America in the 1600s: History & Timeline

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  • 0:03 Colonial Settlements
  • 2:37 Conflicts
  • 4:03 Many Firsts
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

America in the 1600s was a collection of newly established settlements and long-established Native American tribes and nations. This century would see the start of many conflicts between European colonists and Native Americans and a number of firsts that became the start of a nation.

Colonial Settlements

The United States which has become a financial and military superpower had meager beginnings. From simple exploration expeditions to eventual small settlements, pre-revolution America looked nothing like the country it is today.

Although Europeans had been exploring what was then known as 'the new world' well before the 1600's, this particular century saw the settlement and firm establishment of a number of colonies, many of which would eventually become states. The European countries that held much of the settled territory were Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Spain. There had been several attempts to settle this vast North American continent. The first that took root was Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia. The Jamestown settlement was settled by British settlers in 1607.

Soon after the Jamestown colony was established, settlers from the Netherlands began settling the area that is now known as New York. The 1620s were a busy decade of settlement as Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands sent settlers to colonize various parts of North America, including Massachusetts, Maine, and present-day Florida. It became a competition between these European countries as they all tried to claim and settle land in the new world in hopes of gathering resources and riches.

Not all settlers journeyed to America seeking riches, however. There were several groups, such as the Puritan separatist group, better known as the Pilgrims, who were Protestant reformers and were dissatisfied with the Protestant Church in England, so they decided to leave and start their own religious community in America. The Pilgrims traveled on the Mayflower, established a government with the signing of the Mayflower Compact, and settled the Plymouth Colony in 1620, which is located in present-day Massachusetts.

Many other settlements were founded in the 1600s, including the Province of Maryland, the Connecticut Colony, Delaware and New Haven Colonies, New England Confederation, New Netherland, New Amsterdam (now New York), and the Province of Pennsylvania. America certainly saw much progress during this century, as firm footholds were established with the start of European colonization.

During the settlement attempts of the 1600s and previous centuries, Africans and Indians were used for labor purposes. The first workers were indentured servants, or people who would work for a set period of time to earn their freedom from servitude. Soon slaves began to be utilized as a form of cheap labor. These individuals were essential to the colonization of America, as they played a huge part in the building of structures in the settlements and the growth of necessary agriculture.


One must keep in mind that these European colonists were settling in lands and territory that had long been inhabited by Native American tribes and nations. Native Americans had lived in these areas for centuries, so the newcomers were considered invaders by many tribes-people. The settlers, however, did not see it the same way. This difference in opinion often resulted in conflicts and wars between Native Americans and the colonists.

Jamestown settlers clashed with the Powhatan people who believed that the settlers presented a threat to their tribal territory. The marriage between Powhatan princess, Pocahontas, and settler, John Rolfe, in 1614 would result in eight years of peace between the groups.

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