A Timeline of America

By Tim Lambert

1585 Walter Raleigh attempts to fund a colony in Virginia. An expedition is led by Richard Grenville.

1586 The colony is abandoned

1587 John White leads another attempt to establish a colony in Virginia. However the colonists mysteriously disappear.

1607 The Virginia Company founds a colony at Jamestown

1612 John Rolfe begins growing tobacco in Virginia

1619 The first representative government in North America is created when the House of Burgesses meets. The first slaves arrive in Virginia.

1620 A group of settlers lands in New England

1623 The first settlers land in New Hampshire

1624 The Dutch found a colony they call New Netherland

1634 Maryland is founded as a haven for Catholics (though not all settlers are Catholic)

1636 The first settlers land in Rhode Island

1637-38 The Pequot War ends in the destruction of the Pequot tribe

1638 The Swedes found a colony at Fort Christina. (Present day Wilmington).

1647 Alice Young from Windsor, Connecticut is hanged for witchcraft. She is the first person in America to be executed for witchcraft.

1655 The Dutch capture the Swedish colony and make it part of New Netherland

1660 The first navigation act states that certain goods from the colonies can only be exported to England or to other colonies, not to foreign countries


A new colony is founded in the Carolinas. (Originally North and South Carolina were one colony).

The first settlers arrive in New Jersey.

1664 The British capture New Netherland from the Dutch and rename it New York.

1670 The city of Charleston, South Carolina is founded

1670, 1673 Further navigation acts are passed


New Hampshire is made a colony in its own right, separate from Massachusetts.

A Frenchman, De la Salle explores the Great Lakes.

1681 A Quaker named William Penn founds Pennsylvania

1682 Penn founds the city of Philadelphia.

De la Salle claims Louisiana for France.

1692 A witch hunt takes place in Salem

1700 The population of the North American colonies is around 300,000


North and South Carolina are separated.

Yale College is founded.

The French found Detroit.

1704 Delaware is permitted its own assembly

1706 In Virginia Grace Sherwood is convicted of witchcraft and jailed for 8 years. Benjamin Franklin is born

1718 The French found New Orleans

1732 Georgia is founded


Benjamin Franklin invents a type of stove.

Coal is discovered in West Virginia.

1746 Princeton is founded

1750 Thomas Walker discovers the Cumberland Gap

1756-1763 The Seven Years War is fought between Britain and France. Britain takes Canada.

1760 The population of the North American colonies has risen to about 1 million

1763 A royal proclamation called the Great Proclamation bans any further westward advancement. (The British hope to avoid expensive wars with the natives).

1764 The Sugar Act is passed by the British parliament. Duty on molasses from the West Indies is actually reduced but the British make vigorous efforts to stop smuggling and collect all the duty. This causes resentment among Americans.

1764 The Currency Act is passed by the British parliament. It bans American colonies from printing their own money, so restricting trade and causing further resentment.

1765 The Stamp Act imposes tax on legal documents, newspapers and playing cards. This infuriates the Americans who protest and boycott British merchants.

1766 The British repeal the Stamp Act but they pass the Declaratory Act which states that the British parliament is sovereign over all American colonies. This aggravates the Americans.

1767 The British impose duties on lead, glass, paint, oil and tea. The Americans are infuriated and boycott British goods.

1768 The first recorded strike in America by tailors in New York


The British are forced to back down and by March 1770 the only duty remains on tea. However in Boston on 5 March 1770 some people throw stones at British soldiers. The soldiers open fire killing 5 people and wounding 6. This became known as the Boston Massacre. Of the 8 soldiers put on trial 6 are acquitted, two are convicted of manslaughter and branded on the thumb. Their lenient treatment infuriates the Americans.

1773 The ‘Boston Tea Party’. The British East India Company sends 3 shiploads of tea to Boston. On 16 December men dressed as Indians board the ship and dump the tea in the sea.


The British parliament passes the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. The port of Boston is closed. The seat of government of the colony is moved to Salem. The charter of Massachusetts is changed to give the royal governor more power.

In September a Continental Congress meets. It demands repeal of the Coercive Acts and an end to British interference in American affairs.


On 5 February the British declare that the state of Massachusetts is in a state of rebellion.

On 19 April fighting begins when British soldiers try to seize a colonial arms dump near Concord.

In May another Continental Congress meets and agrees to raise an army. George Washington is made its leader.

In August George III declares that all the American colonies are in a state of rebellion.


In May Congress decides that royal government should end and government should be ‘under the authority of the people’. Colonies draw up state constitutions to replace their charters. On 4 July the Declaration of Independence is adopted by the Continental Congress.


In August the British win the battle of Long Island.

In September the British capture New York.

In December the Americans win the battle of Trenton.


In January the Americans win the battle of Princeton.

In September the British win the battle of Brandywine.

The Articles of Confederation are drawn up.

