A Biography of America
Timeline: Colonial Settlement
Several European nations were colonizing North America and the Caribean while British colonists were settling in North America. And events in Europe often affected colonization.
What else was happening during the settlement of the thirteen colonies?
Elizabeth I Crowned Queen
Elizabeth I becomes Queen of England and will reign until 1603.
St. Augustine Settled
St. Augustine, Florida, founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, becomes the first permanent European settlement in North America, after an attack on Fort Carolina, a French Huguenot settlement, results in the deaths of all male inhabitants.
Tobacco in England
Florida tobacco is introduced into England by John Hawkins.
English colonizer Humphrey Gilbert leads a group of settlers to Newfoundland, which he claims for Queen Elizabeth. Humphrey dies on the return voyage, and the settlers left behind disappear.
Virginia Settled at Roanoke Island
Sir Walter Raleigh, half brother of Humphrey Gilbert who died trying to colonize Newfoundland the year before, sends a group of colonists to Roanoke Island in Virginia (named for Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen). The next year he sends more colonists to the island. During the voyage in 1585, Sir Ralph Lane discovers the Chesapeake Bay.
Birth of Virginia Dare
The first English child, Virginia Dare, is born in North America at Roanoke Island on August 18. A new group of 150 settlers lands on Roanoke Island, but they arrive too late in the season to plant crops.
English Raid Spanish
Sir Francis Drake, sailing with a fleet of 30 ships and 2,300 men, is the scourge of the Spanish in the West Indies and Spanish treasure ships on the high seas. After burning the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, Florida, Drake visits Roanoke Island.
Roanoke Colony Lost
When John White returns to Roanoke Island, after having been delayed by war with Spain, he discovers the entire colony has disappeared without a trace, including members of his own family, among them his young granddaughter, Virginia Dare. The colony may have been wiped out by Indians in the region. The fate of the Lost Colony remains a mystery.
Oñate Conquers Pueblos in New Mexico for Spain
Juan de Oñate leads soldiers and settlers into New Mexico, brutally putting down resistance at Ácoma.
Monopoly in Fur Trade for France
A commercial venture in France results in a French monopoly of the fur trade in North America.
The East India Company is capitalized in England to challenge Dutch dominance of the spice trade.
Cape Cod Settlement
English sailor Bartholomew Gosnold explores the coast of New England from present day Maine to Cape Cod. He settles for a time in Cape Cod, names Martha’s Vineyard, trades with native inhabitants of the area, and later returns to England with a cargo of furs and sassafras.
James I Crowned King
James I becomes King of England.
Champlain Establishes New France
The French explorer and geographer Samuel de Champlain sails the coast of New England from Maine to Cape Cod and establishes a colony in present-day Nova Scotia.
King James I of England writes that smoking tobacco is a filthy and unhealthful habit.
Captain Christopher Newport sails into the Chesapeake Bay and up a river he names for King James I. On May 13, he founds the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Newport leaves Captain John Smith in charge of the colony, which suffers terribly from starvation and Indian attacks during its early years. New settlers arrive yearly, but in the first three years, more than 80% die.
Samuel de Champlain founds the French trading post of Québec.
Hudson River Explored
The Dutch explorer Henry Hudson, on his third voyage to the New World, explores what would be named the Delaware Bay and a river that would bear his name, the Hudson. In 1611 Hudson and some of his crew disappear when his crew mutiny after having been ice bound most of the winter on the shore of James Bay, the southern extension of the large Canadian bay that would become Hudson Bay.
Tobacco Cash Crop in Virginia
Jamestown, Virginia, turns to tobacco growing to ensure its success as a colony. In 1612 John Rolfe introduces Virginia tobacco in London. Within a few years, Virginia tobacco helps make King James I of England rich, despite his feeling that it is unhealthy to smoke it.
King James Bible
The King James Bible is published in England.
Marriage of Pocahontas
Pocahontas (Princess Matoaka), daughter of the chief of the Powhatans in Virginia, marries John Rolfe, an English settler and one of the leading promoters of tobacco. Her conversion to Christianity and her marriage to Rolfe help keep the peace for several years between English settlers in Virginia and the Powhatans. Three years later Pocahontas dies while visiting England with her husband.
Thirty Years’ War in Europe Begins
The Thirty Years’ War begins, pitting Catholics against Protestants in a drawn-out conflict that cripples much of Europe for decades.
House of Burgesses
The first legislative assembly in the British Colonies, the House of Burgesses, meets for the first time in Jamestown, Virginia.
