The first Europeans to arrive in North America were Norse, traveling west from Greenland, where Erik the Red had founded a settlement around the year 985. In 1001 his son Leif is thought to have explored the northeast coast of what is now Canada and spent at least one winter there. While Norse sagas suggest that Viking sailors explored the Atlantic coast of North America down as far as the Bahamas, such claims remain unproven.
The early 1600's saw the beginning of a great tide of emigration from Europe to North America. Spanning more than three centuries, this movement grew from a trickle of a few hundred English colonists to a flood of millions of newcomers. Impelled by powerful and diverse motivations, they built a new civilization on the northern part of the continent. The first English immigrants to what is now the United States crossed the Atlantic long after thriving Spanish colonies had been established in Mexico, the West Indies, and South America.
Like all early travelers to the New World, they came in small, overcrowded ships. During their six to twelve week voyages, they lived on meager rations. Many died of disease; ships were often battered by storms and some were lost at sea.
Between 1620 and 1635, economic difficulties swept England leaving many people without work. Poor crop yields added to the distress and the Industrial Revolution created a burgeoning textile industry, which demanded and ever-increasing supply of wool to keep the looms running. The colonists' first glimpse of the new land was a vista of dense woods. The settlers might not have survived had it not been for the help of friendly Indians, who taught them how to grow native plants -pumpkin, squash, beans and corn. In addition, the vast, virgin forests, extending nearly 2,100 kilometers...