First wave of European colonization

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European colonization
of the Americas
First colonization
Colonization of Canada
Colonization of the U.S.

The first European colonization wave took place from the early 15th century (Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in 1415) until the early 19th century (French invasion of Algeria in 1830), and primarily involved the European colonization of the Americas, though it also included the creation of European colonies in India and Maritime Southeast Asia. During this period, European interests in Africa were primarily focused on the establishment of trading posts there, particularly for the Atlantic slave trade.

The time period in which much of the first wave of European colonization (and other exploratory ventures) occurred is often labeled the Age of Discovery. The second major phase of European colonization, which was primarily focused on Africa and Asia, is known as the period of the New Imperialism.

The Role of the Church[edit]

Religious zeal played a large role in Spanish and Portuguese overseas activities. While the Pope himself was a political power to be heeded (as evidenced by his authority to decree whole continents open to colonization by particular kings), the Church also sent missionaries to convert to the Catholic faith the indigenous of other continents. Thus, the 1455 Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex granted the Portuguese all lands behind Cape Bojador and allowed them to reduce pagans and other enemies of Christ to perpetual slavery.[1]

Later, the 1481 Papal Bull Aeterni regis granted all lands south of the Canary Islands to Portugal, while in May 1493 the Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI decreed in the Bull Inter caetera that all lands west of a meridian only 100 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands should belong to Spain while new lands discovered east of that line would belong to Portugal. These arrangements were later precised with the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas.

The Dominicans and Jesuits, notably Francis Xavier in Asia, were particularly active in this endeavour. Many buildings erected by the Jesuits still stand, such as the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Macau and the Santisima Trinidad de Paraná in Paraguay, an example of a Jesuit Reduction.

Spanish treatment of the indigenous populations provoked a fierce debate at home in 1550-51, dubbed the Valladolid debate, over whether Indians possessed souls and if so, whether they were entitled to the basic rights of mankind. Bartolomé de Las Casas, author of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, championed the cause of the natives, and was opposed by Sepúlveda, who claimed Amerindians were "natural slaves".

The School of Salamanca, which gathered theologians such as Francisco de Vitoria (1480–1546) or Francisco Suárez (1548–1617), argued in favor of the existence of natural law, which thus gave some rights to indigenous people. However, while the School of Salamanca limited Charles V's imperial powers over colonized people, they also legitimized the conquest, defining the conditions of "Just War". For example, these theologians admitted the existence of the right for indigenous people to reject religious conversion, which was a novelty for Western philosophical thought. However, Suárez also conceived many particular cases — a casuistry — in which conquest was legitimized. Hence, war was justified if the indigenous people refused free transit and commerce to the Europeans; if they forced converts to return to idolatry; if there come to be a sufficient number of Christians in the newly discovered land that they wish to receive from the Pope a Christian government; if the indigenous people lacked just laws, magistrates, agricultural techniques, etc. In any case, title taken according to this principle must be exercised with Christian charity, warned Suárez, and for the advantage of the Indians. Henceforth, the School of Salamanca legitimized the conquest while at the same time limiting the absolute power of the sovereign, which was celebrated in others parts of Europe under the notion of the divine right of kings.

In the 1970s, the Jesuits would become a main proponent of the Liberation theology which openly supported anti-imperialist movements. It was officially condemned in 1984 and in 1986 by then cardinal Ratzinger (now ex-Pope) as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under charges of Marxist tendencies, while Leonardo Boff was suspended.

Northern European challenges to Iberian hegemony[edit]

It was not long before the exclusivity of Iberian claims to the Americas was challenged by other European powers, primarily the Netherlands, France and England: the view taken by the rulers of these nations is epitomized by the quotation attributed to Francis I of France demanding to be shown the clause in Adam's will excluding his authority from the New World.

This challenge initially took the form of privateering raids (such as that led by Francis Drake) on Spanish treasure fleets or coastal settlements, but later, Northern European countries began establishing settlements of their own, primarily in areas that were outside of Spanish interests, such as what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada, or islands in the Caribbean, such as Aruba, Martinique and Barbados, that had been abandoned by the Spanish in favour of the mainland and larger islands.

