Chapter 2 - Colonial Era and Territorial Expansion
Genealogists' Guide to North America
Table of Contents
Why should a genealogist also have some knowledge of history? Historians record events and often interpret those events, comparing them to other events taking place, attitudes of the day, and the significance of that event in the course of human history. Genealogists are historians, gathering events such as dates and places in a specialized area of historical research, namely human relationships.
As we gather family information, we find that there are reasons and attitudes involved in why individuals lived in a particular place in a particular era. We realize that immigration is a result of events taking place in various parts of the world. If we understand these events, we begin to understand our ancestors and rather than statistical entities, they begin to take on life and meaning to us. Their attitudes, beliefs, values, morals, prejudices, and fears define their humanity and often shape our own values.
Before Columbus arrived in the New World, an indigenous population of millions covered most of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean - our area of interest. But after Columbus returned to Europe with news of his discovery, Europeans realized the importance of a new territory rich for discovery, conquest, and ripe with untold riches. America presented great opportunity for land-starved Europe. The abundance of gold, silver, coal, timber, whales, fish in great abundance in the Grand Banks, cocoa, sugar cane, cotton, potatoes, beans and myriads of commodities not known or easy available in Europe, led to rapid migration and exploitation.
We know that immigrants came to America for freedom and promises of wealth. They came for economic, religious, and political freedom. In Europe ownership of land was nearly impossible except for the very wealthy or those of noble birth or by the crown.
The Native Americans did not have land ownership. They possessed land, but it was in many cases transitory. Right of possession established boundaries between tribes. If the tribe moved, the land became available for another tribe to occupy. Much land was neutral and used for migration and hunting, not for habitation.
Men with money or with connections would be granted royal charters to bring settlers. These charters were given for regions that we know as colonies. The settlers brought the European concept of land ownership and land was then deeded and settlers bought or homesteaded the land. In the mind of the settler, this granted absolute right to the boundaries of that deed and if a Native American was there also, he was to be evicted – by force if necessary. This clash of the European philosophy of ownership versus the physical occupation philosophy of the Native American caused conflict. The settler felt a legal right to the property. The Native American did not recognize legal ownership. To the Native American possession was all that mattered.
In North America, the native population was viewed as either a threat or a nuisance. This was a population that for the European immigrants needed to be exterminated, assimilated or relocated. Co-existence didn't work. Whatever the motive for the conflict, it bode ill for the Native American who was constantly pushed westward or onto reservations.
In Central America and in the Caribbean, the indigenous population fared even worse. The native population was a ready source of manual labor to be gained by enslavement. When the indigenous population became scarce, then African slaves were brought in to supplement and replace them.
Unfortunately, throughout the New World, the population was soon decimated by an enemy far worse than the muskets and swords of the Spanish and other settlers. This was disease, in particular smallpox, which caused the death of millions of Native Americans. In return, Europe gained great resources - Minerals, plants and animals. In history, this is known as the Columbian Exchange.
It is easy to judge those who came from Europe by today's standards. But this in unfair. They were the products of a civilization and era vastly different than our own. Their values were not the same as ours. We can't really understand how they felt or what they believed. My response to my history students who said "If I lived then, I wouldn't have done those things." was "Yes, you would have. You would have believed and lived just like the rest of your community."
As a history teacher, I was often appalled at how little so many Americans know about the formation of their nation. Many believe that the thirteen colonies were all that existed and that the nation grew from these colonies. They don’t realize that Britain also owned the colonies of Florida and Nova Scotia. They don’t know that Texas and California were part of the Spanish Colony of Mexico. They don’t know that what is now most of the New England coast from Maine down to Maryland was once part of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland, or that all of present day New Jersey was once a Swedish Colony. They have heard of the Northwest Territory, but can’t describe it.
The first recorded European contact in the Americas was that of Christopher Columbus in 1492. He landed in the Bahamas, thinking that he had arrived in far eastern Asia. He made four voyages to the Americas, landing in various Caribbean islands and even on the coast of Venezuela. He established the first European Settlement on the Island of Hispaniola, which began the era of Spanish Colonization of the New World.
Of historical note, there is evidence that Columbus was not the first explorer to set foot in the New World. A Scandinavian settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador dates to the year 1000. Stones with inscribed writing indicate that the Welsh may have explored the Mississippi River territory in the 1100’s. (This is highly controversial) In any event we know that Columbus was not the first European, but he was the first recorded European that created permanent settlement.
The following is an overview of colonization of the New World by European Nations. In the discussion of each state, these colonies will receive further elaboration.
Source - Facts on File, Inc. 2001
Three types of colonies existed in the British Empire in America, charter colonies, proprietary colonies and royal colonies.
- In a charter colony, the King granted a charter to the colonial government establishing the rules under which the colony was to be governed. The colonies of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, and Georgia were charter colonies.
