Chapter 2

  Chapter 2 — The European Invasion Of America  
Description: 1492-1763Sections: Christopher Columbus Reaches The New WorldSpain Leads The European Invasion Of The AmericasBritain Begins Its ColoniesA Total of 13 Colonies Are EstablishedFrance Stakes Out Eastern Canada And The Mississippi ValleyThe 18th Century: Rule Brittania  


Time:  1492

Christopher Columbus Reaches The New World

The European intrusion into the New World begins by accident.

Since Roman times, Europe is attracted to the spices of Asia – cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper, turmeric, not to mention opium. But the overland trade routes to the East are precarious. Instead, perhaps by sailing west, a shorter and more commercially favorable route could be found. 

This is what Christopher Columbus has in mind on October 12, 1492, when he begins his voyage with three ships, in service to the Spanish crown. After 70 days at sea, he encounters land, most likely the tiny island of San Salvador. From there he spends the next three months navigating his way south to Cuba, then east to Hispaniola (later Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Along the way, he encounters natives with gold earrings, whom he describes as docile in nature, lacking in weaponry, and easily capable of being conquered, converted to Christianity and placed into servitude.

Still believing he has found his way to India, Columbus refers to the islands as the East Indies, and the natives as “Indios” or Indians. He kidnaps many along the way, and some 7-8 who survive the journey home are put on display as proof of his success.

On March 4, 1493 Columbus is back in Portugal. Despite losing his lead ship, Santa Maria, and failing to locate any spice treasures, his encounter with the Caribbean islands sets off an exploration frenzy that lasts over the next two centuries.

Within a decade of the 1492 voyage, Europe recognizes that Columbus has reached a whole New World, rather than Asia. The Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, argues this fact after his 1502 voyage, and in 1507 a German mapmaker, Martin Waldseemueller, officially christens the continent “America” in his honor.


Time:  1492-1602

Spain Leads The European Invasion Of The Americas

In turn America becomes a sought after chip in the game played by the monarchs of Spain, France and England for control over Europe and for global hegemony.

Spain takes the lead as the dominant power in Europe after the 1469 marriage of two Catholic monarchs, Isabelle of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, unify the nation, and dynastic matches of their children extend their power into Portugal and the Hapsburg dynasty.

It is their grandson, Charles I, who reigns supreme from 1516 to 1558 over much of Europe, including Spain, Italy and the sprawling remnants of the Holy Roman Empire, from the Netherlands in the north to Austria-Hungary in the south.

King Charles is a Catholic monarch, who battles against the Protestant Reformation, sparked by Martin Luther in 1517, and against France in various European wars. He is also remembered for sending his conquistadors across the Atlantic after gold and territory in the Americas.  

Two remarkable civilizations fall to his swords and cannon in short order, as Hernan Cortez conquers Montezuma and the Aztec empire by 1521 and Francisco Pizarro ends the Incas rule over Peru in 1541.

Hernando De Soto rampages through Central America and the Caribbean, then north to Florida and west to Louisiana. Alvar Cabeza and Francisco Coronado extend De Soto’s tracks in America, driving through Texas to Arizona and up through Oklahoma to Kansas. Some fifty years later, in 1596, Sebastien Vizcaino explores the west coast, from San Diego to Oregon.

So Spain is first to assert its “rights” throughout the New World.  

By 1600, it controls much of the Caribbean Islands, Peru, Central America, Mexico, and over half of the North American continent from Florida across the deep South to San Diego, then north to Oregon.