In October the Americans win a decisive victory at Saratoga.

1778 France joins the war

1779 Spain joins the war


In October the Americans win the battle of Kings Mountain.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is founded.


On 17 January the Americans, led by General Daniel Morgan win the battle of Cowpen in South Carolina boosting American morale. The Americans then retreated into Virginia.

In October the Americans win a decisive victory at Yorktown. With the surrender of a British army under Cornwallis all British hopes of keeping the colonies evaporate. American independence is assured.


The Treaty of Paris ends the War of Independence.

The population of the USA is about 2 million.

1787 The US constitution is framed

1789 The first Congress meets and George Washington becomes the first President

1791 Vermont is admitted to the Union as the 14th state


Kentucky becomes the 15th state.

The first mint in the USA is founded.

1793 Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin. The result is a revival of slavery in the southern states.


The natives are defeated in battle at the battle of Fallen Timbers.

The first labor union is formed in Philadelphia by cordwainers (shoemakers). In the early 19th century many skilled workers form local unions (in their town or city).

The US navy is founded.

1795 By the treaty of Greenville the natives are forced to surrender most of Ohio

1796 Tennessee becomes the 16th state

1800 The Library of Congress is founded. Thomas Jefferson is elected president.


Ohio becomes the 17th state.

The US purchases Louisiana from Napoleon for $15 million.

1810 The population of the USA is 7.2 million


Louisiana becomes the 18th state.

On 18 June the USA declares war on Britain.


The Americans win a naval victory on Lake Erie.

In July the Creeks are defeated at the battle of Horseshoe Bend and are forced to hand over more than half their land.

In August the British capture Washington.

At the end of the year a peace treaty ends the war.

1815 On 8 January two armies fight at New Orleans and the British are defeated

1816 Indiana is admitted to the Union

1817-18 The Americans fight the Seminoles of Florida

1817 Mississippi is admitted as a state

1818 Illinois is admitted as a state

1819 Alabama is admitted as a state

1820 The population of the USA reaches 20 million

1821 Missouri is admitted to the Union. Spain cedes Florida to the USA

1825 The Erie Canal is opened

1828 The first railway is built in the USA

1830 Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Bill, which forces natives east of the Mississippi River to move to Oklahoma

1834 Cyrus McCormick invents a mechanical reaper

1835 The Texans rebel against the Mexicans.


Arkansas is admitted as a state.

The Texas Declaration of Independence is signed.

The defenders of the Alamo are massacred.

On 21 April the Texans crush the Mexicans at the battle of San Jacinto. As a result Texas becomes independent.

1837 Michigan is admitted as a state

1838 John Deere invents the steel plow

1842 The first wagon train uses the Oregon Trail


Texas is admitted to the Union.

Florida is also admitted to the Union as a state.


Iowa is admitted to the Union.

The Mexican War begins. The Americans win battles at Palo Alto and Reseca de la Palma.

1847 The Americans capture Veracruz and Mexico City


Wisconsin is admitted to the Union.

In January gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California.

In February the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War. Mexico cedes New Mexico and California to the USA.

1849 Huge numbers of people move to California in search of gold


California is admitted to the Union.

Argument is growing over the issue of slavery and over whether new states should allow slavery or not. A compromise of 1850 states that the territories of New Mexico and Utah should decide for themselves whether to allow slavery when they apply to become states.

In New York police disperse striking tailors killing 2 men.

1852 The first national labor union is formed by printers, the National Typographical Union.

1857 In the Dred-Scott case the Supreme Court declares that slaves are not and never can be US citizens

1859 Oregon is admitted to the Union


The population of the USA reaches 60 million.

In December South Carolina cedes from the Union.

The Civil War


Kansas is admitted to the Union.

Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana leave the Union. On 4 February 1861 they form the Confederate States.

Civil war begins on 12 April when Unionist troops are ordered to evacuate Fort Sumter. When they refuse the Confederates bombard them. The unionists eventually surrender and are allowed to leave.

In May Arkansas cedes from the Union. Tennessee and North Carolina follow.

In July the Unionists are defeated at the battle of Bull Run.


In April the Unionists win the battle of Shiloh.

Also in April the Unionists capture New Orleans.

In May they capture Baton Rouge.

In May the army of the Potomac captures Yorktown.

In August the Confederates win a victory at Second Bull Run (also called Second Manassas).

On 13 December the Confederates win another victory at Fredericksburg.

The Homesteader Act gives 160 acres of free land provided the settler tills if for 5 years.


West Virginia is admitted to the Union.

In May Robert E. Lee wins another victory at Chancellorsville.

In July the tide turns. The Unionists win the battle of Gettysburg.

In November the Unionists win another victory at Chattanooga.


On 3 September Sherman enters Atlanta.

On 21 December Sherman’s troops capture Savannah on the coast. The Confederacy is cut in half.


