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American history to 1783


For the early history of North America see American Indian. The first Europeans The east coast of North America was first visited by Europeans in AD 1000, when Leif Ericsson and his band of Vikings sailed from Greenland and established a colony in Vinland (probably either the coast of Nova Scotia or New England). However, the colony perished and the memory of it died out. It was left to Christopher Columbus, who was sponsored by the Spanish crown, to make the first accurately documented landing in the Americas, on 12 October 1492. Columbus's first landing was in the Bahama Islands. He believed he had landed in the East Indies, and hence called the natives 'Indians'. The Portuguese had already sailed along the shores of Africa, colonizing islands there. So there arose a dispute between Spain and Portugal over the ownership of this 'New World'. They appealed to Pope Alexander VI, who, in his bull of 2 May 1493, drew an imaginary line of demarcation. Under this all the New World, except a part of Brazil, was given to Spain. Soon the English joined in the exploration of the new lands. Henry VII granted a permit to John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), an Italian, to go on a voyage of discovery. Cabot landed in 1497, either on Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland, or Labrador, becoming the first European since the Vikings to land in North America. In 1498 he made a second expedition, of which the fate is unknown. The Florentine merchant Amerigo Vespucci made three voyages of discovery, landing on the coast of Brazil in 1501. It is after him that the Americas take their name. Now began an era of adventure and exploration, spurred on by the lure of gold and jewels. The great maritime nations of that time (Spain, England, France, and Portugal) led in this, followed by the Netherlands and Sweden. The Spaniards discovered and explored all Central and South America and then turned their attention to North America. Juan Ponce de Lon landed in Florida in 1513, and claimed it for Spain (although colonization of Florida did not start until 1565). Hernando de Soto, sent to Cuba as governor of the Spanish colony there, went to Florida and wandered all over the southern states, discovering the Mississippi River, which he crossed into what is now Arkansas and Missouri (1539). From France came Jacques Cartier, who in 1534 discovered the Gulf of St Lawrence. On a second expedition he sailed up the St Lawrence as far as the present site of Montral. The first English colonies Sir Walter Raleigh founded the first English colony in 1585, in the territory he named Virginia, after the 'Virgin Queen', Elizabeth I. This failed, and the colonists were brought back to England, bringing with them two indigenous plants, the potato and tobacco. In 1607 a second Virginian colony was established at Jamestown, by John Smith. By 1649 Virginia, which now had a royal charter and considerable selfgovernment, began to be settled by royalist exiles from the English Civil War, who founded the 'First Families of Virginia'.

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The foundation in 1634 of Maryland, for the settlement of English Catholics, marked a new kind of colony, one practically owned and ruled by a lord-proprietor holding a royal charter. Religious persecution in England led to the foundation of the New England colonies. The first of these was established in 1620 when the Puritans known as the Pilgrim Fathers (or simply the Pilgrims) landed at Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts, having sailed there on the Mayflower. The Pilgrims went on to found the colony of Connecticut. Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 by William Penn as a refuge for Quakers. Georgia was founded in 1732 by James Oglethorpe and was the last of the 13 original colonies that afterwards became the first 13 states of the USA. Ten of these colonies were English. A Dutch settlement in 1614 on Manhattan Island, named New Amsterdam in 1626, was renamed New York after it was taken by England in 1664. New Jersey started as a Dutch colony, but soon became English (1664). Delaware was claimed by the Dutch (1631), but was first settled by the Swedes (1634), and finally came into possession of the English (1664). The other original colonies were New Hampshire, North and South Carolina, and Rhode Island. The beginning of the French and Indian Wars The wars of Europe had their repercussions in America. The American struggles, extending from 1689 to 1763, are known as the French and Indian Wars (the last phase coinciding with the Seven Years' War). In the 18th century the English colonies were threatened by French expansion from the Great Lakes to Louisiana. The French were often allied to the American Indians, who resented the colonists' incursions into their lands. In 1710 the colonists, aided by a small force of British, captured Port Royal and took the territory of Acadia, which was henceforth called Nova Scotia. By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Acadia, Newfoundland, and the Hudson Bay territory were ceded to Britain. The boundary, however, between the British colonies and French Canada was not settled, and there was also the question of control of the Mississippi valley. The French claimed all North America, except the Hudson Bay region and the strip of British colonies on the Atlantic coast. In Europe, from 1744 to 1748, Britain and France were on opposite sides in the War of the Austrian Succession. The American colonies were soon involved. Organized by Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, an expedition under William Pepperell of Maine laid siege to and captured the seemingly impregnable Louisburg, but the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) gave this back to France. There was a fresh dispute between France and Britain about the boundaries of Acadia, and the two countries also put forward rival claims to the Ohio valley. The final struggle with the French In 1754 the war began that was to decide the dominant culture of North America. In command of a small body of Virginia militiamen, George Washington came into

