THE 13 ENGLISH COLONIES ARE ESTABLISHED (1600–1850)
(May 14) Settlers with a patent from the London Company found the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. By the end of the year, starvation and disease claim all but 32 of the original 105 settlers.
(November 9). The Mayflower lands at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with 101 passengers who found Plymouth Colony.
The Dutch set up a trading post on lower Manhattan Island.
The first English settlers arrive in what is now New Hampshire.
Peter Minuit, a Dutchman, buys Manhattan Island from Native Americans for $24 and renames it New Amsterdam; later the name changes to New York after the British acquire the area. Today many derivations of Dutch names still exist in the area, e.g., Brooklyn, named for Breuckelen, the Netherlands.
Massachusetts Bay Colony Settlers establish the colony at Salem under the leadership of John Endicott. Although his strict Puritanism comes into conflict with earlier settlers, he defends Roger Williams' heretical opinions.
King Charles I grants Sir Robert Heath territory in North America to be called Carolina.
Englishman John Winthrop leads 900 Puritan colonists to Massachusetts Bay. He delivers the sermon "City Upon a Hill," in which he preaches that Puritan colonists have a special pact with God to create a holy community in the New World.
Sir Ferdinando Gorges receives a land grant and begins to settle land that will eventually become Maine.
King Charles I grants Lord Baltimore, a Roman Catholic, a charter to found Maryland. Two years later 200 colonists arrive, most of them Catholic.
Roger Williams founds Rhode Island, after being banished from Massachusetts for expressing unpopular opinions.
Dutch colonists settle in the Delaware area.
Hudson Valley Native Americans surrender part of their territory to the Dutch.
The Duke of York grants land called New Jersey to two Englishmen.
The territory of Carolina expands to include Florida.
Massachusetts annexes Maine.
William Penn, a Quaker and advocate for religious liberty, secures rights to part of New Jersey.
Penn founds Pennsylvania under a Royal Charter from King Charles I.
France establishes a settlement at Detroit.
France founds New Orleans.
Colonists establish the first permanent settlement in Vermont.
England acquires all French territory east of the Mississippi River except New Orleans in the Treaty of Paris, which ends the Seven Years' War, known in North America as the French and Indian War. Spain cedes east and west Florida to England in return for Cuba.
THE BIRTH AND STEADY GROWTH OF A NATION (1760S–1830S)
The Proclamation of 1763 prohibits any English settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. King George III orders settlers living there to return east in an effort to ease tensions between settlers and Native Americans.
(July 4) After more than a decade of increasing conflict, the 13 Colonies declare their independence from Britain and war erupts.
(September 3) The Treaty of Paris ends the war between the newly declared United States and Britain. As a result of the treaty, America's land now extends to the Mississippi River and Spain re-acquires Florida.
(July 13) The Northwest Ordinance. The Congress of the Confederation passes the Northwest Ordinance, creating the Northwest Territory, which includes present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota. This is the first organized territory of the new United States. The ordinance establishes procedures for transforming these territories into states and guarantees their residents public education, freedom of religion, and the right to jury trial, and prohibits slavery in the territory. It also establishes the precedent that the country will expand across the continent by admitting new states rather than by expanding existing states.
(September 17) Congress ratifies the United States Constitution. Article IV, sec. 3, gives Congress authority to admit new states with the restriction that they will not be carved out of existing states without their consent.
(December 7) Delaware is admitted to the Union as the first state.
(December 12) Pennsylvania becomes the second state admitted to the Union.
(December 18) New Jersey is the third state admitted to the Union.
(January 2) Georgia becomes the 4th state.
(January 9) Connecticut becomes the 5th state.
(February 6) Massachusetts becomes the 6th state.
(April 28) Maryland becomes the 7th state.
(May 23) South Carolina becomes the 8th state.
(June 21st) New Hampshire becomes the 9th state.
(June 25) Virginia becomes the 10th state.
(July 26) New York becomes the 11th state.
