Lesson 1 - The First Americans Setting the Stage - Our Colonial Heritage
In this unit, you will learn about the first Americans—the American Indian peoples who were here when the first Europeans arrived. You will also learn about the Europeans who colonized North America. The British colonies settled along the Atlantic coast would become the first 13 states in the nation.
Political divisions like colonies and states did not exist before the Europeans arrived. Each American Indian group occupied a territory that had no formal boundaries. As the map on the opposite page shows, the continent’s physical geography varies greatly.American Indians lived in harmony with the land. Their different environments gave them different ways of life. Contact with European colonists changed those ways of life. The map below shows where European nations claimed land in North America. To satisfy French demand for furs, American Indians in regions claimed by France began to hunt more. The Spanish tried to enslave Indians and, along with the English, wanted their land.
Increased hunting, flight from slavery, and loss of land pushed some Indian groups into territory occupied by other Indians. As the British colonies became a nation, and as that nation grew, this population shift continued. Eventually, almost no Indian lands remained. However, the names of many places in North America are reminders of those lands. The Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers get their names from American Indian words, as do about half the states.