1491 Jan 1
, New England

Colonists came from European kingdoms that had highly developed military, naval, governmental, and entrepreneurial capabilities. The Spanish and Portuguese centuries-old experience of conquest and colonization during the Reconquista, coupled with new oceanic ship navigation skills, provided the tools, ability, and desire to colonize the New World. England, France, and the Netherlands had also started colonies in the West Indies and North America. They had the ability to build ocean-worthy ships but did not have as strong a history of colonization in foreign lands as did Portugal and Spain. However, English entrepreneurs gave their colonies a foundation of merchant-based investment that seemed to need much less government support.

The prospect of religious persecution by authorities of the crown and the Church of England prompted a significant number of colonization efforts. The Pilgrims were separatist Puritans who fled persecution in England, first to the Netherlands and ultimately to Plymouth Plantation in 1620. Over the following 20 years, people fleeing persecution from King Charles I settled most of New England. Similarly, the Province of Maryland was founded in part to be a haven for Roman Catholics.

A depiction of Columbus claiming possession of the land in caravels, the Niña and the Pinta | ©John Vanderlyn

Discovery to the Americas

1492 Oct 11
, Bahamas

Between 1492 and 1504, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus led four Spanish transatlantic maritime expeditions of discovery to the Americas. These voyages led to the widespread knowledge of the New World. This breakthrough inaugurated the period known as the Age of Discovery, which saw the colonization of the Americas, a related biological exchange, and trans-Atlantic trade.

The Departure of John and Sebastian Cabot from Bristol on Their First Voyage of Discovery. | ©Ernest Board

John Cabot's Voyage

1497 Jan 1
, Newfoundland

John Cabot's voyage to the coast of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England is the earliest-known European exploration of coastal North America since the Norse visits to Vinland in the eleventh century.

Ponce de León Expedition to Florida

Ponce de León Expedition to Florida

1513 Jan 1
, Florida

In 1513, Ponce de León led the first known European expedition to La Florida, which he named during his first voyage to the area. He landed somewhere along Florida's east coast, then charted the Atlantic coast down to the Florida Keys and north along the Gulf coast. In March 1521, Ponce de León made another voyage to southwest Florida with the first large-scale attempt to establish a Spanish colony in what is now the continental United States. However, the native Calusa people fiercely resisted the incursion, and Ponce de Léon was seriously wounded in a skirmish. The colonization attempt was abandoned, and he died from his wounds soon after returning to Cuba in early July.

Verrazzano Expedition

Verrazzano Expedition

1523 Mar 21 - 1524 Jul 8
, Cape Cod

In September 1522, the surviving members of Ferdinand Magellan's crew returned to Spain, having circumnavigated the globe. Competition in trade was becoming urgent, especially with Portugal. King Francis I of France was impelled by French merchants and financiers from Lyon and Rouen who were seeking new trade routes and so he asked Verrazzano in 1523 to make plans to explore on France's behalf an area between Florida and Terranova, the "New Found Land", with the goal of finding a sea route to the Pacific Ocean.

Within months, he sailed neared the area of Cape Fear on about March 21st and, after a short stay, reached the Pamlico Sound lagoon of modern North Carolina. In a letter to Francis I described by historians as the Cèllere Codex, Verrazzano wrote that he was convinced that the Sound was the beginning of the Pacific Ocean from which access could be gained to China.

Continuing to explore the coast further northwards, Verrazzano and his crew came into contact with Native Americans living on the coast. However, he did not notice the entrances to Chesapeake Bay or the mouth of the Delaware River. In New York Bay, he encountered the Lenape in about 30 Lenape canoes and observed what he deemed to be a large lake, really the entrance to the Hudson River. He then sailed along Long Island and entered Narragansett Bay, where he received a delegation of Wampanoag and Narragansett people.

He discovered Cape Cod Bay, his claim being proved by a map of 1529 that clearly outlined Cape Cod. He named the cape after a general, calling it Pallavicino. He then followed the coast up to modern Maine, southeastern Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, and he then returned to France by 8 July 1524. Verrazzano named the region that he explored Francesca in honor of the French king, but his brother's map labeled it Nova Gallia (New France).

Discovery of the Mississippi is a Romantic depiction of de Soto seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. | ©William H. Powell

De Soto's Exploration

1539 Jan 1 - 1542
, Mississippi River

Hernando de Soto played an important role in Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru, but is best known for leading the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States (through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and most likely Arkansas). He is the first European documented as having crossed the Mississippi River.

De Soto's North American expedition was a vast undertaking. It ranged throughout what is now the southeastern United States, both searching for gold, which had been reported by various Native American tribes and earlier coastal explorers, and for a passage to China or the Pacific coast. De Soto died in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River; different sources disagree on the exact location, whether it was what is now Lake Village, Arkansas, or Ferriday, Louisiana.

La conquista del Colorado, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, depicts Coronado's 1540–1542 expedition. García López de Cárdenas can be seen overlooking the Grand Canyon.

Coronado Expedition

1540 Feb 23 - 1542
, Arizona

Throughout the 16th century, Spain explored the southwest from Mexico. The first expedition was the Niza expedition in 1538. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján led a large expedition from what is now Mexico to present-day Kansas through parts of the southwestern United States between 1540 and 1542. Vázquez de Coronado had hoped to reach the Cities of Cíbola, often referred to now as the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. His expedition marked the first European sightings of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, among other landmarks.

