The history of the United States dates back to the first settlers in the Americas. The settlers were defined by the hardships they endured and the unique relationships with the native Americans of the land, as well as with their home or “mother” nation.
France, Spain, and the Dutch all influenced the original settlers that would go on to create the United States, though Great Britain by far had the most influence. The creation of the thirteen British colonies in America would form the foundation upon which the colonists would build their own nation.
The severance of the colonies from Great Britain during the American Revolution would create the new nation of the United States. Although the United States is young by historical standards, it has a rich and unique history based upon one of the most influential and unique documents in history: the Constitution of the United States.
This living document still provides the foundation upon which the United States operates today.
Here is a look at a timeline of the history of the United States.
Timeline of the History of the United States
The 16th Century
1585: The first English colony in North America is founded and called the Roanoke Colony.
1590: The Roanoke Colony is found abandoned, mysteriously disappearing. Historians still cannot definitively determine what happened to the settlers.
The 17th Century
1608: The Popham Colony ends in failure due to poor relations with natives and a harsh winter.
1614: The Dutch claim the colony of New Netherland which centered around the trading city of New Amsterdam.
1619: The first African slaves arrive in Jamestown, VA. They were the first slaves in English continental North America, as there were slaves already on the English colonized island of Bermuda.
1620: The Mayflower Compact is signed and the Puritans found the Plymouth Colony.
1621: What is generally referred to as the first Thanksgiving occurs between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives in the area.
1628: The Massachusetts Bay Colony is founded in the northeast.
1630: The city of Boston is founded within the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1638: The Pequot War ends with the Treaty of Hartford and a decisive colonial victory.
1640: The Beaver Wars between the Iroquois nation and French escalate over the French Fur Trade.
1643: Several northeastern colonies form the New England Confederation as a military alliance against native polities.
1655: The short lived colony of New Sweden is incorporated into the Dutch colony of New Netherland.
1667: The Dutch Colony of New Netherland is ceded to the English under the Treaty of Breda.
1670: Charleston is founded in modern day South Carolina.
1674: After the Dutch recaptured New Netherland in 1673, the colony is permanently ceded to the English in the Treaty of Westminster.
1676: Bacon’s Rebellion takes place in the Virginia colony in an attempt to change the colony’s native american policies.
1681: William Penn receives a royal charter and founds the Pennsylvania colony.
1688: The Glorious Revolution occurs in England whereby James II is overthrown and replaced by William and Mary of Orange.
1692: The infamous Salem Witch Trials occur in the Massachusetts colony.
1699: The capital of the Virginia colony is moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg. The Jamestown colony is slowly abandoned.
The 18th Century
1705: The Virginia House of Burgesses passes the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 regulating the treatment of slaves in the colony.
1712: The New York Slave revolt of 1712 occurs leading to more restrictive laws against slaves and black people in the colony.
1723: The French establish Fort Orleans on the Missouri River in the newly acquired Louisiana territory.
1729: The city of Baltimore is founded.
1732: The colony of Georgia is founded.
1739: The Stono Rebellion of 1739 occurs when dozens of South Carolina slaves attempted to flee to Spanish Florida.
1740: The Negro Act of 1740 is passed in South Carolina further limiting slaves rights in response to the Stono Rebellion.
1741: The New York Conspiracy of 1741 is suppressed. The event was an alleged plot by slaves and poor white to burn New York City, though some historians doubt the plot ever existed.
1754: The French and Indian War begins engulfing the colonies in a large scale war with the French and Native Americans.
1759: The British take the French city of Quebec, all but assuring victory in the American theater of the war.
1763: The Treaty of Paris is signed formally ending the French and Indian War. Pontiac’s Rebellion erupts showing that conflict with Native Americans would continue as colonists encroached on frontier native land. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is issued to help limit westward expansion by the colonists.
1765: The Stamp Act of 1765 generates fierce resistance and protests in the colonies over British attempts at unjust taxation.
1775: The siege of Boston erupts and the Battle of Bunker Hill occurs giving the British a Pyrrhic victory. Afterwards, the Olive Branch Petition is sent to King George as a last attempt to avoid war with Britain.
1776: The colonists declare independence from Great Britain on July 4th, officially creating the United States of America.
1777: A major turning point in the war comes with the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, helping to formally bring France into the war.
1781: The Battle of Cowpens is fought in South Carolina, becoming a major turning point in the southern campaign. At the Battle of Yorktown, the United States scores a major victory against the British in the last major engagement of the war.
1783: The Treaty of Paris (1783) formally ends the American Revolution
1786-1787: Shays’ Rebellion erupts in Massachusetts highlighting the weakness of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation.
1787-1788: The Federalist Papers are anonymously published and serve as the most influential defense of the new US Constitution.
