pre colonial america

Pre-Colonial America: BC – 1607 AD

Pre-Columbian Native Americans

The first residents of what is now the United States emigrated from Asia over 30,000 years ago by crossing from present-day Russia into what is now present-day Alaska then headed south. A migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which formerly connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. Falling sea levels created the Bering land bridge that joined Siberia to Alaska, which began about 60,000 – 25,000 years ago. The most recent date by which this migration had taken place is about 12,000 years ago. These early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. The North American climate finally stabilized about 10,000 years ago and had climatic conditions that were very similar to today. This led to widespread migration, cultivation of crops and a dramatic rise in population all over the Americas. Between about 8000 BC and 1492 AD, there were numerous and complex events that shaped the North American tribes, culture, language, range and more.

Pre-Columbian North American Native American Tribes

Pre-Columbian Indian Cultures Timeline

13,000 BC (near the end of the Ice Age): First migration of Paleo-Indians in North America by people of Beringian subcontinent.

9,200 BC (Clovis Culture): Known for invention of superbly crafted grooved or fluted stone projectiles (Clovis points) first found near Clovis, New Mexico, in 1932. Clovis points have been found throughout the Americas. Hunted big game, notably mammoths.

8,900 BC (Folsom Culture): Named for site found near Folsom, New Mexico, 1926. Developed a smaller, thinner, fluted spear point than Clovis type. Hunted big game, notably the huge bison ancestor of the modern buffalo. First used a spear-throwing device called an atlatl (an Aztec word for “spear-thrower”).

8,500 BC (Plano or Plainview Culture): Named after the site in Plainview, Texas. They are associated primarily with the Great Plains area. Were bison hunters. Developed a delicately flaked spear point that lacked fluting. Adopted mass-hunting technique (jump-kill) to drive animal herds off a cliff. Preserved meat in the form of pemmican (from the Cree word pimîhkân, it is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food). First to use grinding stones to grind seeds and meat.

6,500 BC (Northwest Coast Indians): Some modern descendants are the Tlingit, Haida, Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Makah tribes. Settled along the shores, rivers, and creeks of southeastern Alaska to northern California. A maritime culture, were expert canoe builders. Salmon fishing was important. Some tribes hunted whales and other sea mammals. Developed a high culture without the benefit of agriculture, pottery, or influence of ancient Mexican civilizations. Tribes lived in large, complex communities, constructed multifamily cedar plank houses. Evolved a caste system of chiefs, commoners, and slaves. Were highly skilled in crafts and woodworking that reached their height after European contact, which provided them steel tools. Placed an inordinate value on accumulated wealth and property. Held lavish feasts (called potlatches) to display their wealth and social status. Important site: Ozette, Washington (a Makah village).

500 BC – 200 AD (Adena Culture): Named for the estate called Adena near Chilicothe, Ohio, where their earthwork mounds were first found. Culture was centered in present southern Ohio, but also lived in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Were the pioneer mound builders in the U.S. and constructed spectacular burial and effigy mounds. Settled in villages of circular post-and-wattle houses. Primarily hunter-gatherers, they farmed corn, tobacco, squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers at an early date. Important sites: The Adena Mound, Ohio; Grave Creek Mound, West Virginia; Monks Mound, Illinois, is the largest mound. May have built the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.

300–1300 AD (Hohokam people): Believed to be ancestors of the modern Papago (Tohono O’odham) and Pima (Akimel O’odham) Indian groups. Settled in present-day Arizona. Were desert farmers. Cultivated corn. Were first to grow cotton in the Southwest. Wove cotton fabrics. Built pit houses and later multi-storied buildings (pueblos). Constructed vast network of irrigation systems. Major canals were over 30 miles long. Built ball courts and truncated pyramids similar to those found in Middle America. First in world known to master etching (etched shells with fermented Saguaro juice). Traded with Mesoamerican Toltecs. Important sites: Pueblo Grande, Arizona; Snaketown, Arizona; Casa Grande, Arizona.

300 BC – 1100 AD (Mogollon Culture): Were highland farmers but also hunters in what is now eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Named after cluster of mountain peaks along Arizona-New Mexico border. They developed pit houses, later dwelt in pueblos. Were accomplished stoneworkers. Famous for magnificent black on white painted pottery (Minbres Valley pottery), the finest North American native ceramics. Important settlements: Casa Malpais, Arizona (first ancient catacombs in U.S., discovered there 1990); Gila Cliff, New Mexico; Galaz, New Mexico, Casa Grandes in Mexico was largest settlement.

