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Early Exploration and Colonization

By Jim Small

Sources: Microsoft Bookshelf 95, Encarta

Colonization of North America

Early Explorers of the Western Hemisphere The first people to discover the New World or Western Hemisphere are believed to have walked across a "land bridge" from Siberia to Alaska, an isthmus since broken by the Bering Strait. From Alaska, these ancestors of the Native Americans spread through North, Central, and South America. Anthropologists have placed these crossings at between 18,000 and 14,000 B.C., but evidence found in 1967 near Puebla, Mexico, indicates people may have reached there as early as 35,000-40,000 years ago. At first, these people were hunters using flint weapons and tools. In Mexico, about 7000-6000 B.C., they founded farming cultures, developing corn, squash, etc. Eventually, they created complex civilizations — Olmec, Toltec, Aztec, and Maya and, in South America, Inca. Carbon-14 tests show humans lived about 8000 B.C. near what are now Front Royal, VA, Kanawha, WV, and Dutchess Quarry, NY. The Hopewell Culture, based on farming, flourished about 1000 B.C.; remains of it are seen today in large mounds in Ohio and other states.

Norsemen (Norwegian Vikings sailing out of Iceland and Greenland) are credited by most scholars with being the first Europeans to discover America, with at least 5 voyages about A.D. 1000 to areas they called Helluland, Markland, Vinland—possibly what are known today as Labrador, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, and New England.

Christopher Columbus, the most famous explorer, was born Cristoforo Colombo in or near Genoa, Italy, probably in 1451, but made his voyages of exploration for the Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella. Dates of his voyages, places he reached, and other information follows:

1492—First voyage.

Left Palos, Spain, Aug. 3 with 88 (est.) men. His fleet consisted of 3 vessels—the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. Landed San Salvador, (Guanahani or Watling Is., Bahamas) Oct. 12. Also Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti-Dominican Republic); built Fort La Navidad on latter.

1493—Second voyage, first part.

Left Sept. 25, with 17 ships, 1,500 men. Dominica (Lesser Antilles) Nov. 3; Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, San Martin, Santa Cruz, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands. Settled Isabela on Hispaniola. Second part. (Columbus having remained in Western Hemisphere) Jamaica, Isle of Pines, La Mona Is. 1498—Third voyage. Left Spain, May 30, 1498, 6 ships. Landed Trinidad. Saw South American continent, Aug. 1, 1498, but called it Isla Sancta (Holy Island). Entered Gulf of Paria and landed, first time on continental soil. At mouth of Orinoco, Aug. 14, he decided this was the mainland.

1502—Fourth voyage. 4 caravels, 150 men.

St. Lucia, Guanaja off Honduras; Cape Gracias a Dios, Honduras; San Juan River, Costa Rica; Almirante,
Portobelo, and Laguna de Chiriquí, Panama.

Year Explorer Nationality and employer Area reached or explored
1497 John Cabot Italian-English Newfoundland or Nova Scotia
1498 John and Sebastian Cabot Italian-English Labrador to Hatteras
1499 Alonso de Ojeda Spanish N & S American coast, Venezuela
1500 Vicente Yáñez Pinzón Spanish South American coast, Amazon R.
1500 Pedro Álvarez Cabral Portuguese Brazil (for Portugal)
1500-02 Gaspar Corte-Real Portuguese Labrador
1501 Rodrigo de Bastidas Spanish Central America
1513 Vasco Núñez de Balboa Spanish Panama, Pacific Ocean
1513 Juan Ponce de León Spanish Florida
1515 Juan de Solis Spanish Río de la Plata
1519 Alonso de Pineda Spanish Mouth of Mississippi R.
1519 Hernando Cortés Spanish Mexico
1520 Ferdinand Magellan Portuguese-Spanish Straits of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego
1524 Giovanni da Verrazano Italian-French Atlantic coast, includng New York harbor
1528 Cabeza de Vaca Spanish Texas coast and interior
1532 Francisco Pizarro Spanish Peru
1534 Jacques Cartier French Canada, Gulf of St. Lawrence
1536 Pedro de Mendoza Spanish Buenos Aires
1539 Francisco de Ulloa Spanish California coast
1539-41 Hernando de Soto Spanish Mississippi R. near Memphis
1539 Marcos de Niza Italian-Spanish Southwest U.S
1540 Francisco de Coronado Spanish SouthWest U.S.
1540 Hernando Alarcón Spanish Colorado River
1540 Garcia de L. Cardenas Spanish Colorado, Grand Canyon
1541 Francisco de Orellana Spanish Amazon R.
1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo Portuguese-Spanish W Mexico, San Diego harbor
1565 Pedro Menéndez de Aviles Spanish St. Augustine, FL
1576 Sir Martin Frobisher English Frobisher’s Bay, Canada
1577-80 Sir Francis Drake English California coast
1582 Antonio de Espejo Spanish SW U.S. (named New Mexico)
1584 Amadas & Barlow (Raleigh) English Virginia
1585-87 Sir Walter Raleigh’s men English Roanoke Is., NC
1595 Sir Walter Raleigh English Orinoco R.
1603-09 Samuel de Champlain French Canadian interior, Lake Champlain
1607 Capt. John Smith English Atlantic coast
1609-10 Henry Hudson English-Dutch Hudson R., Hudson Bay
1634 Jean Nicolet French Lake Michigan, Wisconsin
1673 Jacques Marquette, Louis Jolliet French Mississippi R. S to Arkansas
1682 Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle French  

