The Colonial Period
The early 1600s saw the beginning of a great tide of emigration from Europe to North America. Spanning more than three centuries, this movement grew from a trickle of a few hundred English colonists to a floodtide of newcomers numbered in the millions. Impelled by powerful and diverse motivations, they built a new civilization on a once savage continent.
The first English immigrants to what is now the United States crossed the Atlantic long after thriving Spanish colonies had been established in Mexico, the West Indies, and South America. Like all early travelers to the New World, they came in small, overcrowded ships. During their six- to 12-week voyages they lived on meager rations. Many of them died of disease; ships were often battered by storms, and some were lost at sea.
To the weary voyager the sight of the American shore brought immense relief. Said one chronicler: The air at 12 leagues' distance smelt as sweet as a new-blown garden." The colonists' first glimpse of the new land was a vista of dense woods. True, the woods were inhabited by Indians, many of whom were hostile, and the threat of Indian attack would add to the hardships of daily life. But the vast, virgin forests, extending nearly 2,100 kilometers along the eastern seaboard from north to south, would prove to be a treasure-house, providing abundant food, fuel, and a rich source of raw materials for houses, furniture, ships, and profitable cargoes for export. The first permanent English settlement in America was a trading post founded in 1607 at Jamestown in the Old Dominion of Virginia.