300 BC – 1300 AD (Anasazi): Their descendants are the Hopi and other Pueblo Indians. Inhabited Colorado Plateau “four corners,” where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. An agricultural society that cultivated cotton, wove cotton fabrics. The early Anasazi are known as the Basketmaker People for their extraordinary basketwork. Were skilled workers in stone. Carved stone Kachina dolls. Built pit houses, later apartment-like pueblos. Constructed road networks. Were avid astronomers. Used a solar calendar. Traded with Mesoamerican Toltecs. Important sites: Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; Mesa Verde, Colorado; Canyon de Chelly, Arizona; Bandelier, New Mexico; Betatkin, New Mexico, The Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, built circa A.D. 1300 and still occupied, may be the oldest continuously inhabited village in the U.S.

100 BC – 500 AD (Hopewell Culture): May be ancestors of present-day Zuni Indians. Named after site in southern Ohio. Lived in Ohio valley, central Mississippi, and Illinois River Valleys. Were both hunter-gatherers and farmers. Villages were built along rivers, characterized by large conical or dome-shaped burial mounds and elaborate earthen walls enclosing large oval or rectangular areas. Were highly skilled craftsmen in pottery, stone, sculpture, and metalworking, especially copper. Engaged in widespread trade all over northern America extending west to the Rocky Mountains. Important sites: Newark Mound, Ohio; Great Serpent Mound, Ohio; Crooks Mound, Louisiana.

700 AD – European contact (Mississippi Culture): Major tribes of the Southeast are their modern descendants. Extended from Mississippi Valley into Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Constructed large flat-topped earthen mounds on which were built wooden temples and meeting houses and residences of chiefs and priests. (They were also known as Temple Mound Builders.) Built huge cedar pole circles (“woodhenges”) for astronomical observations. Were highly skilled hunters with bow and arrow. Practiced large-scale farming of corn, beans, and squash. Were skilled craftsmen. Falcon and Jaguar were common symbols in their art. Had clear ties with Mexico. The largest Mississippian center and largest of all mounds (Monks Mound) was at Cahokia, Illinois. Other great temple centers were at Spiro, Oklahoma; Moundville, Alabama; and Etowah, Georgia.

Eric the Red / Leif Ericsson

Eric the Red (about 950 AD – 1000 AD) was born in Norway was best known for colonizing Greenland. Eric the Red (also Erik Thorvaldson, Eirik Raude or Eirik Torvaldsson), for three years, sailed around and explored the southern part of what he dubbed Greenland. In 986 he left Iceland with more than 20 ships and around 400-500 people. He arrived in Greenland with 14 boats and an estimated 350 colonizers. Although the settlement eventually disappeared, it opened the door to centuries of occasional explorations of the area and colonization attempts by northern Europeans. Leif Eriksson (975 AD – 1020 AD) was born in Iceland. He was a leader of Viking expeditions and may have been the first European to reach North America.

Age of Exploration

The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration, was a period in history starting in the 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century during which Europeans engaged in intensive exploration of the world, establishing direct contacts with Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania and mapping the planet. The pioneer Portuguese and Spanish traveled long distances over open ocean in search of alternative trade routes to “the Indies”, moved by the trade of gold, silver and spices.

1492 – 1493: Christopher Columbus (representing Spain) set sail from port of Palos, in southern Spain on August 3, 1492. Sighted land in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, discovered Cuba (Española) and other islands in West Indies.

1497: John Cabot (representing England) – Giovanni Caboto born in Genoa sailed for England from Bristol, England, in May 20, 1497. Reached Belle Island on the northern coast of Newfoundland, on June 24, 1497. He sailed down the east coast of Newfoundland, to the southern corner, landing only on Newfoundland, at Belle Island. He never landed again on the coast, before he returned to England on July 30, 1497.

1499 – 1500: João Fernandes (representing Portugal) – An Azorean farmer that sailed from Terceira and viewed Greenland and discovered Labrador.

1500: Gaspar Corte Real (representing Portugal) sailed from the Azores and explored Newfoundland, looking for the Northeast Passage, and returned to Lisbon in the autumn of 1500.

1513: Juan Ponce de Leon (representing Spain) set sail from San German, Puerto Rico, on March 3, 1513, in search of the Fountain of Youth. They sailed northwest and on April 2nd, sighted, what he thought was a large island, which he gave the name of Pascua Florida, because it was Easter season, and there were many flowers in the area. On April 3rd, he went ashore to claim it for Spain. He landed in a small inlet near Daytona Beach. He also discovered a strong current (Gulf Stream) that forced his ships, that were sailing south, to sail backwards. He sailed down the coast of Florida, past the Florida Keys, and up the western coast to Charlotte Harbor. Returning home, he sailed west, skirting the Yucatan, past the north coast of Cuba, and back to Puerto Rico, getting home on October 10th, 1513.

