Europe and the North American Colonies
At present, the United States of America is the world’s leading superpower. Today it is a nation of authority and great influence. However, before the United States of America became the nation that it is today, it initially started as territories under the rule of powerful European nations. The country now recognized as the United States originated from some of the North American colonies. What were the events which occurred in Europe that led to the foundation of the colonies? This research paper aims to discuss the important changes which occurred in Europe that eventually led to the settlement of colonies in North America.
One of the main changes in Europe that brought about the emergence of North American colonies was the arrival of the Renaissance (Perry 326). This movement was characterized by a cultural revolution which brought back a renewed interest in the humanities. The Renaissance began in the fourteenth century and lasted until the sixteenth century.
The era differed from the Middle Ages on two accounts. First, the Renaissance marked the revival of Ancient Greek and Roman arts. Second, the era promoted and encouraged individual accomplishments and worldly endeavors. It was the second difference that brought about Age of Exploration (Perry 345).
The occurrence of the Age of Exploration is another change in Europe which contributed to the establishment of North American colonies. This age emerged around the same time that the Renaissance was changing Europe (Perry 345). Inspired by the spirit that dominated the Renaissance, Western European countries sought to discover distant lands and expand their territories. One of the reasons why the European nations participated in such conquests was wealth (Perry 346). These countries wanted to discover new lands to improve their economic standing. Through the funding of expeditions, these European countries can discover new trade routes and markets in different lands. Such discovery can increase the wealth and resources of a nation (Perry 346).
Europeans who took part in the Age of Exploration sought to increase their wealth. One of those countries was Spain (Perry 355). The Spaniards went to the Americas in search of gold. Initially, the early settlers were situated in the Caribbean islands but the pursuit of gold brought them to the mainland, which is present day Mexico (Henretta 1; Perry 355). Those who participated in the expeditions were sons of wealthy families known as conquistadores (Perry 355). These conquistadores eventually dominated the Aztecs and the Incas to acquire their gold resources. Conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519 when the Aztecs was ruled by Moctezuma. Moctezuma had mistaken the Spanish visitors as sent by the Aztec god Quetzalcóatl or as gods themselves. As a result, he gave the Spaniards gold. Unfortunately, the gold offerings only made the Spaniards more determined to seek its source. In time, Spain had the Aztec and the Incan empires under their control and had seized their gold resources (Perry 356, 378).
The victory and wealth of Spain inspired English colonists to get involved in a similar pursuit. A group of merchants from London provided funds for an English colony to be established (Perry 422). The settlement was referred to as Jamestown, a name derived from King James I. Jamestown, which is the first colony, is actually present day Virginia (“Colonial America”; Perry 422). The English colonists hoped to accomplish what the Spanish colonists have achieved (Perry 422). They wanted to gain wealth through the retrieval of gold or other treasures. Unfortunately, the colonists did not anticipate the difficulties in Jamestown; as a result, many people died. It was only under the leadership of Captain John Smith that the colony managed to survive (Perry 422).
Another important change that occurred in Europe which led to the settlement of North American colonies was the emergence of strong monarchies (Perry 373). The political atmosphere in Europe had changed since the medieval times, as monarchs assumed more power beginning in the sixteenth century. The rise to power of European monarchs eventually contributed to the dispute over religion, which was one of the reasons why North American colonies were created.
One example of a country led by a powerful monarch was England. From 1558 to 1603, England was under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Perry 386). The English monarch was successful in her leadership; she had triumphed over difficulties under her rule. For 45 years, England was prosperous and peaceful because of Elizabeth. During her reign, Elizabeth showed tolerance towards other religions even if she did establish the Church of England (Perry 387). She was a protestant, but she remained respectful of other religions. When James I assumed the throne after Elizabeth I, a conflict over religion ensued. Because Elizabeth practiced religious tolerance, Roman Catholics and other Protestants were free to practice their respective religions (Perry 388). A group of Protestants called Puritans opposed the Church of England because its practices resembled those of Roman Catholicism. James I ignored the sentiments of the Puritans. His son, Charles I, succeeded him. Under the rule of Charles I, the Puritans suffered from oppression. William Laud, who was the Canterbury archbishop, allowed severe treatment towards the Puritans. Many of them were fined or even jailed (Perry 388).
The religious conflict resulted in the establishment of the Plymouth colony in New England. Because of the discrimination against them in England, the Puritans left England (Perry 422). They distanced themselves from the Church of England and instead, created their own “Separatist” churches (Perry 422). When they initially left England, they proceeded to the Netherlands. The Netherlands was chosen as a destination because it was a Protestant country. However, the Puritans eventually left the Netherlands in fear that they would lose their English culture. The Separatists that reached the colony through the ship named Mayflower were referred to as Pilgrims. They landed on present day Massachusetts (“Colonial America”).
Aside from the Puritans who founded the Plymouth colony, there was another group of Puritans who settled in the Northern colony (Perry 422). Like the Puritans before them, this group also suffered religious discrimination in England (Perry 423). In addition, they were also persecuted for their political endeavors. These Puritans were known to have established the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Perry 422). In the colony, the Puritans sought to settle permanently and build their own community (Perry 423).
The settlement of the North American colonies were caused and influenced by major changes in Europe. The first major change in Europe was cultural in nature: the emergence of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was significantly different from the medieval period which succeeded it, as it brought back humanism and the focus on human interests. The revival of human pursuit encouraged the European countries to embrace a culture of great accomplishment. The pervading atmosphere of human accomplishment led to the Age of Exploration, another major change in Europe. Inspired by the Renaissance, this epoch was marked by the fervor of European nations to discovery and exploration. The motive behind the journey to unconquered territories was the pursuit of wealth. In this pursuit, settlement of colonies became possible. Another important change in Europe was political: the emergence of strong monarchies. The strength of monarchs eventually led to religious disagreement. The dispute forced people out of England and into the colonies to create communities wherein they could practice their religious beliefs. This also resulted in the settlement of colonies. These are the important changes which caused the settlement of North American colonies.
“Colonial America.” America’s Library. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/colonial>.
Henretta, James. “History of Colonial America.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_1741502191/History_of_Colonial_America.html>.
Perry, Marvin. A History of the World. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
Cite this Europe and the North American Colonies
Europe and the North American Colonies. (2016, Oct 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/europe-and-the-north-american-colonies/