A Biography of America
America at the Centennial – Alternative Timeline to 1876
Revisit the events up to 1876
First African Slaves on Hispaniola
Spanish introduce the use of African slaves on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
Slave Rebellion on Hispaniola
A major slave rebellion on Hispaniola marks the beginning of a long series of uprisings in Spanish-held territory in the New World.
1539 - 1542
De Soto Explores Southeast
Hernando de Soto and his army travel through ten future states, from Florida to Arkansas, wreaking havoc on native cultures.
1540 - 1542
Coronado Explores Southwest
Francisco Vasques de Coronado, heads from Mexico City in an unsuccessful search for cities of silver, travelling as far as Kansas and California and crushing native resistance to his troops.
Oñate Conquers Pueblos in New Mexico for Spain
Juan de Oñate leads soldiers and settlers into New Mexico, brutally putting down resistance at Ácoma.
The London Company, a joint stock enterprise created to find gold and other riches in America, sends 104 Englishmen to found Jamestown. All but 38 die in the first nine months.
Marriage of Pocahontas
Pocahontas (Princess Matoaka), daughter of the chief of the Powhatans in Virginia, marries John Rolfe, an English settler and one of the leading promoters of tobacco. Her conversion to Christianity and her marriage to Rolfe help keep the peace for several years between English settlers in Virginia and the Powhatans. Three years later Pocahontas dies while visiting England with her husband.
First Slaves in Virginia
A cargo of twenty African slaves arrives at Jamestown, Virginia, on a Dutch ship. The Dutch privateer had taken the slaves from a Spanish ship. This is the first documented case of African slavery in the English colonies.
Plymouth Colony Founded
A group of Separatist Puritans (Pilgrims) found the first English settlement in New England.
The Pequot War begins in Connecticut when a combined force of 240 Puritans and a thousand Indian allies attack the Pequot without warning. The Pequot are the most influential tribe in New England. Although the Pequot had never attacked the English settlers, the English consider them to be a political threat. By 1837 the Pequot are almost completely wiped out.
Dutch Indian Massacre
The Dutch stage a massacre of 1500 Indians of the Wappinger Confederacy seeking Dutch protection from raiding Mohawks.
King Philip’s War
King Philip (Metacom) leads Narraganset and Wampanoag warriors in attacks on 52 New England settlements. Before he is killed in 1676, his confederation destroys a dozen settlements and kills 600 colonists. Metacom’s head is carried to Plymouth, where it is displayed for 20 years. His wife, children, and warriors are sold into slavery in the West Indies. The war devastates the Indian population of southern New England.
Popé, a Tewa medicine man, leads a Pueblo Rebellion that drives the Spanish from New Mexico. He has long opposed Spanish rule and the conversion of the Pueblo to Christianity. Once in power, he destroys all vestiges of Spanish rule and deals harshly with those Indians who had been baptized. He dies in 1690, and the Spanish reclaim New Mexico in 1692.
About twenty slaves with stolen guns and ammunition embark on a ten-mile march along the Stono River near Charleston, S.C., invading houses and killing white occupants. Led by an Angolan named Jemmy, the band grows to about 100 along the route. The slaves, who carry banners and shout “liberty,” kill about 25 whites before they meet with armed resistance. Many of the rebels are killed, and the rest are captured and executed.
Slaves in Virginia Number 100,000
There are 100,000 slaves in Virginia.
Pontiac’s Rebellion begins and lasts for three years. Chief Pontiac fights against the British for control of the Great Lakes region.
The British government, seeking to fund its army in America, imposes a “stamp tax” on several items, including American legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards. Colonists resist the tax and organize the Sons of Liberty to coordinate their protests.
Former slave Crispus Attucks leads a mob of fellow sailors in an assault on British troops guarding the Boston Customs House. The Redcoats fire on the mob, killing Attucks and four others. Dramatized in Paul Revere’s widely circulated engraving, the incident becomes a legendary symbol of British injustice in the colonies. Attucks, an African American, is frequently cited as the first to die in the struggle for independence.
Phillis Wheatley Becomes Noted Poet
Phillis Wheatley, a teen-aged slave, is purchased in Boston. She masters the English language and becomes a poet known for her strong religious imagery.
