The first peoples of what would become the United States began when groups of hunter-gatherers migrated across the Bering land-and-ice bridge between Siberia and Alaska in about 16,000 BC. In the next centuries, these indigenous people spread across the continent, developing and advancing their cultures before early exploration of the New World by Europeans began. These explorers were followed by colonial settlers and the many events that led to the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States of America.
16,000 BC – 1763
3,000 BC to 1000 AD – The Woodland Period begins in Eastern America.
10th Century – The Norse colonization of North America began in the late 10th century AD when Norsemen explored and settled areas of the North Atlantic including the northeastern fringes of North America. At this time, the first contact was made with the indigenous people.
1000 to 1520 AD – The Mississippian culture begins in North America.
c. 1100 – Oraibi, a Hopi village in Navajo County, Arizona was settled sometime before this time, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements within the United States.
c. 1190 – Construction begins on the Cliff Palace by Ancestral Puebloans in modern-day Colorado.
1492 – When Christopher Columbus first came in contact with native people, he wrote: “They all go around as naked as their mothers bore them; and also the women.” He also noted that “they could easily be commanded and made to work, to sow and to do whatever might be needed, to build towns and be taught to wear clothes and adopt our ways,” and, “they are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest.”
1519 – Hernan Cortes invades Mexico, completing his conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521 and establishes the colony of New Spain.
1524 – The first kidnapping in America took place on July 8, 1524, when Italian explorers kidnapped an Indian child to bring to France.
1528 – The first significant exploration of Florida occurred when Spanish soldier, explorer, and Indian fighter, Panfilo de Narvaez saw Indian houses near what is now Tampa Bay, Florida on April 16, 1528. Narvaez claimed Spanish royal title to the land.
1538 – Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan friar, is sent to explore the lands north of Mexico, guided by Esteban, the African-American who had accompanied Cabeza de Vaca. Within a year, Marcos returns with news of a great city called Cibola.
1539 – Hernando De Soto lands at Tampa Bay, Florida and begins an expedition across the southeast. After defeating resisting Timucuan warriors, Hernando De Soto executed 100 of them, in the first large-scale massacre by Europeans on what would become American soil. The event is known as the Napituca Massacre.
1540 – Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led Mexico’s invasion of the north with an expeditionary force of 300 conquistadors and more than one thousand Indian “allies.” Instead of Cibola, they found a small crowded village that was the Zuni Pueblo of Hawikuh, whose warriors answered with arrows when Coronado demanded that they swear loyalty to his King. Within an hour, the Spaniards overran the pueblo, and over the next few weeks, they conquered the other Zuni in the region.
On October 18, 1540, Hernando De Soto’s expedition was ambushed by a Choctaw tribe in Alabama who killed their livestock and 200 Spaniards. The remaining Spaniards then burned down their compound, killing some 2,500 people who were inside.
1540-1541 – Faced with an incipient uprising, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado ordered an attack on the Moho Pueblo, a center of Indian resistance. His men were repulsed when they tried to scale the walls, so they settled in for a siege that lasted from January through March. When the Moho tried to slip away, the Spaniards killed more than 200 men, women, and children.
1542 – Under pressure from religious leaders, Spanish Emperor Carlos V attempted to impose “New Laws” on the Spanish colonies, ending the encomienda system that gave settlers the right to Indian slave labor.
1546 – The “New Laws” barring Indian enslavement were repealed at the insistence of New World colonists, who developed a society and economy dependent on slave labor.
1598 – On November 15, 1898, Juan de Onate declared possession of Hopi land (in what is now northern Arizona) in the name of the Spanish crown. Four hundred years later, the Hopi have still never signed any treaty with any non-Indian nation.
1600s – Europeans of the time held steadfastly to the belief that their introduced diseases were acts of God being done on their behalf. One settler proclaimed while speaking about the deaths of Native Americans, “Their enterprise failed, for it pleased God to effect these Indians with such a deadly sickness, that out of every 1000, over 950 of them had died, and many of them lay rotting above the ground for lack of burial.”
1607 – On May 14, 1607, Jamestown is founded in Virginia by the colonists of the London Company. By the end of the year, starvation and disease reduce the original 105 settlers to just 32 survivors. Captain John Smith is captured by Native American Chief Powhatan and saved from death by the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas.
July 3, 1607 – On July 3, Indians brought maize, beans, squash, and fresh and smoked meat to the Jamestown colony. As at Plymouth years later, the colonists and their diseases would eventually exterminate them.
1609 – On July 29, 1609, Samuel de Champlain, accompanied by two other Frenchmen and 60 Algonquin and Huron Indians, defeated a band of Iroquois near the future site of Ticonderoga, beginning a long period of French/Iroquois hostilities.
1611 – Former Dutch lawyer Adrian Block explored Manhattan Island in the ship Tiger. He returned to Europe with a cargo of furs and two kidnapped Indians, whom he named Orson and Valentine.
1614 – On May 13, 1614, the Viceroy of Mexico found Spanish Explorer Juan de Onate guilty of atrocities against the Indians of New Mexico. As part of his punishment, he was banned from entering New Mexico again.
May 1616 – Virginia’s Deputy Governor George Yeardley and a group of men killed 20 – 40 Chickahominy Indians. It was under Yeardley’s leadership that friendly relations between the Chickahominy and the colony ended.
