Welcome to American History

Welcome to all. “American history,” or its more precise name “U.S. history,” will become your favorite course. There is something in this subject for everyone: heroes, villains, criminal trials, funny mistakes, competitions, politics, literature, gold, silver, war, and peace. You name it, American history has it. We are going to have some fun in this course.

We will be using and build the online conservative encyclopedia at Conservapedia during this course. Please go there and familiarize yourself with it, and obtain a free login ID (click the upper right-hand link there).

The key to learning history is to find what you like and build on that. Learn what you like and then learn everything else that is connected with it. Since everything in history is somehow connected with everyone else, you can learn all of history just by starting with what you like. If you are most interested in religion, then learn about the 13 colonies based on their different attitudes towards religion. If you are most interested in one colony, then learn about it and how it relates to other colonies. If you like military history, then use that as your starting point.

The very first words of the Mayflower Compact were “In ye name of God Amen.” Just as our Nation’s founders started with a prayer, so do we. Prayer clears out the noise in our minds. We are looking for knowledge and inspiration here, and that comes from God. In most countries parents do not have the freedom even to have a class like this. The main reason we have freedoms is because Americans are more devoted to religion than in other countries.

Maybe we could write most of American history just by predicting what would probably happen. Imagine a big chunk of land in between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. There are people who live on the land. Ask yourself: why would Europeans want to go there? What reasons can you think of?

Search for gold. Convert the natives to Christianity. Conquer the natives. Obtain freedom. Why do your parents homeschool? For some of the same reasons. Go there for the same reason people climb a mountain: because it is there! Escape where you are. Set up a special religious community. Meet new people and make new friends. Trade goods with the people. Learn from the people. Have adventures and then write about them.

What is likely to happen if a bunch of Europeans go this land? Conflicts with the natives. Conflicts with other European countries. Conflicts with the mother country that sent the settlers. New opportunities for improvements, for new products, for new businesses, for new religions, for new systems of government.

Who is going to pay for exploration and settlement? Kings. Investors. Do-gooders. Churches. Mostly nobody.

Who is going to do the hard labor needed to set up a new community, like chopping down trees, working the farms, constructing buildings? There is almost no money to pay anyone. Families might do some. Indentured servants. Slaves.

It also helps to look for unifying themes to organize events in your mind. One theme that helps explain American history works well is the overall expansion of Christianity, for 2000 years. Why did Christopher Columbus and other explorers risk their lives to come to the New World? To spread Christianity. Why did families then risk their lives to settle here? To establish religious communities free of persecution. Two hundred years later, why did Massachusetts prohibit slavery and why did abolitionists President John Quincy Adams devote their lives to ending slavery? Because their religious values told them slavery was wrong.

There are other possible themes also. How about the desire to make more money, or make some money? How about the urge for self-government, to be in charge of oneself free from a monarchy? How about the advance of technology and its affect on how we live? There are many possible themes to American history and we will have fun debates about them.

From 1789 until today, we have had an American President. He is not more important than others. If I had to name the ten most important Americans in history, I would only include one president in the list (the first one, George Washington). But memorizing the list of 43 presidents can help you organize all the other facts. When someone asks me what was happening in 1962, then I think of who was president and then remember the issues of that time. The presidents become like a drawer, one per president, filled with issues and events.

But before 1789 there was no president. How are we going to organize that? One way is to focus on the three most important colonies, Virginia (1607), Massachusetts (1620) and Pennsylvania (1681), and relate the other 11 colonies and events to them. Another way is to look at the battles that occurred before the American Revolution, such as the French and Indian War in 1754-60.

Regardless, by the end of this course, you will be able to hear an event and describe what was going on at that time. You will be able to tell me what happened before the event, and what happened afterwards.

Don’t try to memorize hundreds of dates. Instead, when you see a date, think what happened before and after it. There are only about ten dates that you need to know. All other dates, such as those in the event list, are there just for the purpose of ordering events. For example, no one will ask you when Georgia was founded as a colony. But you may be asked whether it was the first or last colony founded. (It was the last colony established.) Another example: Quebec was founded in 1608. Don’t remember the 1608, but remember that Quebec was founded one year after Jamestown was established (1607 – one of the few dates you should memorize!)

If you have a good memory, then memorize the facts. If you have a poor memory, then focus on the trends and movements in history. This course gives you four different ways to learn the material: (1) the lectures, (2) the textbook, (3) the event list and (4) the homework assignments. Different students will learn better from some approaches than others. It’s your job to find what works best for you. At the end your progress will be measured by multiple choice exams.