The European Exploration Of America: Early Spanish Expeditions

YearsExplorerFromLand Covered
1492-1504Columbus, ChristopherSpainSan Salvador, Cuba, Haiti, Trinidad, Jamaica, Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, Panama
1493-1521De Leon, PonceSpainSanto Domingo (DR), Puerto Rico, Florida
1497-98Cabot, JohnEnglandNewfoundland
1497-1538Da Gama, VascoPortugalOpens trade route with India (“the Indies”)
1499-1502Vespucci, AmerigoItalyS. America, recognizes that new world is not Asia
1519-21Cortez, HernanSpainMexico, conquers Montezuma and Aztecs
1524-42De Soto, HernandoSpainNicaragua, Peru, Cuba, Florida, Louisiana
1524-28Verrazzano, GiovaniItalyCape Fear, NC, New York, Maine, Newfoundland
1528-37Cabeza, AlvarSpainCuba, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mexico City
1532-41Pizarro, FranciscoSpainConquers Incas in Peru, into Panama
1534-41Cartier, JacquesFrance1000 miles up St Lawrence seaway
1540-42Coronado, FranciscoSpainArizona, NM, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas
1577-80Drake, Sir FrancisEngland2nd after Magellan around the world, California
1584-87Raleigh, Sir WalterEnglandRoanoke colony (NC) in 1584-87, Florida
1596-1602Vizcaino, SebastianSpainPacific coast, San Diego to Oregon

But Spain comes to the New World more as plunderers than as settlers. In North America, their main attempts at establishing deep roots occur in the Florida’s, notably at St. Augustine in 1565, in Santa Fe around 1598 and Texas in San Antonio by 1717.

The failure of Spain to populate and formally colonize in North America will come back to haunt them when their land claims are later threatened by France and the United States.

Early Spanish Settlements In America

1585St. Augustine, Fla
1696Pensacola, Fla
1718San Antonio
1772St. Luis Obispo, Ca
1780Yuma, Az
1786Santa Barbara, Ca
1828San Francisco Solano, Ca


Time:  1497-1664

Britain Begins To Colonize America

Aside from John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to Newfoundland, the English show little early interest in the New World.

This changes, however, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, from 1533 to 1603, and King James I from 1603 to 1625.

Once they turn their attention toward America, England’s strategy differs sharply from the Spanish. Instead of in and out probes for gold and silver, the English set their sights on establishing permanent colonies on the continent, to work the land and carry on profitable trade over time.

The development of Britain’s dominant Royal Navy during Elizabeth’s time assures them of control over the sea lanes required for safe import and export of goods.  

What’s left then is to formulate a “business arrangement” between British merchants and the crown that will incent the formation of permanent colonies across the ocean.

The solution here is the “joint stock corporation,” a model that will become a permanent feature of the future economic landscape in America.

“Corporations” begin as a legal agreement between the monarch and a set of private investors (“stock owners”) based on a mutually agreeable “exchange.” In this case, the crown grants ownership of sizable chunks of land in America to investors in return for sponsoring settlements that create and sustain trade.  

The principal corporation during Elizabeth’s reign is known as The London Company, which is granted Atlantic coast territory extending all the way from the 34th (Cape Fear, North Carolina) to the 41st parallel (Long Island Sound). This results in England’s first American settlement, the Roanoke Colony, set up by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 on lands he calls Virginia, in honor of the Virgin Queen. But when long-delayed supply ships from England revisit the colony in 1590, all signs of the 110 settlers have vanished without a trace.

The “Lost Colony of Roanoke” halts English colonization until King James I grants two pivotal and somewhat overlapping charters in 1606:

Two British Corporations Found
Colonies Along the Atlantic Coast

Joint Stock Corporations Chartered By James I In 1606

Company NameGrant LongitudePrimary Development Areas
Virginia Company of London34th to 41th parallelVirginia, North Carolina
Virginia Company of Plymouth38th to 45th parallelNew England

On May 13, 1607, some 105 men led by Captain John Smith land at Jamestown, Virginia, with their London Company charter ordering them to accomplish three things:

  • Find precious metals;
  • Establish a Protestant presence on the continent; and
  • Expand English naval power.