1518: Alonso Alvarez de Pineda (representing Spain) sailed at the end of 1518. They landed on the west coast of Florida, and encountered the same reception that Ponce de Leon received, and continued up the coast. They discovered the Mississippi River, and sailed 20 miles up the Mississippi. They then continued along the coast, west and south, along the coast of Texas. At a place called Chila, they were defeated by the Indians, and Pineda was killed. The natives managed to burn most of the ships in the fleet, but one. The survivors, arrived in Vera Cruz, and joined Cortez’s army, that was already there. Pineda, was able to navigate, along the Gulf of Mexico coast, and positively prove, that were was no passage to the Pacific Ocean. He and not De Soto or La Salle, discovered the Mississippi River.

1520: João Alvares Fagundes (representing Portugal) sailed from Portugal in 1520 to explore Codfish Land (Newfoundland) and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He discovered St. Pierre, Miquelon and the many islands between Newfoundland and St. Lawrence including the Penguin Island. He also sailed along the coast of Nova Scotia and discovered the Bay of Fundy. He went back in 1521 and 1525 to establish colonies in the area.

1521: Juan Ponce de Leon (representing Spain) set sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 15th, 1521. He went to colonize Florida, and had seeds, and priests to convert the Indians. He reach Sanibel Island, on the west coast of Florida, where he had a battle with the natives, received and arrow wound, that became infected. They returned to Cuba, but he died in July.

1524: Giovanni da Verrazzano (representing France) sailed from Dieppe, France on January 17, 1524. He made landfall on March 1st, 1524 at Cape Fear, southernmost of North Carolina’s three capes. They sailed south for about 110 miles, and turned north, to avoid running into any Spaniards, he sailed another 250 miles north, along the coast. He explored the coasts of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and as far north as New York Bay and Arcadia. He returned and anchored at Dieppe on July 8, 1524.

1527: Pánfilo Narváez (representing Spain) sailed from Barrameda on February 22nd, 1527 with the commission to colonize all the lands between Florida and Mexico. He, with a force of 260 men, landed in Florida, near St. Petersburg, on May 1st. He sent his ship on to Mexico to wait for him while he marched up the coast of Florida. He traveled north battling Indians all the way to Apalachee. They constructed 4 boats here and continued on to Pensacola Bay, battling Indians all the way. They crossed the Mississippi River in their boats. Eventually, all of their boats were lost and the Indians kill them all, except for 4 men, one being Cabeza de Vaca.

1527 – 1528: John Rut (representing England) set sail from Plymouth, England, on June 10th. On July 21st, they arrived in Newfoundland, and looking for the Northwest Passage, sailed as far as Labrador. His ship was seen by Spaniards on Mona Island, and later, November 25, 1527 in Española. The Spanish reported that the ship was lost. In Puerto Rico, they took in supplies and returned to England in the spring of 1528.

1527 – 1536: Alvar Nuñez de Vera (Cabeza de Vaca) (representing Spain) was one of the four surviving members of the Pánfilo Narváez expedition. On November 8, 1527, the boat he was on, capsized, and they managed to swim to the shore. They walked to Texas and then Mexico, with the help of friendly Indians that fed them along the way. They lost all of their cloths along the way, and continued naked. Cabeza de Vaca, wrote that the shed their skin, twice a year, like serpents. They finally reached Mexico City on July 25th, 1536. It took him and his four companions 9 years to complete the trip.

1534 – 1536: Jacques Cartier (representing France) set sail from Saint-Malo on April 20th, 1534 and made landfall at Newfoundland on May 10th. Cartier sailed all around the coast of Newfoundland, Labrador, Arcadia, and all the islands in the area. He returned on September 5th, 1534. Jacques Cartier set sail from Saint-Malo on May 19, 1535, and sighted Funk Island on July 7th. They did not stop at Newfoundland but proceeded to explore the area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the islands in the gulf and Canada. They sailed up the Saguenay and the St. Lawrence River. They arrived at what is now Quebec in September 10th and on October 2nd, the were at the place where Montreal is today. Sailing down the river, he wintered in Quebec. He reached Saint-Malo on July 15, 1536.