This class is a different approach to American history than most courses that take all year. Learning in a simple and quick manner can sometimes be better. It’s easier to see how events relate to each other. It’s easier to see the big picture. When you want to find your way somewhere, do you want a road map that has every single detail and building on it? No, that is too hard to read. You want a map that has the important things on it. Same with studying history: don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by unimportant details. Focus on the big stuff.

Exploration

Europeans began to expand their horizons – literally. They fought the Holy Crusades from 1095 to 1291 to protect Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem against Moslem attacks. Europeans wanted to expand the world of Christianity, and spread the Gospel. Meanwhile, European science and geography continued to advance, such that they knew they could reach the Orient by sailing West around the world.

About 1000 A.D., the Scandinavian Leif Ericson discovered Vinland, which is probably present New England, and founded a small colony that failed. Nothing further came of that effort. Because this exploration amounted to nothing, it is not particularly significant.

By 1482, a determined Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus sought financing to sail west in order to reach India. He tried Portugal, but it had its own successful explorers. Why would Portugal need Columbus? Finally, in 1492, Spain funded his effort in 1492.

Columbus set sail in three ships. First sighted land in late 1492. On Christmas eve, December 24, 1492, one of Columbus’s ship, the Santa Maria, reached the island of Haiti. Columbus named the settlement “La Navidad,” meaning “The Nativity,” and dropped off 40 men with a promise to return to them the next year. Columbus then wrote to the King and Queen of Spain the following in his Journal: “In all the world there can be no better or gentler people. Your Highnesses should feel great joy, because presently they will be Christians, and instructed in the good manners of your realms.”

But he had grossly underestimated the size of the world, and when he reached San Salvador, Haiti (Hispaniola) and Cuba he thought he reached the Far East. So he called the natives Indians. He left some men there but they were killed by the natives. Columbus reported back that new people had been found to evangelize with Christianity.

Soon Spain and Portugal divided the Americas with the Line of Demarcation, drawn by the Pope. The Treaty of Tordesillas moved the line in 1493. It was a North-South line that gave Spain North America and the western part of South America, but Portugal received Brazil. That’s why Brazilians speak Portugese to this day.

Columbus sailed on three subsequent voyages, but never achieved his goal and died discredited. What was his motivation? Primarily to spread Christianity, but also to find gold to reward his sponsors and fund further expeditions. Ultimately, his purpose focused on a dream to liberate Jerusalem, as the Crusades attempted.

What influence did Columbus have? He gave Spain Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba by 1515. Spain then settled Florida (St. Augustine), and later Sante Fe, New Mexico. Spanish Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs in central Mexico (1521), and Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incas of Peru (1531). They seized much gold in the process.

But while Spanish soldiers came to America, Spanish women did not. So there were not many distinct, permanent Spanish settlements. Also, the Spanish were also entirely subservient to their King back in Europe. Separate governments did not develop.

Other European powers were exploring North America also. The French explored the St. Lawrence and settled Quebec, where French is still spoken to this day. The French also explored the Mississippi, and settled the towns of Saint Louis (named after a French king) and New Orleans.

The Dutch explored and settled the Hudson River, and calling that region New Netherlands and buying and naming Manhattan New Amsterdam.

The Swedish settled in Delaware; Germans settled later in Pennsylvania.

Explorer John Cabot discovered the North American coastline for England in 1497. But no settlements were attempted by the English for about another 100 years.

The reason is that North America didn’t have what the explorers were looking for. America lacked valuable natural resources. There was no gold, which is what Europe wanted. In 1576, the British explorer Martin Frobisher even hauled 200 tons of material back to England, hoping it was gold. It wasn’t.

There wasn’t anything else of value to Europe either. New England was too rocky near the coast to develop farms. The mid-Atlantic region or Chesapeake area, where Maryland and Virginia are today, was infested with malaria. Winters were cold, and summers were hot.

There was no livestock – no horses and no cattle, until the Spanish imported them. Florida was a swamp, and did not even have orange trees until the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon planted them in 1515.

North America was a joke to many in England. Its Parliament passed a law in 1597 authorizing the deportations of convicted criminals to America and other colonies. In 1605, a satirical book entitled “Eastward Ho!” was published that mocked attempts to settle in Virginia.

Think about it. Would your family uproot and move, at great risk to your lives, to a place that had no civilization or anything of value? Do we see families moving to the middle of the desert in Arizona, or to cheap land in the middle of Wyoming? No.

England’s first settlement of North America was in 1585, on Roanoke Island in Virginia. More than 100 families settled there. In a few years they had all disappeared, and it’s a mystery to this day what happened. They could have died from disease or starvation. They could have been killed by Indians. No one knows. It’s called the “Lost Colony.”

