History of the USA
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History of the USA History of the USA

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

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

 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 Cromwell's 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 Bacon's 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

 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 York's 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 or for more serious crimes. The colony of
Georgia was granted in 1732 to reformers, led by James OGLETHORPE, who
envisioned it as an asylum for English debtors, as well as a buffer against
Spanish Florida. Georgia, too, was colonized by many non-English people.

 The Growth of Slavery

Slaves from Africa were used in small numbers in the colonies from about
1619 (see BLACK AMERICANS; SLAVERY). After British merchants joined the
Dutch in the slave trade later in the 17th century, prices tumbled and
increasing numbers of black people were transported into the southern
colonies to be used for plantation labor. Slaves were also used in the
northern colonies, but in far fewer numbers. The survival rates as well as
birthrates tended to be high for slaves brought to the North American
mainland colonies--in contrast to those transported to the West Indies or
to South America.

The expansion of slavery was the most fateful event of the pre-
Revolutionary years. Virginia had only about 16,000 slaves in 1700; by 1770
it held more than 187,000, or almost half the population of the colony. In
low country South Carolina, with its rice and indigo plantations, only
25,000 out of a total population of 100,000 were white in 1775. Fearful
whites mounted slave patrols and exacted savage penalties upon
transgression in order to maintain black passivity.

Meanwhile, on the basis of abundant slave labor, the world of great
plantations emerged, creating sharp distinctions in wealth among whites.
Southern society was dominated by the aristocracy; however, whites of all
classes were united in their fear of blacks. Miscegenation was common,
especially where slaves were most numerous, and mulattos were regarded as
black, not white. An almost total absence of government in this sparsely
settled, rural southern environment resulted in complete license on the
part of owners in the treatment of their slaves. Paradoxically, the ideal
of liberty--of freedom from all restraints--was powerful in the southern
white mind.

 Religious Trends

As transatlantic trade increased, communication between the colonies and
England became closer, and English customs and institutions exerted a
stronger influence on the Americans. The aristocracy aped London fashions,
and colonials participated in British cultural movements. The Church of
England, the established church in the southern colonies and in the four
counties in and around New York City, grew in status and influence. At the
same time, in both Britain and America, an increasingly rationalistic and
scientific outlook, born in the science of Sir Isaac NEWTON and the
philosophy of John LOCKE, made religious observance more logical and of
this world. Deism and so-called natural religion scoffed at Christianity
and the Bible as a collection of ancient superstitions.

Then from England came an upsurge of evangelical Protestantism, led by John
Wesley (the eventual founder of the Methodist church; see WESLEY family)
and George WHITEFIELD. It sought to combat the new rationalism and foster a
revival of enthusiasm in Christian faith and worship. Beginning in 1738,
with Whitefield's arrival in the colonies, a movement known as the GREAT
AWAKENING swept the colonials, gaining strength from an earlier outbreak of
revivalism in Massachusetts (1734-35) led by Jonathan EDWARDS. Intensely
democratic in spirit, the Great Awakening was the first intercolonial
cultural movement. It vastly reenergized a Puritanism that, since the mid-
1600s, had lost its vigor. All churches were electrified by its power--
either in support or in opposition. The movement also revived the earlier
Puritan notion that America was to be a "city on a hill," a special place
of God's work, to stand in sharp contrast to what was regarded as corrupt
and irreligious England.


By the middle of the 18th century the wave of American expansion was
beginning to top the Appalachian rise and move into the valley of the Ohio.
Colonial land companies looked covetously to that frontier. The French,
foreseeing a serious threat to their fur trade with the Indians, acted
decisively. In 1749 they sent an expedition to reinforce their claim to the
Ohio Valley and subsequently established a string of forts there. The
British and the colonists were forced to respond to the move or suffer the
loss of the vast interior, long claimed by both British and French. The
French and Indian War (1754-63) that resulted became a worldwide conflict,
called the SEVEN YEARS' WAR in Europe. At its end, the British had taken
over most of France's colonial empire as well as Spanish Florida and had
become dominant in North America except for Spain's possessions west of the
Mississippi River.

 Rising Tensions

A delirious pride over the victory swept the colonies and equaled that of
the British at home. Outbursts of patriotic celebration and cries of
loyalty to the crown infused the Americans. The tremendous cost of the war
itself and the huge responsibility accompanying the new possessions,
however, left Britain with an immense war debt and heavy administrative
costs. At the same time the elimination of French rule in North America
lifted the burden of fear of that power from the colonists, inducing them
to be more independent-minded. The war effort itself had contributed to a
new sense of pride and confidence in their own military prowess. In
addition, the rapid growth rate of the mid-18th century had compelled
colonial governments to become far more active than that of old,
established England. Because most male colonists possessed property and the
right to vote, the result was the emergence of a turbulent world of
democratic politics.

London authorities attempted to meet the costs of imperial administration
by levying a tax on the colonials; the STAMP ACT of 1765 required a tax on
all public documents, newspapers, notes and bonds, and almost every other
printed paper. A raging controversy that brought business practically to a
standstill erupted in the colonies. A Stamp Act Congress, a gathering of
representatives from nine colonies, met in New York in October 1765 to
issue a solemn protest. It held that the colonials possessed the same
rights and liberties as did the British at home, among which was the