Colonization Patterns

Regents Prep: U.S. History: Human Systems & Society: Colonization Patterns

Early Settlement and Territorial Expansion

After Columbus’ fateful voyage in 1492, North America was colonized by the Spanish, French, English, Dutch and Germans, Swedes and Finns, and the Russians. The new world held a mysterious promise that sometimes delivered, but also destroyedClick To Download early settlements. From the 1580s onward, settlement of the continent itself was attempted to varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until 1607 that a permanent colony was established in Virginia. From then on, North America was colonized by seekers of freedom eager for a better life.

At the end of the French & Indian Wars, the Proclamation Line of 1763 was established. It forbade the colonists to settle beyond a western borderline which roughly followed the Appalachian Mountains. This angered colonists because they had to pay for British soldiers to patrol the area. Many colonist ignored the decree, moving west and settling anyway. This led to increased tensions between white settlers and Native Americans, and serious problems in the future.

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from France for only $15,000,000. This doubled Americas geographic area. Unfortunately, it was difficult for settlers to get through the Appalachian Mountains, and move westward. The Click To DownloadCumberland Gap and the Erie Canal helped funnel the majority of migrants westward. By this time, residents of the newly independent United States felt no compulsion to obey by treaties signed between the Indians and the British. Tensions were growing.

In 1848, gold was discovered in California. But, in order to get there, travelers had to sail around South America, or ride through the desert southwest. With the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, the journey from coast to coast was shortened to just a few weeks time. Settlers rushed westward in search of land and riches. In 1874, gold was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The rush continued.

The Homestead Act of 1862 gave federally owned land to anyone who settled it. Any adult (aged 21 and older) could claim a 160-acre lot, by farming it for only five years, and own it after paying a fee at the end of that time.

It was during the rush westward that Americans realized the need for a transcontinental railroad connecting California to the rest of the United States. The new railroad through the Great Plains made it possible for farmers to ship their goods for sale in the East, but it crossed lands considered inviolate by the resettled Indians. Open warfare broke out in several locations inClick To Download across Montana, Kansas and the Dakota territories. White settlers demanded protection from the “savage” Indians, which in turn led to the killing of thousands of Native Americans.

Not surprisingly, it is often in the midst of a war, or shortly afterward, that territorial expansion occurs. During the French & Indian War, British territory expanded toward the Appalachian Mountains. The Louisiana Purchase was made because Napoleon needed money to finance his expansionist ambitions. Florida was gained between 1810 and 1819, years surrounding the War of 1812.

In 1846, war against Mexico (over the Texas Annexation in 1845) yielded Texas, California and the rest of the Mexican Cession to the U.S. America and Great Britain agreed to terms over the Oregon Country in 1846. Much of the Great Plains was settled during the Civil War, and Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867.

In February 1898, the American battleship Maine suffered an explosion while in the harbor in Havana, Cuba. American newspapers whipped up a fury, and in April 1898, war was declared against Spain. The U.S. won the war in just a few months, and got Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines out of it. In 1903, the U.S. signed a treaty leasing the Panama Canal Zone.