- A proprietary colony was a colony in which one or more individuals, usually land owners, remaining subject to their parent nation. In the thirteen colonies, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina were proprietary colonies. Maine and Nova Scotia were proprietary provinces as was Barbados.
- A royal or crown colony was ruled by a governor appointed by the Monarch. Virginia, New York, and New Hampshire were crown colonies. Other examples were Bermuda, Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, and Newfoundland.
There were other British Colonies that either failed or were absorbed by other colonies. The following list identifies them:
- Nova Scotia Colony - For a short time from 1629 to 1632, Nova Scotia was part of the Kingdom of Scotland and was known as New Scotland.
- East New Jersey Colony - 1683 to 1697. A Scottish Colony absorbed into the New Jersey Colony.
- New Albion Colony – parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1642 settlement was attempted but failed. The colony went bankrupt and absorbed by the New Jersey Colony.
- Roanoke Colony - In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh led an expedition to what is now North Carolina and placed settlers on Roanoke Island in Albemarle Sound. This colony failed. In 1587 another attempt was made to settle on Roanoke Island. However the previous settlers had trouble with local natives, the Croatans, who refused to negotiate with the new settlers. 115 men, women and children were left on Roanoke Island. One of these children was Virginia Dare born on August 18, 1587 on Roanoke Island the first British child born in America. Contact with the colony was lost because England was at war with Spain and all available ships were fighting the Spanish Armada. After three years, the English returned to find that the colony had disappeared without a trace. Many theories have been brought forward. There is a possibility that Native Americans on Cape Hatteras absorbed them because of drought and famine on the island.
- Plymouth Colony founded in 1620 merged with the the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.
- The Province of Maine granted in 1622 was sold to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1677. It eventually split off from Massachusetts and became a state in the United States.
- Salem Colony founded in 1628 merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629.
- Saybrook Colony founded 1635 merged with the Connecticut Colony in 1644.
- New Haven Colony founded 1638 merged with the Connecticut Colony in 1665
- Quebec Colony was called Canada by the French as part of New France. Ceded to Britain in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris. Became Canada East in the Province of Canada from 1763 until 1841. Became Canada West in Upper Canada from 1841 to 1867, then Quebec from 1867 to date.
- East and West Florida became Spanish territory in 1531. Several settlements failed until St Augustine in 1565, the oldest continually inhabited city in the Continental United States. Only San Juan, Puerto Rico, founded in 1521 is older. In 1763, the British acquired Florida as a Colony in exchange for Havana, Cuba. Florida remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution and the Treaty of Paris gave Florida back to the Spanish in 1783. Parts of West Florida were annexed by the United States in 1810 and Spain ceded the rest of its territory in 1821 through the Adams-Onis Treaty.
- The island of St John separated from Nova Scotia in 1769 and became Prince Edward Island in 1798.
- New Brunswick separated from Nova Scotia in 1784
- Ontario separated from Quebec in 1791 and became the Province of Upper Canada until 1841 when it became Canada West in the Province of Canada. It became Ontario on July 1, 1847 by the British North America Act
- Colony of Vancouver Island was founded 1843 and merged with British Columbia in 1866
- Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands was founded 1852 and merged with Vancouver Island in 1863
On July 4, 1776, thirteen British Colonies declared independence and created the United States of America.
- In 1867, the Canadian colonies became self-governing by the British North America Act.
The Dutch first settled in South America in the 1590’s. The Dutch settled a number of Islands in the Caribbean starting with St Croix and Topago in 1620. Other islands were added which constituted the Dutch West Indies. In 1954 the Netherlands Antilles gained independence. Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten remain as countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In 1609, the Dutch East India Company commissioned English explorer Henry Hudson who, in an attempt to find the so-called northwest passage to the Indies, discovered and claimed for the company parts of the present-day United States and Canada. The first Dutch settlement in the Americas was founded in 1615 near present-day Albany, New York. The Dutch claimed an area called New Netherland which included a small part of the present locations of Eastern New York including part of Long Island, western Connecticut, Eastern Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey, and a very small part of northeastern Maryland and northern Delaware.
Although the Dutch formed many settlements in New Netherland, the area was a mixture of Europeans of several countries. Through various wars, the Dutch lost ownership of New Netherland to the British in 1664, regained it in 1665 thru 1667 and returned to the British in the Treaty of Breda. The Dutch regained the territory in 1673-1674 by finally surrendered it to the British in the Treaty of Westminster .
The colony of New Sweden (1638-1655) was located along the Delaware River with settlements in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The colony was conquered by the Dutch who perceived the presence of Finnish and Swedish colonists as a threat to their interests in the New Netherland Colony. Scandinavian settlers brought a very important element into North America. They brought the design for the Scandinavian log house which became the model for American log cabins.
The Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy belonged to the Swedish from 1784 to 1878.
Source: Nova Scotia's Electric Scrapbook (http:/www.ns1763.ca)
In 1524. Frances I, King of France sent explorers to the New World hoping to find a route to the Pacific. The area from Newfoundland down to Florida was explored. The French established many communities which failed or were conquered both in what is now the United States and Canada and settled on many Islands in the Caribbean of which some still exist as independent entities such as Haiti. The islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante, St. Barthélemy. and part of St. Martin are still part of France.
Quebec Province in Canada is part of British Canada but the language and customs of many of its residence are French. The same holds true in New Orleans, Louisiana, which has a French Culture. The court system of Louisiana is based on French instead of English Law. Instead of English style counties, Louisiana has French style parishes.
In 1501 explorers claimed Newfoundland and Labrador for the Portuguese Crown and attempted to colonize with the fishing industry. The colony was abandoned in 1507. The climatic difference between Portugal and the colony were factors along with resistance from the Native American population of the region.
In 1732 Russia claimed the Pacific Northwest as Russian territory. In 1784 the Russians created a permanent settlement in Three Saints Bay in Alaska. The Russians exploited Alaska for the fur trade, but in 1867 the trade had greatly diminished. The sea otter was nearing extinction and fur bearing land animals were greatly depleted. At this time Russia sold Alaska to the United States for 7.2 million dollars. At the time this purchase was jeered as Seward’s folly. There was a great protest from the indigenous population who claimed ownership. Although these were not permanent settlements, the Russians also had trading posts in the Aleutian Islands, Hawaii and California.
Beginning with the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus, over nearly four centuries the Spanish Empire would expand across: most of present day Central America, the Caribbean islands, and Mexico; much of the rest of North America including the Southwestern, Southern coastal, and California Pacific Coast regions of the United States.
In the early 19th century the revolutionary movements resulted in the independence of most Spanish colonies in America, except for Cuba and Puerto Rico, given up in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. Spain's loss of these last territories politically ended Spanish colonization in America.
For the North American continent there were three main area of colonial settlement; the Eastern Seaboard (present-day Canada and the United States); the Caribbean (including the Florida peninsula and surrounding Atlantic waters, and the Western Seaboard of California and Central America. From the Eastern Seaboard - population moved increasingly westward, while the Western Seaboard and Latin America moved northward and eastward.
When these movements met, conflict occurred. Territorial disputes such as ownership of Texas, the border between Canada and the United States, the ownership of California and the Southwest United States were examples. These conflicts sometimes resulted in warfare such as the Mexican-American War (War with Mexico).
On the Eastern Seaboard, the 13 colonies that declared independence from Britain were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Royal charter established the boundaries of the thirteen colonies. Border disputes often arose. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon surveyed the Mason–Dixon Line(or Mason and Dixon's Line) between 1763 and 1767. The survey formed a demarcation line among four U.S. States, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (then part of Virginia). The Missouri Compromise of 1820 made the first official use of the term Mason-Dixon line and became a symbolic line separating the North from the South.
In February 1779 during the American Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark of the Virginia Militia captured Vincennes, Indiana from British commander Henry Hamilton. Virginia capitalized on Clark's success by laying claim to the whole of the Old Northwest, calling it Illinois County, Virginia, until 1784, when Virginia ceded its land claims to the federal government.
The land officially left British Hands in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris and became part of the U.S. From 1763 to 1783, the territory was British (Part of the Province of Quebec Canada). Before 1763, the territory was French and the region was called New France.
The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, more commonly known as the Northwest Territory, was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 13, 1787, until March 1, 1803, when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Ohio.
The Congress of the Confederation enacted the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 to provide for the administration of the territories and set rules for admission as a state. The territory included all the land of the United States west of Pennsylvania and northwest of the Ohio River. It covered all of the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin as well as the northeastern part of Minnesota. After 4 Jul 1800 only Ohio was still in the Northwest Territory. All other included states were placed in the Indiana Territory, but were unofficially known as their own territories.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 encompassed all or part of 14 current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The land purchased contained all of present day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. The Oklahoma Panhandle and southwestern portions of Kansas and Louisiana were still claimed by Spain at the time of the Purchase. In addition, the Purchase contained small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, comprises around 23% of current U.S. territory. Ownership prior to the purchase was as follows: 1801-1803 France - Before 1801 Spain.
The Alaska Purchase was the acquisition of the Alaska territory by the United States from Russia in the year 1867 by a treaty ratified by the Senate. The purchase, made at the initiative of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, gained 586,412 square miles of new United States territory. Originally organized as the Department of Alaska, the area was successively the District of Alaska and the Alaska Territory before becoming the modern state of Alaska upon being admitted to the Union as a state in 1959.
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