Exploration and Colonization

The following notes will help you prepare for questions about Exploration and Colonization on the AP U.S. History Exam.

  • The Vikings were believed to be the first Europeans to arrive in North America, around 1000

  • Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing for Spain, explored the Western Hemisphere for the first time in 1492.

  • Columbus arrived in San Salvador on October 12, 1492 and enslaved the native population.

  • Henry Hudson, a British explorer sailing for the Netherlands, explored the region that will become New York in 1609.

  • Cartier, sailing for France, explored the St. Lawrence River in 1535.

  • de Soto, sailing for Spain, explored the lower Mississippi River in 1539.

  • Coronado, sailing for Spain, explored the Southwest in 1540.

Columbian Exchange : The exchange of people, plants, food, technology, diseases, and ideas between the Old and New Worlds

charter : a document granting permission to colonize an area of America

indentured servant : typically a poor person who traveled from Europe to America to work under contract for 4 - 7 years in exchange for the cost of the trip; slavery replaces indentured servants

Northwest Passage : the shortcut through America to Asia that was never located by the explorers

Parliament : the law-making body of British government that was responsible for taxing the colonies and setting trade laws

pilgrims : Separatists who came to the America on the Mayflower in search of religious freedom

Puritans : settled Massachusetts Bay Colony for religious freedom


John Smith : English explorer who was one of the founders of Jamestown

Anne Hutchinson : Puritan who was banned from Massachusetts for not adhering to the colony's religious beliefs

Roger Williams : founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious tolerance after being banned from Massachusetts


Roanoke : located in present day North Carolina, the first European settlement in North America. It was established in 1587 but its inhabitants disappeared in 1590 leaving few clues of their fate.

Jamestown : the first permanent European colony in America, established in 1607 by the Virginia Company of London.

New England Colonies : established for religious freedom although the colonists had no tolerance for non-Puritan thinking, took advantage of coastal location and the economy was based in shipping and whaling

Middle Colonies : established as a profitable trade center, rich soil and abundant forests; the most socially and religiously diverse colonies in the British Empire

Southern Colonies : highly dependent on agriculture, large plantations of cash crops such as tobacco and cotton lead to the South becoming a slave society

The 13 Colonies : The original colonies that will become the United States of America

Related Links:
Exploration and Colonization Quiz
AP US History Quizzes
AP US History Notes
Age of Exploration Timeline
European Exploration: c. 1450 - c. 1750
Hernando de Soto Timeline
Social Studies Quizzes
Timeline: History and Biography Timelines
Gilded Age
Growth of the Cities