(November 21) North Carolina becomes the 12th state to join the Union.
(May 26). The Southwest Ordinance establishes the Southwest Territory, the present-day state of Tennessee.
(May 19) Rhode Island becomes the 13th state.
(March 4) Vermont becomes the 14th state.
(June 1) Kentucky becomes the 15th state.
(June 1) Tennessee, formerly the Southwest Territory, becomes the 16th state.
(April 7) Congress establishes the Mississippi Territory from land ceded by west Florida. Today this area comprises the states of Mississippi and Alabama and part of Florida's panhandle.
(July 4) The western portion of the Northwest Territory becomes Indiana Territory. The Northwest Territory now contains only part of Michigan and all of Ohio. This area today includes Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, northeastern Minnesota, and a large part of Michigan.
(October 1) France acquires the colony of Louisiana from Spain.
(March 1) The southeast portion of the Northwest Territory becomes Ohio, the 17th state. Indiana Territory acquires the rest of the Northwest Territory.
(April 30) The Louisiana Purchase expands the United States to west of the Mississippi River, doubling the land size of the country. Although President Thomas Jefferson has some doubts about the constitutionality of this endeavor, he goes ahead with the deal because he is afraid France's Napoleon Bonaparte plans to establish a French empire in North America. This area includes the present-day states of Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and portions of Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
All of the Louisiana Purchase area south of the 33rd parallel becomes the Territory of Orleans. The remainder is renamed the District of Louisiana, and remains an unorganized territory.
(May 14) The Lewis and Clark expedition. Led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the Lewis and Clark expedition's two-year journey results in the first U.S. overland expedition to the Pacific and back. The expedition also lays crucial groundwork for U.S. westward expansion.
President James Madison annexes West Florida. Throughout its history, parts of this region on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico were controlled at one time or another by France, Spain, and Britain before coming under U.S. control. Spain also lays claim to the area until 1819.
Tristan da Cunha, a remote island in the South Atlantic, is settled by Jonathan Lambert of Massachusetts and becomes the first United States overseas possession. Britain annexes the island after the War of 1812.
(April 30) The Territory of Orleans is admitted to the Union as Louisiana, the 18th state.
(May 12) The federal government annexes part of West Florida, today the states of Alabama and Mississippi.
(June 4) Louisiana Territory adopts the new name of Missouri Territory to avoid confusion between it and the new state of Louisiana.
(December 11) The southern portion of Indiana Territory becomes the 19th state of Indiana.
(August 15) The organized, unincorporated Territory of Alabama is established.
(December 10) Mississippi becomes the 20th state.
Britain gives the United States the Red River basin in the Anglo-American Convention. The treaty also provides for joint occupation of Oregon Country.
The United States acquires East and West Florida, a total area of 69,886 square miles (180,000 sq km), from Spain.
(March 2) Arkansaw Territory is organized, consisting of the present-day state of Arkansas and part of Oklahoma. The change in spelling to Arkansas occurs in 1822.
(December 14) Alabama Territory becomes Alabama, the 22nd state.
Congress passes the Missouri Compromise, regulating slavery in the western territories. At this time the country is equally divided between slave and free states, which means pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces are equally divided in the United States Senate; free states, however, control the House of Representatives 105 to 81 because of their larger populations. The Compromise prohibits slavery in new states north of the Arkansas Territory border, excluding Missouri, and helps preserve sectional peace for the next 30 years. In 1857 the United States Supreme Court rules its provisions are unconstitutional in the Dred Scott case, ruling Congress lacks the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.
(March 16) Maine splits off from the Maine District of Massachusetts and becomes the 23rd state, admitted as a free state.
(August 10) Missouri becomes the 24th state, admitted to the Union as a slave state to offset Maine's admission as a free state and preserve the balance of power in the United States Senate.
