Expansions in the New World: Exploration vs Settlements
From the fifteen-hundreds thru the middle seventeen-hundreds the new world exploded with exploration, conquest and settlements, all by three European countries: England, Spain and France. Because of the sheer vastness of this new continent there was little interaction between them. Each approached their presence in the Americas in different ways. And it was because of these differences, which I feel, led to the final outcome of which gained rule over these new lands.
Spain/Portugal was the first to begin the European presence in North American with Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery and exploration of Florida in 1512. Although legend says that he was searching for the Fountain of Youth (this story didn’t surface until almost thirty years after his voyages) he’s mission was most likely like that of the other conquistadors that followed him: looking primarily for gold, natives to enslave and to grab as much land for Spain as they could. It was these goals of the Spanish conquistadors that led this period of time being called, the conquest of America. Records show that de Leon only once tried to establish a settlement in Florida, which failed due to native attacks.
As Cortes was destroying the great native civilizations of Mexico in 1520, other conquistadors where looking for gold in northern Mexico. Captain Alonso Alvarez de Pineda entered what would become Texas, near El Paso, in 1519, Juan de Onate y Salazar explored Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and Francisco Vazquez de Coronado continued the explorations of Arizona and Texas, and then went as far as Oklahoma and Kansas in 1540. In all this exploration there was very little effort to establish any form of settlements in these discovered lands, especially in Texas and the southwest. This could be for a couple of reasons: first they were looking for gold and silver, that was their main mission, and they continued to move around looking for it. And secondly the natives of that region, except for the small population of Pueblo, were nomadic hunters. These tribes would attack and raid the Spanish all along their travels.
Only in Mexico proper and the California coast, where the natives had already developed villages and farms, did the Spanish settle as colonists. Texas was claimed for Spain, but not settled by Spain. That is until they encountered the French in Texas.
France’s arrival to the new continent was by looking for a water route to the Pacific Ocean. These explorative voyages began in 1524. In 1534 Jacques Cartier explored Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence gave the French access to the interior of the continent. Throughout the remainder of the fifteen hundreds France tried to build permanent settlements in the new world without much success. It wasn’t until the sixteen hundreds that they did have success when they established the settlements of Quebec, Montreal, Fort Detroit, Fort Michilimakinac, Fort Saint-Louis, Baton-Rouge and La Nouvelle-Orleans. By the dawn of the seventeen hundreds France controlled the lands of Canada, Michigan and the Mississippi River Valley. France was firmly set between their two European rivals of Spain and Britain. The first brush with conflict between these powers came in 1685 when La Salle founded a France colony on the Texas coast. Although this colony only lasted until 1688, it showed Spain that they needed to do something to secure their claim to Texas.
Unlike Spain and France, England was slow in getting into colonization. The first English colony ever was Jamestown in 1607. Even though Jamestown had a rocky start it is considered the first permanent English colony in the new world. After Jamestown the gates were open for other colonies to be founded. Jamestown was followed by Plymouth in 1620 and then a host of others sprang up on the east coast. As the settlers became more familiar with the land around them they built new cities in areas that were healthier, safer and could also promote growth. An example of this was in Massachusetts. The colony’s center changed from Plymouth to Boston in 1630, because Boston had a better and larger harbor than Plymouth. With the capturing of the Dutch New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1664, England now had total dominion over all the east coast, from French Canada to Spanish Florida.
The only obstacle to the English western expansions was the Appalachian Mountains. There had been lone explorers that had journeyed over these mountain ranges into the west, but they had kept back major settlement development. That was until explorer Daniel Boone discovered the Cumberland Gap in 1769. Through this break in the mountains and along with the Ohio River, the western lands were now accessible to the land hungry English. Entering these new lands brought the English face to face with another formidable obstacle to their western march, the French.