Cabrillo depicted claiming California for the Spanish Empire in 1542, in a mural at Santa Barbara County Courthouse, painted by Dan Sayre Groesbeck in 1929.


1542 Jan 1
, California

Spanish explorers sailed along the coast of present-day California starting with Cabrillo in 1542-43. From 1565 to 1815, Spanish galleons regularly arrived from Manila at Cape Mendocino, about 300 miles (480 km) north of San Francisco or farther south. Then they sailed south along the California coast to Acapulco, Mexico. Often they did not land, because of the rugged, foggy coast. Spain wanted a safe harbor for galleons. They did not find San Francisco Bay, perhaps because of fog hiding the entrance. In 1585 Gali charted the coast just south of San Francisco Bay, and in 1587 Unamuno explored Monterey Bay. In 1594 Soromenho explored and was shipwrecked in Drake's Bay just north of San Francisco Bay, then went south in a small boat past Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay. They traded with Native Americans for food. In 1602 Vizcaino charted the coast from Lower California to Mendocino and some inland areas and recommended Monterey for settlement.

St. Augustine was founded by General Pedro Menendez, Florida's first governor.

First Successful Settlement

1565 Sep 8
, St. Augustine

In 1560, King Philip II of Spain appointed Menéndez as Captain General, and his brother Bartolomé Menéndez as Admiral, of the Fleet of the Indies. Thus Pedro Menéndez commanded the galleons of the great Armada de la Carrera, or Spanish Treasure Fleet, on their voyage from the Caribbean and Mexico to Spain, and determined the routes they followed.

In early 1564 he asked permission to go to Florida to search for La Concepcion, the galeon Capitana, or flagship, of the New Spain fleet commanded by his son, Admiral Juan Menéndez. The ship had been lost in September 1563 when a hurricane scattered the fleet as it was returning to Spain, at the latitude of Bermuda off the coast of South Carolina. The crown repeatedly refused his request. In 1565, however, the Spanish decided to destroy the French outpost of Fort Caroline, located in what is now Jacksonville. The crown approached Menéndez to fit out an expedition to Florida on the condition that he explore and settle the region as King Philip's adelantado, and eliminate the Huguenot French, whom the Catholic Spanish considered to be dangerous heretics.

Menéndez was in a race to reach Florida before the French captain Jean Ribault, who was on a mission to secure Fort Caroline. On August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo, Menéndez's crew finally sighted land; the Spaniards continued sailing northward along the coast from their landfall, investigating every inlet and plume of smoke along the shore. On September 4, they encountered four French vessels anchored at the mouth of a large river (the St. Johns), including Ribault's flagship, La Trinité. The two fleets met in a brief skirmish, but it was not decisive. Menéndez sailed southward and landed again on September 8, formally declared possession of the land in the name of Philip II, and officially founded the settlement he named San Agustín (Saint Augustine). St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States. It is the second-oldest continuously inhabited city of European origin in United States territory after San Juan, Puerto Rico (founded in 1521).

19th century illustration depicting the discovery of the abandoned colony, 1590.

Lost Colony of Roanoke

1583 Jan 1
, Dare County

Several European countries attempted to found colonies in the Americas after 1500. Most of those attempts ended in failure. The colonists themselves faced high rates of death from disease, starvation, inefficient resupply, conflict with Native Americans, attacks by rival European powers, and other causes. The most notable English failures were the "Lost Colony of Roanoke" (1583–90) in North Carolina and Popham Colony in Maine (1607–08). It was at the Roanoke Colony that Virginia Dare became the first English child born in America; her fate is unknown.

In order to keep up the spirits of the colonists of Port Royal during the winter of 1606-1607, a sort of club was organized called "The Order of Good Times".


1605 Jan 1
, Port Royal

The Habitation at Port-Royal was established by France in 1605 and was that nation's first permanent settlement in North America, as although Fort Charlesbourg-Royal in the future Quebec City had been built in 1541, it did not last long. Port-Royal served as the capital of Acadia until its destruction by British military forces in 1613.

Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia

Jamestown Founded

1607 May 4
, Jamestown

Late in 1606, English colonists set sail with a charter from the London Company to establish a colony in the New World. The fleet consisted of the ships Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed, all under the leadership of Captain Christopher Newport. They made a particularly long voyage of four months, including a stop in the Canary Islands, in Spain, and subsequently Puerto Rico, and finally departed for the American mainland on April 10, 1607. The expedition made landfall on April 26, 1607, at a place which they named Cape Henry. Under orders to select a more secure location, they set about exploring what is now Hampton Roads and an outlet to the Chesapeake Bay which they named the James River in honor of King James I of England. Captain Edward Maria Wingfield was elected president of the governing council on April 25, 1607. On May 14, he selected a piece of land on a large peninsula some 40 miles (64 km) inland from the Atlantic Ocean as a prime location for a fortified settlement. The river channel was a defensible strategic point due to a curve in the river, and it was close to the land, making it navigable and offering enough land for piers or wharves to be built in the future. Perhaps the most favorable fact about the location was that it was uninhabited because the leaders of the nearby indigenous nations considered the site too poor and remote for agriculture. The island was swampy and isolated, and it offered limited space, was plagued by mosquitoes, and afforded only brackish tidal river water unsuitable for drinking.

