The United States of America lies in the southwest of the American continent. The eastern banks are bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, and the western banks by the Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is in the south-east.
The early history of America started after the discovery of the continent by Christopher Columbus in 1492. He was looking for a new and better way to India. He didn´t know that he had discovered quite a new continent. He thought that he had found a new way to India, so he called the native inhabitans Indians. The Native Americans had been living there for centuries before the Europeans landed. The native inhabitants derived their descent from people, who had been living in Asia. During the last Ice Age, there was an ice bridge across today´s Bering Strait, so they crossed it and started settling the new continent. The whole continent was settled by the year 5000 B.C., including the southern tip of South America.
The native people lived a tribal way of life. There were many different groups of Native Americans. These tribes followed very different ways of life. Some of them stayed in the north and became the ancestors of today’s Eskimos and the Inuit people. Some were hunters and others in the highland areas found a wild grass with tiny seeds that were good to eat. These people became America´s first farmers.
The Pueblo people of present day Arizona and New Mexico were the best organized of the Amerindian farming peoples. They lived in groups of villages which were built on the sides and tops of cliffs. They are famous for building networks of canals across the deserts. The neighbors of the Pueblo people were the Apaches. They never became settled farmers; they wandered the deserts and mountains in small bands of people, hunting deer and gathering wild plants, nuts, and roots.
Another warrior nation known as the Sioux lived in the west. They never became settled farmers. They moved from place to place following herds of buffalo or caribou.
In fact, Columbus did not discover America. A lot of years before he landed, the Vikings, under the leadership Leif Erikson, had landed in the place of today´s Massachusetts. The Vikings established a few colonies on the East coast, but soon they were pushed out by the huge predominance of the native inhabitants.
Columbus´ discovery started a new era of human history, which helped many European countries, but also represented the destruction for the majority of the native people and their culture and lifestyle. Since 1492, America served exclusively as colonial land, mainly for Spain and France. The Dutch established New Amsterdam, which was captured by the English in 1664 and they renamed it as New York. Columbus was in the service of the Spanish King, so the Spanish as well as the Portuguese and the English started to colonize the newly discovered lands. The Spanish and the Portuguese settled mostly South America as well as the south of today’s US (Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Florida). Today these are Spanish speaking areas.
The main rival of the English in the colonization of North America were the French, who had two colonies there. They were New France in the region of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, and Louisiana along the whole of the Mississippi River.
The English were among the last to settle the North American continent. The real British colonization began in the beginning of the 17th century. The first English colony was called VIRGINIA (in honor of Queen Elizabeth I) and the first successful settlement in Virginia was established in 1607, under King James I., after whom it was called JAMESTOWN.
“Pilgrims” are people who make a journey for religious reasons. For Americans it however symbolizes a small group of English men who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. It was in 1620 when a group of Puritans known as the “Pilgrim Fathers”, refugees from England, reached the coast of North America in their ship called the “Mayflower”.
The Europe that the Pilgrims left behind them was torn by religious quarrels. It was the time, when the famous church reformers lived, such as M. Luther or J. Calvin. The puritans emigrated from England to escape the religious persecution under the Stuarts, because they wanted to purify the Church from feudal backwardness. They landed on the Massachusetts coast and founded a settlement there, which they called PLYMOUTH, in memory of the English port of the same name. This was the beginning of the northern English colonies in America, called New England. The first year in America was difficult. After very hard work, the newcomers and Indians gave thanks to God for the first harvest and made a huge meal together. It was on the fourth Thursday in November in 1621. In memory of it, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated annually. During the years, other English puritans followed the pilgrims to America.
During the 18th century, there were 13 colonies under the rule of England along the Atlantic coast. France had its colonies in the west. There were wars between these two rivals, which lasted for a long time. This war was ended by the Peace of Paris. France gave up its claims in Canada as well as in all of North America east of the Mississippi river. In 1765, the British Parliament passed a new law for raising money to pay for the defense of its colonies. It said that the colonists had to buy special tax stamps and attach them to all official papers. The colonists had no representatives in Parliament, so they formed the “Stamp Act Congress”. This opposition forced the British government to withdraw the Stamp Act, but they placed new taxes on tea.
In December 1773, the North Americans, dressed as Indians, emptied a cargo of British tea into the sea in Boston. It is known as the Boston Tea Party.
The British reply was quick: Boston harbor was closed to all trade until the tea was paid for and more soldiers were sent there to keep order. A few months later, a group of colonial leaders met together in Philadelphia. They formed the First Continental Congress and began making a new army.
After the British army was defeated by the Minutemen near the village of Lexington, the American War of Independence started. In May 1775, a second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. They set up an army under the command of G. Washington and sent the representatives to seek aid from friendly European nations.
On the 4th of July in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed. It is the most important document in American history. It was written by Thomas Jefferson and it declared that the colonies were independent and it named them the United States of America.
During the war for independence, the British had a big army in America and they also cooperated with many Indian tribes. The Americans were led by the great strategist, George Washington, and were supported by some European powers. Finally, after the battle of Yorktown in 1781, they forced the British to surrender. Concession of the British lands was granted by the Treaty of Paris 1783, the Constitution was ratified in 1788, and George Washington was elected as the 1st president.