Early American literature: the literature to 1750
1512: Spanish Laws of Burgos forbid enslavement of Indians and advocate Christian
1514: Bartolome de las Casas petitions Spanish crown on behalf of Native
1519-1521 Cortes's conquest of Aztecs in Mexico.
1528-1536 A member of the Narvaez expedition, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca is
shipwrecked first near Tampa Bay and later on Galveston Island off the coast of what
is now Texas. After six years spent among the Indians of the region, he and his
companions travel westward across Texas and Mexico.
1540-1542 Seeking gold first in the city of Cibola, reportedly larger and richer than
Mexico City, and then in Quivera, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado leads
an expeditionary force through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, with much loss
of life among the area's native peoples. He returns to Mexico City in 1542 and dies in
1542 Urged on by Bartolome de las Casas and others, Carlos V enacts the "New
Laws" designed to end the encomienda system that enslaves native people.
1519: Hernan Cortes, First Letter from Mexico to the Spanish Crown
1542: Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, The Relation of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca
1584: Sir Walter Ralegh sends a reconnaissance fleet under Captains Amadas and
Barlow to the future Croatoan Sound, North Carolina. Based on their glowing
account, he sends out a colonizing expedition the next year of 100 men who settle on
Roanoke Island, among them artist John White and surveyor Thomas Harriot. Sir
Francis Drake later takes the colonists back to England at their request.
1587: Ralegh sends out a fresh colony of 117 men, women, and children in three
ships, with John White as governor.
1590: White returns to find that settlers have disappeared, leaving "Croatoan" carved
on a tree
1598: Don Juan Oñate establishes the colony of New Mexico by taking over a pueblo,
which he renames San Juan, near modern-day Santa Fe. In retaliation for an attack on
the settlement, he destroys the Acoma pueblo, killing 800 and capturing 500.
1550 Tales of La Llorona (the Weeping Woman), an important cultural figure and
legend, begin to be told in Mexico City.
1552: Casas,The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies, a protest against
the treatment of
1568: Bernal Diaz del Castillo writes The True History of the Conquest of New
1588: Thomas Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia
1589: Arthur Barlow, The First Voyage Made to the Coasts of America
1607: Establishment of Jamestown
1608 Colony of Quebec is established.
1610. Santa Fe is established as the new capital of New Mexico, with Pedro de Peralta
as the governor of the new colony.
1616: John Smith, A Description of New England
1621 First Thanksgiving, at Plymouth
1628 (May 1) Thomas Morton and colonists at Merrymount dance around a maypole
and celebrate May Day, upsetting the Plymouth Pilgrims. In June, Capt. Miles
Standish is sent to eradicate the settlement and Morton is sent back to England.
1630-43: English Puritans immigrate to Massachusetts Bay Colony
1630 John Cotton preaches the sermon God's Promise to His Plantation to the
departing colonists aboard the Arb
John Winthrop delivers the lay sermon A Model of Christian Charity while aboard the
1630 Population: 3,000 colonists in Virginia; 300 at Plymouth. During 1630-1640,
another 16,000 colonists will arrive.
1636 Founding of Providence, R. I. by Roger Williams, who establishes Rhode Island
as a place of religious toleration.
1636-1637. Pequot War.
July 1636. The murder in 1634 of Capt. John Stone, a disreputable English
seaman and merchant, and of trader John Oldham on 20 July 1636, reportedly
by Pequots, leads to reprisals against Pequot settlements. This marks the
beginning of the Pequot War, although the conflict is not officially so
designated until 1637.
24 August 1636. After Massachusetts Governor Henry Vane commissions John
Endicott to assemble a force of 90 men to seek out Block Island tribe of
Pequots and demand their surrender, Endicott destroys the Block Island
settlement. In retaliation, the Pequots attack Fort Saybrook and its commander
Lieutenant Lion Gardiner.
1637 Pequot War. Roger Williams helps to convince the Narragansetts, traditional
enemies of the Pequots, to join the New Englanders' side of the conflict.
20 January. Boston clergyman John Wheelwright preaches a sermon
supporting the ideas of Anne Hutchinson and her followers and is thereby
sentenced to banishment on 12 November. Anne Hutchinson is sentenced to
banishment at the same time. 26 May.The burning of the Pequot fort by Capt.
John Mason and his forces at Fort Mystic, Connecticut, kills 300-700 men,
women, and children 28 July. Most of the remaining Pequots are killed near
New Haven, Connecticut, by combined forces from Massachusetts and
Connecticut. To prevent the re-election of Governor Vane, who is sympathetic
to Anne Hutchinson and her ideas, John Winthrop moves the voting to
Newtown and thus is himself elected Governor of the colony. December. Under
the leadership of Peter Minuit, a group of Swedish colonists establishes a
settlement called New Sweden on the Delaware River.