The colonists, the first group of whom had originally arrived on May 13, 1607, had never planned to grow all of their own food. Their plans depended upon trade with the local Powhatan to supply them with food between the arrivals of periodic supply ships from England. Lack of access to water and a relatively dry rain season crippled the agricultural production of the colonists. Also, the water that the colonists drank was brackish and potable for only half of the year. A fleet from England, damaged by a hurricane, arrived months behind schedule with new colonists, but without expected food supplies. There is scientific evidence that the settlers at Jamestown had turned to cannibalism during the starving time.

On June 7, 1610, the survivors boarded ships, abandoned the colony site, and sailed towards the Chesapeake Bay. There, another supply convoy with new supplies, headed by newly appointed governor Francis West, intercepted them on the lower James River and returned them to Jamestown. Within a few years, the commercialization of tobacco by John Rolfe secured the settlement's long-term economic prosperity.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

1610 Jan 1
, Santa Fe

Throughout the 16th century, Spain explored the southwest from Mexico. The first expedition was the Niza expedition in 1538. Francisco Coronado followed with a larger expedition in 1539, throughout modern New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in New Mexico in 1540. The Spanish moved north from Mexico, settling villages in the upper valley of the Rio Grande, including much of the western half of the present-day state of New Mexico. The capital of Santa Fe was settled in 1610 and remains one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the United States.

House of Burgesses

House of Burgesses

1619 Jan 1
, Virginia

To encourage settlers to come to Virginia, in November 1618 the Virginia Company's leaders gave instructions to the new governor, Sir George Yeardley, which became known as "the great charter." It established that immigrants who paid their own way to Virginia would receive fifty acres of land and not be mere tenants. The civil authority would control the military. In 1619, based on the instructions, Governor Yeardley initiated the election of 22 burgesses by the settlements and Jamestown. They, together with the royally-appointed Governor and six-member Council of State, would form the first representative General Assembly as a unicameral body.

In late August of that year, the first African slaves landed at Old Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia. This is seen as a beginning of the history of slavery in Virginia and British colonies in North America. It is also considered a starting point for African-American history, given that they were the first such group in mainland British America.

The Embarkation of the Pilgrims (1857) by American painter Robert Walter Weir at the United States Capitol in Washington, DC

Pilgrims establish Plymouth Colony

1620 Dec 21 - 1691 Jan
, Plymouth Rock

The Pilgrims were a small group of Puritan separatists who felt that they needed to physically distance themselves from the Church of England. They initially moved to the Netherlands, then decided to re-establish themselves in America. The initial Pilgrim settlers sailed to North America in 1620 on the Mayflower. Upon their arrival, they drew up the Mayflower Compact, by which they bound themselves together as a united community, thus establishing the small Plymouth Colony. William Bradford was their main leader. After its founding, other settlers traveled from England to join the colony.

The non-separatist Puritans constituted a much larger group than the Pilgrims, and they established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 with 400 settlers. They sought to reform the Church of England by creating a new, pure church in the New World. By 1640, 20,000 had arrived; many died soon after arrival, but the others found a healthy climate and an ample food supply. The Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies together spawned other Puritan colonies in New England, including the New Haven, Saybrook, and Connecticut colonies. During the 17th century, the New Haven and Saybrook colonies were absorbed by Connecticut.

The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit, and politically innovative culture that still influences the modern United States. They hoped that this new land would serve as a "redeemer nation". They fled England and attempted to create a "nation of saints" or a "City upon a Hill" in America: an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community designed to be an example for all of Europe.

Economically, Puritan New England fulfilled the expectations of its founders. The Puritan economy was based on the efforts of self-supporting farmsteads that traded only for goods which they could not produce themselves, unlike the cash crop-oriented plantations of the Chesapeake region. There was a generally higher economic standing and standard of living in New England than in the Chesapeake. New England became an important mercantile and shipbuilding center, along with agriculture, fishing, and logging, serving as the hub for trading between the southern colonies and Europe.

The Indian Massacre of 1622 was an attack on the settlements of the Virginia Colony by the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy under their leader Opchanacanough

Indian Massacre of 1622

1622 Mar 22
, Jamestown National Historic Site

The Indian massacre of 1622, popularly known as the Jamestown massacre, took place in the English Colony of Virginia, in what is now the United States, on 22 March 1622. John Smith, though he had not been in Virginia since 1609 and was not an eyewitness, related in his History of Virginia that warriors of the Powhatan "came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us". The Powhatan then grabbed any tools or weapons available and killed all the English settlers they found, including men, women, children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough led the Powhatan Confederacy in a coordinated series of surprise attacks, and they killed a total of 347 people, a quarter of the population of the Virginia colony.

Jamestown, founded in 1607, was the site of the first successful English settlement in North America, and was the capital of the Colony of Virginia. Its tobacco economy, which quickly degraded the land and required new land, led to constant expansion and seizure of Powhatan lands, which ultimately provoked the massacre.