The Adams-Onís Treaty, also called the Transcontinental Treaty, establishes the border between the United States and New Spain. Under the treaty terms, Spain cedes its claims to Oregon Country and the U.S. cedes its claims to Texas. Spain acquires parts of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, as well as all of Texas and New Mexico, while the United States acquires all of Spanish Florida.
(September 27) Spanish Texas becomes Mexican-controlled when the latter finally wins its war of independence.
(March 30) Florida Territory is organized.
The Russo-American Treaty leaves the United States and Britain as the only claimants to Oregon Country.
The Indian Removal Act gives President Andrew Jackson the authority to negotiate removal treaties with Native American tribes. During the next 10 years, over 70,000 Cherokees, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminoles are forced to move from the lower south, east of the Mississippi River onto western reservations, carrying scant food, clothing, and shelter along what comes to be known as the "Trail of Tears." A majority of U.S. citizens support the move due to the belief that the Indian population is inhibiting further U.S. expansion.
The Indian Intercourse Act sets aside land in present-day Oklahoma, known as "Indian Country," as a destination for Native Americans forced to move under the Indian Removal Act.
(March 2) The Republic of Texas declares its independence from Mexico, resulting in war. Running on a platform favoring annexation by the United States, Sam Houston becomes first president of the Republic. Today his name lives on in the city named for him.
(June 15) Arkansas becomes the 25th state, admitted as a slave state.
(January 26) Michigan becomes the 26th state, admitted as a free state.
SLAVERY AND EXPANSION COLLIDE (1840S–1860)
Settlers begin traveling along the 2,000-mile (3,220-km) Oregon Trail from the mouth of the Missouri River to Oregon Country. They make the journey in wagons, on pack trains, in rafts, on horseback, and even on foot, traveling an average four to six months. Travel along the trail declines after the first transcontinental railroad is completed in 1869.
(August 8) The Webster-Ashburton Treaty settles the boundary dispute between the United States and British-controlled Canada, the disputed territory along the Maine border divided between the two nations.
During the presidential election, Democrats call for the annexation of all of Oregon Country, campaigning with slogans such as "The Whole of Oregon" and "54-40 or Fight," referring to the desired border with Canada along the 54th parallel.
(February 28) In a joint resolution, Congress approves the annexation of Texas, leading to war a year later. When the Mexican-American War ends, the United States territory reaches to the Pacific Ocean. The method of acquiring Texas is controversial because it's accomplished by a congressional resolution rather than a treaty, but in 1901 the United States Supreme Court rules this practice legal.
(March 3) Florida becomes the 27th state.
(December 29) Texas becomes the 28th state.
The Oregon Treaty establishes the 49th parallel west of Lake of the Woods as the continental border between the U.S. and Canada. The 283,439-square-mile area becomes known as Oregon Territory. Advocates of "Manifest Destiny" (a belief that Americans are destined to expand across the continent) advocate annexing the entire territory up to the Alaska border.
The U.S. Army of the West captures New Mexico and establishes a military government.
(December 28) Iowa becomes the 29th state.
Largely dictated by the United States, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War. Under the treaty terms, Mexico cedes 525,000 square miles (1.4 million sq km) to the United States, including Texas, present-day California, Nevada, and Utah, most of Arizona, and parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, an area known as the Mexican Cession. The treaty also recognizes the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and Texas, and provides that property rights of Mexican subjects will not be disturbed, including community property rights related to marriage, which California later makes a permanent part of its constitution.
(May 29) Wisconsin becomes the 30th state.
(August 14) Oregon Territory is organized. Today this area includes Idaho, northwestern Montana, Oregon, Washington, and western Wyoming.
(January 24) The California Gold Rush begins when gold is discovered in the state. Over the next seven years, 300,000 people move into the area. A system of education and government is developed, and San Francisco grows into a major city, while Native Americans are attacked and pushed off their land.
(March 3) Minnesota Territory is organized, including present-day Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota.
The Compromise of 1850 abolishes the slave trade in the District of Columbia (although slavery is still permitted there); defines the territories of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah; provides that the slavery question will be decided in these territories when they apply for statehood; and allows California to be admitted as a free state. One section of the Compromise contains the Fugitive Slave Act to mollify the slave states.
