The History of America: Initial Colonization
In the last post, we discussed Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, the fall of the Aztec and Inca Empires, and the terrible diseases that plagued the New World.
However, now that this New World, the Americas, have been “discovered”, it’s about time that European societies get interested. Up until this point in time, Europeans saw these two continents as nothing but a burden, obstacles in the way to easy trading markets in China and India. In a little more than one hundred years from where we are in American History in this post, Britain and other empires will literally fight to keep these continents under their belt.
To understand the colonization of America, we have to understand the colonial movements of some of the important European powers.
However, we’re not at the point where Britain decides to get involved. If we back up to Christopher Columbus, one should remember of Isabella of Spain, the royalty figure who gave Columbus the three ships and funding to go out on his expeditions. Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain had one child, a daughter by the name of Joanna the Mad (1479 – 1555). She married into the powerful Habsburg, the controllers of not only the Austrian throne, but also the thrones of all the Germanic speaking nations, which went by the name of the Holy Roman Empire. Joanna herself only had one child, by the name of Charles, who would eventually hold the crown of not only Spain, but of the Holy Roman Empire itself.
Charles became king of Spain in 1515, and took the crown of the Holy Roman Empire in 1520. Charles V (1500 – 1558) controlled more land than any European leader since Charlemagne, which is incredibly surprising as he had much fewer resources than other leaders, considering that the German preist Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) had Europe in a frenzy with his protests against corruption and greed in the Catholic church.
Charles saw his position as the man to keep order, and one could argue that due to the time period he was extremely unsuccessful. He eventually resigned from power, and everything was failing. Protestants became a reality, and were against the Catholic church.
However, when Charles was ruling, he took all this into his administration. He did not mind the conquistadors, the people such as Cortes and Pizarro, whom we talked about in the last post, so long as they explored using their own money and agreed to send 1/5 of the profits discovered in the New World back to the Spaniard government.
He became worried that the conquistadors would turn into Cortes, who was seen as a god to the natives at first, and would declare themselves as aristocratic rulers much like people attempted to in Spain’s history, taking power away from Spaniard rule. So, to prevent excessive corruption in the Americas, he demoted these conquistadors and set up formal governments.
Two massive colonies were set up, the Vice-royalty of New Spain in Mexico and Central America and the Vice-royalty of Peru in South America. These two areas were presided over by a “viceroy”, who was appointed by the king of Spain. The job of the Viceroy was to watch over the New World government, which “needed to be the same as that in Spain.”
However, if a government was going to be created, citizens were needed, and Spain desperately tried to make the New World seem like a world of opportunities. Alas, only 250,000 people were persuaded to immigrant over to the vice-royalties.
By this period of time, 200 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver, approximately worth around one and one fourth of a billion (1,250,000,000) dollars had been found in the American mines. This added more than sixteen times the gold and silver in Europe into the treasuries. Eventually, to keep unearthing these precious metals, slavery and great estates, also known as haciendas, were carved throughout the land.
Now enters another major factor that always worms its’ way into exploration: religion. The church wanted to Christianize these “Indians” living in the New World, and attempted to destroy the cultures of these former vast empires. The church had three main ways of attempting to Christianize the indigenous people in America.
1. Enslavement — the native people were forced to work for people who had never heard of nor cared about the native religions.
2. Dislocation and Suppression of Native Cultures — the cultures developed by the Indians had no chance against the European civilians.
3. Confrontation to Culture — confrontation, as defined by the dictionary, is “a situation in which people, groups, etc., fight, oppose, or challenge each other in an angry way.”
Europeans, during all of this, had a very close ally helping them essentially “take over” the New World — Disease. Disease was an important aspect that was wasn’t even considered or realized by explorers. It essentially cleared the way to victory for the conquistadors and priests, as nothing had prepared the native people for European diseases.
For thousands of years, the people living in North and South America had been isolated to the rest of the world, and had lived without Europe’s deadly diseases that the civilians of Europe had grown accustomed too.
The European Diseases:
To read more about each disease, click the link corresponding to them. Links will lead to the CDC.
1) Smallpox – erious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease.
2) Measles – highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus.
3) Typhoid – life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella.
4) Scarlet Fever – a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus or “group A strep.”
5) Whooping Cough – very contagious and most severe for babies.
6) Cholera – illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
7) Alcoholism – the self inflicted disease unheard of to the indigenous people. an addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor.
Even when these missionaries tried to treat the native people fairly, which eventually they did attempt, they could not stop the diseases that they brought with them. At least seventeen major European epidemics happened in North America alone. In 1519, Smallpox ravished the Eastern coastline. The casualties were horrendous, and it is estimated that anywhere between 70% and 95% of the natives died in the Eastern coast of North America alone. The same estimate occurs for casualties in South America.
Society eventually changed, and people who flocked over to the vice-royalties for religion and gold (in hopes of returning to Spain with profit) eventually decided to stay in the New World — profit or not. Profit was eventually forgotten.
However, some people still wanted to repeat history and gain the fortunes of Cortes and Pizarro. One of Pizarro’s lieutenants, Hernado de Soto (1446 – 1542) set off in pursuit for a Peru of his own to pillage. He used his own fortune from Peru, and financed his own expedition to modern day Florida, landing near modern day Tampa. He began to strike North into Georgia, and went west to the Mississippi River.
