Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events: 1500-1649 (Plain html version)

On these pages, the historical information for each section appears first, followed by the information on literary events.

Pre-1650 1650 1700 1750 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920


1512: Spanish Laws of Burgos forbid enslavement of Indians and advocate Christian conversion 
1514: Bartolome de las Casas petitions Spanish crown on behalf of Native Americans 
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 1544. 
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 Spain (1632) 
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 ship Arbella.

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.

1637 Pequot War. Roger Williams helps to convince the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, to join the New Englanders' side of the conflict. 
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. 

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 Congregationalism.

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 


Page written and maintained by D. Campbell