Image of "''Nieuw Amsterdam''" made in 1664, the year that it was surrendered to English forces under Richard Nicolls

New Netherland

1624 Jan 1
, Manhattan

Nieuw-Nederland, or New Netherland, was a colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands chartered in 1614, in what became New York, New Jersey, and parts of other neighboring states. The peak population was less than 10,000. The Dutch established a patroon system with feudal-like rights given to a few powerful landholders; they also established religious tolerance and free trade. The colony's capital of New Amsterdam was founded in 1624 and located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan, which grew to become a major world city. The city was captured by the English in 1664; they took complete control of the colony in 1674 and renamed it New York. However the Dutch landholdings remained, and the Hudson River Valley maintained a traditional Dutch character until the 1820s. Traces of Dutch influence remain in present-day northern New Jersey and southeastern New York State, such as homes, family surnames, and the names of roads and whole towns.

A 19th-century engraving depicting an incident in the Pequot War

Pequot War

1636 Jul 1 - 1638 Sep
, New England

The Pequot War was an armed conflict that took place between 1636 and 1638 in New England between the Pequot tribe and an alliance of the colonists from the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes. The war concluded with the decisive defeat of the Pequot. At the end, about 700 Pequots had been killed or taken into captivity. Hundreds of prisoners were sold into slavery to colonists in Bermuda or the West Indies; other survivors were dispersed as captives to the victorious tribes. The result was the elimination of the Pequot tribe as a viable polity in southern New England, and the colonial authorities classified them as extinct. Survivors who remained in the area were absorbed into other local tribes.

New Sweden

New Sweden

1638 Jan 1 - 1655
, Wilmington

New Sweden was a Swedish colony that existed along the Delaware River Valley from 1638 to 1655 and encompassed land in present-day Delaware, southern New Jersey, and southeastern Pennsylvania. The several hundred settlers were centered around the capital of Fort Christina, at the location of what is today the city of Wilmington, Delaware. The colony also had settlements near the present-day location of Salem, New Jersey (Fort Nya Elfsborg) and on Tinicum Island, Pennsylvania. The colony was captured by the Dutch in 1655 and merged into New Netherland, with most of the colonists remaining. Years later, the entire New Netherland colony was incorporated into England's colonial holdings.

The colony of New Sweden introduced Lutheranism to America in the form of some of the continent's oldest European churches. The colonists also introduced the log cabin to America, and numerous rivers, towns, and families in the lower Delaware River Valley region derive their names from the Swedes. The Nothnagle Log House in present-day Gibbstown, New Jersey, was constructed in the late 1630s during the time of the New Sweden colony. It remains the oldest European-built house in New Jersey and is believed to be one of the oldest surviving log houses in the United States.

Flushing Remonstrance

Flushing Remonstrance

1656 Jan 1
, Manhattan

The Flushing Remonstrance was a 1657 petition to Director-General of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, in which some thirty residents of the small settlement at Flushing requested an exemption to his ban on Quaker worship. It is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.



1663 Jan 1
, South Carolina

The Province of Carolina was the first attempted English settlement south of Virginia. It was a private venture, financed by a group of English Lords Proprietors who obtained a Royal Charter to the Carolinas in 1663, hoping that a new colony in the south would become profitable like Jamestown. Carolina was not settled until 1670, and even then the first attempt failed because there was no incentive for emigration to that area. Eventually, however, the Lords combined their remaining capital and financed a settlement mission to the area led by Sir John Colleton. The expedition located fertile and defensible ground at what became Charleston, originally Charles Town for Charles II of England. The original settlers in South Carolina established a lucrative trade in food for the slave plantations in the Caribbean. The settlers came mainly from the English colony of Barbados and brought enslaved Africans with them. Barbados was a wealthy sugarcane plantation island, one of the early English colonies to use large numbers of Africans in plantation-style agriculture. The cultivation of rice was introduced during the 1690s and became an important export crop.

At first, South Carolina was politically divided. Its ethnic makeup included the original settlers (a group of rich, slave-owning English settlers from the island of Barbados) and Huguenots, a French-speaking community of Protestants. Nearly continuous frontier warfare during the era of King William's War and Queen Anne's War drove economic and political wedges between merchants and planters. The disaster of the 1715 Yamasee War threatened the colony's viability and set off a decade of political turmoil. By 1729, the proprietary government had collapsed, and the Proprietors sold both colonies back to the British crown.

Anti-miscegenation Laws

Anti-miscegenation Laws

1664 Jan 1
, Virginia

The first laws criminalizing marriage and sex between whites and non-whites were enacted in the colonial era in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland, which depended economically on slavery. At first, in the 1660s, the first laws in Virginia and Maryland regulating marriage between whites and black people only pertained to the marriages of whites to black (and mulatto) enslaved people and indentured servants. In 1664, Maryland criminalized such marriages—the 1681 marriage of Irish-born Nell Butler to an enslaved African man was an early example of the application of this law. The Virginian House of Burgesses passed a law in 1691 forbidding free black people and whites to intermarry, followed by Maryland in 1692. This was the first time in American history that a law was invented that restricted access to marriage partners solely on the basis of "race", not class or condition of servitude. Later these laws also spread to colonies with fewer enslaved and free black people, such as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Moreover, after the independence of the United States had been established, similar laws were enacted in territories and states which outlawed slavery.