1788-1789: George Washington unanimously elected as the first President under the new Constitution.
1792: George Washington reelected for a second term as President.
1794: Jay’s Treaty of 1794 is signed between the United States and Great Britain helping to resolve longstanding issues. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 occurs on the Pennsylvania frontier led by disgruntled whiskey distillers.
1796: John Adams (Federalist) elected as the second President of the United States
The 19th Century
1800: Thomas Jefferson is elected as the third President of the United States, defeating John Adams in a close race.
1804: Jefferson is elected to a second term
1808: James Madison is chosen as the fourth President of the United States.
1812: James Madison is reelected as President; the War of 1812 with Great Britain begins.
1814: The Hartford Convention of 1814 occurs, leading to the end of the Federalist party in the national political scene.
1815: Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of New Orleans, one of the most important Battles of the War of 1812; the Treaty of Ghent is signed with Great Britain ending the war.
1816: James Monroe is elected as the fifth President of the United States beginning what is known as the “Era of Good Feelings.”
1820: Monroe is reelected to a second term virtually unopposed.
1823: In his seventh annual message to Congress, James Monroe proclaims the Monroe Doctrine which greatly influences US foreign policy.
1824: The election of 1824, or the “corrupt” bargain, occurs where the House of Representatives decides John Quincy Adams will become the sixth President of the United States.
1828: Andrew Jackson wins the rematch of the 1824 election and becomes the sixth President of the United States.
1832: Jackson is reelected to a second term in office.
1833: The Compromise tariff of 1833 ends the Nullification Crisis of 1832 where South Carolina threatened to secede over the unpopular Tariffs of 1828 and 1832.
1836: Martin Van Buren is elected as the eighth President of the United States. The Battle of the Alamo takes place during the Texas Revolution.
1840: William Henry Harrison defeats the incumbent Van Buren to become the ninth President of the United States. Harrison was the first member of the Whig Party to be elected President.
1841: Harrison dies after just 31 days in office after becoming ill. Vice President John Tyler succeeds him as the tenth President of the United States, though quickly abandons Whig principles.
1844: James K. Polk wins the election and becomes the eleventh President of the United States. Polk ran on a platform of Manifest Destiny.
1848: Mexican-American War hero and General Zachary Taylor becomes the twelve President of the United States. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed formally ending the Mexican-American war and leading to the Mexican Cession.
1850: Taylor dies in office and Vice President Millard Fillmore replaces him and becomes the thirteenth President of the United States.
1852: After Fillmore served out the remainder of Taylor’s original term he was passed over by the Whig Party in favor of General Winfield Scott. Scott would lose in a landslide to Franklin Pierce who was elected as the fourteenth President of the United States.
1856: James Buchanon wins the election of 1856, the only time in history when a political party (the Democratic Party) denied a nomination to the incumbent President (Pierce) and won.
1859: John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry terrifies southern states and becomes a major event in the lead up to the Civil War.
1860: In one of the most divisive elections in history, Abraham Lincoln is elected as the sixteenth President of the United States. Just months later South Carolina would secede from the Union.
1861: Great Britain is nearly drawn into the US Civil War via the Trent Affair.
1864: Lincoln wins reelection in the midst of the Civil War despite facing a challenge from disgruntled former Union General George McClellan.
1865: The Civil War ends. Just days after Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia, President Lincoln is assassinated while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre. Vice President Andrew Johnson succeeds him as the seventeenth President of the United States.
1868: The first presidential impeachment in the US occurs when Johnson is impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate. Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant wins the election of 1868 and becomes the eighteenth President of the United States.
1870: Congress enacts the first federal holiday law giving paid time off to federal workers.
1872: Grant easily wins reelection with a wide popular and electoral vote margin.
1876: In one of the most contested elections in US history, the Compromise of 1877 gives Rutherford B. Hayes the Presidency over Samuel Tilden in exchange for the understanding that Hayes would remove federal troops from the south and end the period of Reconstruction.
1880: James A. Garfield wins the election of 1880 and becomes the twentieth President of the United States.
1881: Garfield is assassinated by a radical member of his own political party. Vice President Chester A. Arthur becomes the twenty-first President of the United States.
1883: The Pendleton Act of 1883 is passed leading to massive reforms to civil service in the United States.
1884: Grover Cleveland becomes the first Democratic President (and twenty-second overall) since James Buchanon in 1856.
1887: Congress passes the 1887 Dawes Severalty Act which aimed to integrate Native American tribes into American society. Instead the act distributed massive amounts of native lands to white settlers and further contributed to the decline of Native American society.
1888: Despite losing the popular vote, Benjamin Harrison wins an electoral majority, defeats incumbent Grover Cleveland, and becomes the twenty-third President of the United States.
