Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
European colonization of the Americas
Although there is some debate as to whether the prehistoric, Clovis culture was European in origin, the first generally accepted European colonists were the Norse, starting but then abandoning a colonisation process. (For more on this, see Vinland.)
Early State Sponsored Colonists
The first phase of modern European activity in this region began with the oceanic crossings of Christopher Columbus (1492-1500), sponsored by Spain who attempted to create a copy of their Spanish Empire in the Americas. These were followed by other explorers such as John Cabot, sponsored by England, who came in search of the riches the Spanish had found. Other settlers included Giovanni da Verrazano, sponsored by France and according to some the German Didrik Pining and, the possibly mythical, Polish John of Kolno 1473, sponsored by Denmark.
Inspired by the conquest of the Aztecs, Incas, and other large Native American populations in the sixteenth century, the first Englishmen expected the same when they first established a settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. The main purpose of this colony was the hope of finding gold or the possibility (or impossibility) of finding a passage through the Americas to the Indies. It took strong leaders like John Smith to convince the colonists of Jamestown that searching for gold was not taking care of their immediate needs and that “he who shall not work shall not eat.”
Other early explorers such as Francis Drake arrived in the Americas to plunder the wealth of the Spanish settlers. Altogether, there was a strong pull at the beginning of the colonial period to come to America for its possible imperial riches, the truth was that these riches were sparse. There was nothing in particular to push these colonists away from England; only an overwhelming opportunity at extreme wealth. Although the success of these wealth-building attempts failed, they did establish the first permanent European settlements in the Modern day United States.
These oceanic crossings was followed, notably in the case of Spain, by a phase of conquest: The Spaniards (just having finished a war against the Muslims in the Iberian peninsula) replaced the Amerindian local oligarchies and impose a new religion: Christianity. European diseases and cruel systems of work (the famous haciendas and mining industry) decimated the Amerindian population. Black African slaves were introduced to substitute the Amerindian. On the other hand, the Spaniards did not impose their language in the same measure and the Catholic Church even evangelized in Quechua, Nahuatl and Guarani, contributing to the expansion of these Amerindian languages and equipping them with writing systems. One of the first schools for Amerindians was founded by Fray Pedro de Gante in 1523.
Other groups of colonists came to America searching for either an asylum to practice a religion without persecution or a refuge to begin a new and holier settlement where complete theological agreement could be found. After the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the new and seemingly radical doctrine of Calvinism, some Europeans began to drift away from their orthodox ways. Many more churches and denominations thus formed, leading to greater disagreement and tension among Europeans on the whole. Severe persecution did occur in some areas, such as Elizabeth’s Protestant troops in Catholic Ireland, but it was mainly less drastic circumstances that pushed some people from Europe. The freedom of unclaimed land was attractive to those who wished to escape from persecution, and with the help of a charter, groups then had a right to the land and a right to live in the way that they thought best. Some colonies were created as havens for specific religious groups, while others offered refuge to any group that wished to worship, believe, and live in their own manner. Other settlements, such as Pennsylvania, were designed to guarantee safe haven for certain groups (the Quakers), but were opened up to other denominations with complete freedom of religion. The stories of these successful colonies overshadowed the stories of American persecution (such as the Anne Hutchinson incident) and lured suffering people away from the Old World.
Many of the other immigrants to the American colonies came for reasons that were economic. From the beginning of English settlements until the 1680’s, the main source of labour and a large portion of the immigrants were indentured servants looking for new life in the overseas colonies. For instance, during the seventeenth century, indentured servants constituted three-quarters of all European immigrants to the Chesapeake region. Most of the indentured servants were originally English farmers who had been pushed off their lands due to the expanse of livestock raising and overcrowding in the countryside. This unfortunate turn of events served as a push for hundreds of thousands of people (mostly single men) away from their situation in England. However, there was hope, as American landowners were in need of labourers and were willing to pay for a labourer’s passage to America if they served them for several years. This plan enticed many single displaced farmers who were looking for a way to start over and eventually gain property in a land where there was plenty. However, life was hard for these servants, who saw available land being eaten up by others, time going by very slowly, and work becoming harder. Also, the many young men could not find enough eligible women to start families with. Although life was difficult for these indentured servants, they added huge numbers to the national population and began to advance on the social ladder.
In the British and French regions, the focus of economy soon shifted from resource extraction to trading with the natives. This was also practiced by the Russians in the northwest coast of North America. After the French and Indian War, Great Britain captured all French possessions in North America.
Slavery under European rule began with importation of white European slaves (or indentured servants), followed by the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean. As the native populations declined through disease, they were replaced by Africans imported through a large slave trade. By the 18th century, the overwhelming number of black slaves was such that white and Native American slavery was less common. In the case of the Africans who were taken aboard slave ships, they were both pushed from their African homelands by coastal tribes who captured them and pulled to America by the slave traders that paid for them with kegs of rum. Numbering four hundred thousand in all, black slaves kept streaming into the ports of Charleston, South Carolina and Newport, Rhode Island for a good deal of time after the Revolution.
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