King Philip's War

King Philip's War

1675 Jun 20 - 1678 Apr 12
, Massachusetts

King Philip's War was an armed conflict in 1675–1676 between indigenous inhabitants of New England and New England colonists and their indigenous allies. The war is named for Metacom, the Wampanoag chief who adopted the name Philip because of the friendly relations between his father Massasoit and the Mayflower Pilgrims. The war continued in the most northern reaches of New England until the signing of the Treaty of Casco Bay on April 12, 1678.

The war was the greatest calamity in seventeenth-century New England and is considered by many to be the deadliest war in Colonial American history. In the space of little more than a year, 12 of the region's towns were destroyed and many more were damaged, the economy of Plymouth and Rhode Island Colonies was all but ruined and their population was decimated, losing one-tenth of all men available for military service. More than half of New England's towns were attacked by Natives. Hundreds of Wampanoags and their allies were publicly executed or enslaved, and the Wampanoags were left effectively landless.

King Philip's War began the development of an independent American identity. The New England colonists faced their enemies without support from any European government or military, and this began to give them a group identity separate and distinct from Britain.

Governor Berkeley baring his breast for Bacon to shoot after refusing him a commission (1895 engraving)

Bacon's Rebellion

1676 Jan 1 - 1677
, Jamestown National Historic Site

Bacon's Rebellion was an armed rebellion held by Virginia settlers that took place from 1676 to 1677. It was led by Nathaniel Bacon against Colonial Governor William Berkeley, after Berkeley refused Bacon's request to drive Native Americans out of Virginia. Thousands of Virginians from all classes (including those in indentured servitude) and races rose up in arms against Berkeley, chasing him from Jamestown and ultimately torching the settlement. The rebellion was first suppressed by a few armed merchant ships from London whose captains sided with Berkeley and the loyalists. Government forces arrived soon after and spent several years defeating pockets of resistance and reforming the colonial government to be once more under direct Crown control.

Bacon's rebellion was the first rebellion in the North American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part (a somewhat similar uprising in Maryland involving John Coode and Josias Fendall took place shortly afterward). The alliance between European indentured servants and Africans (a mix of indentured, enslaved, and Free Negroes) disturbed the colonial upper class. They responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. While the rebellion did not succeed in the initial goal of driving the Native Americans from Virginia, it did result in Berkeley being recalled to England.

The Landing of William Penn

Pennsylvania founded

1681 Jan 1
, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 as a proprietary colony of Quaker William Penn. The main population elements included the Quaker population based in Philadelphia, a Scotch Irish population on the Western frontier, and numerous German colonies in between. Philadelphia became the largest city in the colonies with its central location, excellent port, and a population of about 30,000.

Frontenac receiving the envoy of Sir William Phipps demanding the surrender of Quebec, 1690 | ©Charles William Jefferys

King William's War

1688 Jan 1 - 1697
, Québec

King William's War was the North American theater of the Nine Years' War (1688–1697). It was the first of six colonial wars (see the four French and Indian Wars, Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre's War) fought between New France and New England along with their respective Native allies before France ceded its remaining mainland territories in North America east of the Mississippi River in 1763.

For King William's War, neither England nor France thought of weakening their position in Europe to support the war effort in North America. New France and the Wabanaki Confederacy were able to thwart New England expansion into Acadia, whose border New France defined as the Kennebec River in southern Maine.: 27  According to the terms of the 1697 Peace of Ryswick that ended the Nine Years' War, the boundaries and outposts of New France, New England, and New York remained substantially unchanged.

The war was largely caused by the fact that the treaties and agreements that were reached at the end of King Philip's War (1675–1678) were not adhered to. In addition, the English were alarmed that the Indians were receiving French or maybe Dutch aid. The Indians preyed on the English and their fears, by making it look as though they were with the French. The French were fooled as well, as they thought the Indians were working with the English. These occurrences, in addition to the fact that the English perceived the Indians as their subjects, despite the Indians' unwillingness to submit, eventually led to two conflicts, one of which was King William's War.

William III. giving his royal assent to the Toleration Act.

Toleration Act 1688

1689 May 24
, New England

The Toleration Act 1688 (1 Will & Mary c 18), also referred to as the Act of Toleration, was an Act of the Parliament of England. Passed in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, it received royal assent on 24 May 1689.

The Act allowed for freedom of worship to nonconformists who had pledged to the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and rejected transubstantiation, i.e., to Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists, Congregationalists or English Presbyterians, but not to Roman Catholics. Nonconformists were allowed their own places of worship and their own schoolteachers, so long as they accepted certain oaths of allegiance.

The terms of the Act of Toleration within the English colonies in America were applied either by charter or by acts by the royal governors. The ideas of toleration as advocated by Locke (which excluded Roman Catholics) became accepted through most of the colonies, even in the Congregational strongholds within New England which had previously punished or excluded dissenters. The colonies of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Jersey went further than the Act of Toleration by outlawing the establishment of any church and allowing a greater religious diversity. Within the colonies Roman Catholics were allowed to practise their religion freely only in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The central figure in this 1876 illustration of the courtroom is usually identified as Mary Walcott.

Salem Witch Trials

1692 Feb 1 - 1693 May
, Salem

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused. Thirty people were found guilty, 19 of whom were executed by hanging (14 women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death after refusing to enter a plea, and at least five people died in jail.

