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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Introductory Remarks
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


During the sixteenth century the work of colonizing America was left almost entirely to the people of Spain. While the other nations of Europe were contenting themselves with occasional voyages of discovery, or with slave- carrying expeditions and piratical raids, the Spaniards were extending their dominion in the New World with a rapidity and energy in striking contrast with their present supineness. Colonization in the West Indies began immediately after the first voyage of Columbus, and was prosecuted with such vigor that in a few years the four larger islands were completely under Spanish control, and their native inhabitants largely annihilated, while the remainder were reduced to slavery. The settlement of the mainland was prosecuted with similar activity. Colonies were established on the coasts of South and Central America, and in 1519 Cortes began that memorable expedition which soon subjected the Aztec empire of Mexico to his sway. From this region the Spanish dominion extended south throughout Central America, and northward to California and New Mexico, which Coronado invaded in 1540. South America was settled with no less rapidity. The conquest of Mexico was quickly followed by that of the extensive empire of Peru. Chili was conquered in 1541, with the exception of the country of the Araucanians, the only Indian nation which has successfully held its own against European invasion. In a comparatively short time the whole of western South America from the lower boundary of Chili to the Caribbean coast was Spanish territory. In 1535, Buenos Ayres was colonized by Mendoza. These first colonists were driven to Paraguay by the Indians, but in 1580 Juan de Garay founded a more successful colony. Among the most remarkable examples of Spanish activity was the expedition of Orellana in 1541. In 1540, Gonzalo Pizarro left Quito with an expedition that crossed the Andes and journeyed eastward through the forests of western Brazil till stopped by peril of starvation. Then a brigantine was built, which, manned by a cavalier named Orellana, sailed down the river Napo to its junction with the Amazons, and down the latter great stream to the Atlantic, thus accomplishing the crossing of the South American continent at its widest part nearly three centuries before such a result was achieved in the parallel section of North America. In the region of the United States the Spaniards were no less active in exploration, as shown by the expeditions of Narvaez and De Soto; yet but one small settlement was made,--that of St. Augustine, in Florida.

The only other people who showed any colonizing activity in the sixteenth century were the Portuguese, who slowly spread their settlements along the coast of Brazil, until by the end of the century the whole line of coast from the La Plata to the Amazons was studded with their colonies. These had the merit of being the first settlements made in America on agricultural principles, the desire for the precious metals being the active moving cause in all the Spanish explorations and colonizations. During this period a few unsuccessful efforts to establish colonies marked the limit of activity in the other nations of Europe. A French colony on the coast of Brazil was suppressed by the Portuguese, and a similar colony in Florida ended in massacre. French efforts in the region of the St. Lawrence were equally unsuccessful, while the English colonies of Raleigh ended in disaster. The only permanent settlement was that made by some Dutch people in 1580, near the river Pomeroon, in Guiana. In 1595, Raleigh made an expedition to this region, and ascended the Orinoco in search of the fabled El Dorado. He attempted no settlement, but in the succeeding century English and French settlers established themselves in Guiana, dividing the ownership of this territory with the Dutch.

Such was the result of the efforts at colonization in America during the sixteenth century. From the northern line of Mexico to the southern extremity of the continent the Spanish and Portuguese had established themselves in nearly every available region. But North America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean was still in the hands of the aboriginal inhabitants, with the sole exception of the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, in Florida. The seventeenth century was destined to be the era of settlement of this important region, mainly by the English and French, but to a minor extent by the Dutch and Swedes. The story of this seventeenth-century colonization we have now to tell.

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