NPS Logo

Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading


Explorers and Settlers
Historical Background

THE LAND THAT BECAME the United States was in colonial times an extension of the Old World into the New. Through the centuries, the descendants of the original colonists blended their European heritage into the new Nation that evolved. But for the courage and resourcefulness of the Europeans who first explored and settled the unknown wilderness, that evolution would not have been possible.

Our European Heritage

The United States is an amalgam of nationalities, cultures, and races whose basic heritage is European. The amalgam began to take shape long before the Declaration of Independence and is still being formed today. European nations discovered the area of the present United States, explored it, and settled it. For decades after the Nation came into being, they continued to possess or claim substantial territories within its ultimate limits. They also affected the growth and course of the Republic by their alinement in international affairs.

During the first half of the 19th century, the United States trebled in size by acquiring Florida from Spain and the lands west of the Mississippi River and their historical heritage from France, Mexico, and England. She also benefited during the century from the reinfusion of European influences during the great immigrations, which have carried into the 20th century.

From the beginning, the emergent Nation molded its diverse European heritage with other cultural influences into a new way of life. It modified the English language into a uniquely American form and reshaped the legal and governmental systems of England. It utilized the architectural styles not only of England, but also of France, Spain, Holland, and Sweden. In the trans-Mississippi West, it incorporated Spanish land, mining, and water laws into the legal fabric; and it adapted the ranching terms and methods of Spain to cowboy life. Across the face of the land are registered numerous other European contributions—in language, religion, place names, literature, the arts, music, and social mores.

Thus our Nation has been profoundly enriched by its European heritage. A source of strength, this heritage still lives today—centuries after the initial European exploration and settlement—even though, in the meantime, during prolonged contact with a fresh environment, a distinctive American civilization has been created.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005