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American Expansion

Countless volumes have already been written on the early history of the United States of America, but for those, like myself, who can't remember everything, this short summary may prove to be helpful while researching your early American ancestors.

After the famous voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492, North America was rapidly explored and claimed by various countries. The Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and Dutch claimed various parts of North and South America.

The first English Colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, and the Dutch arrived in New York in 1609 and began settling in New York and New Jersey in 1613. The first pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620. These early colonists and settlers helped England gain a strong presence on the eastern coast of the New World. The remainder of the continent was under foreign occupation and primarily occupied by Native American Indians. The original thirteen English colonies are shown in the map shown here. They were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

America's Original 13 Colonies

For 170 years, the colonists on the east coast lived under English rule before they revolted and won their independence in the American Revolution, which ended in 1776. Seven years later, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, giving America possession of nearly all the land east of the Mississippi River:

The Treaty of Paris 1783 (in purple)

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 nearly doubled the size of the country again, adding the territory shown here in green:

Louisiana Purchase 1803 (shown in green)

In 1818 the Red River Basin (part of North and South Dakota) was added. The Spanish ceded their part of Colorado, New Mexico, and Louisiana in 1819 and the Florida Treaty of 1819 made Florida part the United States.

Lands gained in 1818 and 1819

In 1845, Texas was annexed, along with part of New Mexico and Colorado. Oregon Territory, which included Washington, Oregon and Idaho, was acquired in 1846. California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona were acquired in the Mexican Cession of 1848. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 extended the southern border of Arizona and part of New Mexico.

Lands gained between 1845 and 1853

Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867. Puerto Rico and Hawaii were annexed in 1898, and the Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917.

Lands gained between 1867 and 1917

This animated map gives more detail about the settlement of North America:

Sources: United States territorial acquisitions. (2019, March 05). Retrieved March 4, 2019, from


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