CHAPTER II — THE NATION TAKES FORM

1607 — 1820: The Near Extinction of Indians, English and Western European Settlement, the Africa Slave Trade and the establishment of the United States

The second chapter of the story will cover the major settlement groups who came to America from 1607 to 1820 and the consequences of this settlement on the native peoples in what is now the Eastern U.S. The story will focus on the inflow of Western Europeans, Africans, and Hispanics settling in the Southwest, and the near extinction of Indians. The movement within what is now the United States during the latter half of this period of settlers and the Indian remnants would be covered. The establishment and physical expansion of the nation incorporating new peoples is also part of this chapter of the making of the American people.

The first permanent English settlement was established in Jamestown in 1607, generally recognized as the beginning of the Colonial Period. The Museum will explore myths and legends about these times. Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries, as they pushed west across the continent, reported encountering pristine forests and massive herds of bison and thought that it was always thus. The best evidence, however, suggests that humans settled and dominated most of the land and kept the vegetation and bison in check. In the century or two after the near demise of the native population due to disease and government policies both before and after the nation was formed, the bison population exploded, the land went to seed and ’virgin forests’ spread.

From 1607 to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, about 600,000 Europeans and 300,000 Africans came to the English colonies. Virtually all of the Africans came as slaves and about half of the Europeans were indentured servants. As many as 50,000 of the immigrants were convicts. While English immigrants dominated this influx and largely settled in Virginia, Maryland and New England, only a minority, even in New England — even on the Mayflower itself — were Pilgrims and Puritans. While some came because of religious persecution, most of the English came for economic opportunities. It took about a century before these colonies gained a self-sustaining population.

The African slave trade with Europe began in the mid-15th Century, before Columbus’ voyage, with the Spanish and Portuguese importing slaves first to Europe and Atlantic islands and then to Spanish and Portuguese America. Even in the 17th Century when 1.3 million slaves were imported, relatively few were brought to British North America. Of the 6.1 million slaves imported in the 18th Century through 1810, when the slave trade was outlawed, about six percent were brought to British North America, and about three percent of the 1.9 million slaves imported from 1811 through 1870 landed in British North America.

It has been calculated that up to a third of all slaves taken out of Africa on ships died en route. This was known as the Middle Passage. An unknown number of lives were also lost in Africa, mostly in a strip about 100 miles wide along the central West Coast, as a result of the slave trade from attempts to capture them and on their journey to ports of embarkation. More than 10 percent of imported slaves — some 50,000 — came after Congress abolished the slave trade in 1810. Slaves brought to this land are the ancestors of more than 20 million Americans.

This chapter also begins an inkling of the great diversity of peoples that characterize the American people. While relatively small in numbers, by 1790 there were significant numbers of Scotch, Irish and German immigrants and smaller numbers of Dutch, French, Swedish, Spanish and others.

The Scotch settled primarily in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The first Irish tended toward the middle and southern states. Few Germans went to New England. Most migrated to the middle states with Pennsylvania, which was about one-third German, getting most of them. The Dutch went mostly to New York and New Jersey where New Amsterdam had been. The French were almost entirely in the Northwest Territories and on a long and narrow swath that ran from Detroit and then down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

The Spanish at this point were in Spanish territories in Florida, California and New Mexico. The largest of a small contingent of Swedes was in New Mexico. Jews were scattered throughout the colonies and established outposts in the port cities of New York, Newport, Savannah, Philadelphia and Charleston. The Museum will tell where each group settled. The geographical expansion of the nation to encompass new peoples will also be explored. Who were the groups that spread out to these new lands?

At the heart of this chapter is the story of the creation of the nation, including the 13 colonies and the ethnic groups the predominated in each. The story of the relationship with England and the impulse that led to that relationship souring and then the story of the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America will be told. Which groups played significant roles in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War? Which groups led the effort during the war? Who were the Founding Fathers? What were their backgrounds? Where did the ideas for our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution, come from?

The story in this chapter is told in part at a variety of on-site museums and recreated exhibitions such as at Williamsburg, Jamestown, Plymouth Plantation, Savannah and Charleston. The recently chartered Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is charged, in part, with telling the story about African slavery in the United States. But there are no institutions that tell the full and comprehensive story about this phase of the making of the American people.

NOTE: The material herein is based largely on two books that tell part of this story, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, and Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels. Ideas and material from both authors are presented here to give readers a sense of the story. Leading scholars would be expected to develop a detailed outline of the Museum’s story following the establishment of the Museum.