Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492 and then followed up his initial trip with three further voyages. The colony of La Isabela was established on Hispaniola in 1492 and this was followed by the first permanent European settlement at Santo Domingo in 1496.
The Italian John Cabot, working on behalf of the English crown, discovered Newfoundland in 1497.Later expeditions reached Venezuela, Brazil (Cabral), Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the Cayman Islands, Florida (Ponce de Leon), the Yucatan (de Cordoba), Mexico (Cortes), New York Bay and South Carolina.
A Frenchman Jacques Cartier explored Quebec while Hernando de Soto ventured into the interior of Florida going as far as Arkansas (where he mapped the Mississippi River). An English settlement failed to take root on Roanoke Island (the Lost Colony associated with Walter Raleigh) but in 1607 another English settlement was established at Jamestown.
The 17th saw settlements established throughout the East Coast of North America by English, French, Dutch and Swedish colonists. Spanish settlements blossomed in California and the North American South West. Over time the English would come to dominate the Dutch and Swedish colonies in New Amsterdam (soon to become New York City) and New Sweden (Delaware Valley).
Britain’s original thirteen colonies (whose foundation goes back to the reign of King James I) were divided into three groups – the New England Colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut), the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware) and the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Dominion of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia).
Pilgrim Puritan settlers set sail for North America in 1620 on the Mayflower. They harboured a deep resentment of the corrupt Church of England and bound themselves together by the influential document known as the Mayflower Compact. They set up the early Plymouth colony. A larger group who favoured reforming, rather than separating themselves from the Church of England, set up a colony at Massachusetts Bay while Puritans preferring a separation of Church and state set up the Rhode Island colony (led by Roger Williams).
Colonial population in North America in 1625 stood at less than two thousand. By 1700 this number had increased one hundred fold with the population of colonial North America reaching a value of just under two and a half million in 1775.
Three forms of colonial governments dominated in English North America:
· provincial - directly controlled by the king as crown colonies they included New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, the Carolinas, New York and New Jersey;
· proprietary - similar to provincials but with more localized control and greater civil and religious liberties they included the Southern colonies (except for the Carolina crown colonies) plus Pennsylvania and Delaware;
· charter - these colonies were created by letter patent to provide more independently run political corporations. Many of the puritan colonies are grouped in this category.