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Revolutionary War begins as local militiamen battle General Gage’s British troops sent from Boston to seize colonial arms stored in Concord, Massachusetts. Gage is defeated at Concord and his troops retreat back to Boston.
In response to Lexington and Concord, Virginia’s royal governor, the Earl of Dunmore, declares martial law and promises freedom to all indentured servants and slaves who take up arms against rebellious colonists. He underestimates the effect of his proclamation. Over 800 slaves join up, thousands are inspired to flee, and angry members of the House of Burgesses hasten Virginia’s entry into the Revolutionary War.
Declaration of Independence
The Second Continental Congress issues a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, proclaiming that a new nation, the United States of America, was assuming a “separate and equal station” among the “powers of the earth.”
Molly Pitcher Fights at the Battle of Monmouth
Mary McCauley, known as Molly Pitcher, takes up firing her husband’s cannon when he falls in battle and becomes a heroine of the Revolutionary War.
Pennsylvania Abolition Law
Pennsylvania, under the influence of Quaker abolitionists, and in part as a reaction against the “tyranny” of Great Britain, passes an emancipation law that outlaws lifetime slavery after 1780, but allows a gradual phasing out of slavery and indentured servitude.
Deborah Sampson Enlists in Continental Army
Deborah Sampson, desiring to serve in the Continental army, disguises herself as a man and enlists under the name Robert Shurtleff.
Massachusetts High Court Ends Slavery
As a result of a series of cases involving Quock Walker, a slave who left his master’s service and sought better treatment with a neighbor, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declares slavery to be incompatible with the State Constitution of 1780. The case does not immediately end all slavery in Massachusetts, but sends a strong message that the state courts would no longer support slavery.
Treaty of Paris Grants Independence to the U.S.
Great Britain grants the victorious United States unconditional independence, with sovereignty over lands bounded by Canada to the north, the 31st parallel to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west.
The Constitutional Convention meets in Philadelphia and drafts a new form of government for the United States.
African American Church Established
Richard Allen, a 27-year-old freedman in Philadelphia, establishes the Free African Society to work for the social and economic betterment of African Americans. He goes on to establish the African Methodist Episcopal Church after he and other blacks are denied the right to worship in a white Methodist congregation.
Slaves in Virginia Number 200,000
There are 200,000 slaves in Virginia.
Fugitive Slave Act
Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act which makes it illegal to help a slave escape from bondage.
Cotton Gin Invented
Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, a machine for removing seeds from cotton, dramatically increases cotton production in the South. As cotton production rises, the demand for slave labor increases.
Child Labor in Cotton Mill
Child labor is employed in the Slater Cotton Mills in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
A Virginia slave named Gabriel leads a band of a few hundred slaves in an aborted attempt to take Richmond, capture the arsenal there, and cause a widespread slave uprising. A heavy rainstorm thwarts the rebellion and prevents the rebel slaves from reaching Richmond. Governor James Monroe calls out the militia to round up the slaves. Thirty-four, including Gabriel, are hanged.
U.S. Purchases Louisiana Territory from France
France sells the 827,000 square miles to the United States for $15 million, doubling the size of the nation.
Sacagawea Aids Lewis and Clark Expedition
Sacagawea, a 16-year-old Shoshone, her newborn son and husband, a French trader, join the Lewis and Clark Expedition as interpreters and guides. She leads the explorers from present-day North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean. On the return trip, Sacagawea guides the expedition through the mountains at the site of present-day Bozeman Pass, Montana. Her exploits on the expedition help ensure its success.
Slave Importation Banned
The United States bans the importation of slaves from foreign countries. The internal slave trade within the United States is unaffected by the law, and illegal slaves continue to be smuggled into the country.
Freed Slaves Returned to Africa
The American Colonization Society is founded with the purpose of returning freed slaves to Africa. The idea of returning slaves to Africa never materializes to any significant extent, although more than 11,000 return to Africa before the Civil War and form the basis for the African state of Liberia.
First Seminole War
Andrew Jackson leads troops in an attempt to drive the Seminole from their homeland in Florida.
Maine is admitted as a free state and Missouri is admitted as a slave state. Slavery is prohibited in the rest of the Louisiana Territory north of 36°30′.