1892: Grover Cleveland wins a rematch of the 1888 election and assumes the presidency once more. He is the only person to date to be elected in non-consecutive terms and is thus the twenty-second and also twenty-fourth President of the United States.
1896: William McKinley wins the election of 1896 and becomes the twenty-fifth President of the United States.
The 20th Century
1900: William McKinley wins a rematch of the 1896 election, once again defeating the Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryan.
1901: McKinley is assassinated by a self-proclaimed anarchist in Buffalo, New York. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt succeeds him becoming the twenty-sixth President of the United States.
1904: Theodore Roosevelt wins reelection becoming the first President to win a full term in office after ascending to the Presidency via the death of the previous President. In his State of the Union Address, he issues his Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
1908: William Howard Taft is elected as the twenty-seventh President of the United States. William Jennings Bryan is defeated for the third time.
1912: Woodrow Wilson is elected as the twenty-eighth President of the United States. Wilson was the first Democratic president since Grover Cleveland taking advantage of a split Republican ticket between Taft and Roosevelt.
1916: Wilson narrowly wins reelection, running on a campaign of staying out of World War I.
1919: The US government conducts a series of raids known as the Palmer Raids aimed at detaining suspected radical anarchists.
1920: Warren G Harding becomes the twenty-ninth President in a landslide victory. His margin of victory in the popular vote remains the highest since James Monroe ran virtually unopposed in 1820.
1923: Harding suffers a heart attack and dies while on a tour of the west coast. Calvin Coolidge succeeds him as the thirtieth President of the United States.
1924: Coolidge wins reelection in one of the lowest voter turnouts in the modern era since official records were kept.
1928: The Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge, Herbert Hoover wins the 1928 election and becomes the thirty-first President of the United States.
1932: Mired in the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeats Hoover in a landslide to become the thirty-second President of the United States.
1934: The Dust Bowl begins as severe drought impacts the Great Plains region for the next decade.
1936: Roosevelt easily wins reelection with another landslide victory carrying all but two states.
1940: Roosevelt wins an unprecedented third term in office, breaking the two-term precedent set by George Washington in his farewell address.
1943: At the Tehran Conference, the “Big Three” meet in person for the first time to strategically plan the next steps in World War II.
1944: Mired in the midst of World War II, Roosevelt wins a fourth term riding the wave of momentum brought by Allied successes in the war.
1945: Roosevelt dies three months into his fourth term. Vice President Harry Truman ascends to become the thirty-third President of the United States
1948: Though considered an underdog, Truman shockingly wins reelection to another term in office in 1948.
1952: Former World War II General Dwight D Eisenhower wins in a landslide and becomes the thirty-fourth President.
1956: Eisenhower was a popular President and easily wins reelection in a rematch of the 1952 election. The Interstate Highways Act of 1956 passes leading to the creation of the modern interstate system.
1960: John F. Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon to become the first Catholic President and youngest ever at the time of election. Kennedy became the thirty-fifth President of the United States.
1963: Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, TX, generating many conspiracy theories over the nature of his death. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson becomes the thirty-sixth President of the United States.
1964: Lyndon B. Johnson wins reelection, cruising to victory over Republican Barry Goldwater.
1968: Former Eisenhower Vice President Richard Nixon wins election becoming the thirty-seventh President of the United States.
1972: Nixon cruises to reelection, taking nearly 61% of the popular vote.
1974: Nixon resigns on corruption charges stemming from the Watergate scandal. Vice President Gerald Ford becomes the thirty-eighth President of the United States.
1976: Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter narrowly defeats incumbent Gerald Ford to become the thirty-ninth President of the United States.
1980: Carter was an unpopular President, and was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. Reagan became the fortieth President of the United States.
1984: Reagan was ultra popular and retained a wide margin of victory in his 1984 reelection campaign.
1988: Former Reagan Vice President George H. W. Bush is elected as the forty-first President of the United States.
1992: H. W. Bush is defeated by Bill Clinton in a race where 3rd party candidate Ross Perot received a significant amount of the popular vote. Clinton becomes the forty-second President of the United States.
1996: Clinton is reelected to a second term in office.
The 21st Century
2000: George W. Bush defeats Al Gore in a highly controversial election that was decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Bush would be the forty-third President of the United States.
2004: Riding a wave of patriotism, Bush wins reelection over Senator John Kerry.
2008: Barack Obama wins a historic election, becoming the first African American man elected President. Obama became the forty-fourth President of the United States.
2012: Obama wins reelection, though by a slightly narrower margin than his 2008 victory.
2016: Donald Trump becomes the forty-fifth President of the United States.
2020: Joe Biden defeats incumbent Donald Trump to become the forty-six President of the United States. The election was marred by false claims of voter fraud from Trump – who did not accept the results of the election and attempted to overturn the election results.