Discovery & Settlement
c. 985-1650

"Columbus's discovery . . . was probably the most important event in the
 history of western civilization since the birth of Christ."



   I. American Indians (aka Native Americans)
       A. Land "bridge" across Bering Strait (aka Beringia)
            1. Sea level = 360 ft. less
            2. 600-mile-wide tundra
       B. Migrated during Ice Age 10-30,000+ years ago
       C. Small groups as gatherers, hunters, fishermen
       D. Cahokia = first urban center in "U.S." (c. 1000 AD)
       E. 1500: S. Amer. = 50-60 μ; N. Amer. = 1/10th
       F. Vast cultural diversity among tribes
            1. Climate, soil conditions, war, pure chance
            2. Most advanced tribes inhabited South America
       G. Other discovery tales
            1. Lost continent of Atlantis
            2. St. Brendan's voyage
  II. Norsemen (aka Vikings)
       A. Bjarni Herjulfson (c. 985 AD)
       B. Leif Ericson (1000)
       C. Bogus historical finds
            1. Newport Tower (Rhode Island)
            2. Kensington Stone (Minnesota)
 III. European Age of Discovery
       A. Late Middle Ages (1300-1600)
            1. Renaissance (intellectual/artistic)
            2. Crusades & Protestant Reformation (religious)
            3. Marco Polo's travels (economic/business)
            4. Rise of nation-states (political/military)
       B. Portugal = first to explore beyond Mediterranean
            1. Prince Henry "the Navigator" (1394-1460)
            2. Bart Dias around the Cape of Good Hope (1487)
       C. Spain = amassed huge New World empire
            1. Christopher Columbus #1 (1492)
                  • clash of cultures (never reconciled)
                  • reason (discovery vs. existence)
                  • conflicting concepts of land occupation
                  • did not end grandiose Indian Shangri-La
            2. Treaty of Tordesillas (1494)
            3. Hispaniola hub of Spanish activity
            4. Goal was exploitation of land & people
            5. So-called "Columbian Exchange"
                  • natural consequence when alien cultures first meet
                  • exchange of things, ideas/technology, germs
                  • deliberate & happenstance; beneficial & harmful
            6. Dominated New World thru mid-1500s
                  • siezed best areas ← 1550 → riches damaged economy
                  • internal tranquility ← 1550 → corruption & inefficiency
                  • dominated Europe ← 1550 → military defeats
       D. France = first to challenge Spain in New World
            1. Giovanni da Verrazano #1 (1524)
            2. St. Lawrence River & Gulf of Mexico
            3. Fur trade paramount
       E. England = lagged far behind Spain & France
            1. John Cabot #1 (1497)
            2. Failures of Frobisher, Gilbert, Raleigh
            3. Defeat of Spanish Armada (1588)
            4. Charter of 1606 (by James I)
            5. Jamestown (London Company, 1607)
                  • John Smith, John Rolfe, Pocahontas
                  • House of Burgesses (1619)
            6. Plymouth (Plymouth Company, 1620)
                  • Mayflower Compact
                  • Thanksgiving tradition
            7. Deviation from Spanish colonization model
                  • agriculturally based
                  • large number of women
            8. Headright system & indentured servitude
       F. Holland = minor participant
            1. Henry Hudson #1 (1609)
            2. "Introduction" of slavery (1619)
            3. Patroon system
       G. Comparison of New World empires
            1. Geographical size & topography
            2. Reasons for exploration/settlement
            3. Royal control
            4. Treatment of the Indians
 IV. Colonial Development
       A. New England Colonies
            1. New Hamp, Mass, Conn, Rhode Island
            2. Maritime economy & overseas trade
            3. Climate extremes
            4. Puritan faith dominant religion
            5. Education valued (Harvard est. 1636)
            6. Town meeting characteristic social unit
            7. Boston commercial hub; Hartford important
       B. Southern Colonies (Chesapeake & "lowcountry")
            1. Maryland & Virginia; the Carolinas & Georgia
            2. Export crops (esp. tobacco & rice; also indigo)
            3. Steady year-round climate
            4. Slavery ("peculiar institution") main labor force
            5. Anglicanism official religion
            6. Formal schooling absent
            7. Extremely high mortality rate
                  • mosquito-borne diseases
                  • ave. death age for men = 40; women < 40
            8. Charles Town (aka Charleston) largest town
            9. "Backcountry"
                  • Appalachian foothills to frontier fringe
                  • settlement begun by 1700 (esp. Scotch-Irish)
                  • climate & water = "seasoning" period
                  • predominately male
                  • no civic organization
       C. Middle Colonies (aka mid-Atlantic)
            1. New York, Penn, New Jersey, Delaware
            2. Farming for local consumption & export
            3. Heterogeneous ethnicity evident
            4. Fastest growing region
            5. New York City & Philadelphia thriving seaports
       D. Common myth-understandings
            1. Colonies wanted independence from Britain → NO!
            2. Colonies oppressed by British policies → NO!
            3. Sense of unity among all 13 colonies → NO!



