1584 map of Chesapeake Bay by John White
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Starting in the late 16th century, the English, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch began to colonize eastern North America. The first English attempts, notably the Lost Colony of Roanoke, ended in failure, but successful colonies were soon established. more...

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The colonists, who came to the New World, were by no means a homogeneous band, but rather a variety of different social and religious groups which settled in different locations on the seaboard. The Dutch of New Netherland, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Puritans of New England, the gold-hungry settlers of Jamestown, and the convicts of Georgia each came to the new continent for vastly different reasons, and they created colonies with very different social, religious, political and economic structures.

Historians typically recognize four regions in the lands that later became the eastern United States. Listed from north to south, they are: New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay Colonies and the Southern Colonies. Some historians add a fifth region, the frontier, which had certain unifying features no matter what sort of colony it sprang from. The colonies of New France (later British Quebec) and Spanish Florida adjoined these regions, but developed separately for many years.

Motives for exploration and colonization

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe emerged from the Middle Ages and entered the Renaissance, a development that encouraged exploration and colonization in many ways. A revival in classical learning sparked an interest in geography and an intellectual curiosity about the world that had subsided during the Middle Ages. At the same time, the intellectual growth of the Renaissance led to the development of seafaring technologies needed to make long voyages across open water.

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