The Confederate position is increasingly hopeless. On 19 February Sherman captures Columbia.

On 2 April the Confederates abandon Petersburg and Richmond.

On 9 April Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House.

On 15 April Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot the previous day.

On 18 April Johnston surrenders to Sherman.

On 26 May 1865 the last Confederate army surrenders.

1866 Congress passes a civil rights act, which states that all people born in the USA are now citizens


Nebraska is admitted to the Union.

The USA buys Alaska from the Russians.


The first transcontinental railroad is built.

The Knights of Labor is formed in Philadelphia.

1871 Chicago is devastated by a fire


Barbed wire is patented.

Levi Straus begins making riveted jeans.


By another civil rights act all people regardless of race, color or previous condition are entitled to equal treatment in ‘inns, conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement’

1876 Colorado is admitted to the Union


Troops are withdrawn from the South.

The Great Railway Strike happens. America is gripped by recession and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad cuts wages. The workers strike and stop trains from moving. There is a great deal of sympathy for the railroad workers among other working class Americans. The strike spreads to other railroads and even other industries. Strikers and their supporters hold demonstrations and riots. There is a wave of unrest across America. In Baltimore the Maryland militia fire into a crowd killing 10 people. Eventually federal troops are sent in to restore order city by city.

1879 F W Woolworth opens a ‘five and ten cent store’

1881 President James Garfield is shot

1882 On 3 April Jesse James is shot

1883 The Supreme Court rules the 1875 civil rights act unconstitutional.

1884 The first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building is built in Chicago.

1885The Knights of Labor have about 110,000 members. They demand an 8 hour day, and end to child labor and equal pay for equal work.

1886 The American Federation of Labor is formed. (A federation of labor unions)


A series of wars are fought between Americans and natives. The natives are gradually forced onto reservations where conditions are horrid.

1880s The USA is the fastest growing industrial nation in the world

1889 Four new states are admitted, North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington


Idaho and Wyoming are admitted to the Union.

On 29 December natives are massacred at Wounded Knee, bringing the Indian Wars to a close.

By 1890 the frontier has disappeared.

1892 Steelworkers at Carnegie’s plant at Homestead Pennsylvania go on strike. A fight with Pinkertons follows. Three Pinkertons and seven strikers are killed.

1894 The Pullman Strike. Workers at the Pullman car works go on strike. Sympathetic railroad workers agree to boycott trains carrying Pullman cars. President Grover sends federal troops to break the strike (on the grounds that it is interfering with the delivery of US mail) and to keep the trains going. Some 13 strikers are killed.


Utah is admitted to the Union.

The Supreme Court permits segregated schools provided facilities are equal. (In reality facilities for black people are always inferior).


On 15 February the battleship Maine blows up in Havana Harbor killing 260 men.

On 25 April the USA goes to war with Spain.

On 17 July American troops capture Santiago.

On 26 July the last troops in Cuba surrender.

On 13 August American troops capture Manila.

On 14 August an armistice is signed.

In December a peace treaty is signed. Cuba becomes independent. The USA takes the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.


President William McKinley is assassinated.

Oil is discovered in Texas.


The Flatiron building is built in New York.

Willis Carrier invents modern air conditioning.

1906 San Francisco is devastated by an earthquake

1907 Oklahoma is admitted to the Union

1908 Henry Ford starts making the model T

1909 Geronimo dies

C. 1910 The USA emerges as the richest and most powerful country in the world

1912 Arizona and New Mexico are admitted to the Union

1904-1914 The Panama Canal is built


The Woolworth building is completed.

Grand Central Station in New York opens.

1914 The Ludlow Massacre. National Guardsmen attack striking coal miners in Colorado and kill 20 people.

1915 On 7 May a German submarine sinks the liner Lusitania killing 128 Americans

1916 Jeanette Rankin becomes the first congresswoman


On 1 February Germany begins unrestricted submarine warfare. They sink all neutral ships trying to trade with Britain.

British intelligence intercepts a telegram from Arthur Zimmerman, German Foreign Secretary, which states that if Germany goes to war with the USA Mexico should be encouraged to attack the USA.

On 6 April the USA declares war on Germany.

In June the first American soldiers are sent to France.


Vast numbers of US troops travel to France.

In September the Americans destroy a German salient at St Mihiel. They then launch an attack in the Meuse-Argonne area.

In November Germany surrenders.


Women gain the vote in federal elections.

Prohibition begins. It is now illegal to make, transport or sell alcohol.

1921 The Emergency Quota Act restricts immigration

1920s The US economy booms. Consumer goods such as cars become common. Radio also becomes common.

1925 The first motel opens

1927 The Jazz Singer, the first ‘talkie’ is made


The American economy enters a downturn.

On 24 October, Black Thursday, panic selling of shares happens. This event becomes known as the Wall Street Crash.