Tobacco, 1531

Spain’s West Indian colonists cultivate tobacco on a commercial scale (see 1518; 1560).

Tobacco, 1560

Tobacco grows in Spain and Portugal, where it is cultivated as an ornamental plant and for its alleged medicinal properties (see 1531; NICOT, 1561).

Tobacco, 1561

The French ambassador to Lisbon Jean Nicot, 31, sends seeds and powdered leaves of the tobacco plant home to the queen mother Catherine de’ Medici (see 1560). The botanical name for tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, will be derived from Nicot’s name, as will the word nicotine (see HAWKINS, 1565; THEVET, 1567; VANQUELIN, 1810).

Tobacco, 1604

"Counterblaste to Tobacco" by England’s James I, published anonymously, makes reference to two Indians brought to London from Virginia in 1584 to demonstrate smoking: "What honor or policie can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly manners of the wilde, godlesse, and slavish Indian especially in so vile and stinking a custome?" The king points out that tobacco was first used as an antidote to the "Pockes" (see NICOT, 1561), but he observes that doctors now regard smoking as a dirty habit injurious to the health and finds it on his own part "a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the lungs and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse" (but see 1612).

Exploration and Colonization, 1585

In 1585, Queen Elizabeth, wishing to establish a colony in the new world, sent a ship to America, They landed on Roanoke Island, on what is now called the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This small group was accepted by the local Indians, friendships were made and a small settlement was established. It was however, short lived. A dispute arose over a silver cup, which the Indian chief took as a gift, and the colonists took as a theft. They burned the Indian village in retaliation.
In 1586 the settlers had had enough, and when Francis Drake sailed into sight, they convinced him to return them to England.
Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth’s lieutenant and confidant on the new world, convinced another group of settlers, 177 men, women and children to try anew, and in 1587 again settled Roanoke Island. The leader of the Party, John White, a rather heavy handed man when it came to Indians, was convinced to return to england to resupply the colony, and he left in August of that year. It was the last time anyone saw the Roanoke colony alive.

When he returned to England, he found them preparing for war with Spain. Attempts to raise supplies for the colonists failed and he was unable to return to Roanoke until 1590. Upon his arrival, he found no trace of the settlers, which included his daughter and granddaughter, no trace of the buildings, which appeared to be dismantled, as if to be rebuilt elsewhere. All that was found were 5 trunks hidden in the woods, apparently left to be reclaimed at a later date. The only clue concerning the whereabouts was a word carved on a tree, "Croatan" which was an agreed message they promised to leave if they decided to abandon the settlement and move elsewhere.

Croatan Island was located south of Roanoke Island, and likely the place they removed to. However, there is no proof of this, and today the Island is gone, destroyed by the shifting sands, tides, and numerous hurricanes that have removed any trace of their existance.

White was forced to return to England, he was aboard a privateer, and the captain was anxious to return to raiding the Spanish ships that plied the waters in that area. When fully loaded with booty, they returned to England rather than returning to Roanoke to search any further. White died three years later, never returning to the outer banks, or ever learning the fate of his daughter and granddaughter.

His grand Daughter, Virginia Dare, was born in August 1587, and was the first white child born in America.

England made no further effort to search for the missing settlers until 1607 when they settled Jamestown, and that effort consisted of asking the local natives if they knew any whereabouts of the missing English. Those traditions stated they had been seen with a tribe located on the Chesapeake, and another tradition placed a strange group in the Carolinas, blonde, blue eyed natives with fair skin living with the native tribes in that area. Neither was investigated enough to determine the fate of this earliest settlement with any certainty.

Exploration and Colonization, 1606

A Virginia charter granted by England’s James I establishes the Plymouth Company and the London Company made up respectively of men from those two English cities and their environs. The two companies are authorized to establish settlements at least 100 miles apart in North America, the Plymouth Company to settle somewhere on the coast between the 38th and 45th parallels, the London Company to settle between the 34th and 41st parallels.