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conflict with the French at Great Meadows and the French commander and nine of his men were killed. The war thus started in America two years before the Seven Years' War broke out in Europe. The odds seemed to favour the French, but after initial setbacks, Lord Jeffrey Amherst captured Louisburg (1758). At about this time the French had to evacuate Fort Frontenac, and in September 1759 was fought the decisive battle for the capture of Qubec (see Abraham, Plains of), which fell into the hands of the British, and the sovereignty of France in North America was practically ended. By the Peace of Paris, signed in 1763, Britain gave back Cuba and the Philippines to Spain and received Florida instead. France ceded to Spain New Orleans and the vast territory known as Louisiana (which it regained in 1800). To Britain France surrendered the Ohio valley, and all of Canada except for two islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence. The beginnings of colonial discontent The war against the French helped to unite the colonists in the 13 settlements, and gave them a new conception of their strength and importance. They began to reconsider their position with regard to Britain. The British Navigation Acts provided a closed market in Britain to certain colonial goods, but they hampered colonial trade, as all trade went via Britain, and the prices of goods were raised by duties in transit. Smuggling then became universal. The situation came to a head when the British prime minister, George Grenville, decided that the Navigation Acts should be strictly enforced; that a standing army should be garrisoned in the colonies; and that the colonies should be taxed. Britain proposed to send the standing army to the colonies to protect them from the dangers posed by the American Indians, but the colonists believed the army was to be sent to overawe them. Grenville proposed to raise the money for part of the support of this army by the Stamp Act (1765), which imposed taxes on the American colonies. James Otis of Boston and Patrick Henry of Virginia urged the colonists to resist. Under the leadership of Massachusetts the colonies held a Stamp Act Congress in New York to petition King George III and the British Parliament. Riots occurred and stamps were destroyed. As the colonists were not represented in the British Parliament, the colonists' slogan became 'No taxation without representation'. The British government failed to appreciate this fundamental cause of discontent, and its gestures of conciliation were therefore of no avail. The American objection to 'internal' taxes imposed from outside was recognized, and the stamp tax was abolished (1766). American attitudes harden But the right to tax remained, and as the Americans appeared to be willing to accept 'external' taxation (customs duties), Charles Townshend, as chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced in 1767 an import duty on tea, glass, and other articles. The revenue so obtained was used to pay the official of the crown appointed to the colonies. To the British government this seemed reasonable, but to their surprise American protests continued. Mob opposition, which had been silenced by the repeal

