The search for riches
Inspired by the Spanish riches from colonies founded upon the conquest of the Aztecs, Incas, and other large Native American populations in the 16th century, the first Englishmen to settle permanently in America hoped for some of the same rich discoveries when they established their first permanent settlement in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. They were sponsored by common stock companies such as the chartered Virginia Company financed by wealthy Englishmen who exaggerated the economic potential of this new land. The main purpose of this colony was the hope of finding gold.
It took strong leaders, like John Smith, to convince the colonists of Jamestown that searching for gold was not taking care of their immediate needs for food and shelter and that "he who shall not work shall not eat". The extremely high mortality rate was quite distressing and cause for despair among the colonists. Tobacco later became a cash crop, with the work of John Rolfe and others, for export and the sustaining economic driver of Virginia and the neighboring colony of Maryland.
From the beginning of Virginia's settlements in 1587 until the 1680s, the main source of labor and a large portion of the immigrants were indentured servants looking for new life in the overseas colonies. During the 17th century, indentured servants constituted three-quarters of all European immigrants to the Chesapeake region. Most of the indentured servants were teenagers from England with poor economic prospects at home. Their fathers signed the papers that gave them free passage to America and an unpaid job until they became of age. They were given food, clothing, housing and taught farming or household skills. American landowners were in need of labourers and were willing to pay for a labourer’s passage to America if they served them for several years. By selling passage for five to seven years worth of work they could then start out on their own in America. Many of the migrants from England died in the first few years.
Economic advantage also prompted the Darien Scheme, an ill-fated venture by the Kingdom of Scotland to settle the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s. The Darien Scheme aimed to control trade through that part of the world and thereby promote Scotland into a world trading power. However, it was doomed by poor planning, short provisions, weak leadership, lack of demand for trade goods, and devastating disease. The failure of the Darien Scheme was one of the factors that led the Kingdom of Scotland into the Act of Union 1707 with theKingdom of England creating the united Kingdom of Great Britain and giving Scotland commercial access to English, now British, colonies.
In the French colonial regions, the focus of economy was on sugar plantations in Caribbean. In Canada the fur trade with the natives was important. About 16,000 French men and women became colonizers. The great majority became subsistence farmers along the St. Lawrence River. With a favourable disease environment and plenty of land and food, their numbers grew exponentially to 65,000 by 1760. Their colony was taken over by Britain in 1760, but social, religious, legal, cultural and economic changes were few in a society that clung tightly to its recently formed traditions.
Roman Catholics were the first major religious group to immigrate to the New World, as settlers in the colonies of Portugal and Spain (and later, France) were required to belong to that faith. English and Dutch colonies, on the other hand, tended to be more religiously diverse. Settlers to these colonies included Anglicans, Dutch Calvinists, EnglishPuritans, English Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians, FrenchHuguenots, German and Swedish Lutherans, as well asQuakers, Mennonites, Amish, Moravians and Jews of various nationalities.
Many groups of colonists went to the Americas searching for the right to practice their religion without persecution. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century broke the unity of Western Christendom and led to the formation of numerous new religious sects, which often faced persecution by governmental authorities. In England, many people came to question the organization of theChurch of England by the end of the 16th century. One of the primary manifestations of this was the Puritan movement, which sought to "purify" the existing Church of England of its many residual Catholic rites that they believed had no mention in the Bible.
A strong believer in the notion of rule by divine right, Charles I, King of England and Scotland, persecuted religious dissenters. Waves of repression led to the migration of about 20,000 Puritans to New Englandbetween 1629 and 1642, where they founded multiple colonies. Later in the century, the new Pennsylvania colony was given to William Penn in settlement of a debt the king owed his father. Its government was set up by William Penn in about 1682 to become primarily a refuge for persecuted English Quakers; but others were welcomed. Baptists, Quakers and German and Swiss Protestants flocked to Pennsylvania. The lure of cheap land, religious freedom and the right to improve themselves with their own hand was very attractive.
Slavery existed in the Americas, prior to the arrival of Europeans, as the Natives often captured and held other tribes' members as captives. Some of these captives were even forced to undergo human sacrifice under some tribes, such as the Aztecs. The Spanish followed with the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean. As the native populations declined (mostly from European diseases, but also and significantly from forced exploitation and careless murder), they were often replaced by Africans imported through a large commercial slave trade.
By the 18th century, the overwhelming number of black slaves was such that Native American slavery was less commonly used. Africans, who were taken aboard slave ships to the Americas, were primarily obtained from their African homelands by coastal tribes who captured and sold them. The high incidence of disease nearly always fatal to Europeans kept nearly all the slave capture activities confined to native African tribes. Rum, guns and gunpowder were some of the major trade items exchanged for slaves.
The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished.
The total slave trade to islands in the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico and to the United States is estimated to have involved 12 million Africans.
Slaves imported to American colonies
- Total ..........597,000
About 600,000 slaves were imported into the U.S., or 5% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa.Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. (because of better food, less disease, lighter work loads, and better medical care) so the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.
Disease and indigenous population loss
The European and Asian lifestyle included a long history of sharing close quarters with domesticated animals such as cows, pigs,sheep, goats, horses, and various domesticated fowl, which had resulted in epidemic diseases unknown in the Americas. Thus the large-scale contact with Europeans after 1492 introduced novel germs to the indigenous people of the Americas.
Epidemics of smallpox (1518, 1521, 1525, 1558, 1589), typhus(1546), influenza (1558), diphtheria (1614) and measles (1618) swept ahead of initial European contact, killing between 10 million and 20 million people, up to 95% of the indigenous population of the Americas. The cultural and political instability attending these losses appears to have been of substantial aid in the efforts of various colonists to seize the great wealth in land and resources of which indigenous societies had customarily made use.
Such diseases yielded human mortality of an unquestionably enormous gravity and scale – and this has profoundly confused efforts to determine its full extent with any true precision. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of the Americas vary tremendously.
Others have argued that significant variations in population size over pre-Columbian history are reason to view higher-end estimates with caution. Such estimates may reflect historical population maxima, while indigenous populations may have been at a level somewhat below these maxima or in a moment of decline in the period just prior to contact with Europeans. Indigenous populations hit their ultimate lows in most areas of the Americas in the early 20th century; in a number of cases, growth has returned.