Arrests were made in numerous towns beyond Salem and Salem Village (known today as Danvers), notably Andover and Topsfield. The grand juries and trials for this capital crime were conducted by a Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 and by a Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, both held in Salem Town, where the hangings also took place. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of colonial North America. Only fourteen other women and two men had been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century.

The episode is one of Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It was not unique, but a colonial manifestation of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials in the early modern period, which took the lives of tens-of-thousands in Europe. In America, Salem's events have been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolation, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process. Many historians consider the lasting effects of the trials to have been highly influential in the history of the United States.

Virginia Slave Codes of 1705

Virginia Slave Codes of 1705

1705 Jan 1
, Virginia

The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 were a series of laws enacted by the Colony of Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1705 regulating the interactions between slaves and citizens of the crown colony of Virginia. The enactment of the Slave Codes is considered to be the consolidation of slavery in Virginia, and served as the foundation of Virginia's slave legislation.

These codes effectively embedded the idea of slavery into law by the following devices:

  • Established new property rights for slave owners
  • Allowed for the legal, free trade of slaves with protections granted by the courts
  • Established separate courts of trial
  • Prohibited slaves from going armed, without written permission
  • Whites could not be employed by any blacks
  • Allowed for the apprehension of suspected runaways

The law was devised to establish a greater level of control over the rising African slave population of Virginia. It also served to socially segregate white colonists from black enslaved persons, making them disparate groups hindering their ability to unite. A unity of the commoners was a perceived fear of the Virginia aristocracy which had to be addressed, and who wished to prevent a repeat of events such as Bacon's Rebellion, occurring 29 years prior.

Tuscarora War

Tuscarora War

1711 Sep 10 - 1715 Feb 11
, Bertie County

The Tuscarora War was fought in North Carolina from September 10, 1711 until February 11, 1715 between the Tuscarora people and their allies on one side and European American settlers, the Yamassee, and other allies on the other. This was considered the bloodiest colonial war in North Carolina. The Tuscarora signed a treaty with colonial officials in 1718 and settled on a reserved tract of land in Bertie County, North Carolina. The war incited further conflict on the part of the Tuscarora and led to changes in the slave trade of North and South Carolina. The first successful settlement of North Carolina began in 1653. The Tuscarora lived in peace with the settlers for more than 50 years, while nearly every other colony in America was involved in some conflict with Native Americans. Most of the Tuscarora migrated north to New York after the war, where they joined the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy as the sixth nation.

Yamasee War

Yamasee War

1715 Apr 14 - 1717
, South Carolina

The Yamasee War was a conflict fought in South Carolina from 1715 to 1717 between British settlers from the Province of Carolina and the Yamasee, who were supported by a number of allied Native American peoples, including the Muscogee, Cherokee, Catawba, Apalachee, Apalachicola, Yuchi, Savannah River Shawnee, Congaree, Waxhaw, Pee Dee, Cape Fear, Cheraw, and others. Some of the Native American groups played a minor role, while others launched attacks throughout South Carolina in an attempt to destroy the colony.

Native Americans killed hundreds of colonists and destroyed many settlements, and they killed traders throughout the southeastern region. Colonists abandoned the frontiers and fled to Charles Town, where starvation set in as supplies ran low. The survival of the South Carolina colony was in question during 1715. The tide turned in early 1716 when the Cherokee sided with the colonists against the Creek, their traditional enemy. The last Native American fighters withdrew from the conflict in 1717, bringing a fragile peace to the colony.

The Yamasee War was one of the most disruptive and transformational conflicts of colonial America. For more than a year, the colony faced the possibility of annihilation. About 70 percent of South Carolina's settlers were killed, making the war one of the bloodiest wars in American history. The Yamasee War and its aftermath shifted the geopolitical situation of both the European colonies and native groups, and contributed to the emergence of new Native American confederations, such as the Muscogee Creek and Catawba.

The origin of the war was complex, and reasons for fighting differed among the many Indian groups that participated. Factors included the trading system, trader abuses, the Indian slave trade, the depletion of deer, increasing Indian debts in contrast to increasing wealth among some colonists, the spread of rice plantation agriculture, French power in Louisiana offering an alternative to British trade, long-established Indian links to Spanish Florida, power struggles among Indian groups, and recent experiences in military collaboration among previously distant tribes.

New Orleans founded

New Orleans founded

1718 Jan 1
, New Orleans

French claims to French Louisiana stretched thousands of miles from modern Louisiana north to the largely unexplored Midwest, and west to the Rocky Mountains. It was generally divided into Upper and Lower Louisiana. This vast tract was first settled at Mobile and Biloxi around 1700, and continued to grow when 7,000 French immigrants founded New Orleans in 1718. Settlement proceeded very slowly; New Orleans became an important port as the gateway to the Mississippi River, but there was little other economic development because the city lacked a prosperous hinterland.

Philadelphia's Second Presbyterian Church, ministered by New Light Gilbert Tennent, was built between 1750 and 1753 after the split between Old and New Side Presbyterians.

