From Geography to History

History 1 Explorers and Colonies (beginning to the 1600s)

Look at the map here again. Each state has a date. This date is the year it became a member of the US. But why were the oldest States all on the East side of the country? And why did California become a state so much earlier than most of the other Western states? To answer these questions, we need to study history.

The history of America (that is, North America) starts many thousands of years before Columbus "discovered" America in 1492. There were over 500 nations of American Indians, or Native Americans, living there before Europeans came. One of the oldest nations is the Anasazi in the Southwest, who lived in 5500 BC! Other famous tribes are Navaho, Cherokee and Shawnee. Many of these people were mistreated by Europeans when they came into contact: some were enslaved, some were killed, some were driven out of their lands. Still more became sick and died from diseases brought by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Arawaks, who lived on the island found by Columbus, were almost completely wiped out in a few years. Many US place names are from Native American tribes; like Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Erie, and Cheyenne.

Even so, there were many successful collaborations between the Native Americans and the newcomers. One of these was in Jamestown, VA, in 1607. Jamestown was one of the first English colonies in the US founded by John Smith from England. Pocahontas, the daughter of the Native chief Powhatan, is said to have become friends with the new settlers.

Columbus was not the only explorer to reach the New World, as it was then called. French explorers including John Cabot in 1497 and Jacques Cartier explored what is now Canada and Louisiana. Vasco da Gama sailed from Spain to India. In 1519 Magellan sailed from Spain around the world. In 1534, Jacques Cartier began exploring Canada. In 1579, Sir Francis Drake from England landed in Central California. From Spain, Coronado entered the Southwest in 1520 and Don Juan de Onate founded and settled New Mexico. Portugal and Spain made a treaty in 1570? to divide South America; Portugal claimed the East(now Brazil) and Spain got the West. Spanish explorers arrived in Central America and from there, explored the West Coast of both Americas. In Delaware, the Swedish first arrived, but were taken over by the Dutch in 1665. The Dutch already controlled New York: they bought Manhattan in 1626 from the local Native Americans for "24 dollars and a box of trinkets."

In 1682 the Quakers (William Penn) came from England to Pennsylvania and Delaware. In 1673, Marquette and Joillet from France claimed the Louisiana Mississippi River area. The Spanish retook the Southwest in 1692, and the French and Indian wars from 1689–1763 ended with France giving up its land to Spain. There are still many Spanish missions along the California coast built after these wars.

Two of the most famous colonies are the Plymouth Colony and Salem, both in Massachusetts. In 1620 the Pilgrims came to Massachusetts on the Mayflower. They made the Plymouth colony and the first Thanksgiving. Roger Conant started the Salem Colony in 1623. It is famous for the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.