(September 9) California becomes the 31st state.
In the Gadsden Purchase, the United States pays Mexico $10 million for a strip of land in New Mexico and Texas, which includes the southernmost part of present-day Arizona and New Mexico. The area is intended to be part of the transcontinental railroad.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act organizes territorial governments for Kansas and Nebraska Territories and provides that each territory will vote whether or not to allow slavery, overturning the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The act's opponents form the Republican Party. For the next four years, "Bleeding Kansas" is the scene of violence over the question of whether it will be admitted as a slave or free state. In 1861, just before the beginning of the Civil War, Kansas is admitted as a free state; in 1867, after the war ends, Nebraska is admitted as a free state.
The Guano Islands Act gives the United States claims to three unoccupied islands, Howland, Navassa, and Baker. The islands are prized as a source of seabird and bat excrement called guano, which is used in fertilizers and gunpowder. Today Navassa is unoccupied and the subject of a dispute between the United States and Haiti. Under the act, the United States also annexes Johnston Atoll in 1858, Midway Island in 1867, and Kingsman Reef in 1922. The United States eventually claims more than 50 islands.
(May 11) The eastern part of Minnesota Territory becomes Minnesota, the 32nd state.
(February 14) Oregon becomes the 33rd state.
CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION (1860S–1880S)
(January 20) Kansas becomes the 34th state.
(February 4) The Confederate States of America are established, and the southern states secede from the Union one by one.
(August 1) The Confederacy establishes Arizona Territory.
The Homestead Act gives applicants title to up to 160 acres (65 hectares) of undeveloped federal lands outside the original 13 colonies after much of the Indian population has been forced out. The act is passed after the South succeeds; Southerners had been fearful that an increase of free farmers will threaten the plantation- and slavery-based economy. The legislation ends in 1976 when Congress passes the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
(February 24) The Union Arizona Territory is established in present-day Arizona and New Mexico. This area overlaps but is not identical to the Confederate Arizona Territory.
(March 4) Idaho Territory is established.
(June 20) Several counties of Virginia, whose residents don't want to be part of the Confederacy, break away and establish the state of West Virginia, the 35th state.
(October 31) Nevada becomes the 36th state.
(April 9) The Confederates States of America surrender, ending the American Civil War. Readmission of these states to the Union will take several years.
(March 1) Nebraska is admitted as the 37th state.
(October 11) The United States purchases Alaska from the Russian Empire for $7 million and designates the area as the Department of Alaska. The purchase is urged by Secretary of State William Seward but is very unpopular and gains the name "Seward's Folly." Alaska becomes a U.S. territory in 1912 and a state in 1959.
The United States acquires Midway Island in the north Pacific under the Guano Islands Act of 1857. The Japanese Navy attacks the islands on the same day as it does Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and is soundly defeated in the Battle of Midway in 1942.
Britain awards the San Juan Islands, in what is now northwestern Washington, to the United States in a treaty formally ending the Pig War, a boundary confrontation between Britain and the United States.
(August 1) Colorado becomes the 38th state.
The Department of Alaska is reorganized as the District of Alaska and local government is established.
(November 2) North and South Dakota become the 39th and 40th states.
(November 8) Montana becomes the 41st state.
(November 11) Washington becomes the 42nd state.
FURTHER WESTERN EXPANSION (1890S–MID-20TH CENTURY)
(May 2) Oklahoma Territory is organized.
(July 3) Idaho becomes the 43rd state.
(July 10) Wyoming becomes the 44th state.
(January 4) Utah becomes the 45th state.
Congress passes the Newlands Resolution to annex the Hawaiian Islands after the Spanish-American War. The resolution comes at the request of the local government, made up mainly of American and European businessmen. Five years earlier these men overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii, following a half-century of American sugar interests gradually increasing their control over Hawaiian economic and political life. The Territory of Hawaii is granted self-government in 1900.