About the same time, however, England had a huge success in Europe. Spain had ruled the high seas for most of the 1500s, until England destroyed the Spanish Armada in 1588. That left England with the potential to gain control of the oceans and world trade over the seas. England could protect its colonies against other European powers.

Settlements

Some Englishmen invested money in what was called a “joint stock company,” which was similar to a modern-day corporation, for the purpose of finding gold or other treasures. Called the “Virginia Company,” it established the first permanent settlement for England in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. It was a disaster and the investors never received a profit. The settlers lacked a common purpose and wasted their time searching for treasure, or simply doing nothing at all. They almost starved to death.

1607 is one of the few dates you should memorize. This was after the Spanish had settled in Florida, but before the French had settled in Quebec. So remember the sequence: Spanish, English, and then French.

From 1607-1611, the Jamestown settlement lived under socialism, whereby the group shared its food with everyone no matter how much or little he worked. This economic system was a complete failure as no one had any incentive to do any work. John Smith arrived from England and he installed a conservative economic system: “don’t work, don’t eat!” Magically, by 1614 there was suddenly plenty to eat.

But Jamestown settlers were there to find fortune, and there was not any gold or silver. Indians had discovered tobacco and Europeans were beginning to become addicted on it. Many Europeans recognized that tobacco was bad for them, and some wanted to prohibit it. In 1613, Englishman John Rolfe, who married the Indian Pocahontas in Virginia, began growing tobacco to export to Europe. The King banned the growing of tobacco in England, so Rolfe had no competition. Cash began pouring in for the tobacco, and this so-called “cash crop” became highly profitable for the Jamestown settlers.

Despite profiting from the sale of tobacco, the Jamestown settlement had other difficulties. It had made peace with Indian Chief Powhatan, whose daughter Pocahontas married settler John Rolfe. But after Powhatan died, his brother led a sudden attack on the settlers in 1622, massacring 357 out of a total of only 1200.

But Indian strife was only one of many problems. Labor was in short supply for working the fields. Settlers began importing indentured servants, who received free travel to the colonies in exchange for a promise to work for seven years. But Virginia also turned to a cheaper approach to labor: importing slaves from West Africa beginning in 1619 to work the crops.

In 1624 King James (of “King James Bible” fame) took back the Virginia colony and established it as a royal charter. King James was left with a problem colony that enslaved workers and grew tobacco. More trouble lied ahead. In 1676, Nathanial Bacon was a Virginia settler who decided to take the law into his own hands. He first massacred Indians in western Virginia, then took his small army of rebels to Jamestown, where he burned it down because the governor had refused to allow him to kill the Indians. Bacon himself soon died from a disease. The governor returned and hung two dozen of his supporters. How Virginia produced four of our first five presidents is amazing. You can think about this and answer on the homework assignment.

By then there were many other settlements in North America. The most important were two settlements in Massachusetts, which has a much harsher climate than Virginia, particularly in the wintertime. But there motivation was religious, not financial. Puritans were unhappy with the direction of the Church of England, feeling it was too much like the Catholic Church. Two different groups of Puritans set out for North America. One group wanted to purify the Church of England by remaining in the Church but in a more perfect community. The other group wanted to separate completely from the Church of England. Both groups landed by chance within 100 miles of each other in Massachusetts.

The first group, the “Pilgrims”, set sail from Plymouth, England and intended to land near the mouth of the Hudson River (now New York City), which was the northern part of the Virginia Company’s territory. But their ship, the “Mayflower”, was blown off course and they landed up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 1620. Outside of any official government, they decided on the boat to establish the first civil government in North America by signing the Mayflower Compact. They landed in December, and half died due to disease in their first New England winter. But the following spring a friendly Indian introduced them to corn, or maize, the marvelous food discovered by Indians. They had a plentiful harvest that fall, and celebrated their first Thanksgiving with the Indians that fall. In 1623, their new Governor William Bradford gave every member a plot of land and allowed the free market to develop. By 1624, the community was doing so well that it was actually making more food than it could consume and began exporting its corn.

Corn is a tremendous contribution by Indians to the world that increasingly sustains peoples worldwide. Cheap and easy to grow, corn has become one of the most popular foods worldwide, rivaling rice and soybeans. For that we can thank the Indians.

