COLUMBUS AND OTHER DISCOVERERS OF AMERICA 1492 and earlier
When Christopher Columbus encountered the "New World" in 1492, it was already home to an estimated 40-80 million people. The first Americans had splintered into tribes spanning the continents: from the Inuit in the north to the Yaghan of the Tierra del Fuego.
Until recently it was held that, when the Bering Land Bridge disappeared, American tribes were cut off from the rest of the world until Columbus's arrival. This neat history is now widely contested, undermined by discoveries such as that of an eleventh-century Viking settlement led by Leif Eriksson in what the fifteenth-century Italian adventurer John Cabot named "New Found Land." There are also claims that both Ireland's Saint Brendan and a Welsh prince called Madoc discovered America, while more convincing theories involve seafaring West Africans making it across the Atlantic.
Although Columbus, an Italian, was certainly not the first European on American soil, his seamanship and fearless determination were nonetheless remarkable. Funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus and his crew set sail aboard the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria in search of a faster trade route from Europe to the spice riches of Asia, traveling west rather than east. Instead, he landed in the Bahamas, mistakenly referring to its inhabitants as "Indios" since he thought he was in East Asia. Columbus is credited with advancing a general European awareness of the American continents; the anniversary of his voyage is observed on October 12 in Spain and on the second Monday of October in the United States.
THE CONQUISTADORS AND THE RISING CREOLE POPULATION 1500s
News of Columbus's New World quickly spread across Europe, inspiring many to follow his lead, including another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, whose forename gave the Americas their name. The Spanish crown backed the Conquistadors-adventurers hardened to conflict as a way of life-led variously by Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. Pursuing personal glory, the Conquistadors colonized and subjugated the New World. Vast numbers of Native Americans were annihilated through violence, overwork, and European diseases to which they had no resistance.
By 1550, Conquistadors had claimed most of South and Central America, as well as Cuba, Mexico, and Florida. At first, Florida was simply a naval base, protecting the valuable Spanish treasure fleet from rampant piracy. But when, in 1562, a small colony of French Protestants settled there, the Spanish crown ordered their massacre and made Florida the first Spanish colony in America.
Throughout the seventeenth century, Spain's influence slackened as recession and the Thirty Years' War in Europe drained its resources. Culturally liberated, Spanish America developed its own "Creole" identity and the population exploded. During the eighteenth century, new Spanish settlements were established in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Spanish ascendancy was eventually curbed by the British, who took control of Florida in 1763. At the same time, the Creoles, inspired by revolutionary politics, clamored for independence. The days of Spain's American Empire were numbered.
THE ENGLISH QUEST FOR COLONIES AND A NORTHWEST PASSAGE 1558-1609
When the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I came to the English throne in 1558, the fiercely Catholic King Philip II of Spain, grown wealthy from his New World colonies, saw England as his biggest threat. Elizabeth, ambitious for an empire, fanned the flames, sponsoring piracy against the Spanish treasure fleet.
The English also wanted to defeat Spain in the search for a faster trade route to India and China. Convinced that a Northwest Passage could be found by sailing up the coast of the New World and through the Arctic, several French and English explorers tried and failed. Later, in 1609, the Dutch hired Englishman Henry Hudson to try. Hudson gave his name to the bay and the river, and the area provided the English with a lucrative trade in fur, but he never found the elusive passage, and later disappeared when his crew mutinied following a grueling Arctic winter.
In 1585, Elizabeth gave her blessing to an English expedition to claim colonies in the New World, from which it was hoped Spanish treasure ships might be intercepted and raided. Sir Walter Raleigh-and Sir Francis Drake a year later-founded a very small English colony on Roanoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. But English supply ships, preoccupied with the Spanish Armada in 1588 and further delayed by bad weather and piracy, were unable to return to America until 1590, by which time the colonists had mysteriously vanished.
The Lost Colony was Queen Elizabeth I's last American venture, although Virginia was named after her (the "Virgin Queen") by Raleigh.
JAMESTOWN: THE FIRST ENGLISH SETTLEMENT IN AMERICA 1607
By the end of Elizabeth I's reign, adventurers were far more attracted to plundering Spanish treasure than to costly colonization. But in 1605, during the reign of James I, two wealthy English merchant groups merged to form the Virginia Company, and provided the vast capital needed to establish an American colony.
In 1607, 500 English colonists landed at Chesapeake Bay and built Jamestown. A malarial swamp and undrinkable river water made the site a bad choice, and drought, famine, and disease all but exterminated the colony and drove some to cannibalism. By 1610, only sixty survived.