First Great Awakening

1730 Jan 1 - 1740
, New England

The First Great Awakening was the nation's first major religious revival, occurring in the middle of the 18th century, and it injected new vigor into Christian faith. It was a wave of religious enthusiasm among Protestants that swept the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. Jonathan Edwards was a key leader and a powerful intellectual in colonial America. George Whitefield came over from England and made many converts.

The Great Awakening emphasized the traditional Reformed virtues of Godly preaching, rudimentary liturgy, and a deep awareness of personal sin and redemption by Christ Jesus, spurred on by powerful preaching that deeply affected listeners. Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made religion personal to the average person.

The Awakening had a major impact in reshaping the Congregational, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and German Reformed denominations, and it strengthened the small Baptist and Methodist denominations. It brought Christianity to the slaves and was a powerful event in New England that challenged established authority. It incited rancor and division between the new revivalists and the old traditionalists who insisted on ritual and liturgy. The Awakening had little impact on Anglicans and Quakers.

Russian fleet in Alaska

Russian Colonies

1730 Jan 1 - 1740
, Sitka National Historical Park

Russian Empire explored the area that became Alaska, starting with the Second Kamchatka expedition in the 1730s and early 1740s. Their first settlement was founded in 1784 by Grigory Shelikhov. The Russian-American Company was formed in 1799 with the influence of Nikolay Rezanov, for the purpose of buying sea otters for their fur from native hunters. In 1867, the U.S. purchased Alaska, and nearly all Russians abandoned the area except a few missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church working among the natives.

Georgia established

Georgia established

1733 Jan 1
, Georgia

British Member of Parliament James Oglethorpe established the Georgia Colony in 1733 as a solution to two problems. At that time, tension was high between Spain and Great Britain, and the British feared that Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas. Oglethorpe decided to establish a colony in the contested border region of Georgia and to populate it with debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned according to standard British practice. This plan would both rid Great Britain of its undesirable elements and provide her with a base from which to attack Florida. The first colonists arrived in 1733.

Georgia was established on strict moralistic principles. Slavery was officially forbidden, as were alcohol and other forms of immorality. However, the reality of the colony was far different. The colonists rejected a moralistic lifestyle and complained that their colony could not compete economically with the Carolina rice plantations. Georgia initially failed to prosper, but the restrictions were eventually lifted, slavery was allowed, and it became as prosperous as the Carolinas. The colony of Georgia never had an established religion; it consisted of people of various faiths.

Stono Rebellion

Stono Rebellion

1739 Sep 9
, South Carolina

The Stono Rebellion was a slave revolt that began on 9 September 1739, in the colony of South Carolina. It was the largest slave rebellion in the Southern Colonies, with 25 colonists and 35 to 50 Africans killed. The uprising was led by native Africans who were likely from the Central African Kingdom of Kongo, as the rebels were Catholic and some spoke Portuguese.

The leader of the rebellion, Jemmy, was a literate slave. In some reports, however, he is referred to as "Cato", and likely was held by the Cato, or Cater, family who lived near the Ashley River and north of the Stono River. He led 20 other enslaved Kongolese, who may have been former soldiers, in an armed march south from the Stono River. They were bound for Spanish Florida, where successive proclamations had promised freedom for fugitive slaves from British North America.

Jemmy and his group recruited nearly 60 other slaves and killed more than 20 whites before being intercepted and defeated by the South Carolina militia near the Edisto River. Survivors traveled another 30 miles (50 km) before the militia finally defeated them a week later. Most of the captured slaves were executed; the surviving few were sold to markets in the West Indies. In response to the rebellion, the General Assembly passed the Negro Act of 1740, which restricted slaves' freedoms but improved working conditions and placed a moratorium on importing new slaves.

Negro Act of 1740

Negro Act of 1740

1740 Jan 1
, South Carolina

The Negro Act of 1740 was passed in the Province of South Carolina, during colonial Governor William Bull's time in office, in response to the Stono Rebellion in 1739. The comprehensive act made it illegal for enslaved Africans to move abroad, assemble in groups, raise food, earn money, and learn to write (though reading was not proscribed). Additionally, owners were permitted to kill rebellious slaves if necessary. The Act remained in effect until 1865.

British soldiers guarding Halifax in 1749. Fighting in Nova Scotia between the British, and the Acadian and Mi'kmaq militias continued even after the signing of the peace treaty.

King George's War

1744 Jan 1 - 1748
, Nova Scotia

King George's War (1744–1748) is the name given to the military operations in North America that formed part of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). It was the third of the four French and Indian Wars. It took place primarily in the British provinces of New York, Massachusetts Bay (which included Maine as well as Massachusetts at the time), New Hampshire (which included Vermont at the time), and Nova Scotia. Its most significant action was an expedition organized by Massachusetts Governor William Shirley that besieged and ultimately captured the French fortress of Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, in 1745. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war in 1748 and restored Louisbourg to France, but failed to resolve any outstanding territorial issues.

French authorities surrendering Montreal to British forces in 1760.

French and Indian War

1754 May 28 - 1763 Feb 10
, Montreal

The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was a theater of the Seven Years' War, which pitted the North American colonies of the British Empire against those of the French, each side being supported by various Native American tribes. At the start of the war, the French colonies had a population of roughly 60,000 settlers, compared with 2 million in the British colonies. The outnumbered French particularly depended on their native allies.