Encouraged by the success of the Pilgrims, a new groups called the Massachusetts Bay Company obtained a royal charter and sent a larger group of Puritans to settle in New England, though this time with the purpose of purifying the Church of England with a more perfect community than in England itself. It was well-financed and led by the very capable John Winthrop, who had been trained at Oxford. It landed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1629 and immediately moved to Boston Harbor. It never looked back, thriving almost immediately despite the harsh winter climate. Within five years the Great Migration of religiously motivated settlers followed them from England. Their numbers and power grew. By the 1640s, the community was participating in robust trade by sea with England, the West Indies and on occasion West Africa.

What is a “colony”? “Colony” defined: “a body of people living in a new territory but retaining ties with the parent state.” (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

The growing colonies in Massachusetts and Virginia could not have been more different from each other, and it is remarkable they ever joined the same country. Massachusetts was highly religious and motivated by faith. Virginia was marginally religious and motivated by money. Massachusetts did not allow slavery. Virginia welcomed it. Massachusetts grew the Indian crop of corn. Virginia grew the Indian crop of tobacco. Massachusetts settlers made greater efforts to get along with Indians and treat them fairly. Massachusetts attracted new settlers based on religion. Virginia attracted new settlers based on the “headright system,” by which land (usually 50 acres) was given to those who paid for the passage to the colony of an immigrant, who usually agreed to work as an “indentured servant” for free for fixed number of years on the land.

The stark contrast between Massachusetts and Virginia would ultimately lead, nearly 250 years later, to the Civil War.

While Virginia institution of slavery was spreading to the colonies of Maryland, Carolina and, later, Georgia, Massachusetts was spreading a different sort of institution: religious intensity. Roger Williams was an extraordinary individual of such great faith that found even the Puritans lacking in their treatment of Indians. Williams also disagreed with how the Puritans combined government and religion, and had even executed several Christians based on differences with the Puritan faith. Williams was fabulous with languages and learned to communicate with many different Indian tribes, and even lived with them at times in spite of the danger. He left the Puritans in Massachusetts and started the colony of Rhode Island, which to this day has prided itself on its independence. Rhode Island was the only state to refuse to support a colonial tax on imports after the Revolution, and the only colony to refuse to ratify the Constitution until long after George Washington was President. Rhode Island, under Roger Williams’ direction, separated state government from religion. No mandatory church attendance, and no funding of churches with tax revenues were allowed in Rhode Island.

But while Roger Williams was highly moral, others in Rhode Island made it the biggest importer of slaves in all the colonies. So censoring religion may have a price. In contrast, in the larger Massachusetts, taxes funded religious institutions for nearly 200 years, until at least the 1830s. It successfully prohibited slavery. Another devout Christian who disagreed with the Puritans and left them was named Anne Hutchinson. She, however, was later killed by Indians.

Let’s turn to the textbook, page 75, under “Rhode Island.” The textbook says, “This belief [by Roger Williams] in the separation of church and state became a cornerstone of the American Constitution in 1787.” That is completely false. Roger Williams was long dead by 1787, and there is separation of church and state in the Constitution. Some people want to keep religious out of government, but the First Amendment only prohibits the establishment of a national church.

In between Massachusetts and Virginia there was a third approach: that taken by Pennsylvania. William Penn was another extraordinary Englishman. He converted to become a Quaker in England and began practicing that religion in violation of English law. He was arrested and prosecuted, but the jury refused to convict him. The king owed his father money, and gave the son what is today Pennsylvania. It was nothing but woods at the time. But William Penn founded his colony based on one principle: religious freedom for all. He advertised in Europe and attracted peoples of many nationalities in addition to the English.

Penn was very kind to the Indians and soon had the most popular colony in America. Philadelphia became America’s greatest city, surpassing Boston in population in the 1700s. Only Pennsylvania and Maryland survived in the long-term under private ownership. Virtually all the other colonies were eventually taken over by the King of England, often due to troubles that arose in the colony.

There were other colonies. Pennsylvania was founded over 50 years *after* Virginia and Massachusetts. Georgia was founded over 50 *years* after Pennsylvania, which means over 100 years after Virginia and Massachusetts. Philanthropist James Oglethorpe founded Savannah in Georgia in 1733 for poor debtors in jails of England. Also created a buffer colony between South Carolina and Spanish Florida. Oglethorpe was very religious and very strict. Too strict for the King, who took over the colony in 1751. The colony was not nearly as strong and developed as the other colonies, so the other colonies did not take it very seriously.

Topic for discussion: Were the Puritans right to banish (expel) people for religious reasons?

Assignment: Go to Conservapedia and enter or improve at least 10 topics relating to this lecture. Example topics are “Mayflower Compact” or “Puritans”. The instructor will be evaluate your work based the number and quality of the entries, with feedback provided on your “Talk” page there. At the end of this course there will be recognition and ranking of the top students.