History of the USA

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United States, history of the


Many peoples have contributed to the development of the United States of America, a vast nation that arose from a scattering of British colonial outposts in the New World. The first humans to inhabit the North American continent were migrants from northeast Asia who established settlements in North America as early as 8000 BC and possibly much earlier (see NORTH AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY). By about AD 1500 the native peoples of the areas north of the Rio Grande had developed a variety of different cultures (see INDIANS, AMERICAN). The vast region stretching eastward from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean was relatively sparsely populated by tribes whose economies were generally based on hunting and gathering, fishing, and farming.


VIKINGS explored the North American mainland in the 10th and 11th centuries and settled there briefly (see VINLAND). Of more lasting importance, however, was the first voyage (1492-93) of Christopher COLUMBUS, which inaugurated an age of great European EXPLORATION of the Western Hemisphere. Various European states (including Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, and Portugal) and their trading companies sent out expeditions to explore the New World during the century and a half that followed.


The Spanish claimed vast areas, including Florida, Mexico, and the region west of the Mississippi River, although they concentrated their settlement south of the Rio Grande. The French explored much of the area that became Canada and established several settlements there. Of most significance, however, for the subsequent development of the United States, was the English colonization of the region along the Atlantic coast.




At the end of the period of turmoil associated with the Protestant Reformation in England, the English people became free to turn their attention to some other matters and to seek new opportunities outside their tiny island. Internal stability under Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) and an expanding economy combined with a bold intellectual ferment to produce a soaring self-confidence. Ireland experienced the first impact: by the beginning of the 17th century it had been wholly subjugated by the English. Scottish and English Protestants were dispatched to "colonize" where the savage Irish, as they were called, had been expelled, especially in the northern provinces. Then, entrepreneurs began to look to North America, claimed by England on the basis of the voyages of discovery of John CABOT (1497-99).


The Chesapeake Colonies


The English had failed in their attempts in the 1580s to found a colony at ROANOKE on the Virginia coast. In 1606, however, the LONDON COMPANY, established to exploit North American resources, sent settlers to what in 1607 became JAMESTOWN, the first permanent English colony in the New World. The colonists suffered extreme hardships, and by 1622, of the more than 10,000 who had immigrated, only 2,000 remained alive. In 1624 control of the failing company passed to the crown, making Virginia a royal colony. Soon the tobacco trade was flourishing, the death rate had fallen, and with a legislature (the House of Burgesses, established in 1619) and an abundance of land, the colony entered a period of prosperity. Individual farms, available at low cost, were worked primarily by white indentured servants (laborers who were bound to work for a number of years to pay for their passage before receiving full freedom). The Chesapeake Bay area became a land of opportunity for poor English people.


In 1632, Maryland was granted to the CALVERT family as a personal possession, to serve as a refuge for Roman Catholics. Protestants, as well, flooded into the colony, and in 1649 the Toleration Act was issued, guaranteeing freedom of worship in Maryland to all Trinitarian Christians.


The New England Colonies


In 1620, Puritan Separatists, later called PILGRIMS, sailed on the MAYFLOWER to New England, establishing PLYMOUTH COLONY, the first permanent settlement there. They were followed in 1629 by other Puritans (see PURITANISM), under the auspices of the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COMPANY, who settled the area around Boston. During the Great Puritan Migration that followed (1629-42), about 16,000 settlers arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans set out to build a "city on a hill" intended to provide a model of godly living for the world. Strict Calvinists, strongly communal, and living in closely bound villages, they envisioned a God angered at human transgressions, who chose, purely according to his inscrutable will, a mere "righteous fragment" for salvation. Dissidents of a Baptist orientation founded Rhode Island (chartered 1644). In 1639, Puritans on what was then the frontier established the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first written constitution in North America; the colony was chartered in 1662. The settlements in New Hampshire that sprang up in the 1620s were finally proclaimed a separate royal colony in 1679. Plymouth later became (1691) part of the royal colony of Massachusetts.


The Restoration Colonies


A long era (1642-60) of turmoil in England, which included the Civil War, Oliver Cromwells republican Commonwealth, and the Protectorate, ended with the restoration of the Stuarts in the person of Charles II. An amazing period ensued, during which colonies were founded and other acquisitions were made. In 1663, Carolina was chartered; settlement began in 1670, and from the start the colony flourished. The territory later came under royal control as South Carolina (1721) and North Carolina (1729).


In 1664 an English fleet arrived to claim by right of prior discovery the land along the Hudson and Delaware rivers that had been settled and occupied by the Dutch since 1624. Most of NEW NETHERLAND now became New York colony and its principal settlement, New Amsterdam, became the city of New York. New York colony, already multiethnic and strongly commercial in spirit, came under control of the crown in 1685. New Jersey, sparsely settled by the Dutch, Swedes, and others, was also part of this English claim. Its proprietors divided it into East and West Jersey in 1676, but the colony was reunited as a royal province in 1702.


In 1681, Pennsylvania, and in 1682, what eventually became (1776) Delaware, were granted to William PENN, who founded a great Quaker settlement in and around Philadelphia. Quaker theology differed widely from that of the New England Puritans. Believing in a loving God who speaks directly to each penitent soul and offers salvation freely, Quakers found elaborate church organizations and ordained clerics unnecessary.


Indian Wars


In 1675 disease-ridden and poverty-stricken Indians in New England set off against the whites. Almost every Massachusetts town experienced the horror of Indian warfare; thousands on both sides were slaughtered before King Philip, the Wampanoag chief, was killed in 1676 and the war ended. Virginians, appalled at this event, in 1676 began attacking the Occaneechees despite the disapproval of the royal governor, Sir William BERKELEY. Then, under Nathaniel Bacon, dissatisfied and angry colonists expelled Berkeley from Jamestown and proclaimed Bacons Laws, which gave the right to vote to all freedmen. Royal troops soon arrived to put down the uprising, known as.


Along the Mohawk River in New York, the Five Nations of the IROQUOIS LEAGUE maintained their powerful confederacy with its sophisticated governing structure and strong religious faith. Allies of the English against the French along the Saint Lawrence River, they dominated a vast region westward to Lake Superior with their powerful and well-organized armies. The FRENCH AND INDIAN WARS, a series of great wars between the two European powers and their Indian allies, ended in 1763 when French rule was eradicated from North America and Canada was placed under the British crown.


18th-Century Social and Economic Developments


In the 1700s the British colonies grew rapidly in population and wealth. A formerly crude society acquired a polished and numerous elite. Trade and cities flourished. The 250,000 settlers who had lived in the mainland colonies to the south of Canada in 1700 became 2,250,000 by 1775 and would grow to 5,300,000 by 1800. Settlement expanded widely from the coastal beachheads of the 17th century into back-country regions with profoundly divergent ways of life.


Several non-English ethnic groups migrated to the British colonies in large numbers during the 18th century. By 1775, Germans, who settled primarily in the Middle Colonies but also in the back-country South, numbered about 250,000. They were members of the Lutheran and German Reformed (Calvinist) churches or of pietist sects (Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, and the like); the pietists, in particular, tended to live separately, avoiding English-speaking peoples. From the 1730s waves of Scots-Irish immigrants, numbering perhaps 250,000 by the time of the Revolution, swelled the ranks of the non- English group. Forming dense settlements in Pennsylvania, as well as in New Yorks Hudson Valley and in the back-country South, they brought with them the Presbyterian church, which was to become widely prominent in American life. Many of these immigrants were indentured servants; a small percentage were criminals, transported from the jails of England, where they had been imprisoned for debt o