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of the Stamp Act, was again roused, and the import duties were repealed except that on tea, which was retained simply as a token tax. The colonists refused to buy supplies of British tea, and smuggled it from the Netherlands. In 1773 tea-laden vessels reached American ports. In Charleston the cargo rotted in storage. In Boston a band of men disguised as American Indians boarded the tea ships and tossed tea chests into the sea, an episode known as the 'Boston Tea Party'. George III called upon Parliament to pass drastic acts, including the removal of the capital of Massachusetts from Boston to Salem, and the annulment of the colony's charter. The outbreak of the American Revolution All the colonies prepared to stand by Massachusetts, and the first Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia on 5 September 1774. It was resolved to draft an appeal to the king, to the British people, and the people of Canada. The idea of independence was disavowed, and in fact it was not until later that the Americans in favour of independence gained control. Events moved rapidly. Gen Thomas Gage was sent to Massachusetts with a military force, and became both military and civil governor. While attempting to arrest two of the popular leaders his troops opened fire on a small body of Americans at Lexington, but in the fight that followed at Concord they lost 273 men and the Americans 93 (see Lexington and Concord, Battle of). Thus started the American Revolution (known also as the American War of Independence). The war was the product of complex factors, but was basically caused by Britain's refusal to recognize that economically and psychologically the American colonies had attained a status that demanded an alteration in the theory and practice of their relations with Britain. The war escalates The second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief of the American forces. It was not yet prepared to throw off allegiance to the crown. At Boston the British were reinforced by the arrival of William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne with additional troops, which raised the total British forces to 10,000. The American army occupied the mainland and a force was sent to fortify Bunker Hill. Here on 17 June 1775 was fought a battle won by the British only with great loss. On 4 July 1776 the Continental Congress passed its Declaration of Independence, largely written by Thomas Jefferson. Prior to that, in March, Howe evacuated Boston, as Washington had fortified Dorchester Heights and by heavy bombardment obtained control of the city. Despite British successes at Long Island, White Plains, and Fort Lee, and the fall of Newark, New Brunswick, and Trenton, Washington defeated Lord Cornwallis at Princeton (1776). A British force under Lt Col Barry St Leger was defeated by Gen Nicholas Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany (1777), and Burgoyne surrendered to Horatio Gates after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga (1777).

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The involvement of the European powers In February 1778 the American emissaries concluded a treaty with France whereby France agreed to assist the Americans and thus strike a blow at its old enemy, Britain. That spring the British prime minister, Lord Frederick North, reversed his policy and induced Parliament to pass laws enabling him to send peace commissioners to America. All the Americans had asked for and more was promised, but it was too late: the terms were refused. Spain also intervened in the war in 1779 by using New Orleans as a base for privateers against British shipping. In 1780 the Netherlands joined in the war against Britain, while Catherine II of Russia formed a league of armed neutrality, which assisted the American colonies by obstructing the use of British sea power. Thus the American Revolution became part of a general war in which most of the major European powers participated. The last stages of the American Revolution Late in 1777, prior to these events, the Americans had been defeated at Brandywine and at Germantown, and Howe had occupied Philadelphia, the capital. Henry Clinton succeeded Howe as commander of the British forces and was ordered to evacuate Philadelphia and return to New York. Washington hung on his flanks, and the drawn Battle of Monmouth was fought on 28 June 1778. It was the last general engagement fought in the North. Clinton occupied New York, Washington took up his position at White Plains nearby, and here the enemies remained watching each other for three years, while the real fighting took place in the South. In the late summer of 1781 Cornwallis found himself besieged in Yorktown, Virginia, by Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, the French commander. The French naval victory over the British at the Battle of Chesapeake (5 September) isolated Cornwallis, and on 19 October he surrendered, bringing the war to an end. For sea fighting, the Americans relied largely on help from the French fleet, supported by American-built commerce raiders. Amongst the captains of these last the outstanding hero was John Paul Jones, and many of the battles he and his fellow commanders fought were in British waters. The Treaty of Paris A peace treaty was eventually signed in Paris on 3 September 1783, the American commissioners being Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams. By the Treaty of Paris with the Americans Britain recognized the independence of the 13 colonies, now the United States of America. This treaty, together with the other treaties that Great Britain signed on the same day with France and Spain, divided North America among Spain, Britain, and the USA. Spain received the land west of the Mississippi and south of a line that gave it Florida. Britain kept what is now Canada, though the boundary was not clearly settled at the time. France took a few West Indian colonies. For subsequent history see United States: history 17831861, United States: history 186177, and United States: history 18771945. For events after 1945 see United States of America. For black American history see black (history).

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