The Importance of Colonialism in American History

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Historical Background: European Colonization of North America

Historians refer to the colonial period in North America as the prior modern period. The history acts as the bridge between different eras of the history namely the medieval period and modernity (Verlinden and Charles, n.p). Europeans colonized both South and North America in a bid to spread Christianity and find resources such as gold. The Spanish people in their conquest for colonies focused on South America states like Mexico. On the other hand, the British lay claim on Northern American states.

Spanish Exploration and Conquest

Columbus initiated aggressive Spanish exploration in the Atlantic region. There existed a bitter rivalry between the Portuguese and Spanish people for the acquisition of land in Southern America. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI declared ownership of all lands discovered by Columbus. King Joao of Spain was compelled to sign a treaty "Treaty of Tordesillas" which defined territorial space in South America. In 1519, Cortes a Spanish explorer (conquistadores) entered the Mexican empire. The Spanish did not appreciate human sacrifices practiced in Mexico City but got fascinated by the gold in the city (Simmons and Marc, n.p). Cortes targeted high-ranking Mexican officials and Moctezuma their ruler to gain access and control over Mexico. Due to retaliation of the Tenochtitlan people Cortes fled and later formed alliances with the natives who opposed Aztec rule. Cortes got control of Tenochtitlan in 1521 and named it Mexico City (Prem and Hanns, 1521-1620). Illness brought about by smallpox led to the downfall of the city. A woman from Nahua called Malintzin aided Cortes in her conquest. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540-1541 fought the Tiwa People (New Mexico) leaving Coronado bankrupt. Spain had gained generous monetary benefits from Mexico by 1600.

Negative Impact of Spanish Colonization

Trade in gold and silver connected European nations as result capitalism became established. However, Spanish colonization had adverse negative impacts on the native people. The Spaniards destroyed the natives' culture and heritage buildings. The Spanish killed many natives and introduced diseases such as smallpox, influenza and measles, which wiped away the natives' populations. The Spanish invasion resulted in the introduction of new language, "Spanish," and Christianity in Mexico.

The Dutch and British Colonization of New York

New York initially served a Dutch trading center in 1614. In 1626, Dutch West India Company formed New Amsterdam, later known as New York. In 1664, the British captured the colony by ousting the Dutch rule. Many Dutch residents stayed in New York because the British offered reasonable terms of surrender. The Dutch received permission to carry on with their religious activities and right to own property. Charles II relinquished his right to the colony and bestowed it upon his brother James who was the Duke of York. In 1685, New York received recognition as a royal colony.

Diversity and Trade in New York

The majority of the people in the colony were the Dutch constituting about 50% of the population. Freedmen, African Slaves, European nationalities and the British were also present in New York. Slaves contributed to about 7-10% of the population. There existed many church denominations including; Baptists, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Lutheran church. Initially, the Dutch and the Indian traded in fur. After the British domination in 1664, Dutch trader still ruled the fur trade is expanding their trade to Lake Ontario later in 1727 (McCusker et al., n.p). The Dutch mainly exported foodstuff to the neighboring areas.

Native American Resistance and British Control

Iroquois Confederation that consisted of five nations (Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Onodaga, and Mohawk) had control of the Western area. The Indian resistance made it difficult for any settlement in the interior. New York received representative legislation in 1683. The British received a lot of opposition in New York resulting in high expenditure in defense. The British lost control of New York in 1688, and Captain Hutchinson fled. In 1961, the British gained control of New York again. The war on fur trade domination intensified in 1765, and the merchants in New York put sanctions on British goods. New York received full independence in 1777 (McCusker et al., n.p).


Colonization influenced the religious, social, political and economic activities of both the colonizers and natives. Colonization resulted in transferring of culture and strengthened economic ties between different regions. Ultimately, colonization led to the establishment of independent states across Southern and Northern America.

Works Cited

Verlinden, Charles. The Beginnings of modern colonization, Engl: Eleven essays with an introduction; Transl. by Yvonne Freccero. Cornell Univ Pr, 1970.

Simmons, Marc. Spanish Government in New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968.

Prem, Hanns J. "Spanish colonization and Indian property in central Mexico, 1521–1620." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82.3 (1992): 444-459.

McCusker, John J., and Russell R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 1607-1789. UNC Press Books, 2014.

November 13, 2023


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