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Unit 1: 1491-1607

General Timeline
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General Maps

Map # 1: North America

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Map # 2: South America & Explorers' Routes

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Course Content

Precolumbian Americans:


Early Human Migration to the Americas

  • Millions of years ago, human society started in Africa

  • About 20,000 years ago, humans crossed the Bering strait (between Russia & Alaska) into the Americas

    • Bering Strait was frozen and was an ice bridge

    • Powerful stone tools and spears that could kill large American animals enabled humans to survive in the Americas

    • These people are known as the "Clovis people"

  • Some suggest people arrived in South America by boat from Pacific Islands earlier on

  • Regardless, society in the Americas resulted from migration from Asia


Societies of Central & South America

  • Mesoamerica had Olmecs, then Mayans, then Aztecs

    • Olmecs began around 1000 BCE​

    • Mayan civilization began around 800 BCE, developed many complex things

      • Had an accurate calendar, agricultural system, number system, written language, etc.

    • Later on, Mexica kingdom developed

      • Alliance of Mexica and some neighboring kingdoms was known as Aztec

      • Built magnificent capital of Tenochtitlan in 1300 CE, home to many large buildings, aqueducts, schools, temples, etc.

      • Used tribute system with neighboring kingdoms to maintain control

      • Had extreme religious ceremonies with bloodletting & human sacrifices

  • South America had the Inca Kingdom

    • Developed in 1438 by leader Pachacuti around Lake Titicaca in Andes Mountains

      • Expanded outward, spanned thousands of miles, became largest empire in Americas

    • Had capital at Cuzco with lots of gold

    • Extensive road system stretching the entire realm

  • All these kingdoms were very advanced but lacked sophisticated technologies that Europeans had

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Tribal Cultures of North America

  • People of North America were mostly organized into tribes (unlike the Aztecs, Mayas, Olmecs, Incas)

    • Not as advanced as the other civilizations

  • Tribes of Northern region (Artic area) mostly relied on hunting

    • Eskimo tribe lived in Arctic circle, hunted seals​​

    • Other tribes hunted moose & caribou

  • Tribes of present-day US were mostly agricultural

    • People of Southwest US (Chaco, Anasazi, Pueblo, etc.) had stone buildings and irrigation networks

      • Largely agricultural (sedentary)

    • People of Great Plains & Great Basin grew corn & also hunted game (buffalo, etc.) (partially nomadic)

      • Lived in small houses​

      • The Ute tribe was the main tribe

    • People of Northwest US fished salmon

      • Chinook tribe was the main tribe​

      • Mostly sedentary as they lived in fishing villages but also partially nomadic as they sometimes moved along with the fish

    • People of Eastern US (East of Mississippi River) were known as Woodland Indians

      • Covered in forests

      • Mostly farmed & lived in longhouses

      • Also hunted some game but were mostly sedentary & agricultural

      • Built huge mounds for ceremonial purposes, largest was Cahokia

      • Algonquian tribe & Iroquois were main tribes

    • People of Northeast US were mostly nomadic and had little agriculture

      • Agriculture was temporary as they'd clear forests and settle in some places to grow crops then move somewhere else after a few years

      • Hunted wild game

  • Tribal religion was often associated with nature

  • Tribal society was often gender-divided

    • Men would hunt & clear forests

    • Women would gather food & plant crops


European Exploration & Spanish America:


Initial European Exploration & Conquest

Origins of Exploration

  • In European Middle Ages (500-1500), Western Europe was very decentralized

    • Feudalism was common: Peasants lived on farms in the countryside for their entire lives under the protection of lords & knights

    • Roman Catholic Church was the only source of centralized authority in Western Europe

    • Black Death (1350s) killed 1/3 of European population, further intensifying the decentralization

    • Interregional commerce was very small

  • In late 1400s, as population increased & more technologies reached Europe, commerce increased

    • More population led to more commerce

    • More powerful kings started to centralize authority, allowing them to build large nation-states

      • Some of these were Spain, France, England

    • More navigational technology reached Europe, allowing Europeans to travel farther

  • Europeans wanted to find a direct sea route to Asia

    • Hated Ottoman dominance of overland sea route

    • Overland route was long & tiring

    • Europeans wanted to find their own route

  • Portugal led European exploration

    • Its prime location facing the Atlantic makes it so that it can only expand westward into the Atlantic

    • Prince Henry of Portugal sponsored voyages down African West Coast

      • Wanted to build Christian alliances there against the Moors of Northern Africa

    • In 1486, Bartholomew Diaz sailed around Cape of Good Hope (tip of South Africa) but returned home