He was probably the first European to encounter the Cherokee nation, where he found houses and roads, farms and even temples. However, de Soto was noit interested. He wanted gold, and plunged blindly into the Mississippi until he died of a fever in 1592. He was buried by his men in the Mississippi.
He found no gold, and his only real accomplishment was to scatter European diseases among the tribes he encountered.
Panfilo de Narvacz (1470 – 1528), once a rival of Cortes, launched his own clumsy expedition into Central Florida in 1528. Indians, shipwreck, starvation, and disease annihilated all but 4 members of the expedition, including one who was enslaved by the Indians. Cabeza de Vadca, who was enslaved, turned into a celebrity overnight to the Indians, as he worked wonders with medicine.
Another man by the name of Francisco de Coronado (1490 – 1542) listened to rumors of gold in North America, and plunged deep into modern day Texas. He returned to Mexico broke and ruined, finding no gold.
Eventually, the profits stopped, and Spain could no longer afford anything. The gold that turned Spain into a World Power had also poisoned the Spanish economy, and inflation rose prices up five hundred percent. The Dutch uprising also proved to be an ulcer in Spaniard’s side, and Dutch Independence was granted in 1609. By the mid 1600s, Spain had spent most of their money, and dropped from the World Powers.
The French Revolution is still a little more than a century away. France, from the 1580’s onward, had many religious civil wars, and had stayed low during the first stages of New World colonization.
Many issues, such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and religious turmoil plagued the country of France during this time. However, in the 1590’s, protestant heir to the throne Henry IV (1553 – 1610) “officially but not sincerely” turned Catholic. France began to settle down and rebuild their internal structure.
Giovanni da Verrazano (1485 – 1528) was one of the first French-based explorers of the New World. He mapped a majority of the North American eastern coast. In 1532, French Explorer Jacques Cartier (1491 – 1557) pushed his way up the St. Lawrence River, and eventually two settlement attempts by France would fail. Civil wars would soon begin again.
After several more failures, Samuel de Champlain (1567 – 1635) made a society in Quebec. France now had access in America, and named their new settlements New France. They did not gain gold, no silver, but found something of equal value: fur. Beavers, foxes, lynxes and other mammals were plentiful in the St. Lawrence river, and France began trading with the Indian nations for fur. Trade along the St. Lawrence was managed by the Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga Indian tribes, who were collectively known as the Iroquois Five Nations.
The Iroquois Nations despised the French and all Indian tribes that were allies of the French. After French soldiers aided in a small skirmish between the Iroquois and another tribe using firearms, kissing at least three Iroquois men, they became mortal enemies.
In 1682, Robert de La Sall (1643 – 1687) led an expedition down the Mississippi and into the gulf. He claimed the mouth of the Mississippi for France, and renamed it after King Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) — Louisiana.
Other French traders soon followed de La Sall, and several southern towns, including Biloxi, were established as French Trading Centers. The capital of New France is now New Orleans, and France continued to fail in permanent settlements, yet succeeding in establishing trading posts. The French Crown only saw minimal returns of profit in New Orleans, and defects occurred.
French protestants wanted to migrate to New France, seeing the new continent as a place for religious freedom. However, the French government became worried that if all the protestants moved to New France, religion over in America would be unstable, and the French Crown would lose power. This resulted in the Crown banishing protestants from moving there. 5,400 people were persuaded to move to New France by the Company of the Indies. And, losing money quickly, France began dumping convicts in New France.
It is obvious to say that France was not as successful in America as Spain.
Now that the Dutch people have gained Independence, and have removed themselves from under the thumb of Spain, the Dutch soon realized that they had been stuck with some of the most unproductive land in Europe, and living with the debris from a long period of fighting for independence. However, they were blessed with coastal land, and soon began banking and merchant businesses. Within half a century, Amsterdam would become the financial capital of Europe.
The Dutch hired Henry Hudson (1570 – 1611) to explore and find the still nonexistent Northwest Passage to the Pacific. He traveled up a river, later named the Hudson River, only to find out that it only led deeper and deeper into the continent. The Dutch soon abandoned their dreams of reaching the Pacific and found trade with the mortal enemy of France, the Iroquois Nation. They traded firearms to the Indian nation, and the Indians began using firearms against the French.
New Amsterdam was set up in Manhattan, and settlers wanted profit and commercial success. Eventually New Amsterdam would become New York, but that will be discussed more in depth in a later post. The Dutch allowed anyone to set up in New Amsterdam, and it was said that one could hear eighteen different languages on the average street of the Dutch land in America. Another thing that encouraged entrepreneurs in Europe was, unlike the Spaniard and French societies, women could own property and conduct business in New Amsterdam, even if married.
By 1600, there were 5,000 settlers, and anyone who brought 50 settlers with them would be labelled as “Patroon” and given vast amounts of property along the Hudson River. The Dutch, much like the French, were unable to reach the success made by the Spaniards.
That concludes Post 2 in this series, and next time we’ll be discussing the Wilderness that the new civilians of this New World faced.