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PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History

2. 1 Colonies in America

In 1513, Jhan Ponce do Leon, a Spanish explorer led an expedition to the southeastern part of United States. He named this region: Florida, which means full of flowers in Spanish. Besides the Spanish, several other European rulers sent expeditions to the New World. In 1564, the French established a colony near what is now called Jacksonville. The colony was called fort Carolina and set up by Protestants known as Huguenots. This colony remained till the Spanish for religious reasons killed its inhabitants. The following year, the Spanish established the first permanent settlement called St. Augustine.

During the 1540s, two Spanish bands of explorers under De Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado respectively, explored parts of what is the U.S. today, in search of gold. De Soto led his men from Florida into N. Carolina and reached Memphis. After Soto’s death, his men returned to Mexico by the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, Coronado and his men went northwards from Mexico and explored regions as far as Kansas. Their visit convinced them that there was no gold to be found in these areas.


By 1550, several regions in America were under Spanish control. From centers like Florida and St. Augustine, Spain converted the local Indians to Catholicism. The Spanish control over these new regions lasted for more than two and a half centuries. The Spanish power declined when the British set up colonies in the north (America). Yet, the Spanish left their legacy in the New World, where, a large number of Spanish speaking population exists today.

The French after being thrown out by the Spaniards went towards Canada. A French trading company owned by the De Monts employed Samuel de Champlain, who visited the new continent. His men explored the St. Lawrence Basin and set up a settlement called Quebec. In later times, Quebec became the main military, political and religious center for the French. The company mainly traded in furs with the local Indians.

From Quebec, the French quickly moved towards the west. In the next 50 years, French explorers had reached almost till the Rocky Mountains. And by the 1770, the French had occupied the Gulf of Mexico and the region from the mouth of the Mississippi to the mouth of St. Lawrence rivers.

England was among the last to establish colonies in the New World. When the Spanish and French were exploring the New World, the English were preoccupied with their internal, political and religious problems. Then she was engaged in a long war with Spain. The only initial contact that England had with the New World was through trade with the Spaniards there. But in early 1660, there were several advocates like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphery Gilbert colonizing the New World.

The motive behind the demand for colonies ranged from the need for raw materials for manufacturers at home, the quest for gold and the need to shift England’s excess population through colonies abroad. Promoters of colonization also believed that it was the duty of Christians to do missionary work among the Indians.

The year 1600 saw a large number of English migrating to North America and West Indies. Some went there in search of wealth, while many went there due to the religious conflicts (Catholics v/s Protestants) at home. According to the noted historian McDonald, the British Crown encouraged migration to the New World for varied reasons. "King James I (1603 - 1625) actively promoted resettlement to maintain political and religious order at home. England had suffered a long period of poor harvest and was thought to be over populated. Sending Englishmen abroad was a way of averting the dangers inherent in that combination. But James also believed in colonization as a means of pacifying, Christianizing and civilizing native populations. (He chartered colonies on the Scottish island of Lewis and in Northern Ireland as well as in America). Charles I (1625 - 1646), seeking to establish religious uniformity both persecuted dissenters and encouraged them to emigrate. Charles II (1660 - 1685) dispensed colonial charters as a means of paying his political and monetary debts." (An American Portrait: A history of the United States Vol. 1, 2nd edition).

Apart from these political and religious reasons, most of the migration after 1689 took place because of poverty at home. A majority of them went to the New World by selling themselves into indentured servitude for a period of four to seven years. Many others, like the blacks from Africa were forcibly transported to America as slave labor.

According to Philip D. Curtin: "The Atlantic slave trade lay at the heart of a wide net of commerce and production that touched every shore of the Atlantic basin" known as the South Atlantic System. This complex had its origins in the Mediterranean areas of Europe in the wake of the crusades when Europeans were used as slaves to produce the system’s first and most important crop: sugar. It was largely Portuguese seamen who achieved revolutionary improvements in the quality of navigation and sailing ships. Nature’s gift of the trade winds made it possible to draw laborers from West Africa. This was then extended to the Azores in the Atlantic, and finally across the ocean to Brazil and elsewhere during the 1500s and later. Thus, a new kind of plantation arose in the New World, stretching from Brazil through what is now the Southern U.S., employing a new type of organization of labor hitherto unknown in either Europe or Africa. Labor became dehumanized, it became a commodity unit oriented to the export market: this is the essential difference between slavery between wherever it developed in the New World and slavery in Africa or the ancient world of Greece and Rome."

For every export crop - sugar, tobacco, coffee, cotton or rice - there was an accompanying large-scale demand for slaves. This demand led to a highly organized trade in Africa that was supplied by peaceful means or outright warfare and raids. Sufficient European merchandise was imported into Africa to support the slaving, and it was brought from ships or supply depots often by caravans or in large canoes. Once back on the coast, the purchased or captured slaves, always in coffles and yokes, were placed in forts that served temporarily as prisons until the slave ship, waiting ashore, could receive its quota. For instance, Fort Elumina on the West African coast, which had been used in the spice and gold trade, became a slave dungeon. As a fort, Elumina was well suited for the purposes of holding slaves until they were ready for the Atlantic voyage. The fort was accessible to slave - carrying ships; there were quarters upstairs for merchants and traders. For the slaves, there were tiny, dingy rooms below. Also, there was a courtyard where slaves were branded.

Slave ships packed like this sailed from Africa
to the United States in the early 1800’s


Exhibit 2.1

The slaves were brought to the New World in specially built ships, which could carry large cargo. Ships were packed with slave cargo, so much so that there was no standing space on them. Only the tops decks had some space, where the slaves, in chains, were exercised once every day and washed with cold seawater. Below this deck, there was only place for the slaves to crawl. Considering the time taken to cross the Atlantic, and the inhuman conditions in which the African slaves were made to travel, it is no wonder that many died on the way. One out of every 6 or 8 slaves died on the way to the ’new’ world.

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Table of Contents

2.0 - Chronology of Major Events in this Period
2.1 - Colonies in America
2.2 - The First English settlement
2.3 - Puritan Influence on the early American Society
2.4 - Colonies Versus Britain
2.5 - Points to Remember

Chapter 3





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