Whereas Spanish colonialism was based on the religious conversion and exploitation of local populations via encomiendas (many Spaniards emigrated to the Americas to elevate their social status, and were not interested in manual labour), Northern European colonialism was frequently bolstered by people fleeing religious persecution or intolerance (for example, the Mayflower voyage). The motive for emigration was not to become an aristocrat nor to spread one's faith but to start afresh in a new society, where life would be hard but one would be free to exercise one's religious beliefs. The most populous emigration of the 17th century was that of the English, and after a series of wars with the Dutch and the French the English overseas possessions came to dominate the east coast of North America, an area stretching from Virginia northwards to New England and Newfoundland, although during the 17th century an even greater number of English emigrants settled in the West Indies.

However, the English, French and Dutch were no more averse to making a profit than the Spanish and Portuguese, and whilst their areas of settlement in the Americas proved to be devoid of the precious metals found by the Spanish, trade in other commodities and products that could be sold at massive profit in Europe provided another reason for crossing the Atlantic, in particular furs from Canada, tobacco and cotton grown in Virginia and sugar in the islands of the Caribbean and Brazil. Due to the massive depletion of indigenous labour, plantation owners had to look elsewhere for manpower for these labour-intensive crops. They turned to the centuries old slave trade of west Africa and began transporting humans across the Atlantic on a massive scale - historians estimate that the Atlantic slave trade brought between 10 and 12 million individuals to the New World. The islands of the Caribbean soon came to be populated by slaves of African descent, ruled over by a white minority of plantation owners interested in making a fortune and then returning to their home country to spend it.

Rule in the colonies: the Leyes de Burgos and the Code Noir[edit]

The January 27, 1512 Leyes de Burgos codified the government of the indigenous people of the New World, since the common law of Spain wasn't applied in these recently discovered territories. The scope of the laws were originally restricted to the island of Hispaniola, but were later extended to Puerto Rico and Jamaica. They authorized and legalized the colonial practice of creating encomiendas, where Indians were grouped together to work under colonial masters, limiting the size of these establishments to a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 150 people. The document finally prohibited the use of any form of punishment by the encomenderos, reserving it for officials established in each town for the implementation of the laws. It also ordered that the Indians be catechesized, outlawed bigamy, and required that the huts and cabins of the Indians be built together with those of the Spanish. It respected, in some ways, the traditional authorities, granting chiefs exemptions from ordinary jobs and granting them various Indians as servants. The poor fulfilment of the laws in many cases lead to inummerable protests and claims. In fact, the laws were so often poorly applied that they were seen as simply a legalization of the previous poor situation. This would create momentum for reform, carried out through the Leyes Nuevas ("New Laws") in 1542. Ten years later, Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas would publish A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, in the midst of the Valladolid Controversy, a debate about the existence or not of souls in Amerindians bodies. Las Casas, bishop of Chiapas, was opposed to Sepúlveda, who claimed Amerindians were "natural slaves"...

In the French empire, slave trade and other colonial rules were regulated by Louis XIV's 1689 Code Noir.

Role of companies in early colonialism[edit]

From its very outset, Western colonialism was operated as a joint public-private venture. Columbus' voyages to the Americas were partially funded by Italian investors, but whereas the Spanish state maintained a tight reign on trade with its colonies (by law, the colonies could only trade with one designated port in the mother country and treasure was brought back in special convoys), the English, French and Dutch granted what were effectively trade monopolies to joint-stock companies such as the East India Companies and the Hudson's Bay Company.

European colonies in India during the first wave of colonization[edit]

In 1498, the Portuguese arrived in Goa. Rivalry among reigning European powers saw the entry of the Dutch, British, French, Danish among others. The fractured debilitated kingdoms of India were gradually taken over by the Europeans and indirectly controlled by puppet rulers. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I accorded a charter, forming the East India Company to trade with India and eastern Asia. The British landed in India in Surat in 1624. By the 19th century, they had assumed direct and indirect control over most of India.

