Unit 2: 1492-1650

1492- 1650: Columbian voyages and their interactions with indigenous people were the beginning of the destruction of Indian people and their way of life. Other Spanish interactions with people such as the Aztecs, Incas, and Pueblos continued the cruelty and planned destruction of Native American nations. Early English relations with Indian people varied in different areas.


1492 Columbus made first of four voyages to the Americas. There were 5 million Native American people in North America, excluding Mexico.

1513 Juan Ponce de Leon of Spain sailed to Florida.

1528-1536 The Panfilo de Narvaez Expedition of Spain through the Southeast and Southwest.

1532-1541 Frenchmen explore the Atlantic Coast and the St. Lawrence River system.

1539-1542 Spanish explore the Southwest, Southeast and Pacific Coast.

1560-1570 The Iroquois League consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tribes formed by Deganawida and Hiawatha.

1561-1565 The French establish colonies in South Carolina and Florida but are driven out by the Spanish.

1565 The Spanish establish St. Augustine in Florida, the first permanent European settlement in North America.

1576-1579 Englishmen explore the Northwest and the California Coast. Sir Francis Drake encounters Miwok Indians.

1585-1590 Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh established two colonies on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Both of them failed.

1586 A potato crop was taken back to England from America.

1598 Spaniard Juan de Onate founded a colony in New Mexico, now San Juan Pueblo.

1598-1599 Indians of Acoma Pueblo, now in New Mexico, attack a group of Spanish. The Spanish retaliate and kill as many as 800 Native Americans.

1600 The use of the horse by Native American people began in the Southwest.

1607 English established their first permanent settlement at Jamestown,Va. under John Smith.

1609-1613 John Smith captured by Native Americans. Story that Pocahontas, Powhatan’s daughter interceded on Smith’s behalf. Pocahontas is captured by the settlers, marries John Rolfe, and travels to England where she dies.

1615 Frenchman Samuel de Champlain attacks Onondaga villages with Huron war party and turns Iroquois League against the French.

1620 Pilgrims arrive at a Native American village emptied by disease and survive on stored Native American food, renaming the village Plymouth.

1621 With Squanto acting as interpreter, the Pilgrims make a pact of peace with the Wampanoags and celebrate the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims.

1622 The Powhatan confederacy of 32 tribes under Opechencanough attack settlers at Jamestown.

1626 The Canarsee Native Americans sell Manhattan Island to Peter Minuit, governor of New Netherlands for 60 guilders worth of trade goods.

1627 The Company of New France is chartered to colonize and develop fur trade with the Native Americans.

1638 Pequot War in New England, 600 Indian men, women and children killed. 

In this unit, a general overview will be provided and studied

of what happened in American history during this time period and how it affected Native Americans. Then during the study of the unit, information from the following and the timeline should be included. 

1. Students examine, discuss, and evaluate "First Contact".

Columbus never actually set foot upon, or even saw, North America, let alone “discover” America (the United States). He also did not discover a “New World,” but came upon a very old land that was well established with sophisticated societies. The native people with which Columbus actually interacted – primarily the Arawaks, Taino, Carib and other tribal groups in the West Indies – were essentially decimated from a population of about a quarter-million to a population of under 20,000 within a span of 20 years. This was the result of new diseases and systematic and harsh enslavement of native people. In Spanish America, Christopher Columbus and his followers enslaved tens of thousands of Indians. In the early 1500s, the legal institution of “encomienda” was developed on the island of Hispaniola and later spread to other regions the Spanish encountered. Under this system, groups of Indians were assigned to individual 84 Spaniards (known as “encomenderos”) to perform work in exchange for wages and under the requirement that they conduct themselves in the manner of Christians. The Spanish made a distinction between encomienda and enslavement – although encomenderos bought and sold Native Americans, exploited them in labor, abused them, and treated them as if they were slaves. The Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and Incas contributed to the destruction of their empires. The Spanish also attempted conquest of the Pueblos in the Southwest. 