1638 7 March. Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for her religious
beliefs, Anne Hutchinson leaves Boston and helps to establish Pocasset, or
Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
21 September 1638. Signing of the Treaty of Hartford formally ends the Pequot
War. Remaining members of the Pequot tribe are divided up among the
Puritans' Indian allies; Pequot territories are turned over to the Puritans as
spoils of war. This treaty marked the end of the Pequots as a distinct people.
1637 Thomas Morton, New English Canaan
1630-50 William Bradford begins writing Of Plymouth Plantation (pub. 1856)
1643 Anne Hutchinson and family murdered by Native Americans near Eastchester,
Long Island (N. Y.)
1646 Robert Child and others protest the intolerance of Massachusetts Puritans toward
those of other faiths; in response, Governor John Winthrop and others justify their
policies and banish Child.
At the Synod of 1646 in Boston, John Cotton and others draft a document published in
1648 as the Cambridge Platform, which codifies and defines New England
1647 First woman barrister in the colonies, Margaret Brent of Maryland, seeks and is
denied the right to vote in the assembly.
1642 John Cotton, The True Constitution of a Particular Visible Church
1643 Roger Williams, A Key into the Language of America
1645 John Cotton preaches and publishes The Way of the Churches of Christ in New
England, a sermon that justifies the New England Way
1650 Anne Bradstreet, The Tenth Muse
1652 Massachusetts general court rules that the territory of Maine lies within the
boundaries of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, thus ending Maine's immediate hopes
1650, Anne Bradstreet, The Tenth Muse
1653 John Eliot, Catechism in the Indian Language, first book printed in an Indian
language. He will later (in 1661) translate the Bible into the Algonquian language.
1656 (Summer) Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans whip, imprison, and banish the
first Quakers to arrive in the colony. Legislation in 1658 bars the Quakers from
holding their services, called "meetings."
22 September. In Maryland, an all-woman jury, the first in the colonies, acquits
Judith Catchpole on charges of murdering her unborn child.
1659. 27 October. Quakers William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson are
hanged for refusing to leave Massachusetts. Mary Dyer, a follower of Anne
Hutchinson and later a Quaker, is scheduled to hang with them but is reprieved at
the last minute.
1660. 1 June. Mary Dyer is hanged after defying an expulsion order by returning to
Boston in May 1660.
1661 Massachusetts continues to punish Quakers by hanging those who refuse to
leave the colony. After a royal edict requires the Massachusetts authorities to
release imprisoned Quakers and return them to England, the authorities instead
allow them to leave for other colonies. By December, corporal punishment for
Quakers and other dissenters is suspended in the Massachusetts Bay colony by order
1664 Maryland Colony passes a law mandating lifetime servitude for black slaves;
previous precedent had allowed freedom for those who converted to Christianity
and established legal residences there.
1664 New Amsterdam becomes New York after Governor Peter Stuyvesant's
surrender to English forces.
1662 Michael Wigglesworth, The Day of Doom. This immensely popular poem sold
1800 copies in its first year, and according to the Norton Anthology of American
Literature (Volume 1), "about one out of every twenty persons in New England
bought it" (284)
1665 Legislation in several states tightens the bonds of slavery. English law provides
that slaves may be freed if they convert to Christianity and establish legal residence,
but Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia
pass laws allowing conversion and residence without freeing the slaves.
John Eliot, The Indian Grammar (1666)
1670 Hudson's Bay Company is chartered.
1673 Marquette and Joliet travel from Lake Michigan down the Mississippi as far as
the Arkansas River, completing a 2500-mile journey of exploration.
1673-1729 Samuel Sewall's diary
1675-78 King Philip's War. It begins when Metacomet (King Philip) leads an attack
against Swansea in retaliation for the Plymouth colony's execution of
three Wampanoag tribe members. Metacomet is betrayed and shot on 12 August
1676, and the war formally ends when Sir Edmond Andros makes peace in Maine on
12 April 1678.
1675 (September) The Massachusetts settlements of Deerfield and
Hadley experience the first of three raids from the Wampanoag and Nipmuck
1676. May 2. Mary Rowlandson is ransomed after her capture during an attack on
30 July. Bacon's Rebellion. Tobacco planters led by Nathan Bacon ask for and are
denied permission to attack the Susquehannock Indians, who have been conducting
raids on colonists' settlement. Enraged at Governor Berkeley's refusal, the colonists
burn Jamestown and kill many Indians before order is restored in October.
