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BIG IDEA: The United States is made up of many different people, but the origins of the nation lie in English settlements along the Atlantic coast in the 1600s. People came there for different reasons, and some were brought from Africa as slaves.

The English developed their first colony in America at Jamestown.  It was a business venture that failed in the beginning.  The settlers did not know how to farm so they starved.  Only with help from the local Native Americans did some settlers survive.  However, they discovered that they could grow tobacco, which they could sell back in Europe.  Tobacco made Jamestown and the surrounding Chesapeake Bay region profitable.

Work in the colonies was done both by indentured servants and eventually by African slaves. Merchants made a lot of money buying and selling slaves. They were an important part of the Triangle Trade. Slaves were purchased in Africa and brought to the Americas. Sugar, tobacco, cotton and other raw materials were loaded onto the ships in America and taken back to Europe. In Europe the ships were reloaded with finished products like furniture and guns, which were shipped off to Africa.

In time, slaves were seen as property the same as horses or wagons. Strict laws, or codes, were passed throughout the colonies defining the various rights slaves did not have and restricting aspects of their lives. Some slaves resisted, but these rebellions were always stopped, and resulted in the passage of more strict slave codes.

New England was settled by religious dissenters who wanted to create a new life for their families far from the control of the English church leaders. They created a society based on religion and towns rather than wealth and cash crop exports.

Plymouth was founded by separatists called Pilgrims. They were a small group but set an important precedent in America by agreeing to the Mayflower Compact and holding elections for community leaders. A much larger group came to nearby Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were Puritans rather than separatists. They believed in a covenant with God. They thought that if they were good Christians, God would reward them and make their colony prosper. They also believed their colony would be an example of a pure society on earth that everyone else could copy. They referred to it as a city upon a hill.

Between New England and the Chesapeake colonies that grew up around Jamestown, there were a variety of other English colonies. These were often more focused on trade and more tolerant of differences. In the interior, non-English groups settled who also left their mark on the nation.


BIG IDEA: Americans declared and fought for independence for a variety of reasons. Enlightenment ideas about government and economic factors were both important. These ideas were later incorporated into a new system of government.

The English settlers in America chose to declare and fight for independence after a long series of conflicts with their government. Most of these centered around economic problems and their right to participate in government. Americans were influenced by Enlightenment ideas.

American leaders did not want to declare independence right away and tried unsuccessfully to resolve their differences with the government in England. The Declaration of Independence laid out the reasons for independence and remains an important document in American history.

The War for Independence was long and difficult. Eventually with the help of the French, Washington’s army was able to force the British to surrender and recognize American independence.

For the first few years of American independence, the federal government was weak and ineffective at dealing with major problems. A rebellion in Massachusetts eventually pushed leaders to seek a new system of government.

The creation of the Constitution and our current system of government was due to problems that existed in the late 1780s and was the result of a series of compromises. The Founding Fathers tried to enshrine the ideals of the Revolution in a functioning system of government.

The debate about ratification of the new Constitution divided the nation’s leaders but led to the creation of the Bill of Rights.


BIG IDEA: Since the first English settlements along the Atlantic Coast, White Americans spread westward and were involved in conflicts with both Native Americans and Mexicans who blocked the spread of the United States across the continent.

Native Americans had been fighting White expansion for many years. Their primary goal was preserving their land which was the principal factor in their decisions about who to side with the Seven Years War, American Revolution, War of 1812, and in their own conflicts with White Americans.

Americans who moved to Texas initiated a war for independence from Mexico, and later President Polk launched a war against Mexico that resulted in Mexico giving half of its land to the United States.

Hispanics who found themselves in the United States after the Mexican-American War often lost their land to Whites. Some fought back, but they generally lost out as Whites pushed west.

There were many groups of people who defined the character of the West. Mountain men, miners were some of the first Whites to move into the West. Later ranchers and eventually pioneer farmers moved west. As Whites settled in new territories, railroads were built to connect them.

The last violent conflicts between Whites and independent Native Americans were in the late 1800s on the Great Plains. Ultimately the army defeated the last of the tribes and forced them to move to reservations where official government policy attempted to destroy Native culture.


BIG IDEA: In the 1800s, slavery divided America. In 1860 things fell apart and the northern states and southern states fought a long, bloody civil war. The North won, preserving the country and ending slavery. However, southern White leaders were able to maintain the social hierarchy that kept African Americans at the bottom of the social structure.

Slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. As the nation grew, slavery also grew and formed the basis for much of the nation’s wealth. The small abolition movement in the North slowly gained support and helped facilitate a system to help slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

Westward expansion increased conflicts about slavery as the addition of each new state threatened to upset the balance between free and slave states in the Senate. Politicians tried compromise and popular sovereignty to deal with this problem.

In the 1850s politicians tried but were unable to stop the increasingly divisive issue of slavery from leading to the outbreak of war between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North.

The North and South both had advantages and weaknesses in the Civil War, but eventually the North’s industrial might and willingness to persevere through a long and destructive war led to victory.

Northerners led by President Lincoln originally were fighting to preserve the Union. By the end of the war Lincoln had made ending slavery a part of the North’s mission, giving the war a moral purpose.

After the war ended in 1865, Northerners tried unsuccessfully to remake Southern society. Although it is often said that the South won Reconstruction, three constitutional amendments were passed that ended slavery, gave citizenship to anyone born in the United States, and guaranteed the right to vote to all men.