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


Texts and Contexts

American Literature 1820-1865

Texts Contexts
1815 Founding of the North American Review
  • 1815 Treaty of Ghent, ending the second war with England: before news of the treaty reaches Andrew Jackson, he leads American troops to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
1817 William Cullen Bryant, "Thanatopsis"
1820 Washington Irving, The Sketch Book
  • 1820 Missouri Compromise admits Missouri as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and excludes slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of latitude 36° 30'
1821 Bryant, Poems
  • 1821 Sequoyah (George Guess) invents syllabary in which Cherokee language can be written
1823 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers
  • 1823 Monroe Doctrine warns all European powers not to establish new colonies on either American continent
  • 1825 Erie Canal opens, connecting Great Lakes region with the Atlantic
1826 Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans
1827 David Cusick, Sketches Of Ancient History of the Six Nations • Lydia Sigourney, Poems. Catharine Sedgwick, Hope Leslie
  • 1827 Baltimore & Ohio, first U.S. railroad
  • 1827-28 Cherokee Nation ratifies its new constitution. The newspaper The Cherokee Phoenix founded
1828-30 Cherokee Council composes Memorials to Congress
1829 William Apess, A Son of the Forest • David Walker, Appeal
  • 1829-37 President Andrew Jackson encourages westward migration of white population
  • 1830 Congress passes Indian Removal Act, allowing Jackson to negotiate treaties with the eastern tribes for their relocation west of the Mississippi
  • 1831 William Lloyd Garrison starts The Liberator, antislavery journal • Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia; approximately sixty whites are killed and two hundred blacks are killed in retaliation
1833 Black Hawk, Life
1835 William Glmore Simms, The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina
1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
1837 Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales
  • 1837 Financial panic: failures of numerous banks lead to severe unemploy­ ment that persists into the early 1840s
  • 1838 Around this time, Underground Railroad begins aiding slaves escaping north, often to Canada
  • 1838-39 "Trail of Tears"; Cherokees forced from their homelands by federal troops
1839 Caroline Stansbury Kirkland, A New Home-Who'll Follow?
1840 Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years before the Mast
1843 Margaret Fuller, "The Great Lawsuit" • Lydia Maria Child, Letters from New-York
  • 1840 Founding of the Washingtonian Temperance Society; temperance quickly emerges as one of the most popular social reform movements of the period
  • 1844 Samuel Morse invents telegraph
1845 Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven" • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
  • 1845 United States annexes Texas
  • 1846 David Wilmot, a congressman from Pennsylvania, proposes in Congress that slavery be banned in territories gained from the Mexican War; his proviso is defeated
  • 1846-48 United States wages war against Mexico; Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo cedes entire Southwest to United States
1847 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
  • 1847 Brigham Young leads Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake, Utah Territory
  • 1848 Seneca Falls Convention inaugurates campaign for women's rights
  • 1848-49 Beginning years of the California Gold Rush, which brings hundreds of thousands of new settlers to California
1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • 1850 Fugitive Slave Act of the Compro­ mise of 1850 obliges free states to return escaped slaves to slaveholders
1851 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
1853 William Wells Brown, Clotel
1854 Henry David Thoreau, Walden • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects
  • 1854 Republican Party formed, consolidating antislavery factions • Kansas-Nebraska Act approved by Congress; the act repeals the Missouri Compromise, making it legal for the white voting residents of a territory to determine whether it should be admitted as a slave or free state
1855 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass • P. T. Barnum, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself
1857 Fanny Fern (Sarah Willis Parton), Fresh Leaves
1858 Abraham Lincoln, "A House Divided"
  • 1857 Supreme Court Dyed Scott decision denies citizenship to African Americans
1859 E.D.E.N. Southworth, The Hidden Hand
  • 1859 First successful U.S. oil well drilled, in Pennsylvania
1860-65 Emily Dickinson writes several hundred poems
  • 1860 Short-Lived Pony Express runs from Missouri to California
1861 Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl • Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron-Mills
  • 1861 South Carolina batteries fire on U.S. fort, initiating the Civil War; Southern states secede from the Union and found the Confederate States of America
  • 1861-65 Civil War
1862 Elizabeth Stoddard, The Morgesons
  • 1863 Emancipation Proclamation • Battle of Gettysburg
  • 1865 Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery in the United States
1866 John Greenleaf Whittier, Snow- Bound: A Winter Idyl
  • 1866 Completion of two successful trans­ atlantic cables • Civil Rights Act
  • 1868 Fourteenth Amendment grants citizenship to those born or naturalized in the United States
1868-69 Louisa May Alcott, Little Wonten
  • 1869 First transcontinental railroad completed; Central Pacific construction crews composed largely of Chinese laborers