1676 Increase Mather, A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New England
1681 4 March. William Penn receives a charter for land on which he will found
1683 Penn and Native Americans negotiate a peace treaty at Shackamaxon under
the Treaty Elm
1684 Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is revoked after critical reports reach
England. This ends the requirement of church membership for voting.
1682-1725 Edward Taylor, Preparatory Meditations (published 1939, 1960)
1686 Governor Edmund Andros begins issuing a series of unpopular orders aimed at
the consolidation of colonies into one large settlement. He dissolves the assemblies
of New York and Connecticut, limits the number of town meetings in New England to
one per year, places the militia under his direct control, and forces Puritans and
Anglicans to worship together in the Old South Church.
1689 April. Rebellious colonists force Andros to take shelter in a fort for his own
protection.Cotton Mather supports the rebellion.
25 July. Andros is ordered back to England to stand trial. The colonies reestablish
their previous systems of government.
1685 Cotton Mather, Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and
1690 King William's War begins. Schenectady, N. Y. and other areas are burned by
French and Native Americans; Massachusetts colonists capture Port Royal, Nova
Scotia; and Canadian forces destroy Casco, Maine.
1692 (May. Salem witchcraft trials begin. From June-September 22, 20 people are
executed. See also the Examination and Confession of Ann Foster at Salem Village.
1693 Increase Mather, Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits, a volume
denouncing the use of spectral evidence in witchcraft trials.
1697 Massachusetts general court expresses official repentance for the witchcraft
trials; Samuel Sewall confesses guilt from his Boston church pew.
1699 Peace treaty at Casco Bay, Maine, brings hostilities between the Abenaki
Indians and the Massachusetts colony to an end.
1700 Massachusetts representative assembly orders all Roman Catholic priests to
vacate the colony within three months, an action also taken by the New York
Population of the American colonies: about 275,000 people. Boston has 7,000 people
and New York 5,000.
1702-1713 Queen Anne's War (War of the Spanish Succession)
1704 28-29 February. Deerfield, Massachusetts is destroyed and 100 residents are
abducted, a consequence of Queen Anne's War.
1700. 24 June. Judge Samuel Sewall publishes The Selling of Joseph, an anti-slavery
1702 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana
1704 (October) Sarah Kemble Knight begins her Private Journal of a Journey from
Boston to New York (published 1825).
1705. Laws restricting the travel of slaves and banning miscegenation are enacted in
New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia (Virginia Black Code of 1705).
1707 Settlers in Charlestown, South Carolina successfully defend their town against
an attack by French and Spanish colonists from Havana and St. Augustine.
1705 Robert Beverley, History of Virginia
1706 Cotton Mather, The Good Old Way, a book that laments the declining Puritan
influence in America.
1707 John Williams, The Redeemed Captive, a best-selling captivity
narrative recounting his abduction during the Deerfield raid.
1708 The Sot-Weed Factor, satirical poem by Ebenezer Cook
1710 3,000 German refugees from the Palatinate settle near Livingston Manor on the
Hudson River in New York to produce naval stores. When the colony fails, the
settlers go first to the Mohawk Valley (in New York) and finally to eastern
1710 Cotton Mather, Bonifacius (Essays to Do Good), a book that influenced
1712-13 Tuscarora Indian War in North and South Carolina
1713 England's South Sea Company is allowed to transport 4,800 slaves per year into
the Spanish colonies of North America.
1714 Cotton Mather preaches a sermon in which he states his belief in the Copernican
theory of the universe, which places the sun at the center and planets in orbit around
it; the traditional or Ptolemaic view at that time held that all revolved around the
1715 Yamasee tribes attack and kill several hundred Carolina settlers.
1716 South Carolina settlers and their Cherokee allies attack and defeat the
1717 Scots-Irish immigration begins, with most settling to western Pennsylvania.
1718 French found New Orleans.
City of San Antonio founded by the Spanish.
1719-41 The Boston Gazette
1720 Estimated population of colonies: 474,000.
The French build forts on the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, and the Niagara rivers.
1723 Benjamin Franklin leaves Boston for Philadelphia, a trip that he chronicles in
1724 Jewish settlers are exiled from the Louisiana colony.
1722 Benjamin Franklin, the "Dogood Papers"
1727 Benjamin Franklin founds the Junto Club.
1728 Prospective brides arrive in Louisiana for the French settlers there; they are
known as "casket girls" because they have received dresses in small trunks or caskets
as an incentive for immigration.