  • Bering Strait
  • Cahokia
  • Bjarni Herjulfson
  • Leif Ericson
  • Prince Henry "the Navigator"
  • Christopher Columbus
  • West Indies
  • Hispaniola
  • encomienda
  • Amerigo Vespucci
  • Martin Waldseemüller
  • Treaty of Tordesillas
  • conquistador
  • Juan Ponce de León
  • Vasco Nuñez de Balboa
  • Hernán Cortés
  • Hernando de Soto
  • Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
  • presidio
  • "Columbian Exchange"
  • Jacques Cartier
  • Samuel de Champlain
  • St. Lawrence River
  • Northwest Passage
  • Henry Hudson
  • Sir Martin Frobisher,
    Sir Humphrey Gilbert,
    Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Roanoke Colony
  • Sir Francis Drake
  • Charter of 1606
  • Plymouth Company & London Company
  • Jamestown
  • Captain John Smith
  • "starving time"
  • John Rolfe
  • Pocahontas
  • House of Burgesses
  • widowarchy
  • Pilgrims
  • Mayflower Compact
  • Edward Winslow
  • William Bradford
  • Squanto
  • Thanksgiving feast
  • Thomas Sullivan
  • Great Migration
  • headright system
  • indentured servitude
  • General Court
  • Fundamental Orders
  • West India Company
  • Fort Orange
  • patroonship
  • New England Colonies
  • Middle Colonies
  • Southern Colonies

The Conquest of Paradise: The Columbian Legacy by Kirkpatrick Sale
Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick



1.  Discuss the historical factors in Europe which led to the Age of Discovery. If you had
     been a navigator in the 1500s, under which country's flag would you have preferred
     to sail?

2.  Describe Spain's New World empire. Provide reasons why it was Spain, rather than
     some other European country, that was first to establish such a solid foothold in the
     Americas. What factors led to Spain's decline of power in the New World?

3.  Discuss the importance of religion as a motivating factor in founding the New World
     colonies. What different religious groups settled in the English colonies? Which of
     these colonies, if any, lived up to their founders' dreams? In which one of the thirteen
     colonies would you have preferred to settle?

4.  In the seventeenth century, New England Puritans tried to create a model society.
     What were their aspirations, and to what extent were those ideals fulfilled?

5.  Explain the headright system, indentured servitude, and slavery in the colonies,
     drawing comparisons among the three institutions.

6.  Compare politics, economies, and lifestyles of New England, the Middle Colonies,
     and the South.


  1. In 1500, most Indians lived in the area now known as
    1. Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest.
    2. the continental United States.
    3. Central America and the Caribbean.
    4. South America.

  2. The so-called "Columbian Exchange" resulting from Europe's discovery and exploration of the Americas
    1. was a carefully orchestrated attempt by European nations to subdue the North American Indian population.
    2. significantly impacted Indian tribes but left little residue on the European culture.
    3. reflected a natural occurrence whenever two previously foreign cultures come into contact.
    4. actually had minimal effect on both Indians and Europeans.

  3. The true statement regarding France's activity in the New World is
    1. "the patroon system of settlement was characteristically French."
    2. "France was the first nation to seriously challenge Spain's New World empire."
    3. "the key to French success in North America was the establishment of agriculturally-based settlements."
    4. "the French dealt with the Indians more harshly than did other European intruders."

  4. The way was cleared for English entry into the New World by
    1. Sir Francis Drake's destruction of the Spanish Armada.
    2. the Treaty of Tordesillas.
    3. successful colonization efforts of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh.
    4. abuses levied on the Indians at the hands of Spanish conquistadors.

  5. The prosperity of Jamestown was assured by
    1. discovery of gold.
    2. financial support by the Crown.
    3. lucrative fur trading enterprise.
    4. cultivation of tobacco.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota. The spectacular granite sculpture features the busts of four outstanding United States Presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. America's "Shrine of Democracy" operates within the National Park System and is a popular tourist attraction, hosting over two million visitors each year. Click on the faces to access LECTURE GUIDE for this unit.


 Dayne Sturlaugson '05



"America"   by Neil Diamond