Exploration and Colonization, 1606

Three ships of the London Company set sail December 19 for Virginia. Capt. Christopher Newport commands 144 men, including Bartholomew Gosnold and John Smith, aboard the Godspeed, the Sarah Constant, and the Discovery (see 1607).

Exploration and Colonization, 1607

Jamestown, Virginia, is founded May 14 by Capt. Christopher Newport of the London Company who sailed into Chesapeake Bay April 26 after losing 16 men on the voyage from England. Newport has come up a river he named the James, in honor of the English king, and sails for home June 22, leaving behind colonists under Capt. John Smith.

Exploration and Colonization, 1609

The London Company chartered in 1606 obtains a new charter, receives additional land grants, and sends out a fleet of nine ships with 800 new settlers and supplies for the Virginia colony. Among the new colonists are John Rolfe, 24, and his young wife, but their ship the Sea Venture is wrecked with the rest of the fleet on reefs off one of the Bermuda islands whose beauty so delights George Somers, 54, one of the ship captains, that he will return to England and form a company to colonize Bermuda (see 1610).

Food Availability, 1609

The Virginia colony declines in population to 67 by January as food stocks run low despite the introduction of carrots, parsnips, and turnips. The colonists sustain themselves in the "starving times" until their crops ripen by gathering cattail roots, marsh marigolds, Jerusalem artichokes, and other wild plant foods. Still many die of hunger.

Exploration and Colonization, 1610

Survivors of last year’s Bermuda shipwreck build two new ships from timbers and planks salvaged from their wrecks and arrive at Jamestown May 24. Among the arrivals are John Rolfe and his wife (see 1612).

Exploration and Colonization, 1611

The new governor of the Jamestown colony in Virginia introduces private enterprise. The colony’s agriculture has been a socialized venture until now, but Sir Thomas Cole assigns 3 acres to each man and gives him the right to keep or sell most of what he raises (see 1616).

Exploration and Colonization, 1612

A Bermuda colony is established by a shipload of men, women, and sailors who arrive on the islands that were claimed for England 3 years ago by the late Sir George Somers, who died in 1610. The colony will have 600 settlers by 1614.

Tobacco, 1612

Tobacco cultivation gives Virginia colony settlers an export commodity that will provide a solid economic base for the colony. John Rolfe has obtained Nicotiana tabacum seed from the Caribbean islands and after 2 years in Virginia has learned from local Indians how to raise tobacco and cure the leaf that he ships to London. The James River Valley produces 1,600 pounds of leaf per acre, Jamestown becomes a boom town, the Virginia (London) Company grows prosperous, and James I is enriched by import duties that make him look more tolerantly on tobacco (see 1604; ROLFE, 1614).

Exploration and Colonization, 1614

Virginia colonists block French settlements in Maine and Nova Scotia.

Exploration and Colonization, 1616

Jamestown, Virginia colonists each receive 100 acres of land after having worked until now for the London Company. Each colonist will soon be given an additional 50 acres for each new settler he brings to Virginia (see 1611).

Medicine, 1622

Disease takes a heavy toll among Virginia colonists and among their Indian neighbors.

Political Events, 1624

Virginia becomes a royal colony May 24 as her charter is revoked after 17 profitless years.

Food and Drink, 1639

"Smithfield" hams shipped to England from the Virginia colony are sold at London’s Smithfield Market which is taken over by the city after 516 years and is reorganized as a market for live cattle.

Population, 1649

The Virginia colony receives an influx of Cavalier (Royalist) refugees from England.

Human Rights and Social Justice, 1671

The Virginia colony’s governor estimates that blacks comprise less than 5 percent of the population (see 1649; 1652; 1715).

Education, 1693

The College of William and Mary is founded by royal charter in the Virginia colony at Middle Plantation, later to be called Williamsburg (see 1699). The college will award its first baccalaureates in 1770 (see PHI BETA KAPPA, 1776).

Education, 1776

The Phi Beta Kappa Society is founded December 5 at Virginia’s 83-year-old College of William and Mary in Williamsburg by five young men who have gathered at a local tavern for conviviality and to debate such subjects as "Whether French politics be more injurious than New England rum" or "Had William the Norman a right to invade England?" (Chapters of the new scholastic fraternity will be established at Harvard and Yale in 1779, Harvard men will debate the question of whether Adam had a navel, Yale men whether females have intellectual capacities equal to those of males, and election to Phi Beta Kappa will carry great prestige in U.S. academic circles.)