Slavery in Jamestown
A cargo of twenty African slaves arrives on a Dutch ship at Jamestown. The Dutch privateer had taken the slaves from a Spanish ship.
One hundred Pilgrims arrive on the Mayflower on November 11 off Cape Cod. Realizing they are outside the jurisdiction of the London Company, which had issued them a charter to settle in America, the Pilgrims establish a colony at Plymouth and draw up the Mayflower Compact to govern the colony. Although aided by local Indians who share food with the new settlers, about half the Pilgrims die of disease and starvation the first winter.
The eastern Caribbean island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), which was discovered by Columbus in 1493, is settled by the English, the first such settlement in the Lesser Antilles. Four years later it becomes jointly held, for the next 85 years, by France and Great Britain.
The Dutch Purchase Manhattan
Dutch colonists led by Peter Minuit purchase Manhattan Island from the chiefs of the Wappinger Confederacy and establish the colony of New Amsterdam.
Colonists arriving in Massachusetts Bay establish the village of Salem.
Dutch Raid Spanish
The Dutch West Indies Company makes a substantial profit by raiding Spanish ships carrying silver and other treasure. By 1629 the company has more than a hundred fully armed ships and a private army of 15,000 sailors and soldiers.
Massachusetts Bay Colony Founded
Over 1000 Congregationalist Puritans, led by Governor John Winthrop, found the Massachusetts Bay colony, settling Boston and nearby towns.
King Charles I of England grants a charter to Cecil Calvert for a proprietary colony to be known as Maryland. This is the first English proprietary colony (one privately owned by a family) in the Americas.
Galileo on Trial
The religious controversy surrounding the ideas of Copernicus, that the planet Earth revolves around the sun, reaches new heights as the scientist-philosopher Galileo Galilei is summoned to Rome to stand trial for heresy. In the 1633 trial, Galileo recants his belief in Copernican theory to save himself from torture by the Inquisition. He is confined to house arrest for the remaining years of his life.
Roger Williams Founds Rhode Island Colony
Roger Williams, a 33-year-old clergyman banned from Massachusetts Bay colony, which he found intolerant of religious freedom, establishes the settlement of Providence and the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
The Pequot War begins in Connecticut when a combined force of 240 Puritans and a thousand Narragansett Indian allies attack the Pequot without warning. The Pequot were the most influential tribe in New England. By 1837 the Pequot were almost completely wiped out.
Sugar in Barbados
Barbados, in the Lesser Antilles, claimed by England in 1605 and settled in 1627, becomes a major producer of sugar. The British plantation owners there enjoy an economic boom, fueled by slave labor and the European demand for sugar.
Dutch Massacre Indians
The Dutch stage a massacre of 1500 Indians of the Wappinger Confederacy seeking Dutch protection from raiding Mohawks.
Anne Hutchinson Killed by Indians
Religious dissident Anne Hutchinson, who had been banned from Massachusetts Bay in 1637 for objecting to its harsh theocratic rule, is killed by Indians in a settlement that would later become New Rochelle, New York. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay consider her death to be the result of divine intervention.
England’s King Charles II charters Carolina, a large territory stretching from Virginia to Florida and from sea to sea, to eight of his loyal courtiers. In 1712 the territory is divided into two colonies, North and South Carolina.
New York Taken by the English
English troops take New Amsterdam from the Dutch and rename it New York.
Plague in Europe
The Black Death plague hits Amsterdam, Holland, killing 24,000 people. It spreads to other European cites and towns, and hits London in 1665, resulting in almost 70,000 deaths. Nearly a half million people flee the city until the plague subsides. Some believe smoking a pipe will ward off the plague. Others flock to London brothels when a rumor starts that those with syphilis will be spared the ravages of the Black Death.
English settlers, under the leadership of William Sayle, arrive in Carolina and found Charleston. They are soon joined by British planters and African slaves from Barbados and by French Huguenots and others seeking religious freedom.
Mississippi River Rediscovered by Marquette and Jolliet
French explorers Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, and Louis Jolliet, a fur trader, canoe down the Wisconsin River and eventually enter the Mississippi River, which they follow into present-day Arkansas. On the return trip they follow the Illinois River to the Chicago River and enter Lake Michigan. They are the first Europeans to “discover” the Mississippi since it was seen by Hernando de Soto in 1541.
King Philip’s War
King Philip (Metacom) leads Narraganset and Wampanoag warriors in attacks on 52 New England settlements. Before he is killed in 1676, his confederation destroys a dozen settlements and kills 600 colonists. Metacom’s head is carried to Plymouth, where it is displayed for 20 years. His wife, children, and warriors are sold into slavery in the West Indies. The war devastates the Indian population of southern New England.
