|Immigration and settlement |
From the 16th Century, the northern half of the American continent had been under the influence of the rival European powers Spain, France and Great Britain. Out of the competition between these colonial powers to develop the country during the 18th Century, first the British and then their successors the Americans, were the clear winners.
Beginnings of colonisation
The first forays into the heart of the continent had been made by the Spaniards in Mexico and the Caribbean. In 1556, St. Augustine was founded on the coast of Florida as the first continuously inhabited city on American soil. In 1609, Santa Fe followed in the present state of New Mexico. In return, the French attempted to open up the continent from the northeast via the St. Lawrence River. With the rich fishing grounds around Newfoundland already frequently visited by French fishermen (in the 16th Century), the French finally settled in today's Canadian province of Quebec in 1600. In 1608, they founded the same capital and called the area Nouvelle France. From there, they entered into the Great Lakes region, reaching the Gulf of Mexico via the river system of the Mississippi where they founded the City of Nouvelle Orleans in 1718, today's New Orleans.
The first successful settlement of the English followed on 14th May 1607, with construction of Jamestown in the Chesapeake Bay, south of what later became the capital, Washington. This first settlement had not only been the nucleus of the rich tobacco growers in the colony of Virginia, but of the entire English-speaking America. Thirteen years later, in 1620, the legendary Mayflower landed off the town of Boston with 149 people on board. Amongst them were the numerous "Pilgrim Fathers", the description given to Puritan religious refugees who were the consequent settlers of "New England". After these early days, the population living in the English colonies increased rapidly. In 1630, roughly only 5,000 colonists lived there. Those numbers rapidly rose by the year 1700 to 250,000. Up to the time of Independence (in 1776) the United States already had 2.5 million inhabitants. By around 1800, the number had increased to 5.3 million.
The development of the United States by Americans and immigrants from Europe took place mainly in an east-west direction. Their starting points were the British colonies which had developed in a narrow coastal strip along the east coast. From here, the settlers pushed westward, whereby the opening up of new areas followed similar patterns. Pioneers in the so-called 'frontier' often worked as trappers and traders as they pushed the settlements forward. Ranchers and farmers followed and only then did the founding of urban settlements and the influx of merchants and craftsmen begin. Although the areas between the Great Lakes in the north and the Gulf of Mexico had been opened up, by the French since the end of the 17th Century, they had not been populated to an appreciable extent. In 1803, substantial new land was purchased from France, an area west of the Mississippi, and settlement and economic enhancement was decisively accelerated after 1860, with the construction of the transcontinental rail lines.
The image of North America Indians is still very much determined by the mounted tribes of the Great Plains, which like the Sioux in 1876 at "Little Big Horn ", tried to resist the American army with bows and arrows. However, this precise way of life of the Indians of the plains, as mounted bison hunters, came about extremely late under the influence of the Spanish conquistadors. Through them, in 1630, the Indians had encountered the horse in the southern plains. By 1750, all the Indians of this area already had horses.
It is estimated the number of Indians in the area of present-day Canada and the United States before the arrival of Europeans was at 1 to 2 million. This Indian population was culturally highly differentiated and very unevenly distributed across the continent. The highest density was in the forest regions in the east. Next to the hunting and fishing here, agriculture in particular was the livelihood. Those tribes which spoke the Algonquian language, such as the Delawares and Mohicans, were soon wiped out by the white population. The Iroquois had long been a powerful and warlike confederacy of tribes south of the Great Lakes. In the southern Appalachians in the southeast, were the farming tribes of the Muskogee Creek and the Iroquois who were allies of the Cherokees. They were the core of the so-called 'Five Civilised Tribes', which until the early 19th Century, had developed a high degree of political and cultural autonomy.
As previously mentioned, the equestrian life of tribes of the plains and prairies had only developed through cultural contact with the Spaniards. Their economic basis was bison hunting. The often very mobile and warlike tribes like the Sioux and Dakota were in the north, the Cheyenne were in the central regions and the Apaches and Comanches in the south with very different language types. Of these groups, the Indians of the southwest, in the arid regions, differed significantly. Besides the large tribe of the Navajo, who through the acquisition of horses and sheep from the Spaniards and developed from hunter-gatherers to ranchers, there are, up until today, the agricultural tribes such as Pueblo Indians and the Hopi who live in permanent villages. The Indian population, living in the sparsely populated California, mainly lived by gathering acorns, while fishing livelihoods formed on the northwest coast.
Systematic expulsion and murder
Initially, the encounters between the indigenous population and European settlers were mostly peaceful, the Indians even helped provide advice on the cultivation of land. However, with the growing number of settlers and the fundamentally different views regarding land ownership, it soon led to serious conflicts. The fur traders had still considered it important to stay on good terms with the Indians but subsequent farmers came with the avowed aim of acquiring their land. Measures of displacement and expulsion, but also the deliberate extermination, characterised the policy of white Americans towards the Indian population.
Although there were repeated state efforts to protect the natives against land speculators and settlers from the mid-18th Century, the Indians were often forcibly settled in designated reserves. During the forced relocation of the Cherokees from the Appalachian Mountains to the "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma in the winter of 1838-39, almost one quarter of the approximately 15,000 affected Indians died, an event which gained its sad fame as the "March of Tears".
With the steady encroachment of the settlers during the 19th Century, the Indian population became increasingly deprived of their original habitats before eventually being wiped out. Even from the allocated reserves, settlements and many tribes were once again displaced. Moreover, countless Indians of the Great Plains and prairies fell victim to the great harshness of the American army which, after 1860, led to the "Indian wars". From 1887 to 1934 alone, the Indians lost about 36 million hectares of territory from the originally awarded 56 million hectares. Most of the remaining land was unsuitable for agriculture. It was not until 1924, that the Indians were given full American citizenship.
H. D. Laux, G. Thieme; Ü: C. Fleming
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