New England
1605 Maine

Monhegan Maine:
The area was first explored in 1605. Largest of a group of islands formerly called Monhegan Plantation, it's now administrated by the Monhegan Island Trust. Monhegan Island is about 1 mile wide and 2.5 miles long. In 1605, it was named Isle St. George by George Waymouth and, in 1606, Isle La Nef by Champlain. Monhegan was the rendezvous of the Popham Colony in 1607. They landed and held a Thanksgiving Service for their safe arrival, under the cross which had been there erected by George Waymouth.

Exploration and Colonization, 1606

A Plymouth Company ship sent out August 12 under Henry Challons is captured by the Spanish. A second vessel sent out in October under Thomas Hanham and Martin Pring reaches the coast of Maine and returns with glowing accounts.

Exploration and Colonization, 1607

The Plymouth Company attempts a settlement at the mouth of the Kennebec River, but the colonists will abandon George Popham’s settlement after a terrible winter (see 1620).

In 1651, Maine comes under jurisdiction of Massachusetts Bay Colony despite protests by the inhabitants.

Exploration and Colonization, 1615

Capt. John Smith of the Virginia colony surveys the New England coast from Maine to the cape that will be called Cape Cod. Commissioned by the Plymouth Company, Smith renames the native village of Patuxet, calling it Plymouth (Plimouth) (see 1606; 1620).

John Smith, Explorer, Colonist, and writer, whose maps and written accounts of his expeditions along the east coast of north America were invaluable to later colonists in the area. He was born about 1580 and died 1631.

Plymouth Colony

Plymouth Colony, settled by the PILGRIMS in MASSACHUSETTS in 1620. The settlers had difficulty surviving early hardships, although a treaty with neighboring tribes assured peace for 50 years. Under the MAYFLOWER COMPACT the colony developed into a quasi-theocracy, ruled by a governor (see BRADFORD, WILLIAM) and a council; a representative body, the General Court, was introduced in 1638. The colony expanded to include 10 towns and in 1643 joined the New England Confederation, which gave it critical aid during KING PHILIP'S WAR (1675–76). Plymouth Colony was incorporated into the royal colony of Massachusetts in 1691.


Plymouth (plîm¹eth), city (1991 pop. 243,373), Devon, SW England, on Plymouth Sound. The Three Towns that Plymouth has comprised since 1914 are Plymouth, Stonehouse, and Devonport. Plymouth is an important port and naval base. It was the last port touched by the MAYFLOWER before its voyage to America in 1620.

Plymouth, town (1990 pop. 45,608), seat of Plymouth co., SE Mass., on Plymouth Bay; founded 1620. Plymouth is the oldest settlement in New England and a major tourist attraction. It has light industries but is primarily known for its historical sights, including Plymouth Rock, near which is moored the replica Mayflower II; several 17th-cent. houses; and the Plimoth Plantation re-creation of the settlement.

Political Events, 1620

The Mayflower Compact drawn up by the Pilgrims (see 1620) establishes a form of government based on the will of the colonists rather than on that of the Crown. The Pilgrims have found that Cape Cod is outside the jurisdiction of the London Company, and they select Plymouth as the site of a settlement (see 1621; JOHN SMITH, 1615).

Exploration and Colonization, 1621

Another 35 English colonists arrive at Plymouth.

Exploration and Colonization, 1622

The Council for New England which has succeeded the Plymouth Company grants territory between the Kennebec and Merrimack rivers to former Newfoundland governor John Mason, 36, and his rich English associate Sir Ferdinando Gorges, 56 (see 1629).

Political Events, 1635

Directors of the Plymouth colony prepare to surrender their charter and draw lots for apportioning the colony’s territory. Capt. James Mason, who helped found Portsmouth in 1630, has obtained a patent to the New Hampshire area from the London Company, and he receives the entire area (see 1680).

St. Augustine Florida

Exploration and Colonization, 1564

French Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny fits out a second expedition to the New World. The fleet commanded by René de Landonniére sails to Fort Carolina on the St. John’s River of northern Florida.

Exploration and Colonization, 1565

St. Augustine (San Agostin), Florida, is established August 28 as the first permanent European settlement in North America. Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles settles 600 colonists there, having attacked Fort Carolina and slaughtered all its male inhabitants (see 1564).

Human Rights and Social Justice, 1581

Spain’s Philip II sends some of his black slaves to his Florida colony of St. Augustine. They are the first blacks to be landed in North America (see 1565; DRAKE, 1586).

Political Events, 1586

Sir Francis Drake surprises the heavily fortified city of San Domingo on Hispaniola January 1 and forces its Spanish governor to pay a heavy ransom. He captures Cartagena on the Spanish Main in February, first plundering and then ransoming the city. He burns San Agostin (St. Augustine), Florida, June 7.

James D. Small

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