The first European presence in the New World was after 1492, when Columbus and his crew landed in what was, at the time, thought and hoped to be Asia. Columbus was financed by Spain, and his discovery of the New World allowed the Spanish the earliest opportunity of exploiting the Americas and turning it into profit in the efforts of Hernan Cortes among others. Cortes entered the Americas with conquistadors, or conquerors, to take advantage of the Americas in terms of the population as well as its natural resources. Cortes set up a settlement with his conquistadors in Mexico, as well as other places, and exploited the native Aztec people, establishing a government in the colony that would serve as a colony for Spain.
In organizing the colony into a formal, legitimate government, the Spanish conquistadors also had to involve the native people where the settlements were established, and Cortes needed to organize the indigenous peoples into the society. The Spanish were able to do this because they “organized” the Aztecs by moving in three stages. First, they enslaved the Aztecs and forced them out in order to be able to use their natural resources for the colony and for Spain. When the indigenous people that Cortés’s men came into contact with revolted or resisted, they would put them down, and were able to do so because of superior weapons.
The Spanish were also able to wipe out the Aztecs relatively easily not only because of the superior weapons they had, but because European diseases that native Europeans had become immune to travelled across the Atlantic with them. When the Aztecs and other native peoples faced these diseases for the first time ever, they were severely unprepared and the diseases that Europeans were resistant to wreaked devastating effects on the Aztecs. At first the colonies that Cortes and the Spanish established in Middle and South America were only used for wealth. Taking natural resources out of the land and people and sending it back was replaced by a permanent, legitimate settlement. The wealth that was sent back to the monarch in Spain made Spain a prominent world power in Europe, but by mishandling its wealth, Spain’s settlements became no longer profitable and there was little interest in the colonies.
Though the Spanish experienced wealth in the 16th century as well as a good portion of the 17th century, the Dutch became a significant commercial world power because of European expansion and exploration. The Spanish were able to bring back wealth for their own country, but the Dutch were able to establish the Netherlands as one of the most prominent trading centers in Europe, and became wealthy because of this prestige. The Dutch explorers of the Dutch East India Company came to present-day Canada, being the first to explore the Hudson River in 1609. Here, along the river, the Dutch established colonies in the wooded areas of North America, taking advantage of trading fur. The Dutch settlement of New Netherland attracted a large amount of people from different backgrounds because of its presence as a trading and commercial settlement. The settlement was very tolerant of religion and gender, and because of this it was widely diverse and became even wealthier as the premier trading area in North America, making the Netherlands wealthy.
The third European country to really emerge as a world power during the Age of Exploration was France. France had just become united once more after a civil war, and before 1600 the French were setting out to explore the New World as well. The French wanted to gain the prestige and wealth that the Spanish had before them, and they set out to North America. The French travelled along the Northern part of the Mississippi and into Canada. Present-day Quebec was one of the first significant French settlements, established by Samuel de Champlain along the St. Lawrence River. Like the Dutch, the French took advantage of the fur trade in North America and used it to produce wealth for both themselves and their home country. Settled in North America, the French came into conflict with the American Indians in the wooded areas they exploited for fur trade.
The French did not have the type of success that the Dutch did in North America. The fur trade along with other exploitations was not very profitable for France, and colonization often came at a high expense to France itself. The government in charge of the French settlements, unlike that of the Dutch, was not religiously and ethnically tolerant of emigrants who tried to settle. Because of this intolerance and lack of diversity, trading in furs and other resources was not very profitable. Where the Dutch took advantage of being able to trade and extend their network of trading through diversity, the French stifled themselves and were not able to extend their trading system due to their lack of ethnic tolerance.
Alan Taylors’ “American Colonies”
College level lectures