Two years into the French and Indian War, in 1756, Great Britain declared war on France, beginning the worldwide Seven Years' War. Many view the French and Indian War as being merely the American theater of this conflict; however, in the United States the French and Indian War is viewed as a singular conflict which was not associated with any European war. French Canadians call it the guerre de la Conquête ('War of the Conquest').

The British were victorious in the Montreal Campaign in which the French ceded Canada in accordance with the Treaty of Paris (1763). France also ceded its territory east of the Mississippi to Great Britain, as well as French Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to its ally Spain in compensation for Spain's loss to Britain of Spanish Florida. (Spain had ceded Florida to Britain in exchange for the return of Havana, Cuba.) France's colonial presence north of the Caribbean was reduced to the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, confirming Great Britain's position as the dominant colonial power in northern America.

Declaration of Independence (painting)

American Revolution

1765 Jan 1 - 1791 Feb
, New England

In the colonial era, Americans insisted on their rights as Englishmen to have their own legislature raise all taxes. The British Parliament, however, asserted in 1765 that it held supreme authority to lay taxes, and a series of American protests began that led directly to the American Revolution. The first wave of protests attacked the Stamp Act of 1765, and marked the first time that Americans met together from each of the 13 colonies and planned a common front against British taxation. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 dumped British tea into Boston Harbor because it contained a hidden tax that Americans refused to pay. The British responded by trying to crush traditional liberties in Massachusetts, leading to the American revolution starting in 1775.

The idea of independence steadily became more widespread, after being first proposed and advocated by a number of public figures and commentators throughout the Colonies. One of the most prominent voices on behalf of independence was Thomas Paine in his pamphlet Common Sense published in 1776. Another group that called for independence was the Sons of Liberty, which had been founded in 1765 in Boston by Samuel Adams and which was now becoming even more strident and numerous.

The Parliament began a series of taxes and punishments which met more and more resistance: First Quartering Act (1765); Declaratory Act (1766); Townshend Revenue Act (1767); and Tea Act (1773). In response to the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts: Second Quartering Act (1774); Quebec Act (1774); Massachusetts Government Act (1774); Administration of Justice Act (1774); Boston Port Act (1774); Prohibitory Act (1775). By this point, the 13 colonies had organized themselves into the Continental Congress and begun setting up independent governments and drilling their militia in preparation for war.


References for Colonial History of the United States.

  • Adams, James Truslow. The Founding of New England (1921). online
  • American National Biography. 2000., Biographies of every major figure
  • Andrews, Charles M. (1934–1938). The Colonial Period of American History. (the standard overview in four volumes)
  • Bonomi, Patricia U. (2003). Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America. (online at ACLS History e-book project) excerpt and text search
  • Butler, Jon. Religion in Colonial America (Oxford University Press, 2000) online
  • Canny, Nicholas, ed. The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century (1988), passim; vol 1 of "The Oxford history of the British Empire"
  • Ciment, James, ed. (2005). Colonial America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History. ISBN 9780765680655.
  • Conforti, Joseph A. Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America (2006). 236pp; the latest scholarly history of New England
  • Cooke, Jacob Ernest, ed. (1993). Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies.
  • Cooke, Jacob Ernest, ed. (1998). North America in Colonial Times: An Encyclopedia for Students.
  • Faragher, John Mack. The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America (1996) online
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  • Gipson, Lawrence. The British Empire Before the American Revolution (15 volumes) (1936–1970), Pulitzer Prize; highly detailed discussion of every British colony in the New World
  • Greene, Evarts Boutelle. Provincial America, 1690–1740 (1905) old, comprehensive overview by scholar online
  • Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Brave New World: A History of Early America (2nd ed. 2006).
  • Kavenagh, W. Keith, ed. Foundations of Colonial America: A Documentary History (1973) 4 vol.22
  • Kupperman, Karen Ordahl, ed. Major Problems in American Colonial History: Documents and Essays (1999) short excerpts from scholars and primary sources
  • Marshall, P.J. and Alaine Low, eds. Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. 2: The Eighteenth Century (Oxford UP, 1998), passim.
  • McNeese, Tim. Colonial America 1543–1763 (2010), short survey for secondary schools online
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  • Nettels Curtis P. Roots Of American Civilization (1938) online 800pp
  • Pencak, William. Historical Dictionary of Colonial America (2011) excerpt and text search; 400 entries; 492pp
  • Phillips, Ulrich B. Plantation and Frontier Documents, 1649–1863; Illustrative of Industrial History in the Colonial and Antebellum South: Collected from MSS. and Other Rare Sources. 2 Volumes. (1909). vol 1 & 2 online edition
  • Rose, Holland et al. eds. The Cambridge History of the British Empire: Vol. I The old empire from the beginnings to 1783 (1929) online
  • Rushforth, Brett, Paul Mapp, and Alan Taylor, eds. North America and the Atlantic World: A History in Documents (2008)
  • Sarson, Steven, and Jack P. Greene, eds. The American Colonies and the British Empire, 1607–1783 (8 vol, 2010); primary sources
  • Savelle, Max. Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind (1965) comprehensive survey of intellectual history
  • Taylor, Dale. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America, 1607–1783 (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Vickers, Daniel, ed. A Companion to Colonial America (2006), long topics essays by scholars