Colonist John Smith soon took leadership. According to legend, Smith's life was saved in 1608 by eleven-year-old Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan. Smith quickly earned the trust of Chief Powhatan-whose assistance initially kept the colonists alive-but hostilities returned when local tribes felt threatened by the colonists' expansion, and continued long after Smith left to found New England in 1609. A temporary peace was achieved when settler John Rolfe married Pocahontas in 1614.
Rolfe transformed Jamestown's fortunes with a new, exportable strain of tobacco, and the colony grew. Meanwhile, the Virginia Company was making gradual improvements in colonists' rights in an attempt to draw more people to the settlement. In 1619, Jamestown's House of Burgesses-a sort of parliament-became the first elected governing body in Virginia, and indeed in the New World. It was North America's first step toward democratic government.
PURITANS AND PILGRIMS 1560s-1620
The sixteenth-century English Reformation saw the English Church break away from Roman Catholicism to create a new Protestant Church of England. But a minority of Protestants felt that the English Church had not done enough to rid itself of what they considered to be lavish Catholic superstitions. This minority became known as Puritans, because they wanted to "purify" the English Church.
By the end of Elizabeth I's reign, a growing number of Puritans wanted to separate from the Church of England, which they regarded as ungodly and corrupt. Some Separatist Puritans eventually did sever relations, establishing an independent hierarchy of congregations and "elders" that was generally regarded with great suspicion. In 1608, with religious intolerance in England reaching its peak, the Separatists fled to Holland to escape persecution.
By 1618, this same congregation-frustrated by financial insecurity and the difficulties of raising a younger generation amid the many "extravagant" temptations of Holland-had determined to make a fresh start on English-owned soil, near the Virginia colony. They now saw themselves as "pilgrims" and their emigration as an opportunity to take their religious convictions to a place unfettered by corrupt European Christianity.
The Pilgrims' application for permission to settle within English territories in America encountered numerous obstacles but was eventually approved. In September 1620, they set sail from Plymouth aboard the Mayflower.
THE MAYFLOWER AND PLYMOUTH ROCK 1620
The Pilgrims on board the Mayflower steered a course for the mouth of the Hudson River, at the northern tip of the Virginia colony. But rough seas pushed the ship hundreds of miles off course, forcing a landing outside of English territory, at Cape Cod Bay.
Fifty non-Puritan passengers seized this opportunity to declare themselves exempt from English rule. The Pilgrim leaders, motivated to emigrate so that they might correct what they saw as an ungodly society, could not allow disorder at this early stage. They drew up the Mayflower Compact-laws with which almost all the men on board agreed to abide-and elected John Carver as the colony's first governor. This was the first written constitution in North America. The Mayflower Pilgrims left Cape Cod and sailed on to Plymouth Rock, a place previously named and mapped by Captain John Smith. Mirroring the early trials of the Jamestown settlers, the Pilgrims' first few months were marked by hardship; 50 of the 102 colonists died during the harsh winter, including John Carver, who was succeeded by William Bradford.
But, just as at Jamestown, the settlers' survival was secured by the support of the Native Americans, in this case the Wampanoag, whose chief, Massasoit, marked the Pilgrims' first harvest with a three-day feast of turkey, venison, pumpkin, and corn, one of the earliest recorded Thanksgiving celebrations. Hard work and trade with Native Americans helped the colony prosper and inspired the "Great Migration" of Puritans to America.
SLAVERY AND THE FIRST PLANTATIONS 1611-19
Jamestown settler John Rolfe produced his first harvest of Virginian tobacco in 1611, kick-starting a long and profitable European obsession with the American crop. By 1624, tobacco planters were the new Virginian aristocracy, growing 200,000 pounds of it every year. By the 1680s, this had soared to a staggering 3 million pounds. This inevitably led to a scramble for labor, and thousands of indentured English servants crossed the Atlantic to face the notoriously harsh conditions on the plantations. They had few rights, but were generally guaranteed their freedom after five years' service.
Demand for labor soon outstripped supply, however, and Chesapeake planters duly turned to the increasingly prolific "traffic in men" from West Africa. (In 1619, when the first cargo of African slaves arrived in Jamestown, there were already more than a million of them in South America.) Until the end of the seventeenth century, the slave trade was slower in the North, whose workforce was made up of English servants working alongside African slaves. But as Virginia's African population grew, so too did the legal distinction between the two workforces, and slaves' rights diminished.
