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America's History in the Making

Colonial Designs

Theme 1

Between the 1580s and the 1680s, numerous European powers competed to establish colonies in North America and define colonial relationships to Native American tribes.

For those accustomed to associating early settlement with Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, it comes as a surprise that the Spanish, not the English, established the first permanent colonies in what would become the United States. Outposts such as St. Augustine in Florida and Santa Fe in New Mexico were soon joined by French and Dutch settlements.

These daring ventures had two main objectives: political and economic gain. European nations competed with each other to control as much of the world as they could. Spain, by virtue of Columbus’s voyages, asserted a broad claim to the Americas. But others soon contested it. From the start, European colonists in North America were expected to find ways to provide for themselves and generate wealth for the European nations and companies that governed them. This often included trading with and trying to exploit the labor of Native Americans and Africans. Native Americans often cooperated and collaborated with Europeans, but not at the cost of surrendering their autonomy. Africans increasingly came to North America as slaves.

Primary Sources