Period 2 Overview
While all European countries established colonies in the Western Hemisphere for economic reasons (largely mercantilist based), varying geographic conditions and colonizing philosophies led to distinct settlement patterns and relations with native populations. Even within the rather geographically limited British North American settlements, distinct political, social, and economic systems developed in different regions. For all colonizing countries, the geographic isolation from Europe posed logistical problems which generally meant colonial settlements would develop into unique entities that set them apart from the mother country.
The 4 Europeans
Spanish and English settlements tended to impact native populations more heavily than did the French and Dutch. The extractive nature of agricultural and mining settlements of the Spanish and English required extensive encroachment on native lands and either the subjugation or extermination of the native people. While European diseases decimated populations in these colonies, the Spanish harnessed the use of native labor to a much more substantial degree than did the English settlements. The French and Dutch colonies, on the other hand, largely depended on the establishment of working relationships with native peoples to establish commercial trade networks to extract natural wealth without the necessity of a large permanent European presence.
Native populations sometimes battled European powers to protect their position and sometimes allied themselves with particular conflicting European powers to reduce the power of rival tribes. Within the British North American colonies, American Indian resistance was significantly reduced due to disease and early preemptive strikes, though continued encroachment on native lands led to continued conflict.
Differences in Colonies
Significant differences existed not only between differing European settlements but also within those colonies controlled by a single European entity, particularly within the British North American colonies. The British North American colonies saw distinct differences develop between New England, the Middle colonies, the Chesapeake colonies, and the South on the basis of both geography and the demographics of the people who settled there. In the New England and Middle colonies, because of the tendency of settles to concentrate in townships, the availability of multitudes of good natural harbors, and collateral industries that developed as a result of fishing and trade, a diversified economy developed which contrasted sharply with the one-crop economies of the Chesapeake and South. This resulted in a more equitable distribution of income and the development of a substantial middle-class that more southern colonies lacked. The propensity of northern settlements to be founded by communal religious groups, as well as a more limited geographic area of settlement, fostered the emergence of settlements with a higher population density, encouraging the growth of trade and commerce and the emergence of a more stable economic and social setting than either in the Chesapeake or the South. Differences in the economies led to a distinctive difference in the type of labor required by each section. Since none of the regions were able to effectively enslave native peoples, each developed a labor system that suited its needs, with New England and the Middle colonies relying on family labor and hired hands, while the Chesapeake and South relied on indentured servants and African slave labor.
The English & Mercantilism
The English model for colonization followed the mercantilist belief that colonies existed for the good of the mother country, largely by contributing to a favorable balance of trade. Thus, Britain established certain trade regulations (Trade and Navigation Acts) that generally benefitted both England and the colonies. Nevertheless, in the absence of strict British control due to salutary neglect (the pre-occupation of England with both internal and European affairs) the colonies developed a sense of economic, independence, obeying regulations when it suited their interests and ignoring them when they didn’t. As well, the geographic distance from Great Britain led the colonists to establish self-governing institutions that became legitimized and revered. Periodically attempts by Great Britain to impose its will on the colonies led to a weakening of the bonds between the two which would eventually rupture after the French and Indian War.
The colonization of the Western Hemisphere varied according to the reasons for settlement, the economic possibilities available in different regions, and the people who settled there. As a result, European settlements in the New World interacted with native populations in different ways depending on the most expedient way to extract wealth from the region. The British North American colonies mirrored the regional economic differences of the continent as a whole. The mercantilist approach of European countries to colonization at times placed the interests of the mother country in conflict with those of the their colonies which increased tension and eventually spawned revolution.
About the Author: Warren Hierl taught Advanced Placement U.S. History for twenty-eight years. He has conducted 250+ AP US History workshops for teachers. He was a member of the committee that wrote the original Advanced Placement Social Studies Vertical Teams Guide and the Advanced Placement U.S. History Teachers Guide. He has been a reader, a table leader, and, for the past eight years, the question leader on the DBQ at the AP U.S. History reading.
In other words- Mr. Hierl grades the essays you will write for the APUSH exam.