European exploration and settlement of North America began in the late 1500s in the areas along the Atlantic shore, far from the Great Lakes and the interior of the continent. But some people believe that America's indigenous people encountered visitors to the continent hundreds of years earlier. Stories of ancient sailors crossing between distant shores and of indigenous people traveling far and wide describe truly global connections. As time progressed, two major factors — money and religion — led European people to settle on the land that would become the Americas.
The Development of the United States from First Nations to Hawaii's Statehood
This map shows the original inhabitants of North America but focuses on government land cessions that opened up Native lands for settlement. It is important to note that Native American groups were simultaneously making treaties with the governments desiring land or being removed from their homelands, often forcibly. This map does not show the entire process. For more, see: Federal Acts & Assimilation Policies.
Non-indigenous people are relatively new to the land now known as the United States. They came for many different reasons — to escape religious or political oppression, to find a passage to the East, to discover new sources of wealth and property, to spread Christianity. Millions of Africans were forcibly brought to the Americas as enslaved people. Thus, the term "settler" does not accurately describe every early immigrant.