1728 Col. William Byrd keeps a diary of his travels in determining the boundary
between Virginia and North Carolina; it is published in 1841 as History of the
1727 Dr. Cadwallader Colden, History of the Five Indian Nations
1728 God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty, Exemplified in the Captivity and
Redemption of Elizabeth Hanson (captivity narrative of a Quaker woman)
1729 Franklin purchases and publishes the Pennsylvania Gazette, which later
becomes The Saturday Evening Post.
1731.Franklin'sJunto club establishes the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first
circulating library in the US.
1732 Birth of George Washington.
1734 John Peter Zenger, editor of the New York Weekly Journal, is imprisoned in
New York for upholding freedom of the press. He is accused of libeling New York
Governor William Cosby. In 1735, Zenger is acquitted when his attorney, Andrew
Hamilton, says that the charges cannot be libelous because the accusations against
Cosby were true.
Jonathan Edwards begins preaching fiery sermons to crowds in Northampton,
Massachusetts. This begins the religious revival movement known as the Great
1732 Benjamin Franklin begins publishing Poor Richard's Almanac.
1738 British preacher George Whitefield arrives in Savannah; his sermons help to
promote the "Great Awakening" throughout the 1740s. One of the thousands
impressed by his eloquence is Benjamin Franklin, who writes in his Autobiography, "I
happened soon after to attend one of his Sermons, in the Course of which I perceived
he intended to finish with a Collection, & I silently resolved he should get nothing
from me. I had in my Pocket a Handful of Copper Money, three or four silver Dollars,
and five Pistoles in Gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give
the Coppers. Another Stroke of his Oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d
me to give the Silver; & he finish’d so admirably, that I empty’d my Pocket wholly
into the Collector’s Dish, Gold and all." Other preachers in this movement included
Theodore Frelinghuysen of the Dutch Reformed Church, Gilbert Tennent
(Presbyterian), and Jonathan Edwards.
1739-42 War of Jenkin's Ear (against Spain in the Southern colonies)
1741 Vitus Bering surveys the Alaskan coast for Russian Tsar Peter the Great
1741 Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, one of the most
famous sermons of the Great Awakening
1745 French attack and burn Saratoga during King George's War (1745-8; ended by
Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle)
1749. First American repertory acting company established in Philadelphia; it opens
with Thomas Keane in Richard III.
1749. Trustees of Georgia colony revoke their prohibition on slavery in the colony,
marking a legal recognition of slavery there.
The Early American Paintings site at the Worcester Art Museum has a timeline of
For a more comprehensive chronology of historical events in this period:
"Chronicling Black Lives in Colonial New England" (Christian Science
The Chronology on the History of Slavery lists events from 1619 to1789.
This period was
dominated by Homer and
other Greek tragedians
The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer
Oedipus the King by
Medea by Euripedes
Famous authors from this period: Virgil, Horace,
250 BC - AD
Writers of the Roman
Empire are most noted in
this time period
Old English (AngloSaxon) Period
The rise of haiku poetry
Tale of Genji by Japanese writer MurasakiShibiku
(written around the year 1000)
Persian poet Rumi (1207-73)
Middle English Period
Petrarch, Italian writer, inventor of the sonnet
The Divine Comedy by Dante, Italian writer (13071321)
The Decameron by Italian writer Boccacio (131375)
The Canterbury Tales (13871400) by Geoffrey Chaucer,
British writer (1343-1400)
1450- Invention of the printing
Francois Rabelais, French writer (1490-1553)
558-1603 Elizabethan Age
Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, British
1603- 1625 Jacobean Age writer (1564-93)
1625 - 1649 Caroline Age William Shakespeare, British poet and playwright
1649 - 1669
Ben Johnson, British author (1572-1637)
John Donne, British poet (1572-1631)
The Faerie Queen (1589) by Edmund Spenser,
1599 The Globe Theatre built
Don Quixote (1605-1615) by Miguel de Cervantes,
Andrew Marvel, British poet (1621-78)
Henry Vaughan, British poet (1621-95)
Paradise Lost (1667) by John
Milton, British author (1608-74)
Tartuffe (1664) by French writer Moliere (162273)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744), British poet
1700-1745 The Augustan Robinson Crusoe (1719)
Age (Age of Pope)
and Moll Flanders (1722) by
Daniel Defoe, English writer
Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift,
English writer (1667-1745)
Candide (1759) by French writer Voltaire (16941778)
Samuel Johnson, English writer (1709-84)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French writer and
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741) by
American Jonathan Edwards
The Castle of Otranto (1764) by
Horace Walpole (first gothic novel)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832),
Thomas Jefferson, Thomas
The Age of Reason
Paine, and Patrick Henry,
American Revolution authors
Poems on Various Subjects (1773) by Phyllis