Business confidence disappears. Banks fail and industry slumps.

By 1932 American industrial production has fallen by half and exports have fallen to one third of their 1929 level. About 25% of the workforce are unemployed.

President Hoover advocates rugged individualism. He believes too much state help makes people dependent.

The destitute live in shantytowns they call Hoovervilles. Soup kitchens make soup called Hoover Stew.

1930 The Chrysler building opens in New York

1931 The Empire State building opens

1932 In November Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president


In March the Emergency Banking Act closes all banks. They are only allowed to reopen if the federal government declares they are solvent.

In May the Federal Emergency Relief Act gives states grants to provide work like repairing roads and improving parks and schools.

Roosevelt also from the Civilian Conservation Corps which employs young men on conservation projects.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act tries to help farmers by reducing supply. Land is set aside and not used.


The Social Security Act creates old age pensions and an unemployment insurance scheme.

The National Labor Relations Act upholds workers right to collective bargaining.


Wallace Carothers discovers nylon.

The Goldengate Bridge opens.

The Memorial day massacre. Police kill 12 men in an American steel strike.


A Fair Labor Standards Act creates a minimum wage.

The Congress of Industrial Organizations is formed.


American industrial production reaches its 1929 level. However there is still mass unemployment and measures by Roosevelt have had only limited success.

Pan American Airways makes its first transatlantic flight.


In January unemployment in the USA stands at 14%.

Alarmed by German success in Europe Roosevelt introduces conscription.


On 7 December Japan attacks the US fleet at Pearl Harbor.

On 11 December Germany and Italy declare war on the USA.


The Japanese have some initial success but they are crushed at the battle of Midway Island.

In November US troops invade French territory in Northwest Africa.

1943 US troops invade Italy

1944 US troops invade France

1945 Germany and Japan surrender

1947 The Cold War has begun

1948-1951 The USA provides Marshall Aid to help rebuild Europe, which has been shattered by war.

1949 The Housing Act provides for slum clearance and for public housing

1950-54 Senator Joseph McCarthy leads a witch hunt against suspected communists


The Supreme Court overturns the decision of 1896, which allowed segregated schools.

The first shopping mall opens in Detroit.


In December Rosa Parks sits on the front of a bus (reserved for white people) in Alabama and refuses to move. She is arrested but black people organize a boycott of the buses. Finally segregation on buses is ruled unconstitutional.

1957 Eisenhower sends troops to allow black students to enter Little Rock Central High School

1958 The USA launches its first satellite Explorer I


Hawaii and Alaska are admitted to the Union as states.

The Guggenheim Museum opens in New York.

1960 Black students in North Carolina stage a sit in when they are refused service in a restaurant. The sit-in movement quickly spreads.

1961 Alan B. Shepard becomes the first American in space.

1962 Kennedy sends troops to the State University of Mississippi to enforce a court order that a black student be admitted.


A bomb explodes in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing 4 girls.

A quarter of a million people march on Washington to demand civil rights. Martin Luther King makes his famous I have a dream speech.

The Equal Pay Act makes it illegal to pay men and women different amounts for doing the same work.

In November Kennedy is assassinated.


Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act.

In August North Vietnamese torpedo boats attack US warships. American involvement in Vietnam escalates.

1965 Malcolm X is assassinated.

1965-68 Black anger and resentment boil over into rioting.


Martin Luther King is assassinated.

Bobby Kennedy is shot.

The American Indian Movement is formed.

The Vietcong launch the Tet offensive.


Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to step on the moon.

The Woodstock Pop Festival is held.

1970-73 American troops are withdrawn from Vietnam.


Native Americans march on Washington in the Trail of Broken Treaties.

Men from the Committee for Re-election of the President (CREEP) break into the Democratic Party HQ in the Watergate Building. Nixon denies any involvement.

1973 Native American protesters occupy Wounded Knee

1974 Nixon is forced to resign.

1975 The USA is gripped by a recession. Unemployment climbs to 8.5%.

1980 Ronald Reagan is elected President

1981 The first space shuttle is launched

1980-82 The USA suffers recession. Inflation reaches 12.5% in 1908. Unemployment climbs to 11% in 1982.

1981 On 20 March President Reagan is shot and wounded

1983 Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.

1985 The American economy recovers and unemployment falls to 7%

1986 On 28 January the Challenger space shuttle blows up

1988 Unemployment in the USA falls to 5.5% and inflation falls to 4.4%

1989 San Francisco is rocked by another earthquake

1992 There are race riots in Los Angeles when 4 white policemen accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted

1994 Los Angeles suffers an earthquake

1996 The Welfare Reform Act is passed to cut back welfare spending

1999 The American economy is prospering and unemployment stands at 4.2%

2005 New Orleans is devastated by Hurricane Katrina

2008 Barack Obama is elected the first African American president