But like Roanoke, Jamestown is almost another failure. There is no gold to be found, malaria strikes, and in June, 1610 the 38 survivors re-board their ship to head home. Destiny shifts, however, when sailing out on James River, they encounter a second wave of London Company settlers and return, 1700 strong, to search again for a path to prosperity. After experimenting with a series of possible exports, from timber to iron to sassafras, the colonists finally settle on tobacco, which becomes an overnight sensation in Britain, and triggers the formation of other southern colonies: Carolina in 1629 and Maryland in 1632.

On August 13, 1607, the Plymouth Company lands a contingent of 120 souls, under the command of George Popham and Raleigh Gilbert, on the southwest coast of Maine, near the mouth of the Kennebec River. While they are able to construct Fort St. George, hard living conditions and a falling out between the leaders causes the colony to close after its first year.

A second Plymouth Company venture proves more successful. On December 21, 1620, Captain William Bradford, a Puritan separatist fleeing the Church of England, navigates the aging ship Mayflower and its 102 “pilgrim” passengers into a harbor at Plymouth, Massachusetts. His first impressions are anything but uplifting:

It is a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.

After surviving the winter, they establish a toe-hold in America, and are joined in 1628, by settlers associated with another corporation — The Massachusetts’s Bay Company.

The British then consolidate control over the entire Atlantic coast in 1664 by forcing the Dutch to surrender their claim to the New Netherlands territory, in and around the island of Manhattan. This claim originates with Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage on behalf of the Dutch East Indies Company. By 1626 its

Director-General, Peter Minuit, has “purchased” the island from the Delaware tribe and constructed Ft. Amsterdam to defend the harbor.

But the Dutch defenses are no match for the four British frigates that appear on August 27, 1664, and demand surrender. By 1665 New Netherlands has officially become New York colony, and the Manhattan settlement of New Amsterdam is re-christened New York City. A final treaty to this effect is signed in 1674, after conclusion of the 3rd Anglo-Dutch War.

Early Exploration Of America: English Expeditions

YearsExplorerFromLand Covered
1497-98Cabot, JohnEnglandNewfoundland
1577-80Drake, Sir FrancisEngland2nd after Magellan around the world, California
1578-83Gilbert, Sir HumphreyEnglandNewfoundland and Nova Scotia
1584-87Raleigh, Sir WalterEnglandRoanoke colony (NC) in 1584-87, Florida
1596-1602Vizcaino, SebastianSpainPacific coast, San Diego to Oregon
1603-09Champlain, SamuelFranceSettles Quebec
1606-14Smith, JohnEnglandJamestown in 1607, Richmond, Baltimore
1607-08Popham, GeorgeEnglandMaine
1609-11Hudson, HenryEnglandNew York (for Dutch East Indies Co.), Hudson R


Time:  1607-1700

A Total Of Thirteen British Colonies Are Established


By the end of the 17th century Britain’s holdings in America comprise thirteen colonies, along the Atlantic coast.

Approximate Dates And Charters For The Thirteen Crown Colonies

DateNameFounded byAnnounced Purpose
1607VirginiaThe London CoTo find gold
1620Plymouth (Mass)Separatist PuritansTo separate from the Church of England
1630Massachusetts BayReform PuritansTo reform the Church of England
1635ConnecticutThomas HookerFor Puritan gentlemen.
1636Rhode IslandRoger WilliamsFor total religious freedom (and Baptists)
1664New YorkThe DutchTo secure and trade furs
1664New JerseyThe DutchFor farming
1692New HampshireJohn MasonFor farming
1632MarylandLord BaltimoreTo secure religious freedom for Catholics
1681PennsylvaniaWilliam PennTo secure religious freedom for Quakers
1703DelawareNew Sweden CoFor farming
1719CarolinasVirginiansFor farming and trade
1732GeorgiaJames OglethorpeTo provide relief for the English in poverty

They are a diverse lot to say the least. All favor the English language and share some form of allegiance to the crown; but their make-up and missions often have little in common.

