases even possible early on in the game, and so getting Minuit as soon as possible is essential for further expansion and development.
3. Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson increases liberty bells production by an astonishing 50%, and is therefore one of the greatest assets to your congress. The sooner you get people working at the Town Hall the better. This has a double effect:
a) Your colony moves towards greater independence and more efficient production, and:
b) All the remaining Founding Fathers will arrive faster because you are producing more bells.
The sooner you get Jefferson, the more powerful he is. Of course you'll need to assign colonists to bells production, which you probably should. This is especially important on harder difficulty levels when your colonies are only able to sustain up to five Tories. If you reach six Tories, you'll be hit by the production penalty of -1 per colonist.
4. William Brewster
Getting Brewster early is a great advantage. Have you ever found yourself hitting a couple of Fountain of Youths within a few turns and then had to pick 16 Petty Criminals from the list? Sure, you can use them as missionaries or soldiers, but Free Colonists would be better.
In addition, you recruit the most colonists early in the game. Later one tends to buy (from Europe) or educate the specialists one needs. You may not find those Fountain of Youths, but if you do, Brewster will be an invaluable asset.
5. From here on, it all depends on what your strategy is. If you have an abundance of fur resources nearby, maybe Hudson would be a good choice. If you like privateering, then Drake is another powerful Founding Father. Drake combined with Magellan gives your navy great power and reach. Then there is Penn or Cortez, as discussed above.
Now on to how you'll get those important planter- and trapper skills.