1539 – 1543: Hernando de Soto (representing Spain) setting sail from Havana, Cuba, he landed near Fort Myers, Florida on May 25, 1539 with a force of 570 men and 223 horses. De Soto, got his training with Pizarro in Peru, he had no respect for the indigenous population of Florida. His basic strategy, was to enter an Indian town, capture the chief, demand provision, then move to the next village, capture that chief, then release the chief from the previous village. During his expedition, de Soto killed many Indians wherever he went. They marched north from Florida, into Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee. Near Memphis, he built barges and crossed the Mississippi River, two years after landing in Florida. They marched through Arkansas and Oklahoma, then back to the Mississippi. De Sota, died of fever on May 21, 1542, at the mouth of the Red River. His successor, Luis Moscoso, continued the expedition, spending a fourth winter at the mouth of the Arkansas River. He built a ship, sailed down the Mississippi, across the Gulf of Mexico, and arrived in Mexico on September 1543, with 311 men, out of the original 570.

1541 – 1542: Jacques Cartier (representing France) set sail from Saint-Malo on May 23rd, 1541. There were five ships in the fleet, that was going to colonize Canada. On August 23rd, 1541, it anchored off banks of the future Quebec. They established a settlement and continued their exploration, sailing up the Ottawa River. He arrived in Saint-Malo in October, 1542.


Spanish expeditions reached the Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi River, the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains. In 1540, Hernando de Soto undertook an extensive exploration of the present US and, in the same year, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado led 2,000 Spaniards and Native Mexican Americans across the modern Arizona–Mexico border and traveled as far as central Kansas. Other Spanish explorers include Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, Pánfilo de Narváez, Sebastián Vizcaíno, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, Gaspar de Portolà, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Tristán de Luna y Arellano and Juan de Oñate. The Spanish sent some settlers, creating the first permanent European settlement in the continental United States at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, but it was in such a harsh political environment that it attracted few settlers and never expanded. Much larger and more important Spanish settlements included Santa Fe, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Tucson, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Most Spanish settlements were along the California coast or the Santa Fe River in New Mexico.


Nieuw-Nederland, or New Netherland, was the 17th century Dutch colonial province on the eastern coast of North America. The Dutch claimed territory from the Delmarva Peninsula to Buzzards Bay, while their settlements concentrated on the Hudson River Valley, where they traded furs with the Indians to the north and were a barrier to Yankee expansion from New England. Their capital, New Amsterdam, was located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan and was renamed New York when the English seized the colony in 1664. The Dutch were Calvinists who built the Reformed Church in America, but they were tolerant of other religions and cultures. The colony left an enduring legacy on American cultural and political life, including a secular broadmindedness and mercantile pragmatism in the city, a rural traditionalism in the countryside typified by the story of Rip Van Winkle, and politicians such as Martin Van Buren, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.


New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period extending 1534 to 1763, when Britain and Spain took control. There were few permanent settlers outside Quebec, but fur traders ranged working with numerous Indian tribes who often became military allies in France’s wars with Britain. The territory was divided into five colonies: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland and Louisiana. After 1750 the Acadians—French settlers who had been expelled by the British from Acadia (Nova Scotia)—resettled in Louisiana, where they developed a distinctive rural Cajun culture that still exists. They became American citizens in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Other French villages along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers were absorbed when the Americans started arriving after 1770.


In 1607, the Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown Settlement on the James River, both named after King James I. The strip of land along the eastern seacoast was settled primarily by English colonists in the 17th century, along with much smaller numbers of Dutch and Swedes. Colonial America was defined by a severe labor shortage that employed forms of slavery and indentured servitude, and by a British policy of benign neglect that permitted the development of an American spirit distinct from that of its European founders. Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants.

The first successful English colony was established in 1607, on the James River at Jamestown. It languished for decades until a new wave of settlers arrived in the late 17th century and established commercial agriculture based on tobacco. Between the late 1610s and the Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to their American colonies. During the Georgian era English officials exiled 1,000 prisoners across the Atlantic every year. One example of conflict between Native Americans and English settlers was the 1622 Powhatan uprising in Virginia, in which Native Americans had killed hundreds of English settlers. The largest conflict between Native Americans and English settlers in the 17th century was King Philip’s War in New England, although the Yamasee War may have been bloodier.

The Plymouth Colony was established in 1620. New England was initially settled primarily by Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of diversity. The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina, with Georgia Colony the last of the Thirteen Colonies established in 1733. Several colonies were used as penal settlements from the 1620s until the American Revolution. Methodism became the prevalent religion among colonial citizens after the First Great Awakening, a religious revival led by preacher Jonathan Edwards in 1734.