Virginia planter Nathaniel Bacon raises an army of farmers, believing that Governor Berkeley has not adequately protected colonists from Indian attacks. Bacon wins a seat in the House of Burgesses and presses for an investigation of the governor. His army occupies Jamestown and forces the governor to flee. After a skirmish with the governor’s forces, Bacon burns Jamestown to the ground. Bacon dies suddenly in 1676, and the rebellion ends.
Popé, a Tewa medicine man, leads a Pueblo Rebellion that drives the Spanish from New Mexico. He has long opposed Spanish rule and the conversion of the Pueblo to Christianity. Once in power, he destroys all vestiges of Spanish rule and deals harshly with those Indians who had been baptized. He dies in 1690, and the Spanish reclaim New Mexico in 1692.
Penn Founds Pennsylvania
William Penn, a religious nonconformist espousing the cause of the Society of Friends (Quakers) comes to establish Pennsylvania, on a large land grant he received the year before from Charles II. One third of the 100 Quakers die of smallpox during the two-month journey. Penn founds Philadelphia. German Mennonites quickly migrate to Pennsylvania, settling near Philadelphia and spreading into the Lehigh and Cumberland valleys.
France Claims Louisiana
Sieur de La Salle (Robert Cavelier) explores the Mississippi River and claims the vast territory drained by the Mississippi for France, naming it “Louisiana” in honor of the French king Louis XIV. France and Spain would lay claim to this territory at different times until 1803, when France sells the land to the United States in one of the greatest land deals in history.
Witchcraft hysteria begins in Salem, Massachusetts. Over the next two years, 20 persons are executed after trials find them guilty of being witches.
Colonial Population Reaches 260,000
The three largest cities in the British North American colonies are Boston and Philadelphia with about 12,000 residents each, followed by New York, with 5,000 residents. The total colonial population, not counting Indians and slaves, is 260,000.
London Population Exceeds 550,000
London is the largest city in Europe with a population of 550,000, more than twice the entire colonial population of North America.
France Founds New Orleans
The Sieur de Bienville establishes the city of New Orleans near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and four years later it becomes the capital of the French-owned Louisiana Territory.
The last of the original thirteen English colonies is chartered and settled the following year by James Oglethorpe, a philanthropist. The colony is a haven for English debtors and serves as a buffer between Spanish-controlled Florida and the Carolinas.
Unit 1 New World Encounters
American history moves from west to east, beginning with Ice Age migrations, through the corn civilizations of Middle America, to the explorations of Columbus, de Soto, and other Spaniards.
Unit 2 English Settlement
As the American character begins to take shape in the early seventeenth century, English settlements develop in New England and Virginia. Their personalities are dramatically different. Professor Miller explores the origins of values, cultures, and economies that have collided in the North and South throughout the American story.
Unit 3 Growth and Empire
Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's Philadelphia take center stage in this program. As the merchant class grows in the North, the economies of southern colonies are built on the shoulders of the slave trade. Professor Miller brings the American story to 1763 with the Peace of Paris and English dominance in America.
Unit 4 The Coming of Independence
Professor Maier tells the story of how the English-loving colonist transforms into the freedom-loving American rebel. The luminaries of the early days of the Republic -- Washington, Jefferson, Adams -- are featured in this program as they craft the Declaration of -- and wage the War for -- Independence.
Unit 5 A New System of Government
After the War for Independence, the struggle for a new system of government begins. Professor Maier looks at the creation of the Constitution of the United States. The Republic survives a series of threats to its union, and the program ends with the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826.
Unit 6 Westward Expansion
At the dawn of the 19th century, the size of the United States doubles with the Louisiana Purchase. The Appalachians are no longer the barrier to American migration west; the Mississippi River becomes the country's central artery; and Jefferson's vision of an Empire of Liberty begins to take shape. American historian Stephen Ambrose joins Professors Maier and Miller in examining the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase -- for the North, the South, and the history of the country.
Unit 7 The Rise of Capitalism
Individual enterprise merges with technological innovation to launch the Commercial Revolution -- the seedbed of American industry. The program features the ideas of Adam Smith, the efforts of entrepreneurs in New England and Chicago, the Lowell Mills Experiment, and the engineering feats involved in Chicago's early transformation from marsh to metropolis.
Unit 8 The Reform Impulse
The Industrial Revolution has its dark side, and the tumultuous events of the period touch off intense and often thrilling reform movements. Professor Masur presents the ideas and characters behind the Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, the women's movement, and a powerful wave of religious fervor.
