Tradition has it that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, working for the crown of Spain, “discovered” America when his three ships landed on a small island in the Caribbean in 1492. Historians now know that Norsemen explored the eastern coast of Canada and perhaps parts of the northeastern United States centuries before Columbus. Some theorists believe Chinese ships reached the Pacific coast of the continent before Columbus made his discovery. Nevertheless, Columbus’s voyage led to an era lasting several centuries during which several European powers vied for control of “the New World.”
Spanish settlers founded the oldest city in the present-day United States, St, Augustine, Florida, as well as the second oldest city, Santa Fe, New Mexico. France founded cities like St. Louis and New Orleans. The Dutch were the initial founders of New York. Nevertheless, by the 1760s, Great Britain, through settlement and conquest, gained control over the Atlantic seaboard of North America. Over a period of more than 100 years, thirteen separate colonies established themselves, each with a different history, religious makeup, and economy. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island formed the “New England” colonies. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware made up the middle colonies. Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia constituted the south.
During the more than 150 years of the British colonial era, colonists maintained ties with the mother country. They spoke the English language, applied English legal traditions, and worshipped in any of a number of religious institutions that had their origin in Great Britain. With an ocean between the two countries, however, these ties would not be enough to prevent the development of a distinct American character. Several generations of living under minimal control of the government in London has instilled in the Americans a lack of tolerance for direction from on high. Trade between Great Britain and its colonies should have brought them together, but conflict over commerce instead pulled them apart.
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