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Unit 1




Lesson 3
Europe Claims North America


     Columbus had found the way to America. Now many European countries sent people to this land. France, Spain, and Great Britain sent colonists. These people crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They claimed great chunks of land for their countries. They pushed the people who lived there west.

     Two centuries went by. Great Britain claimed all of North America east of the Mississippi River. It had thirteen colonies. They were on the East Coast. Spain held the territory west of the Mississippi River. It was called Louisiana. France had lost its claim to Canada, but many French people lived there.

1781 Map
1781 Map

     The people who lived in the thirteen colonies paid taxes to Great Britain. Great Britain told them what to do. Soon the colonists felt that Great Britain made them pay too many taxes. It did not let them trade freely. The colonists wanted independence from Great Britain. They began to fight. This war is called the American Revolutionary War. George Washington led the American side. The war lasted six years. It ended with a new country being formed. It was the United States of America.

Articles of Confederation

     The colonists had to turn the colonies into states. They wanted to make one big country. The leaders wrote a plan to unify the colonies. It was called the Articles of Confederation. The thirteen colonies were allies. Each one had its own government. There was no strong central government. This idea did not work.


     The leaders came up with a new plan. They wrote the Constitution of the United States. It has governed our nation ever since. It sets out the rights and freedoms of citizens. It sets up our government in Washington, D.C. (learn more about this in Unit 8). George Washington was the first president of the new country.

     It was a big country. Great Britain had ceded all its lands south of Canada. The United States now claimed that land. The new country ran west to the Mississippi River and south to Florida. Soon Americans ventured north and west. The Northwest Territory drew many people. Wildlife was plentiful there. Fur trappers and traders came first. Settlers came after them. Soon the United States let newly settled regions become states. Each area was first a territory and then a state. By 1803, four new states were part of our country. They were Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio.

Constitution of the United States


     South Dakota was far away. Changes in government meant little to the people there. First France claimed South Dakota as part of Louisiana. France then ceded it to Spain. Spain returned the land to France. The Arikaras, Mandans, and other Indian peoples did not know about these dealings. They lived much as they always had. But there were some big changes. Horses had made their way to the area. They had changed the life style of the Lakotas and other tribes. French, Spanish, and soon American trappers and traders began to live among the native peoples. Never again would South Dakota be quite the same.

Northwest Territory

allies (n.), friends or units of government that act together

ceded (v.), gave up land, rights, or power to another country

colonists (n.), people who settle together in a foreign country

independence (n.), freedom from control by others

unify (v.), join together into one

ventured (v.), took a dangerous trip