Nile of the New World (7KB)
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The New World

The Hernando de Soto Expedition

On May 30, 1539, a party of 600 led by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived on the west coast of what is now Florida. For more than four years, while searching for gold and silver, they explored the southeastern region of what was to become the United States of America. Hoping to discover another society that was enriched with stores of precious metals and gems like that of the Incas, de Soto continued the quest. He was disappointed to find, however, that items precious to the peoples of the area consisted of only freshwater pearls, seashells, copper, and mica. Spain's imperial ambitions and interest in the eastern United States waned. Chronicles of the expedition, however, reveal rare descriptions of native societies and contacts with sophisticated mound-building cultures. European contact with these societies devastated the American Indian cultures through pillage and the introduction of diseases to which the population had no resistance. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the region's native population declined dramatically. The social texture had changed irreversibly. By the end of the eighteenth century, a majority of the large chiefdoms had dissolved and the moundbuilding cultures had largely vanished. The survivors began coalescing and reorganizing themselves into tribes known today as the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Catawbas.

Aaron Burr and Territorial Mississippi

Aaron Burr (13KB)In 1807, the intrigues of Thomas Jefferson's former Vice President, Aaron Burr, reached a climax at Natchez on the Mississippi. Here, Burr's alleged plot to create his  own empire in the southern United States and Mexico was thwarted. After the American Revolution, both Spain and the United States claimed the land in present-day Mississippi. Spain finally abdicated its claims by 1798. Immediately thereafter, Congress established the Mississippi Territory, making the region the nation's southwestern frontier and the town of Natchez its southernmost port on the Mississippi. Conflicting Federalist and Jeffersonian politics and continuing military threats from the Spanish sparked tension along the Lower Mississippi. Several territorial forts, under the command of General James Wilkinson, controlled travel along the Lower Mississippi River and hand-led Indian and military affairs. These included Fort Adams, at the nation's southwestern border, and Fort Dearborn, near the territorial capital of Washington. When the United States boundaries extended to the Gulf of Mexico after the Louisiana Purchase, the forts were abandoned. Believing that Burr and several dozen followers were headed down the Mississippi with a flotilla of armed boats intending to seize New Orleans, General Wilkinson sent troops to reoccupy Fort Adams and ordered Burr's arrest. Burr went ashore north of Natchez, where he was arrested by territorial officials. Arraigned on February 2, 1807, Burr was freed after successfully arguing that his actions were directed at Spain and not at the United States. Still a fugitive from federal charges, Burr set out overland toward Spanish Pensacola. He was arrested north of Mobile at Fort Stoddert in present-day Alabama and was escorted to Richmond, Virginia, where he was tried on charges of treason in the U.S. Circuit Court under Chief Justice John Marshall. At the end of one of the young nation's most sensational trials, Burr was acquitted.


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Last Updated: March 14, 2001