Monday, November 17, 2008

Who Came First?

Who Came First?

Who were the first settlers in America? This was a question I explored to write my nonfiction childrens’ activity book: They Came From Around the World: A Nation of Immigrants. As I researched, I came across many familiar stories.

Some believed the Eskimos were the first. Using the Bering Strait they migrated from Russia over to the new world in search of food. To learn more about the Bering Land Mass you might want to go to this website:

Arctic Journeys to Alaska’s Bering Land Bridge

Some believed the Vikings were the first. The Vikings sailed the Northern seas in search of food. One such Viking was Erik the Red, who earned his name by plundering other villages to provide for his people. He was banished from Iceland, so he sailed west to Greenland. He had plans to go farther west, but rumor has it that on the day he was to leave he fell off his horse and being superstitious he sent his son Leif Ericsson. Leif reached the shores of Vinland in 1000 B.C..

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga

Still others believed that an Italian man sailing for Spain was the first to discover America. How did an Italian come to sail for Spain? It’s a long but interesting story. Because Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 travel overland to China and India for valuable goods became impossible. Many countries began to explore different routes. Christopher Columbus and his brothers believed they could reach India by sailing west, however, they found it difficult to persuade others. Finally Christopher was able to convince Queen Isabella of Spain that his plan would work. Taking three ships: Santa Maria, Niña, and Pinta, Chris set out for India on August 3, 1492. By October 12 he found land, but it wasn’t India…it was the Bahamas.

Did you know that Columbus continued to explore the coastline and on Christmas Eve ran the Santa Maria aground on a reef? Using the remains of the ship they built a fort they called La Navidad (Christmas).

Another explorer sailing for France set sail in search of a route to the east. Jacques Cartier sailed north looking for a passage through North America. Instead he discovered Prince Edward Island, charted the St. Lawrence River, and built a fort where Quebec City is today. He is also credited for naming Canada because of a misunderstanding with the Huron-Iroquois Indians. Communication between Cartier and the Indians was difficult. He thought they were telling him the land was named Canada, when Kanata for the Indians meant village. Here’s a theory of how it happened:

Jacques Cartier Historica Minute

So now you might be wondering what was the first English settlement in America? Have you ever heard of the Lost Colony? In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh sent some men to seek out a location in the new world. They came upon Roanoke Island. This island was covered with marshland, towering oak trees and lots of wildlife. Queen Elizabeth granted Raleigh a patent to all lands he settled.

The first group he sent over did not get along with the Indians and killed their Indian chief over a stolen cup. The men were also ill prepared for winter so they sailed back to England. Not to be deterred Raleigh assigned John White to head up a group of 117 people to settled in the new world. White was to be the governor of the Citties of Raleigh. They arrived on Roanoke Island in July of 1587. White’s daughter and son-in-law were expecting their first baby. Virginia Dare became the first English child born in America in August of 1587. John White soon realized they were going to need more supplies so he sailed back to England, promising to return shortly. Little did he know he would never see his granddaughter, daughter, or the people of the colony again.

He arrived in England during the Spanish Armada. He was stuck there for three long years. When he finally returned to America he found the colony abandoned and no sign of life. No one knows to this day what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Roanoke the Lost Colony – Roanoke the Movie

The first permanent settlement in America was St. Augustine. Don Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, thought he had found the “Fountain of Youth” in St. Augustine, Florida. He named the land “La Florida” and claimed it for Spain. Then he left. In 1654 the French set up a colony and fort on the St. John’s River. When King Phillip II of Spain heard about this he sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles to colonize and drive out any pirates or settlers of other nations. With the help of a hurricane, he chased out the French and established St. Augustine.
Which explorer would you have liked to sail with: Leif Ericsson, Chris Columbus, John White, Ponce De Leon, or de Aviles? Or maybe you would have preferred to come with the Eskimos over the Bering Strait? Let me know.


  1. Kathi,

    What a fascinating post. Thank you so much for writing it. Of course, I know the Jaredites were the first to arrive, but according to secular history, you are absolutely right. As to who I would have preferred to travel with, probably Leif Ericsson.

  2. Candace:
    Leif would be a good choice. Viking men seem so primitive and mysterious. Thanks for commenting. I hope all went well with your signing Saturday. I was thinking of you.



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