Slave Plot Uncovered
Denmark Vesey, a former slave who had purchased his own freedom and become a prominent citizen in the African American community of Charleston, S.C., is so incensed by slavery that he plans a secret insurrection to take over Charleston and kill as many slaveholders as possible. The plot is discovered; Vesey and about 130 followers are captured and tried. Some are banished; 35, including Vesey, are hanged.
Sojourner Truth Crusades against Slavery
Freed slave Isabella van Wagener takes the name Sojourner Truth and becomes a leading abolitionist, especially in New York and New England, preaching for many years against slavery.
Indian Removal Act
President Andrew Jackson signs into law the Indian Removal Act, which forces the relocation of Indians to lands west of the Mississippi River.
Garrison Publishes The Liberator
William Lloyd Garrison of Boston begins publication of The Liberator, which has as its goal the abolition of all slavery in the United States.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion
Nat Turner, a religiously inspired slave, leads a revolt against his master and other slave holders that results in the deaths of 60 whites in Virginia over a two-day period. Turner and most of his 75 followers are killed outright or eventually captured. Turner is tried and hanged for the murder of his master and his family while they slept. This slave revolt sends much fear through the slave-holding South.
Lydia M. Child Publishes Anti-slavery Tract
Lydia Maria Child publishes An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, an influential abolitionist tract.
Federal Troops Quell Striking Canal Workers
For the first time in American history, federal troops are used to put down labor strife when President Andrew Jackson orders troops sent to restore order among the workers on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Second Seminole War
The Second Seminole War begins and lasts seven years as the United States attempts to drive Seminoles from Florida. Many are driven into the Everglades, where they are captured and resettled in small bands in the West. A few Seminole remain undefeated in Florida’s hinterlands.
Gag Rule on Slavery
The U.S. Congress institutes the “gag rule” which prohibits the introduction of bills and petitions related to the abolition of slavery. The gag rule remains in force until 1844.
Osceola, leader of the Seminoles in Florida, is taken prisoner while under a flag of truce, and many of his people are killed, in the last major effort to eliminate the Seminole from Florida. Osceola dies in captivity in 1838. Colonel Zachary Taylor, who leads the federal troops that defeat the Seminole, wins promotion to brigadier general. He later becomes president of the United States.
Frederick Douglass Publishes Slave Narrative
The most famous of the first-person accounts of slavery in the United States, The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, is an important stimulant to the abolitionist movement. After purchasing his freedom in 1847, Douglass becomes the leading black abolitionist in the country, as an agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.
Seneca Falls Conference on Women’s Rights
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott launch the Woman Suffrage movement at a conference in Seneca Falls, NY. On July 19-20, about 100 men and women meet to discuss the unequal treatment of women, including the most controversial issue, the right of women to vote. They issue the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, calling for equal treatment of women.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Ends Mexican War
The United States gains lands from California to New Mexico and recognition of the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of Texas.
Compromise of 1850, including Fugitive Slave Law
California becomes a free state, Texas’ permanent boundary is defined, and New Mexico and Utah Territories are opened to slavery. A stronger fugitive slave law and suppression of the slave trade in the District of Columbia are also included.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Explores Evils of Slavery
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s popular novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, does much to promote the abolitionist movement by sympathetically portraying the plight of slaves and by showing in dramatic fashion the evils of slavery.
Temperance Society Formed
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton found the Woman’s New York Temperance Society.
Lands are open to slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories, which are north of the Missouri Compromise Line.
Dred Scott Case
In the Supreme Court Case of Scott v. Sanford, better known as the Dred Scott Case, the high court rules that slavery is legal in U.S. Territories. This decision fuels the flames of anti-slavery sentiment in the North.
John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry
Considered by many to be a martyr to the cause of African American freedom and by others to be an extreme terrorist, John Brown, the fiery abolitionist, leads a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) to capture weapons and lead an army of slaves to end slavery in America. Troops under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee, capture Brown. He is hanged for treason on December 2, 1859.
Confederate Troops Fire on Fort Sumter
The Civil War begins as Confederate troops bombard the federal garrison on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.
Clara Barton Nurses Civil War Wounded
Clara Barton, a government clerk, braves the carnage of Civil War battlefields to act as a nurse, earning the commendation of President Lincoln. Later, in 1881, she would found the American Red Cross.