    • In 1497, Vasco da Gama sailed around Cape of Good Hope to India and returned to Portugal


Christopher Columbus

  • Christopher Columbus was a Genoese merchant who believed in a westward sea route to Asia

    • Sponsored by Spanish kings

    • Sailed in 1492 with 3 ships, landed in Bahamas

    • Later sailed to Cuba, thought it was China

    • Returned to Spain with a few Ta​íno natives captive

      • Called the natives "Indians" as he believed he landed in India

    • In 2nd voyage (1493), he sailed to Hispaniola & established a colony there

    • In 3rd voyage (1498), sailed to Northern Coast of South America

      • Saw mouth of Orinoco River, realized such a big river cannot be from a small island near China

      • Still believed Asia was nearby

    • Columbus's goal was to spread Christianity to the local Indians

  • America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, who first discovered that the American continent is different from Asia

  • Later, Spanish started taking over Portuguese dominance in exploration

    • Vasco de Balboa crossed Isthmus of Panama into Pacific Ocean in 1513

    • Ferdinand Magellan sailed around tip of South America through his namesake strait

      • Later sailed to Philippines where he died in a dispute with the locals

      • His crew returned to Spain

    • Francisco Coronado traveled north of Mexico into Southwest US, helped open Spanish expansion there

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Spanish Conquest of Aztecs & Incas

  • Spanish conquerors (conquistadores) conquered the kingdoms of the Americas (the New World)

    • Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztecs

      • Killed Aztec leader Montezuma, stole all his wealth

      • Tenochtitlan became the capital of Spanish Empire in Mexico

    • Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incas​

      • Killed the leader Atahualpa, stole all his gold

      • Conquered Cuzco & its wealth

    • European smallpox helped kill many of the Aztecs & Incas as they weren't immune to it

      • Aided Cortes & Pizarro in their conquests


Spanish Empire in the Americas

Patterns of Spanish Administration

  • In 1570s, new Spanish laws (called Ordinances of Discovery) banned conquest by force

    • Thus, they sought to colonize the natives and make them do labor instead of exterminating them

    • Spanish made the natives extract silver & gold from the mines of the Americas

  • Spanish sought to establish Catholicism in the Americas

    • Built missions, which would help convert the natives to Christianity

    • Presidios were military garrisons next to the missions that protected the Spanish from hostile natives

    • Missions were built throughout Spanish America

      • Provided protection for Europeans​

    • After Protestant Reformation, Spanish sought to slow spread of Protestantism by spreading Catholicism in the Americas

  • Unlike English empire, Spanish empire had strong royal authority

    • This was bad as it didn't allow Spanish American economy to develop on its own

    • Most Spanish American ports had to go through Spain, hindering development of Spanish American economy

  • Spanish brought less of its people to the Americas than other European nations

    • Relied on native labor for wealth


Spanish Colonies in the Americas & Pueblo Revolt of 1680

  • St. Augustine (est. 1565) was first permanent European settlement in the US

    • Spanish established a fort there, served as military base

  • Spanish also colonized Southwest US

    • In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate led the Spanish army into New Mexico, established a colony there

    • Built capital at Santa Fe in 1609, Oñate was governor

    • Had ranchos & a cattle ranching economy

    • Used encomienda system of labor: Spanish would employ natives to work in exchange for providing the natives food, shelter, and protection

  • Pueblo Indians (which outnumbered the Spanish) had many problems with the Spanish

    • In 1660s & 1670s, Spanish missionaries suppressed all Pueblo rituals that weren't compatible with Christianity​

    • In 1680, Pueblos revolted violently against Spanish

      • Nearby Apache Indians also invaded the Spanish, which helped the Pueblos

      • Many Spanish priests were killed, Spanish left city for 12 years

      • Spanish returned, crushed one last uprising in 1696

  • Spanish later forged better relations with Pueblo Indians

    • Baptized many Pueblos at birth, sometimes intermarried with them

    • Viewed each other as allies against the nearby Apache

    • Spanish dismantled encomienda system, allowed Pueblos to own land


Columbian Exchange

  • Biological Exchange of people, food, animals, and diseases between Afro-Eurasia and the Americas

Hover over the boxes


Lots of Europeans migrated to the Americas. Many African slaves were sent to the Americas (4x the number of Europeans). (1).png

Domesticated animals like sheep, horses, pigs, goats, and cows were brought to Americas. Horses made travel easier, and others were domesticated. 


American food crops (corn, potatoes, squash, beans, etc.) were sent to Europe, causing population growth there. European fruit trees came to the Americas. 


European diseases like smallpox, influenza, measles, etc. were brought to Americas, killed many natives as they weren't immune to these. 


Society in Spanish America

  • Spanish used encomienda system to make natives do labor

    • Spanish would give protection to the Indians in exchange for labor

    • Indians would get food & shelter

  • Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish priest, appealed to the Spanish king about the brutal treatment of the Indians​

  • Europeans in the Americas later used enslaved Africans to perform labor instead of Indians

    • The Indians were dying of European diseases & could easily escape as they knew their land

    • Africans were numerous and could easily be replaced

    • Europeans viewed Africans as uncivilized & wanted to enslave them

  • Europeans sought to make enslaved Africans plant and harvest sugarcane

    • As European demand for sugarcane grew, sugarcane harvested in Europe was inadequate

    • Portuguese planted sugarcane on Atlantic islands & enslaved West Africans to do so

    • Later, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, and French brought slaves to the Americas to work on plantations

    • Slaves planted tobacco, cotton, indigo, rice, sugarcane, etc.

    • This is known as Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

  • Casta system was hierarchy in the Americas

    • Peninsulares (people from Spain/Portugal) were at the top, then creoles (people of European descent born in Americas

    • In the middle were people of mixed Indian/slave and European ancestry

    • At the bottom were Indians & slaves


English Exploration & Colonization of Americas:


Motives for English Exploration

Economic Motives

  • English farms became enclosed into sheep pastures (known as enclosure movement)

    • English landlords realized that wool (from sheep) earns large profits abroad

    • Many peasants were left without land as their farms were converted to pastures

  • English believed colonization would ease the strain on peasants

    • Believed peasants can migrate abroad, easing the population strain & food supply in England

    • Believed colonization opens up new markets for English goods

    • Believed England saves money when importing goods from its own colonies (as there are no tariffs)

  • English believed in mercantilism (there is a fixed amount of wealth in the world), so English wanted a larger share of this wealth by colonizing new lands


Religious Motives

  • After Protestant Reformation (1517), King Henry VIII created Anglican church

    • Anglicanism was like Protestantism but had some Catholic elements & glorified the English nobility

    • Henry VIII's daughter, Mary (Catholic), took the throne later and killed many English Protestants

    • Mary's half-sister, Elizabeth, took over later and restored Anglicanism

    • Many Protestants exiled themselves during Mary's reign but returned during Elizabeth's reign

      • Created Puritan church, "purifying" Anglicanism of all its Catholic elements

      • Quakers (radical Puritans) believed that women can also hold church positions

      • Some Puritans were called Separatists as they sought to separate from Anglican England

    • In 1603, James I took over & restored Catholicism

      • Gave high positions to Catholic people and suppressed Puritans & other Protestants

      • Many Puritans wanted to go in exile to the American colonies to flee Catholic rule in England

  • Overall, religion played a role in English colonization as many oppressed religious groups wanted their own American colony to flee persecution in England


English Colonization of Ireland

  • English originally claimed city of Dublin, but in 1560s, they started to full-scale colonize entire island of Ireland

    • Believed Irish people to be barbaric & thought they'd never assimilate to English lifestyle

    • Believed Irish must be isolated from British

    • Sir Humphrey Gilbert was an English governor in Ireland and also a leader of colonization of America

      • Suppressed Irish traditions & believed he can do cruel things to the Irish people

  • English established transplantations in Ireland

    • There were transplants of English society in Ireland

    • Known as "Pales of Settlement," were places in Ireland where only English people could settle

      • Wanted to replicate English lifestyle​

      • Wanted a similar thing in the Americas


Colonization of the Americas

Competition in the Americas

  • English had to compete with Spanish, French, and Dutch in the Americas​​

  • French conquered Quebec in 1608 & established close relations with natives

    • French fur trappers (coureurs de bois) traded fur with the natives

    • French could ally with the natives against the English

  • Spanish also had colonized most of the Americas

    • English victory against Spanish Armada (1588) made English confident in overtaking Spanish colonization​

  • Dutch also had a presence in the Americas

    • Netherlands got independence from Spain in early 1600s

    • Henry Hudson sailed through St. Lawrence & Hudson rivers, landing in present-day New York

      • Named it New Amsterdam in 1624, English later conquered it & changed it to New York

      • Established colony of New Netherland

      • Colony was poorly governed & loosely unified

      • Gave large land grants (patroons) to families to migrate to the Americas


Failed Establishment of English Colonies

  • Sir Humphrey Gilbert was a pioneer of English colonization of the Americas

    • Acquired a 6-year patent from English crown, allowing him to conquer any non-Christian land

    • Landed in NewFoundland in 1583

      • He proceeded southward to explore further & find a place to build a military post

      • A storm sunk his ship & he was lost at sea

  • Gilbert's half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, got a 6-year patent as well to colonize non-Christian lands

    • Sailed to East Coast, landed in present-day Virginia

      • Named the land Virginia after Queen Elizabeth (the "Virgin Queen")​

      • Returned to England with 2 captive Indians

      • The Indians told him about a land called Roanoke

    • Raleigh sought to sail to Roanoke

      • Elizabeth refused to finance his journey, so Raleigh looked to private investors

Sir Richard Grenville, Raleigh's cousin, led a group of men to Roanoke in 1585

Grenville's men settled in Roanoke, Grenville returned to England

Sir Francis Drake arrived the next year (1586) with provisions, but the colonists were really tired & boarded his ship back to England

Spanish Armada (1588) prevented White from returning to Roanoke, so he could only return to Roanoke in 1590. All the colonists disappeared & he only found a sign saying Croatoan. Known as "Lost Colony:

John White returned to England to get supplies

Raleigh tried again in 1587, brought 100 colonists to Roanoke (including 2 pregnant women). Daughter of John White (one of the main commanders) gave birth to first English-born person in US

  • When King James I became king, Raleigh was executed for plotting to kill the king

  • Raleigh gave his colonial charter to groups of merchants to renew colonization of the Americas

    • Merchants from Plymouth & London were rivaling each other over colonies

    • In 1606, James I split the charter so the London merchants can colonize southern US, and Plymouth merchants can colonize northern US

Important Terms & People

Precolumbian Americans:

Millions of years ago, human society began in Africa. About 20,000 years ago, humans migrated to the Americas via a land bridge in the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. In Central & South America existed the kingdoms of Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas. Those civilizations were very sophisticated in their culture and ideas but lacked the complex technology of the Europeans. In present-day US and Canada existed many indigenous tribes, which weren't organized into large civilizations like the Aztecs and Incas. The tribes of northern Canada mostly relied on hunting, while those of US relied on agriculture (and a little hunting). 

European Exploration & Spanish America:

In the middle ages (500-1500 CE), Western Europe was very decentralized, and feudalism was common. In late 1400s and early 1500s, strong monarchs started consolidating authority, centralizing European power. Europeans sought to assert their dominance in the world by sailing to Asia themselves without Ottoman intermediaries. More technological innovations (compass, astrolabe, rudder, lateen sail, etc.) arrived in Europe, which allowed Europeans to sail great distances. Portugal led exploration, and Spain followed, with Christopher Columbus sailing westward and accidentally landing in the Americas. The Spanish later sought to colonize the Americas, and Spanish conquistadores (conquerors) took over the Aztec and Inca empires. The Spanish used the encomienda system to force the natives to perform labor for them. The Spanish also built missions to convert the natives of America to Catholicism. Later, Don Juan de Oñate helped the Spanish conquer the Kingdom of New Mexico. The Spanish had many fights with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, but they started to get along later on. Later on, as the Indians were dying out, the Spanish sought to use enslaved Africans to perform labor;. The Columbian Exchange was an exchange of goods between Americas and Afro-Eurasia, having profound effects on both sides. The Casta system was the social hierarchy used in Spanish Africa, with Europeans at the top, and slaves and Indians at the bottom. 

English Exploration & Colonization of Americas:

English sought to colonize the Americas because many English peasants were landless and poor after the enclosure movement, and many persecuted Puritans wanted to exile themselves after Anglicanism was established by King Henry VIII in 1534. Furthermore, English believed in mercantilism (the idea that there exists a fixed amount of wealth in the world), so the English wanted to get a larger share of this wealth and take it from the Dutch, French, and Spanish already in the Americas. The English first colonized Ireland. Later, Sir Humphrey Gilbert colonized NewFoundland, but he failed and died in a storm. His brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, and his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, led expeditions to another colony, Roanoke, in 1585. Another commander, John Smith, returned to England to get supplies in 1587 but could only return to Roanoke in 1590 as the Spanish Armada of 1588 caused delays. Eventually, when Smith returned to Roanoke, all the colonists were gone, hence Roanoke is known as the "Lost Colony." 

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