No one is completely sure who the first people in the Americas were. There is some debate over who the first people to arrive in the land that would become the USA, but people have been in the Americas for around 15,000 years.
Some histories will say that the Clovis people were the first. They came over from Siberia on a landbridge. However, evidence of earlier settlements has been found in South America, so there was probably more than one wave of human colonization of the area.
Before the waves of immigration from Europe, America already had several polities and nations spread out across the landscape. These first people who came developed into the many American civilizations that dotted the continent.
The first Europeans to come to the Americas were the Vikings. There is evidence that they came to America around the 11th century and called the place “Vinland”, after some berries that they found. That said, the Vikings didn’t stay long – they explored the land but didn’t set down any permanent roots.
The very first major settlement in the USA is in St. Augustine, Florida. It began as a fort built by the Spanish in the sixteenth century.
The British created more developed settlements in the 1600s. The Virginia company came over to find gold and glory, and the pilgrims made a settlement in Plymouth to escape religious persecution back in England.
There were many other Europeans present in the Americas during the 1600s, not just the British. The Spanish explored and settled in the South East, while the Dutch laid claim to the mid-Atlantic. This is why New York was once New Amsterdam.
The Dutch were looking to hone in on the lucrative American fur trade, so they sent Henry Hudson to find the Northwest passage to Asia. While he never did find it, he did help establish new Dutch colonies in the Americas.
The French were also present in America at this time, holding large tracts of territory in Canada and a large inland section of what would later become the USA. Cities like Detroit and New Orleans were also part of the French Americas.
The original 13 colonies that rebelled against the British were Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Rhode Island.
In the late 1770s, they broke away from the crown and rebelled against unjust taxing policies, deciding to create their own republic. The states then allied with the French to overthrow British sovereignty over them.
Despite being outgunned and outmanned, the 13 colonies gained independence from the crown and created their own nation, the USA.
The USA became its own country on July 4th, 1776. The Declaration of Independence is considered the beginning of the USA as a new country. It started with 13 colonies breaking away from the British king. It established its own laws and confederation, uniting these colonies into the beginning of the 50 States we know today.
The “peculiar institution” is another term for slavery, which is unfortunately entwined with the origins of the USA. Thousands of Africans were taken from West Africa and brought to America to work as slaves, and their ties with their original cultures and languages were severed.
Chattel slavery is a dark stain on American history, but it’s a major part of what allowed the USA to be born. While the ideals of the revolutions were freedom and liberty, there was a sizable population that wasn’t free and wouldn’t be for many years to come.
Manifest destiny is the belief that all the land in the West was destined to be a part of the United States. At first, the USA was not the giant country that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Much of the USA was crowded around the East Coast. But in the early 1800s, the population skyrocketed and there was a need to expand its territory.
The USA expanded westward toward the Pacific Ocean, and settlers created cities and farms throughout the land of what we now know as the frontier states. Never mind that much of these lands belonged to the Native Americans who had been living and farming on it for generations.
The demographics of the early USA were diverse. It has always been a country of immigrants. While many Americans are descended from English settlers, there were a lot of different people who came over in the waves of immigration that followed them.
The Germans and Scandinavians immigrated and then spread out to farm in the midwest portion of the USA. In the late 1800s, the Irish came, trying to escape the Potato Blight. Jews from Europe also showed up in the USA as they were being persecuted by pogroms in their native countries.
Not all immigrants came from Europe. Chinese workers also moved to the USA to work, building railroads in the west.
Using the history of your country to contextualize your family history makes it easier to understand where you came from. There is so much to learn in researching which wave of immigration brought your family to the USA, which is why it’s a good place to get started if you are interested in researching your family’s history.