World History 2 71 - 5.3.2 Mercantilism and the Expansion of Empire

To compete with Spain and Portugal, their rivals England, France, and the Netherlands soon founded communities in North America. England established colonies on the mainland of North America in the sixteenth century, and by the middle of the eighteenth century, they stretched from Newfoundland to Georgia (Figure 5.18). Besides tobacco, they supplied England with a variety of goods ranging from timber, furs, and salted fish from the northern colonies to rice, indigo, and deer hides from the south. The colonies attracted many landless, unemployed young European men and women, too, who traveled to North America as indentured servants, bound by a contract to work for an agreed-upon number of years. After the landowner who paid for their passage had been compensated by their years of labor, indentured servants received their freedom and typically a grant of land as well.

A map of North America, the Arctic Ocean, and the northwest portion of South America is shown, along with the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. An area along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. from the Gulf of Maine, down through Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay and into land labeled “Carolina” is highlighted pink as Territory controlled by Great Britain. Splitting the pink area is a very small sliver south of the Gulf of Maine labeled “New Netherlands” and highlighted purple as Territory controlled by the Netherlands. West of the pink and purple areas, is a large portion of North America highlighted green from the Labrador Sea in Canada, including Newfoundland, Acadia, New France, and New England. It runs south to the Gulf of Mexico, and west to the middle of the U.S. and is labeled Territory controlled by France. This territory also includes the western half of Santo Domingo. All of Central America stretching up into a portion of the U.S., labeled new Spain, along with Florida, Cuba, and the eastern portion of the island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean Sea is highlighted orange as Territory controlled by Spain.
Figure 5.18 By the early seventeenth century, Spain, Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands all had established colonies in the Americas. Spain’s empire was the largest. (credit: modification of work “Map of North America in 1750” by Bill of Rights Institute/Flickr, CC BY 4.0)

France and the Netherlands also founded colonies in North America. In 1535, Jacques Cartier claimed Canada, also called New France, in the name of King Francis I. Like England, France was unable to maintain a permanent settlement in North America until the seventeenth century, when Samuel de Champlain founded one at Quebec. The French established further settlements in what is now the state of Maine, on the southern coast of Newfoundland, and in Louisiana (named for King Louis XIV). Animal hides and furs were the main exports to France. A small Dutch colony also briefly flourished in what is now New York and New Jersey before it was ceded to England in 1664. Like the French, the Dutch colonists of New Netherlands were primarily engaged in the fur trade, although many Dutch farmers also settled in the Hudson Valley, in New Jersey, and on Long Island.

Link to Learning

Although Spain, Portugal, England, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark were the major countries that established colonies in the Americas between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were not the only ones. At the Historic UK website, learn about the Darien scheme that was Scotland’s unsuccessful attempt to found a colony in Central America in 1698.

The European nations intended to extract the greatest possible wealth from their mainland colonies in the form of raw materials such as hides, furs, and agricultural products. France controlled immigration to Canada to ensure that its population remained limited to fur trappers and traders, a small number of farmers to provide them with food, and soldiers to guard them. In 1627, the French government granted a monopoly over the fur trade to the Company of New France. All fur trappers in Canada were to either work directly for the company or sell their furs to it. Traders had to pay the government a 25 percent sales tax. In 1663, Louis XIV placed the company under royal control.

Spain exercised the strictest control over colonial commerce. Trade was limited to only a few ports in the Spanish colonies and the port of Seville in Spain, and two trading fleets departed from Seville bound for the Americas each year. The Spanish government forbade trade at other times. In addition, those seeking to engage in trade had to procure a license to do so, at considerable expense. The Spanish government also held a number of monopolies, such as one on all silver produced in its colonies, as well as owning all the mercury produced in the colony of Peru. Spanish colonies that needed mercury, which was used for processing the gold and silver they mined, had to purchase it from Peru.

Although the mainland colonies yielded wealth for the European home countries, the chief prizes were the islands of the Caribbean where sugar could be grown. Over the course of the seventeenth century, England, France, and the Netherlands set up colonies throughout the Caribbean on islands either not claimed by Spain or taken from it. The three attempted to found colonies in Central or South America as well, but Spanish and Portuguese dominance there either made these efforts unsuccessful, like the Dutch attempts in Brazil, or they kept the colonies small, such as French Guiana and Dutch Guiana, now Suriname.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax