Period 1: 1491–1607

Period 1: 1491-1607

On a North American continent controlled by American Indians, contact among the peoples of Europe, the Americas, and West Africa created a new world. Topics may include

 

  • Native American Societies before European Contact
  • European Exploration in the New World
  • The Columbian Exchange
  • Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the Spanish Colonial System
  • Cultural Interactions between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans

 

Image Source: View of icons representing conquered towns and the tributes they paid to the Aztecs in a detail from the Codex Mendoza, ca. 1541 (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

Codex Mendoza page
  • 4–6% Exam Weighting

Key Concepts

1.1: As native populations migrated and settled across the vast expanse of North America over time, they developed distinct and increasingly complex societies by adapting to and transforming their diverse environments.

1.2: Contact among Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans resulted in the Columbian Exchange and significant social, cultural, and political changes on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Native American Societies before European Contact

American Indians

by Elliott West

Learn about the diversity of Indigenous tribes in North America.

  • Essay

Cahokia: A Pre-Columbian American City

by Timothy R. Pauketat

Learn about a center of trade and interaction built along the banks of the Mississippi.

  • Essay

Nature, Culture, and Native Americans

by Daniel Wildcat

Watch a discussion about Indigenous peoples and their interaction with the environment.

  • Video

Secotan, an Algonquian village

ca. 1585

Engraving of an agrarian town in North America, based on a watercolor by English mapmaker John White

  • Primary Source

North America on the Eve of the European Invasion

by Christopher L. Miller

Discover the way Native Americans lived in North America before Europeans arrived.

  • Essay

Native American Discoveries of Europe

by Daniel K. Richter

Learn about the cultural context of Native peoples' responses to the arrival of European explorers and colonists.

  • Essay

America before Columbus

by Charles C. Mann

Watch a discussion about the pre-Columbian population and settlement of the Americas.

  • Video

European Exploration in the New World

Europeans and the New World

by Brian DeLay

Watch a discussion of the context of western European exploration and European interactions with Indigenous peoples.

  • Video

Columbus reports on his first voyage

1493

Columbus’s letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain announcing the discovery of unknown lands 

  • Primary Source

Imperial Rivalries

by Peter C. Mancall

Understand how European political competition in the late fifteenth century drove exploration and colonization.

  • Essay

Sir Francis Drake's attack on St. Augustine

1586

Illustration depicting an English naval attack on Spanish St. Augustine in present-day Florida

  • Primary Source

The Rise and Fall of New Netherland

by David Middleton

Read about Henry Hudson’s voyages for the Dutch Republic.

  • Essay

Mexicans in the Making of America

by Neil Foley

Learn about Spanish exploration and conquest of the Americas in a broad essay about changes and continuities.

  • Essay

European Exploration

by Felipe Fernández-Armesto and Benjamin Sacks

Learn about European navigation and the exploration of the Americas.

  • Essay

The Columbian Exchange

Navigating the Age of Exploration

by Ted Widmer

Learn about the vast global movements that characterized the Columbian Exchange.

  • Essay

The Columbian Exchange

by Alfred W. Crosby

Discover how the commingling of Old and New World plants, animals, and bacteria remade global ecologies.

  • Essay

The Spanish Borderlands and Columbian Exchange

by Ned Blackhawk

Learn about Indigenous and European interactions in Spanish colonial holdings in the Americas.

  • Video

The Americas to 1620

by Christopher L. Miller

Learn about the broad context of European, African, and Indigenous interactions.

  • Essay

Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the Spanish Colonial System

The Doctrine of Discovery

1493

Pope Alexander VI’s decree granting Spain the exclusive right to lands in the Americas

  • Primary Source

Iberian Roots of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

by David Wheat

Understand the role of Portugal and Spain in the transatlantic slave trade.

  • Essay

Disputing the subjugation of the Indians

1550

Bartolomé de las Casas versus Juan Ginés Sepúlveda on the enslavement of the Taíno in Hispaniola

  • Primary Source

Spain authorizes Coronado's conquest in the Southwest

1540

Royal letter instructing Francisco Coronado to explore the northern lands in search of wealth and resources

  • Primary Source

Cultural Interactions between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans

Early North America

by Peter C. Mancall

Look beyond the Euro-centric view of the “New World.”

  • Video

Indian Slavery in the Americas

by Alan Gallay

Learn about the European enslavement of Indigenous peoples in the Americas.

  • Essay

The New York African Burial Ground

by Edna Greene Medford

Read about one of the earliest graveyards for free and enslaved Africans.

  • Essay

The African Slave Trade

by Philip Morgan

Watch a discussion of the core experiences of slavery from East Africa to sugar plantations in the New World.

  • Video

American History Timeline: 1491-1607

Image Citations

Listed in order of appearance in the sections above

Native American Societies before European Contact

Native American Societies before European Contact

  • White, John. The Towne of Pomeiock. 1585-1593. Drawing on paper. British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1906-0509-1-8
  • William Iseminger, Cahokia Mounds, 1982, Painting. Image courtesy of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. 
  • White, John. The Manner of Their Fishing. 1585-1593. Watercolor over graphite on paper. British Museum.
  • de Bry, Theodor. Village of Secotan. In A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia: of the Commodities and of the Nature and Manners of the Naturall Inhabitants. Frankfurt am Main: J. Wechelus, 1590. Engraving based on a drawing by John White. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
  • "Naw-Kaw, a Winnebago Chief." In The Indian Tribes of North America, vol. 1, by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall. Philadelphia, ca. 1840. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC05120.02. 
    Grasset de Saint-Saveur, Jacques. "Tableau des principaux peuples de l'Amérique." Paris, France. 1789. Etching and aquatint with hand coloring. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Theodore de Bry, Indians worship the column in honor of the French king, 1591, engraving for Collectiones peregrinationum in Indiam occidentalem, vol. 2: René de Laudonnière, Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americae provincia Gallis acciderunt (Frankfurt am Main: J. Wechelus, 1591) (Rijksmuseum)

European Exploration in the New World

European Exploration in the New World

  • Anonymous Spanish artist. The Silver Mine at Potosí. ca. 1585. Watercolor on parchment. The Hispanic Society of America.
  • Columbus, Christopher. Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, February 1493. Epistola Chirstofori Colom: cui [a]etas nostra multu[m] debet: de Insulis Indi[a]e supra Gangem nuper inuentis. Rome, 1493. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC01427.
  • Engagement [between] La Blanche and La Pare, ca. 1786-1805. Watercolor on paper. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC01450.800.
  • Boazio, Baptista. Drake’s Attack on St. Augustine, Florida, May 28–29, 1586. St. Augustine Map. 1589. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.
  • Schenk, Peter. Nieu Amsterdam, een Stedeken in Noord Amerikaes Nieu Hollant. s.l., 1702. Print. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC03022
  • "An illustrated account of Aztec life-cycles" Codex Mendoza. ca. 1540. Manuscript on paper. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.
  • Martin, Johnson & Company. Landing of Columbus. New York, 1856. Engraving based on a painting by John Vanderlyn. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC08878.0001.

The Columbian Exchange

The Columbian Exchange

  • Visscher, Nicholas. Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae [Map of New Netherland and New England]. Amsterdam, 1682. Map. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC03582.
  • Kemmelmeyer, Frederick. First Landing of Christopher Columbus. 1800/1805. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art.
  • Montanus. Insulae Americanae in Oceano Septentrionali, cum Terris adiacentibus [Map of the Americas]. s.l., 1671 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC09789.
  • Johnson, Fry & Company. Landing of Roger Williams.  New York, 1867. Engraving based on a painting by Alonzo Chappel. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC08878.0006 

Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the Spanish Colonial System

Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the Spanish Colonial System

  • Alexander VI. Copia de la bula del decreto y concession q[ue] hizo el papa [Inter caetera]. [Valladolio], 1493. Broadside. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC04093.
  • Roiz, Pascoal. A portolan chart of the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent continents. 1633. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2008621738/.
  • Las Casas, Bartolomé de. Aqui se contiene una disputa . . . Seville, 1552. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC04220.
  • García de Loaysa, Francisco. Letter to Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, June 21, 1540. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC04883.

Cultural Interactions between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans

Cultural Interactions between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans

  • Cliff Palace. Ancestral Puebloan (formerly Anasazi), 450–1300 C.E. Sandstone. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Sara Charles.
  • "The March of the Spaniards into Tenochtitlan." Codex Azcatitlan. ca. 1530. Manuscript on paper. Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  • Carol Highsmith. African Burial Ground National Monument. New York, 2008. Photograph.  Carol Highsmith Archive. Library of Congress.
  • Wood, Samuel. Injured Humanity; Being a Representation of What the Unhappy Children of Africa Endure from Those Who Call Themselves Christians. New York, 1805. Broadside. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC05113.