By the end of the eighteenth century, over 2 million African slaves had been brought to the colonies and made up around 50 percent of the population. White supremacy had become firmly entrenched in law, and slavery entirely underpinned the economy.
THE RUSH FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM 1629-82
With religious intolerance rampant in England, many new English colonies were settled along the Atlantic seaboard, where they continued to attract religious communities seeking freedom of worship.
The success of the first Puritan settlers prompted the Great Migration of 1629-42, when thousands of English Puritans decamped to Massachusetts, founding Salem and Boston. Meanwhile, in 1634, 200 settlers founded Maryland, a spiritually tolerant colony that welcomed Catholics and was named for Henrietta Maria, King Charles I's Catholic wife. Roger Williams, whose controversial views saw him driven into the wilderness by both England and Puritan Massachusetts, founded the nonconformist haven of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636, on land sold to him by the Narragansett Indians. Williams preached that church and state should be entirely separate and advocated absolute freedom of worship. More scandalous still, he believed that no royal charter could justify taking Native Americans' land by force.
By the time Quakers (established in 1648) began arriving, Rhode Island was the only New England colony without anti-Quaker laws.
In 1682, fervent Quaker William Penn founded Pennsylvania ("Penn's Woods"). He respected the rights of Native Americans and agreed to take control only of land he could comfortably walk in three days. Pennsylvania became a vibrant, pacifist colony, and Penn's legacy was an enlightened attitude toward both democracy and equality, while embracing traditional Quaker ideals such as modesty of clothing and language.
THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS 1692-93
In 1689, Salem Village (now Danvers), Massachusetts, established its first Puritan congregation under minister Samuel Parris. Factional disputes about Parris's appointment soon arose, fomenting mistrust and speculation as to God's will in the matter. When Parris's daughter and niece began suffering inexplicable fits in 1692, the atmosphere was ripe for cries of possession by the Devil. As the villagers sought to discover who had "afflicted" the girls, reports of witchcraft spread, and new afflictions were reported in Salem and beyond.
When pressed to identify their tormentors, the victims named two local outcasts and one slave, who were promptly interrogated and imprisoned. By early summer, dozens of women and men were in custody; while some had confessed to witchcraft, others had merely voiced uncertainty at the surreal proceedings.
At the end of May, Sir William Phips, Governor of Massachusetts, ordered that the accused be tried in a court of Oyer and Terminer (from French: "hear and determine"). The trials ran for a year, with most indictments based on "spectral evidence"-the testimonies of the afflicted-and were only halted when cases became particularly unconvincing. By this time, nineteen people had been hanged and numerous others had died in prison. Contrary to popular myth, none was burned at the stake. Scientists now believe that rye infected with ergot-a fungus that can produce hallucinations-caused the affliction. In 1706, victim Ann Putnam apologized for her part in the deaths of people "whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time."
FRENCH AMERICA 1608-1763
In 1608, a fur-trading company sponsored Frenchman Samuel de Champlain to embark upon a North American exploration. He founded the colony of Quebec, befriended the Huron and Algonquin tribes, and began trading with them for furs. The French trade in North American furs grew into a lucrative business.
French interest in the colony remained trade-focused, with the monarchy reluctant to sponsor large-scale migration; rumors that Canada was an ice bound, savage land did much to stem what enthusiasm there may have been for emigration. By 1700, "New France" was populated by only 19,000 Frenchmen; less than 20 percent of its European population was made up of women, and most of them were nuns.
The French monarchy did, however, sponsor the Company of New France, which largely monopolized trade in the colony, and, from the 1640s onward, encouraged the gradual expansion of its borders. A succession of adventurers and missionaries steadily extended the boundaries of New France southward along the Mississippi. By 1671, the French had claimed a vast section of western North America that stretched from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, which they named Louisiana, in honor of King Louis XIV.
With an economy reliant upon the fur trade rather than on land-grabbing agriculture, relations between the French and the local Native Americans were largely good; so good, in fact, that French officials complained about Frenchmen being attracted into the Native American lifestyle. But when the French colonists helped the tribes of the Huron Confederacy defeat the Iroquois, the powerful Huron became the colony's greatest threat.
NEW NETHERLAND: DUTCH AMERICA 1609-64
The Dutch dominated seventeenth-century commerce and boasted the world's largest merchant navy. Having staked a claim to the Hudson Bay area in 1609, the Dutch, like the French, regarded North America as an opportunity to profit from trade rather than territory. They established a small trading outpost in what is now Albany, New York, and began a fur trade.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Remember the Alamo by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale. Copyright © 2009 by Alison Rattle. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.