The three New England colonies (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) probably come closest to a shared purpose – that being a wish to practice the Puritan religion without interference from the Church of England hierarchy back home. The Puritans are committed to driving all residual traces of Catholicism out of their worship and living lives of “Christian charity” according to the principles of the French theologian, John Calvin (1509-64).

  • Total depravity – all men are born as sinners.
  • Unconditional election – God selects which will be saved and which damned.
  • Limited atonement – Christ died only for those who are to be saved.
  • Pre-destination – man cannot affect his own salvation through deeds or prayer.
  • Anti-Catholicism – purify church practices and rely on congregations to run them.

But even within this umbrella of Puritanism, there are fissures. Those clustered in Massachusetts Bay wish to stay within the Church of England, while reforming it as they see fit. The Puritan “pilgrims” of Plymouth, Massachusetts, opt for creating a separate church entirely. The Rhode Islanders, under the break-away Puritan preacher Roger Williams, are eager to explore other new religious approaches, notably the Baptist movement.

Two other colonies are also predicated on offering citizens the right to practice their own form of religion. In Maryland, Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, establishes a haven for Roman Catholic settlers in the New World. In Pennsylvania, the English real estate magnate, William Penn, provides a home for Quakers.

Georgia is also focused on a higher calling, in this case secular in nature and aimed at providing a better life for settlers caught in the misery of poverty back home in England.  

The other seven colonies are more concerned with everyday matters related to homesteading and commerce.

By 1700 the population has grown to roughly 250,000 settlers. For most the early days of struggling against the elements to simply stay alive have passed, and their attention has turned to farming and other forms of making a living. Their tenacity, however, in reaching and settling in the new land seems to be paying fine rewards.


Time:  1534-1682

France Stakes Out Eastern Canada And The Mississippi Valley

France’s interest in America picks up during the 72 year reign (1643-1715) of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who is arguably the dominant force in Europe in his time.

In search of fur trading outposts, the French locate and explore the great waterways into and across America.


They arrive from the North in 1534, with Jacque Cartier’s 1000 mile voyage down the St. Lawrence seaway. In 1541 Cartier sets up the first European settlement in North America, 400 strong, at Cap Rouge (Quebec City). But a year later it is abandoned, owing to an unforgiving winter climate and conflicts with local tribes.

Like the British, the French learn that it is one thing to reach the New World and quite another to survive there.

French Exploration of the Mississippi River  

After a hiatus lasting six decades, Samuel Champlain retraces Cartier’s route and successfully opens a French outpost at Quebec in 1608. 

From there, the French drive west proceeds, across Canada and the Great Lakes, to the mighty Mississippi, led by Jean Nicollet, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette.

Early Exploration Of America: French Expeditions

YearsExplorerFromLand Covered
1534-41Cartier, JacquesFrance1000 miles up St Lawrence seaway
1540-42Coronado, FranciscoSpainArizona, NM, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas
1577-80Drake, Sir FrancisEngland2nd after Magellan around the world, California
1584-87Raleigh, Sir WalterEnglandRoanoke colony (NC) in 1584-87, Florida
1596-1602Vizcaino, SebastianSpainPacific coast, San Diego to Oregon
1603-09Champlain, SamuelFranceSettles Quebec
1606-14Smith, JohnEnglandJamestown in 1607, Richmond, Baltimore
1609-11Hudson, HenryEnglandNew York (for Dutch East Indies Co.), Hudson R
1618-42Nicollet, JeanFranceCanada, Great Lakes, Wisconsin, Illinois
1626-38Minuit, PeterDutchBought Manhattan I in 1826 for the Dutch East Co
1645-72Stuyvesant, PeterDutchGovernor of New Amsterdam (NYC), West Indies
1673Joliet, LouisCanadaMississippi R (Green Bay to Arkansas)
1673Marquette, JacquesFranceMississippi R along with Joliet
1679-82De La Salle, RobertFranceGreat Lakes and length of Mississippi
1774-1830DuSable, JeanFranceChicago, Michigan, Missouri

Along the way, French forts and outposts translate into many of the enduring cities of the Midwest. 

