All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
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.