That explains the history of the last part of our country’s name. But what about the first part?
In February of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote of “Free and independent States of America.” The terms “United Colonies,” “United Colonies of America,” “United Colonies of North America,” and also “States,” were used in 1775 and 1776. However, the term “United States of America” was first used in 1776 at Philadelphia in the opening line of the Declaration of Independence, which begins “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America…”
Although Columbus is credited with discovering America, there is ample evidence that he was not the first European to visit our shores. Native Americans, of course, have been in the western hemisphere for at least 20,000 years, and some evidence indicates their presence in one or both of the Americas for 100,000 years or more, although scientific opinion is divided on that. But an astonishing archeological find in Kennewick, Washington, in 1996 indicates caucasians—which originally meant people of the Caucasus Mountains in Europe—were here as early as 7,400 BCE. A skull and nearly complete skeleton of a 5’ 8” man (now called Kennewick Man) discovered there lacks the classical mongoloid characteristics of Native Americans.
As for modern Europeans, the earliest known contact is attributed to Phoenicians; at Mystery Hill, New Hampshire, Phoenicians from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea apparently set up a colony about 480 B.C. which existed for several hundred years. In 551 A.D., Brendan the Bold, an Irish monk, reached the coast of North America; earlier in the same century, another Irishman, St. Finbarr, did likewise. Leif Ericcson, a Viking, sailed to Newfoundland about 1000 A.D. and Vikings lived there for more than a century. In 1171, Prince Madoc of Wales sailed to America. In 1398, Prince Henry Sinclair of Scotland led an expedition to the New World, reaching Nova Scotia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These claims are disputed among archeologists and historians, not completely settled, but it is almost certain that Columbus was not first.