The Emancipation Proclamation is issued on January 1, 1863. It abolishes slavery in those territories controlled by the Confederacy but does not abolish slavery in the states bordering the Confederacy. The power of the Emancipation Proclamation is that wherever the Union Army goes in the Confederate States, slavery ends. The Emancipation Proclamation changes the Civil War from a war to save the Union to a war to end slavery.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery in the United States.
National Labor Union Established
The National Labor Union is established by workers in Baltimore who want an eight-hour workday.
First Woman Runs for Congress
Suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton runs unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress, even though women do not have the right to vote at the time.
Knights of Labor Established
The Knights of Labor is launched with the goal of creating one large union for all workers. The organization reaches a peak membership of more than 700,000 workers by the mid-1880s.
National Woman Suffrage Association Founded
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association to promote the right of women to vote.
Coal Strike in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania coal miners go on strike, spurred by a secret Irish-American organization called the Molly McGuires.
Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia
The United States celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
Battle of Little Big Horn
On July 4, 1876, word comes by telegraph to Centennial revelers in Philadelphia that the famous Indian fighter Col. George A. Custer and his troops of the 7th Cavalry were soundly defeated nine days earlier by warriors of a combined Sioux and Cheyenne village at the Little Big Horn. It is one of the most dramatic encounters between plains Indians and federal troops.
Centennial Women’s Protest
On the Fourth of July, during the great Centennial celebration of the nation in Philadelphia, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton lead a band of feminists onto the fairgrounds in protest of the failure of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to include the right of women to vote.
Centennial Violence in South Carolina
On the Fourth of July in Hamburg, South Carolina, a group of black militia, many of them Civil War veterans, are prevented from marching in a Fourth of July parade by whites armed with a cannon. Several black militiamen are murdered in cold blood, and in a sham trial, the white murderers are acquitted.
Unit 1 New World Encounters
American history moves from west to east, beginning with Ice Age migrations, through the corn civilizations of Middle America, to the explorations of Columbus, de Soto, and other Spaniards.
Unit 2 English Settlement
As the American character begins to take shape in the early seventeenth century, English settlements develop in New England and Virginia. Their personalities are dramatically different. Professor Miller explores the origins of values, cultures, and economies that have collided in the North and South throughout the American story.
Unit 3 Growth and Empire
Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's Philadelphia take center stage in this program. As the merchant class grows in the North, the economies of southern colonies are built on the shoulders of the slave trade. Professor Miller brings the American story to 1763 with the Peace of Paris and English dominance in America.
Unit 4 The Coming of Independence
Professor Maier tells the story of how the English-loving colonist transforms into the freedom-loving American rebel. The luminaries of the early days of the Republic -- Washington, Jefferson, Adams -- are featured in this program as they craft the Declaration of -- and wage the War for -- Independence.
Unit 5 A New System of Government
After the War for Independence, the struggle for a new system of government begins. Professor Maier looks at the creation of the Constitution of the United States. The Republic survives a series of threats to its union, and the program ends with the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826.
Unit 6 Westward Expansion
At the dawn of the 19th century, the size of the United States doubles with the Louisiana Purchase. The Appalachians are no longer the barrier to American migration west; the Mississippi River becomes the country's central artery; and Jefferson's vision of an Empire of Liberty begins to take shape. American historian Stephen Ambrose joins Professors Maier and Miller in examining the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase -- for the North, the South, and the history of the country.
Unit 7 The Rise of Capitalism
Individual enterprise merges with technological innovation to launch the Commercial Revolution -- the seedbed of American industry. The program features the ideas of Adam Smith, the efforts of entrepreneurs in New England and Chicago, the Lowell Mills Experiment, and the engineering feats involved in Chicago's early transformation from marsh to metropolis.
Unit 8 The Reform Impulse
The Industrial Revolution has its dark side, and the tumultuous events of the period touch off intense and often thrilling reform movements. Professor Masur presents the ideas and characters behind the Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, the women's movement, and a powerful wave of religious fervor.
Unit 9 Slavery
While the North develops an industrial economy and culture, the South develops a slave culture and economy, and the great rift between the regions becomes unbreachable. Professor Masur looks at the human side of the history of the mid-1800s by sketching a portrait of the lives of slave and master.