2. The Columbian Exchange is the coming of the Europeans to America. What did Native Americans in North America gain from it? What did they lose and what tragedies occurred? 

The “Columbian Exchange” had devastating effects on Native American nations. Both exposure to new diseases, as well as more effective European weapons resulted in the deaths of up to 90 percent in some tribes. Foods from America introduced to Europeans were originally domesticated, cultivated, or farmed by Native Americans – among these are turkeys, potatoes, corn, chili peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and squash, avocados, peanuts, pineapple, chocolate, and vanilla. Many native objects – such as pottery, basketry, canoes, furs, snowshoes, etc. – were also adopted by early European settlers. Among the European items that were introduced were citrus fruits, apples, bananas, peaches, pears, wheat, cabbage and domesticated animals (cows, sheep, chickens, hogs, horses). Indian groups quickly adopted items like guns, textiles and metal cookware. Interactions between English settlers and Native Americans differed in New England, the mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake areas, and lower Southern colonies. In New England, Indian communities had become small as a result of exposure to European diseases as well as attacks on their villages. Their small numbers rendered them relatively defenseless against English incursions into their territories. In the mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake areas, the early English presence was smaller. Thus, early relations with Indians were initially relatively amicable. Discontent among the Indians grew, however, as the English presence became more invasive. This discontent results in an attack in 1622 by Powhatan warriors on the English in Jamestown. The English then retaliated with such force that they essentially eliminated the Powhatan Confederacy from being any further threat. In the southern

colonies, the smaller coastal Indian tribes had been decimated by disease and English attacks. Large tribal confederacies were able to sustain large communities further inland and away from colonial English settlements. 

3. Students examine the content below and then discuss the Pocahontas story.

In an Associated Press news release, Karenne Wood, a tribeswoman and chair of the Virginia Council on Indians discussed the movie “The New World” and expressed her disappointment with it. The Pocahontas story has been more of a myth than probably any other story involving Native Americans in American history. Wood said that the Pocahontas myth is a result of history written by white settlers who wanted to use her as an example of a “good Indian” who became like the Europeans. Wood said, “In real life, Pocahontas was not yet a teenager when she first encountered John Smith. While the two became friends, there was no romantic relationship between them. Pocahontas married an Indian as a teen but was later abducted by English settlers and held for ransom. During her captivity, she met John Rolfe, an English businessman credited with the introduction of tobacco farming in Virginia. She converted to Christianity, married Rolfe, had a son, and died at age 22 during an official visit to England.” The authors of Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children, Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, say this about the Pocahontas myth: The facts of the matter are these: Powhatan was the name of a town on The James River. “Powhatan’s” (Pocahontas’ father) name was Wahunsonacock, and he did not rule over 30 tribes. He was the founder of the Algonquian Confederacy of nations that the invaders, not knowing any better, also called Powhatan, after what they thought was the name of its chief. The story about John Smith is not true. Historians believe Smith was the one who made it up; he was known to be a great liar. The “myth” does not say that Pocahontas never returned home because she contracted what was probably smallpox and died. Native women were not drudges and beasts of burden as they are portrayed in the myth. Native people were neither more naive nor more cruel than the white invaders. John Smith was no man of honor, and the bunch he brought with him were adventurers and criminals.

MINNESOTA SOCIAL STUDIES CONTENT STANDARD(S): 16. Rivalries among European nations and their search for new opportunities fueled expanding global trade networks and, in North America, colonization and settlement and the exploitation of indigenous peoples and lands; colonial development evoked varied responses by indigenous nations, and produced regional societies and economies that included imported slave labor and distinct forms of local government. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585—1763) Analyze the consequences of the transatlantic Columbian Exchange of peoples, animals, plants and pathogens on North American societies and ecosystems. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585—1763) Analyze the impact of European colonization within North America on indigenous nations; analyze the impact of indigenous nations on colonization. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585—1763)