New Amsterdam Becomes New York

The British seize Manhattan from the Dutch—and alter the trajectory of North American history

On September 5, 1664, two men faced one another across a small stretch of water. Onshore, just outside the fort at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, stood Peter Stuyvesant, director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, his 52-year-old frame balanced on the wooden stump where he had lost a leg in battle a quarter century earlier. Approaching him aboard a small rowboat flying a flag of truce was John Winthrop, governor of the Connecticut colony, until very recently a man Stuyvesant had called his friend. Read more »

We Were What We Wore

Fashion once expressed America’s class distinctions. But it doesn’t any more.

A Chicago judge ruled in 1908 that a nightgown was a luxury, not a necessity, and thereupon issued a restraining order forbidding an eighteen-year-old girl from buying one against her father’s wishes. “The only possible use of a nightgown,” the judge explained, “is to keep off flies and mosquitoes, and the bedclothes will do just as well.” The father testified: “She never wore a nightgown in her life, and neither did her parents.Read more »

Champlain Among The Mohawk, 1609

A Soldier-Humanist Fights a War for Peace in North America

A few generations ago, American colonial history centered on a single narrative that flowed from Jamestown in 1607 to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Today early American history has blossomed into a braided narrative with many story lines.

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Finding The Real Jamestown

The archaeologist who discovered the real Jamestown debunks myths and answers long-puzzling mysteries about North America's first successful English colony

Forget much of what you know about the Jamestown colony. For the past 200 years, many archaeologists and historians believed that the James River had largely eroded any traces of the original settlement over the intervening four centuries. Our excavations, ongoing since 1994, have proved otherwise...Read more »

Yankee Gunners at Louisbourg

Gallant exploits against long odds helped the American militia capture the famous French citadel.

Fortified towns are hard nuts to crack, and your teeth are not accustomed to it. Taking strong places is a particular trade, which you have taken up without serving an apprenticeship to it. Armies and veterans need skillful engineers to direct them in their attack. Have you any? But some seem to think that forts are as easy taken as snuff.

--Benjamin Franklin in a letter to his brother in Boston before the siege of Louisbourg.

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Roanoke’s Lost Colony Found?

New ideas—and archaeological evidence—may provide answers to colonial North America’s longest-running mystery

One hot august day in 1590, the heavily armed privateer Hopewell dropped anchor off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. John White had returned to resupply the 118 men, women, and children whom he had left on Roanoke Island three long years earlier.Read more »

Shipwrecked History: Spanish Ships Found In Pensacola Harbor

A hurricane sank a fleet in Pensacola Bay 450 years ago, dooming the first major European attempt to colonize North America, a story that archaeologists are just now fleshing out

On August 15, 1559, the bay now known as Pensacola slowly filled with a curious fleet of 11 Spanish vessels, their decks crammed with an odd mix of colonists and holds filled to bursting with supplies and ceramic jars of olive oil and wine from Cadiz. Aboard the 570-ton flagship Jesus stood the wealthy and ambitious Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano, with direct orders from the king of Spain to establish a permanent colony in La Florida. The rest of the fleet included two galleons, beamy cargo ships known as naos , small barques, and a caravel. North America had never before seen anything like it on this scale.Read more »

Taken by Indians

Mary Rowlandson, captured by Indians in 1676 and marched into the “vast and howling Wilderness”, survived to write the first and perhaps most powerful example of the captivity narrative

Lancaster, Massachusetts Bay Colony, February 10, 1676 Read more »

Why Jamestown Matters

If the colony had collapsed the English might not have been established as the major colonial power in North America

If Jamestown, England’s first permanent colony in the New World, had failed 400 years ago—and it came within a whisker of being abandoned on any number of occasions—then North America as we know it today would probably not exist. Instead of English, we might be speaking French, Spanish, or even Dutch. If Jamestown collapsed, the emergence of British America and eventually the creation of the United States may never have happened. Read more »

The Spirit Of ’54

More than two decades before the Revolution broke out, a group of Americans voted on a scheme to unite the colonies. For the rest of his life, Benjamin Franklin thought it could have prevented the war. It didn’t—but it did give us our Constitution.



Improbable it may seem, but an industrious, aquatic, fur-bearing rodent deserves a share of the credit for the first real effort at unifying Britain’s American colonies. Just as we tend to forget that the Americas were discovered as a byproduct of the search for pepper, the reason the beaver’s contribution has gone unsung all these years is, in the words of the journalist Henry Hobhouse, “Men have always liked to believe in their own influence.” Read more »