Under the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War, the United States pays Spain $20 million for Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands. Spain also relinquishes sovereignty over Cuba but doesn't cede the island.
The Anti-Imperialist League is established to oppose American territorial expansion, especially the acquisition of the Philippines. Although the league supports expansion based on commercial, religious, or humanitarian grounds, its members believe that annexing "backward" tropical areas will mean abandoning American ideals of self-government and isolationism. They are overshadowed by a younger group of progressives coming into power, especially after the 1900 presidential election. League members include Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, former U.S. president Grover Cleveland, and labor leader Samuel Gompers.
War breaks out between the Philippines and the United States. It lasts until 1902 when the Filipinos are defeated. The Philippines is granted autonomy in 1916, self-government in 1934, and independence in 1946.
The United States gains control of a portion of the South Pacific island chain of Samoa, which is dubbed American Samoa, in a settlement with Britain and Germany. American Samoa is made a formal territory in 1929.
The United States annexes Wake Island in the north Pacific. The first human settlement on the island occurs in 1934 when Pan American Airways builds a village to service flights on its U.S.–China route. In 1950 President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur meet on the island to discuss the Korean War.
The Platt Amendment to the Army Appropriations Bill stipulates conditions for the withdrawal of troops stationed in Cuba since the Spanish-American War, giving the United States economic and military claims to the island. Despite Cuban resistance, the provisions become part of the Cuban constitution in 1902, making Cuba a U.S. protectorate. The act is repealed by a treaty in 1934, except for the provision allowing the United States to maintain a naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Today this notorious base is home to prisoners accused of terrorist activities against the United States.
In the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, Britain gives the United States extensive rights to build and operate a canal through Central America. In 1902 Panamanians protest when the United States sends troops to Panama to keep train lines open.
The United States Supreme Court rules in several cases, collectively called the "Insular Cases," that full constitutional rights do not automatically follow the flag, i.e., extend to all areas under American control. The court gives the president and Congress a wide berth in foreign affairs, especially in the territories acquired after the Spanish-American War.
The United States leases the Panama Canal Zone for $10 million plus an annual rent of $250,000. The Canal Zone reverts to Panama in 1999.
The citizens of Indian Country fail to convince Congress to admit them as the state of Sequoyah.
(November 16) Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory are combined as Oklahoma, the 46th state.
(January 12) New Mexico becomes the 47th state.
(February 14) Arizona becomes the 48th state, the last new state until 1959.
The District of Alaska is organized as Alaska Territory.
The United States purchases the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million out of fear that an enemy combatant will seize the islands as a submarine base during World War I. The inhabitants of the U.S. Virgin Islands become United States citizens in 1927.
The United States acquires Kingman's Reef in the North Pacific and later uses it as an airplane refueling station. Today the area is uninhabited.
THE MODERN ERA (1940S–PRESENT)
The Philippines becomes independent.
The United States acquires the Northern Mariana Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, formerly United Nations Trust Territories. These areas became self-governing U.S. commonwealths in 1986.
The United States acquires the Republic of Palau, formerly a United Nations Trust Territory, which becomes a self-governing republic in 1994.
The United States acquires the Republic of the Marshall Islands, formerly a United Trust Territory, which becomes a self-governing republic in 1986.
(January 3) Alaska becomes the 49th state.
(August 21) Hawaii becomes the 50th state. Congress had discussed statehood as far back as 1935 and 1937, but Southerners expressed outraged that a territory with a non-white majority population would be given the same status as mainland Americans.
Under the Boundary Treaty, Mexico transfers 2,710 acres (1,100 hectares) of land to the United States, in return for the transfer of 2,082 acres (845 hectares) to Mexico, including the town of Rio Rico, Texas.
The Carter-Torrijas Treaty, signed by President Jimmy Carter, provides for the return of the Panama Canal to Panama in 2000.
(December 31) The Panama Canal Zone reverts to Panama.