Early French Settlements In America

1608Quebec City
1669Ft. La Baye (Green Bay)
1679Ft. Niagra
1680Ft. Crevecoeur (Peoria,IL)
1698Caho Kia (Cahokia, IL)
1701Ft. Ponchetrain (Detroit)
1716Ft Rosalie (Natchez)
1718La Nouvelle Orleans
1720Baton Rouge

In honor of King Louis XIV, the New France territories along the Mississippi are christened “Louisiana.”


Time:  1700-1763

The 18th Century: Rule Britannia

On November 1, 1700, the Spanish throne is left vacant by the death of the mentally and physically handicapped King Charles II — “the Bewitched” – whose 40-year rule incapacitates the country. In his will Charles names Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, as his successor, which threatens to unite Spain, the Hapsburg empire and France under one crown.

At this point, the British, ruled by the Protestant Queen Anne, decide to go to war to prevent France from expanding its power in Europe. The War of Spanish Succession lasts from 1701 to 1714, and ends with a major victory for the English over Louis XIV.  

One phase of this conflict is fought in North America and known as Queen Anne’s War. It leaves the Spanish missions in Florida weakened and costs the French its territory in Newfoundland, Acadia and Hudson Bay.   

But the battle over succession in Spain proves only a warm-up for the Seven Year’s War, waged 1756 to 1763.

It becomes the world’s “first true global war” eventually pitting France, Austria, Spain, Sweden and Saxony against an alliance of England, Prussia, Portugal and Russia. It is fought on land and sea, with human casualties estimated at well over one million men, and fearful financial losses on all sides.

The American theater is christened the French & Indian War, with most of the action centered on control over trade-route forts along the Canadian border.

As the war begins, the French have 75,000 settlers living in North America vs. 1.5 million British colonists. Their military consist of roughly 10,000 regular army forces, complemented by their tribal partners, the Algonquins and the Mohawks. The British muster roughly 40,000 men between their regulars and militia volunteers from their colonies, including one George Washington of Virginia. Their Indian allies are the Iroquois, historical foes of the Algonquin. 

Despite these odds, the war begins badly for England. General Braddock is defeated at Ft. Duquense (Pittsburg), and overall commander of the French troops, General Montcalm, scores victories in upstate New York over Ft. Oswego and Ft. William Henry. Both of these battles are marred by atrocities against British prisoners.

Beginning in 1758, the tide turns in favor of Britain, culminating in the fall of the French garrison at Quebec City. This follows a vicious ten week siege of the city, ending September 13, 1759, with both General Wolfe and General Montcalm killed in action. From there the British navy cuts off re-supply efforts by France along the St. Lawrence, and the last stronghold at Montreal falls in 1760. 

During the full course of the Severn Year’s War, British naval and army power has swept across the globe. In the east, the Spanish colony at Manilla has fallen along with the French trading posts in India. Spain has lost control over much of the Caribbean, including its Havana colony in Cuba. Canada is wrested from France.     

The war ends with the 1763 Treaty of Paris and sets the stage for creation of the British Empire.  

After several rounds of post-war territorial horse-trading, the face of North America changes profoundly.  

  • The French have essentially vacated the continent. Britain picks up their holdings in Canada, along with their claims to land east of the Mississippi. By 1764 it is also revealed that they have transferred their vast “Louisiana” territory west of the Mississippi to Spain. For the sake of on-going peace, the English promise to allow Catholicism to continue in the former French territories and to return the sugar-rich Caribbean island of Guadalupe to France. 
  • Spain hands both West and East Florida over to Britain, in exchange for retaining Cuba and securing control over the port of New Orleans. 

As of 1763, America control, through Britain, 39% of the 3.1 million square miles that will eventually comprise the nation.

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