1621 – One of the first treaties between colonists and Native Americans is signed as the Plymouth Pilgrims enact a peace pact with the Wampanoag Tribe, with the aid of Squanto, an English speaking Native American.
1626 – Peter Minuit, a Dutch colonist, buys Manhattan island from Native Americans for 60 guilders (about $24) and names the island New Amsterdam.
1636-37 – The Pequot War, taking place in Connecticut and Rhode Island, eventually led to the destruction of 600-700 natives. The remainder were sold into slavery in Bermuda.
1675–1676 – King Philip’s War – Sometimes called Metacom’s War, was an armed conflict between Native Americans of southern New England and English colonists and their Native American allies.
1676 – Bacon’s Rebellion began on July 30, 1676, when tobacco planters led by Nathaniel Bacon asked for and were denied permission to attack the Susquehannock Indians, who had been conducting raids on colonists’ settlements. Enraged at Governor Berkeley’s refusal, the colonists burned Jamestown and killed many Indians before order was restored in October.
1680-92 – The Pueblo Revolt occurs in Arizona and New Mexico, when Pueblo Indians led by Popé, rebelled against the Spanish. They then lived independently for 12 years until the Spanish re-conquered in them in 1692.
1689-1697 – King William’s War – The first of the French and Indian Wars, this conflict was fought between England, France, and their respective American Indian allies in the colonies of Canada (New France), Acadia, and New England.
1702 – French explorer Pierre Liette had a four-year sojourn in the Chicago area during which he noticed that “the sin of sodomy” prevailed among the Miami Indians, and that some men were bred from childhood for this purpose.
1704 – On June 23, 1704, the former Governor of South Carolina, James Moore, led a force of 50 British, and 1,000 Creek Indians against Spanish settlements. They attacked a mission in Northwestern Florida and took any Indians as slaves and killed Father Manuel de Mendoza.
1709 – A slave market was erected at the foot of Wall Street in New York City. Here African-Americans and Indians — men, women, and children were declared the property of the highest cash bidder.
1711 – Taking place in North Carolina, the Tuscarora War, led by Chief Hancock, was fought between the British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Native Americans. In an attempt to drive the colonists out of their territory, the tribe attacked several settlements, killing settlers and destroying farms. In 1713, James Moore and Yamasee warriors defeated the Indians.
1715-1718 – The Yamasee War occurs in southern Carolina, which came close to exterminating white settlements in their region.
1721 – Jesuit explorer Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix recorded effeminacy and widespread homosexuality and lesbianism among the “Indian” tribes in what is now Louisiana. The most prominent tribes in the area at the time were the Iroquois and Illinois.
1725 – Ten sleeping Indians were scalped by whites in New Hampshire for a bounty.
1745 – Upon hearing of an impending French and Indian attack upon, Europeans massacred several Indian families in their wigwams at Walden in the Hudson River Valley.
November 28, 1745 – French military forces out of Canada, accompanied by 220 Caughnawaga Mohawk and Abenaki Indians, attacked and burned the English settlement at Saratoga. The 101 inhabitants were either killed or taken prisoner.
1752 – In the 1752 census, 147 “Indian” slaves — 87 females and 60 males — were listed as living in French households in what would later be called Illinois. These people were from different cultural groups than the local Native American population and were often captives of war.
1754-1763 – The French and Indian War, a conflict between France and Britain for possession of North America occurs. For various motivations, most Algonquian tribes allied with the French; the Iroquois with the British.
1754 – On April 9, 1754, an Indian slave trader sent a letter to South Carolina Governor J. Glenn asking for permission to use one group of Indians to fight another: “We want no pay, only what we can take and plunder, and what slaves we take to be our own.”
1756 – On April 8, 1756, Governor Robert Morris, the Pennsylvania colonial governor, declared war on the Delaware and Shawnee Indians. Included in his war declaration was “The Scalp Act,” which put a bounty on the scalps of Indian men, women, and boys.
1758 – On August 1, 1758, the first Indian reservation in North America was established by the New Jersey Colonial Assembly.
1759 – Responding to a Comanche attack that destroyed two missions on the San Saba River in central Texas, a Spanish force of 600 marched north to the Red River where they engaged several thousand Comanche and other Plains Indians. The Spaniards were routed, losing a cannon in their retreat, and Comanche raids became a constant threat to settlers throughout Texas.
1763 – The Proclamation of 1763, signed by King George III of England, prohibits any English settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains and requires those already settled in those regions to return east in an attempt to ease tensions with Native Americans.
In May 1763, Ottawa Indians under Chief Pontiac begin all-out warfare against the British west of Niagara, New York, destroying several British forts and conducting a siege against the British at Detroit, Michigan. In August, Pontiac’s forces are defeated by the British near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The siege of Detroit ends in November, but hostilities between the British and Chief Pontiac continue for several years.
December 8, 1763 – An organization compensating settlers for losses resulting from Indian raids was created by Indian Commissioner Sir William Johnson.
December 27, 1763 – A troop of 50 armed men entered the Workhouse at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and hacked to death the only 14 surviving Conestoga Indians.
Next – A New Nation – 1775-1850