Unit 9 Slavery
While the North develops an industrial economy and culture, the South develops a slave culture and economy, and the great rift between the regions becomes unbreachable. Professor Masur looks at the human side of the history of the mid-1800s by sketching a portrait of the lives of slave and master.
Unit 10 The Coming of the Civil War
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Unit 11 The Civil War
As the Civil War rages, all eyes turn to Vicksburg, where limited war becomes total war. Professor Miller looks at the ferocity of the fighting, at Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and at the bitter legacy of the battle -- and the war.
Unit 12 Reconstruction
Professor Miller begins the program by evoking in word and picture the battlefield after the battle of Gettysburg. With the assassination of President Lincoln, one sad chapter of American history comes to a close. In the fatigue and cynicism of the Civil War's aftermath, Reconstructionism becomes a promise unfulfilled.
Unit 13 America at Its Centennial
As America celebrates its centennial, 5 million people descend on Philadelphia to celebrate America's technological achievements, but some of the early principles of the Republic remain unrealized. Professor Miller and his team of historians examine where America is in 1876 and discuss the question of race.
Unit 14 Industrial Supremacy
Steel and stockyards are featured in this program as the mighty engine of industrialism thunders forward at the end of the nineteenth century. Professor Miller continues the story of the American Industrial Revolution in New York and Chicago, looking at the lives of Andrew Carnegie, Gustavus Swift, and the countless workers in the packinghouse and on the factory floor.
Unit 15 The New City
Professor Miller explores the tension between the messy vitality of cities that grow on their own and those where orderly growth is planned. Chicago -- with Hull House, the World's Columbian Exposition, the new female workforce, the skyscraper, the department store, and unfettered capitalism -- is the place to watch a new world in the making at the turn of the century.
Unit 16 The West
Professor Scharff continues the story of Jefferson's Empire of Liberty. Railroads and ranchers, rabble-rousers and racists populate America's distant frontiers, and Native Americans are displaced from their homelands. Feminists gain a foothold in their fight for the right to vote, while farmers organize and the Populist Party appears on the American political landscape.
Unit 17 Capital and Labor
The making of money pits laborers against the forces of capital as the twentieth century opens. Professor Miller introduces the miner as the quintessential laborer of the period -- working under grinding conditions, organizing into unions, and making a stand against the reigning money man of the day, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Unit 18 TR and Wilson
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley.
Unit 19 A Vital Progressivism
Professor Martin offers a fresh perspective on Progressivism, arguing that its spirit can be best seen in the daily struggles of ordinary people. In a discussion with Professors Scharff and Miller, the struggles of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans are placed in the context of the traditional white Progressive movement.
Unit 20 The Twenties
The Roaring Twenties take to the road in Henry Ford's landscape-altering invention -- the Model T. Ford's moving assembly line, the emergence of a consumer culture, and the culmination of forces let loose by these entities in Los Angeles are all explored by Professor Miller.
Unit 21 FDR and the Depression
Professor Brinkley continues his story of twentieth century presidents with a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Brinkley paints a picture of America during the Depression and chronicles some of Roosevelt's programmatic and personal efforts to help the country through its worst economic crisis. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is at FDR's side and, in many respects, ahead of him as the decade unfolds.
Unit 22 World War II
America is enveloped in total war, from mobilization on the home front to a scorching air war in Europe. Professor Miller's view of World War II is a personal essay on the morality of total war, and its effects on those who fought, died, and survived it, including members of his own family.
Unit 23 The Fifties
World War II is fought to its bitter end in the Pacific and the world lives with the legacy of its final moment: the atomic bomb. Professor Miller continues the story as veterans return from the war and create new lives for themselves in the '50s. The GI Bill, Levittown, civil rights, the Cold War, and rock 'n' roll are discussed.
Unit 24 The Sixties
Professor Scharff weaves the story of the Civil Rights movement with stories of the Vietnam War and Watergate to create a portrait of a decade. Lyndon Johnson emerges as a pivotal character, along with Stokely Carmichael, Fanny Lou Hamer, and other luminaries of the era.
Unit 25 Contemporary History
The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.
Unit 26 The Redemptive Imagination
Storytelling is a relentless human urge and its power forges with memory to become the foundation of history. Novelists Charles Johnson (Middle Passage), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), and Esmeralda Santiago (America's Dream) join Professor Miller in discussing the intersection of history and story. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., closes the series with a reflection on the power of the human imagination.