Unit 10 The Coming of the Civil War
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Unit 11 The Civil War
As the Civil War rages, all eyes turn to Vicksburg, where limited war becomes total war. Professor Miller looks at the ferocity of the fighting, at Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and at the bitter legacy of the battle -- and the war.
Unit 12 Reconstruction
Professor Miller begins the program by evoking in word and picture the battlefield after the battle of Gettysburg. With the assassination of President Lincoln, one sad chapter of American history comes to a close. In the fatigue and cynicism of the Civil War's aftermath, Reconstructionism becomes a promise unfulfilled.
Unit 13 America at Its Centennial
As America celebrates its centennial, 5 million people descend on Philadelphia to celebrate America's technological achievements, but some of the early principles of the Republic remain unrealized. Professor Miller and his team of historians examine where America is in 1876 and discuss the question of race.
Unit 14 Industrial Supremacy
Steel and stockyards are featured in this program as the mighty engine of industrialism thunders forward at the end of the nineteenth century. Professor Miller continues the story of the American Industrial Revolution in New York and Chicago, looking at the lives of Andrew Carnegie, Gustavus Swift, and the countless workers in the packinghouse and on the factory floor.
Unit 15 The New City
Professor Miller explores the tension between the messy vitality of cities that grow on their own and those where orderly growth is planned. Chicago -- with Hull House, the World's Columbian Exposition, the new female workforce, the skyscraper, the department store, and unfettered capitalism -- is the place to watch a new world in the making at the turn of the century.
Unit 16 The West
Professor Scharff continues the story of Jefferson's Empire of Liberty. Railroads and ranchers, rabble-rousers and racists populate America's distant frontiers, and Native Americans are displaced from their homelands. Feminists gain a foothold in their fight for the right to vote, while farmers organize and the Populist Party appears on the American political landscape.
Unit 17 Capital and Labor
The making of money pits laborers against the forces of capital as the twentieth century opens. Professor Miller introduces the miner as the quintessential laborer of the period -- working under grinding conditions, organizing into unions, and making a stand against the reigning money man of the day, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Unit 18 TR and Wilson
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley.
Unit 19 A Vital Progressivism
Professor Martin offers a fresh perspective on Progressivism, arguing that its spirit can be best seen in the daily struggles of ordinary people. In a discussion with Professors Scharff and Miller, the struggles of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans are placed in the context of the traditional white Progressive movement.
Unit 20 The Twenties
The Roaring Twenties take to the road in Henry Ford's landscape-altering invention -- the Model T. Ford's moving assembly line, the emergence of a consumer culture, and the culmination of forces let loose by these entities in Los Angeles are all explored by Professor Miller.
Unit 21 FDR and the Depression
Professor Brinkley continues his story of twentieth century presidents with a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Brinkley paints a picture of America during the Depression and chronicles some of Roosevelt's programmatic and personal efforts to help the country through its worst economic crisis. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is at FDR's side and, in many respects, ahead of him as the decade unfolds.
Unit 22 World War II
America is enveloped in total war, from mobilization on the home front to a scorching air war in Europe. Professor Miller's view of World War II is a personal essay on the morality of total war, and its effects on those who fought, died, and survived it, including members of his own family.
Unit 23 The Fifties
World War II is fought to its bitter end in the Pacific and the world lives with the legacy of its final moment: the atomic bomb. Professor Miller continues the story as veterans return from the war and create new lives for themselves in the '50s. The GI Bill, Levittown, civil rights, the Cold War, and rock 'n' roll are discussed.
Unit 24 The Sixties
Professor Scharff weaves the story of the Civil Rights movement with stories of the Vietnam War and Watergate to create a portrait of a decade. Lyndon Johnson emerges as a pivotal character, along with Stokely Carmichael, Fanny Lou Hamer, and other luminaries of the era.
Unit 25 Contemporary History
The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.
Unit 26 The Redemptive Imagination
Storytelling is a relentless human urge and its power forges with memory to become the foundation of history. Novelists Charles Johnson (Middle Passage), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), and Esmeralda Santiago (America's Dream) join Professor Miller in discussing the intersection of history and story. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., closes the series with a reflection on the power of the human imagination.