Wheatley, African-American poet (1753-1784)
Common Sense (1776) by Thomas
William Blake, English
The Romantic Period
--The Gothic Period
William Wordsworth, English poet (1770-1850)
though it lasted longer in
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, English poet (1772-1834)
Jane Austen, English author (17751817)
Lord Byron, English poet (1788-1824)
Percy Bysshe Shelley, English poet (1792-1822)
John Keats, English poet (1795-1821)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, English poet, (1809-92)
Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley,
British writer (1797-1851)
The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
by James Fenimore Cooper,
American novelist (1789-1851)
Edgar Allan Poe, American
writer influenced by Gothic
The Victorian Period
Robert Browning, English
1848-1860 The PreRaphaelites
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, English poet (180661)
1865-1900 Age of Realism
Charles Dickens, British author (18121870)
Emily Dickinson, American writer (1830-1886)
Henry James, American writer (1843-1916)
Transcendentalist writers Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Margaret
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an
American Slave (1845) by Frederick Douglass
Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte,
British writer (1816-55)
Wuthering Heights (1848) by Emily Bronte,
British writer (1818-48)
The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Moby Dick (1851) by Herman
Melville, American writer
Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau,
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) by
Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897)
Les Miserables (1862) by Victor Hugo, French
Vanity Fair (1848) by William Makepeace
Thackeray, English novelist
Madame Bovary (1857) by Gustave
Flaubert, French writer
Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott,
Middlemarch (1872) by George Eliot (a.k.a.
Marian Evans), British writer
Paul Lawrence Dunbar, American poet (18721906)
A Doll's House (1879) by Henrik Ibsen,
Norwegian dramatist (1828-1906)
Huckleberry Finn (1885) by American writer
Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens, 1835-1910)
The Red Badge of Courage (1895) by Stephen
Crane, American author (1871-1900)
The Awakening (1899) by Kate
Chopin, American writer
The Yellow Wallpaper (1899) by Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, American writer
Leaves of Grass (1900) by Walt Whitman,
Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph
The Edwardian Period Conrad, Polish/British author (18571901-1914
The Souls of Black Folk (1903) by
W.E.B. Dubois, American writer
The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London,
American writer, (1876-1916)
Ethan Frome (1911) by Edith Wharton, American
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915) by
T.S. Eliot, American writer
The Modern Period
Robert Frost, American poet
Edna St. Vincent Millay, American poet (18921950)
My Antonia (1918) by Willa Cather, American
Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson,
The Great Gatsby (1925) by F.
Scott Fitzgerald, American writer
The Sun Also Rises (1926) by Ernest Hemingway,
American writer (1899-1961)
As I Lay Dying (1930) by William Faulkner,
American writer (1897-1962)
Of Mice and Men (1937) by John
Steinbeck, American writer (19021968)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora
Neale Hurston, American writer (1891-1960)
Langston Hughes, American poet (1906-67)
The Glass Menagerie (1945) by Tennessee
Williams, American playwright (19111983)
Animal Farm (1945) by George
Orwell, British writer (1903-1950)
The Stranger (1946) by Albert Camus, French
The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by
J.D.Salinger, American writer (1919-)
Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison, American
The Crucible (1953) by Arthur Miller, American
Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury,
American author (1920-)
Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding,
British author (1911-1993)
Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956) by Eugene
O'Neill, American playwright (18881953)
On the Road (1957) by Jack Kerouac,
American writer (1922-69)
Night (1958) by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-American
Catch 22 (1961) by Joseph Heller,
American writer (1923-)
A Separate Peace (1962) by John Knowles,
American writer (1926-)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) by Ken
Kesey, American author (1935-2001)
The Bell Jar (1963) by Sylvia Plath,
American poet and author (1932-63)
The Chosen (1967) by ChaimPotok, American
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) by Maya
Angelou, American author (1928-)
The Bluest Eye (1970) by Toni
Morrison, American author (1931-)
Bless Me, Ultima (1972) by Rudolfo Anaya,
Mexican-American Author (1927-)
The Woman Warrior (1976) by Maxine Hong
Kingston, Asian-American writer (1940-)
The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker (1944-)
The House on Mango Street (1983) by Sandra
Love Medicine (1984) by Louise Erdrich, Native
American author (1954-)
The Joy Luck Club (1989) by Amy
Tan, American writer (1952-)