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These timelines will help you connect authors and literary works to their historical contexts.


Texts and Contexts

Beginnings to 1700

Texts Contexts
Peoples indigenous to the Americas orally perform and transmit a variety of "literary" genres that include, among others, speeches, songs, and stories  
  • 1000-1300 Anasazi communities inhabit southwestern regions
  • 1492 Christopher Columbus arrives in the Bahamas • between 4 and 7 million Native Americans estimated in what is now the United States, including Alaska
1493 Columbus, "Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage"  
  • 1500 Native American populations begin to be ravaged by European diseases
  • 1514 Bartolome de las Casas petitions Spanish Crown to treat Native American peoples as humanely as other subject populations
  • 1519-21 Cortes conquers Aztecs in Mexico
  • 1526 Spanish explorers bring first African slaves to South Carolina
  • 1539 First printing press in the Americas set up in Mexico City • Hernando de Soto invades Florida
  • 1542 Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Relation of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
  • 1552 Bartolomé de las Casas, The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies
  • 1558-1603 Reign of Elizabeth I
  • 1584 Walter Ralegh lands on "island" of Roanoke; names it "Virginia" for Queen Elizabeth
  • 1603-13 Samuel de Champlain explores the Saint Lawrence River; founds Quebec
  • 1607 Jamestown is established in Virginia • Powhatan confederacy saves colonists from starving; teaches them to plant tobacco
  • 1619 Twenty Africans arrive in Jamestown on a Dutch vessel as indentured servants
  • 1620 Mayflower drops anchor in Plymouth Harbor
  • 1621 First Thanksgiving, at Plymouth
1624 John Smith, The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles  
  • 1630 John Winthrop delivers his sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" (pub. 1838)
  • 1630-50 William Bradford writes Of Plymouth Plantation (pub. 1856)
  • 1630-43 Immigration of English Puritans to Massachusetts Bay
1637 Thomas Morton, New English Canaan
  • 1637 Pequot War
  • 1638 Anne Hutchinson banished from Bay Colony for challenging Puritan beliefs
  • 1643 Roger Williams, A Key into the Language of America
  • 1650 Anne Bradstreet, The Tentl", Muse
  • 1662 Michael Wigglesworth, The Day of Doom
  • 1673-1729 Samuel Sewall keeps his Diary (pub. 1878-82)
  • 1675-76 King Philip's War destroys power of Native American tribes in New England
  • 1681 William Penn founds Pennsylvania
  • 1682 Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration
  • 1682-1725 Edward Taylor writing his Preparatory Meditations (pub. 1939, 1960)
  • 1690 The New-England Primer
  • 1692 Salem witchcraft trials
1702 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana  

American Literature 1700-1820

Texts Contexts
1704-05 Sarah Kemble Knight keeps The Private Journal of a Journey from Boston to New York (pub. 1825)
  • 1718 French found New Orleans
  • 1726-56 The "Great Awakening"
1741 Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
  • 1741 Vitus Bering discovers Alaska
  • 1755-63 French and Indian Wars
1768 Samson Occom, A Short Narrative of My Life (pub. 1982)
1771-90 Benjamin Franklin continues his Autobiography (Part I pub. 1818)
1773 Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects
1774 John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman
1774-83 John and Abigail Adams exchange letters (pub. 1840, 1875)
  • 1773 Boston Tea Party
  • 1775-83 War for American Independence
1776 Thomas Paine, Common Sense
  • 1776 Declaration of Independence
1780s Annis Boudinot Stockton publishes poems in magazines and newspapers
1782 J. Hector St. John de Crêvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer
  • 1783 Britain opens "Old Northwest" (region south of Great Lakes) to United States after Treaty of Paris ends American Revolution
1786 Philip Freneau, Poems
1787 Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia • Royall Tyler, The Contrast
1787-88 The Federalist papers
  • 1787 U.S. Constitution adopted
1789 Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
1790 Judith Sargent Murray, On the Equality of the Sexes
  • 1789 George Washington elected first president
1791 Susanna Rowson, Charlotte: A Tale of Truth
1797 Hannah Foster, The Coquette
1799 Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly
  • 1791 Washington D.C. established as U.S. capital
  • 1803 United States buys Louisiana Territory from France
  • 1812-14 Second war against England
  • 1819 Spain exchanges Florida for U.S. assumption of $5 million in claims