Destruction of the Amerindian population[edit]

The arrival of the conquistadores caused the annihilation of most of the Amerindians. However, contemporary historians now generally reject the Black Legend according to which the brutality of the European colonists accounted for most of the deaths. It is now generally believed that diseases, such as the smallpox, brought upon by the Columbian Exchange, were the greatest destroyer, although the brutality of the conquest itself isn't contested. As late as in the 19th century, Juan Manuel de Rosas, Argentinian caudillo from 1829 to 1852, openly pursued the extermination of the local population, an event related by Darwin in The Voyage of the Beagle (1839). He was then followed by the "Conquest of the Desert" in the 1870-80s.The result was the death of a lot of the mapuche and arauccan population in the Patagonia. After the Amerindians' quasi-total disparition, the mines and the sugar cane plantations thus led to the booming of the Atlantic slave trade, especially apparent in the Caribbean where the largest ethnic group is of African descent.

Contemporary historians debate the legitimacy of calling the quasi-disparition of the Amerindians a "genocide". Estimates of pre-Columbian population have ranged from a low of 8.4 million to a high of 112.5 million persons; in 1976, geographer William Denevan derived a "consensus count" of about 54 million people.[2]

David Stannard has argued that "The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world", with almost 100 million Amerindians killed in what he calls the American Holocaust. Like Ward Churchill, he believes that the American natives were deliberately and systematically exterminated over the course of several centuries, and that the process continues to the present day.[3]

Stannard's claim of 100 million deaths has been disputed because he makes no distinction between death from violence and death from disease. In response, political scientist R. J. Rummel has instead estimated that over the centuries of European colonization about 2 million to 15 million American indigenous people were the victims of what he calls democide. "Even if these figures are remotely true", writes Rummel, "then this still make this subjugation of the Americas one of the bloodier, centuries long, democides in world history." [4]

Atlantic slave trade[edit]

Main article: Atlantic slave trade
Mercantilism in the 16th and 17th centuries helped create trade patterns such as the triangular trade — in which the Atlantic slave trade was included. Raw materials (sugar, tobacco and cotton) were imported to the metropolis and then processed and redistributed to other colonies. Thus, the slaves were bought in Africa with textile, rums and other manufactured goods, and sold in the New World against raw materials. According to anti-colonialist critics, this exploitation of natural resources form the bases of today's terms of unequal exchange between nations.[5]

Independence in the Americas[edit]

The Thirteen Colonies[edit]

After the conclusion of the Seven Years' War in 1763, Britain had emerged as the world's dominant power, but found itself mired in debt and struggling to finance the Navy and Army necessary to maintain a global empire. The British Parliament's attempt to raise taxes on the North American colonists raised fears among the Americans that their rights as "Englishmen", particularly their rights of self-government, were in danger. A series of disputes with Parliament over taxation led first to informal committees of correspondence among the colonies, then to coordinated protest and resistance, and finally to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress.

The Haitian Revolution and the abolition of slavery[edit]

Main articles: Haitian Revolution and Abolitionism

The Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, led to the abolition of slavery in the colony and then to the founding of the world's first black republic. On February 4, 1794, nearly three years after the initial slave uprising in the colony, the French Republic announced a repeal of slavery, which had regulated by the 1689 Code Noir. The Abbé Grégoire and the Society of the Friends of the Blacks, led by Jacques Pierre Brissot, were part of the abolitionist movement, which had laid important groundwork in building anti-slavery sentiment in the metropole. The first article of the law stated that "Slavery is repealed" in the French colonies, while the second article stated that "slave-owners would be indemnified", with a financial compensation. On May 10, 1802, colonel Delgrès signed a public notice, which was a call to Guadeloupe for insurgency against general Richepanse, sent by Napoleon to reestablish slavery. The rebellion was repressed, and slavery reestablished. It would be definitely abolished on April 27, 1848, by the decree-law Schœlcher under the Second Republic (1848–52). Slaves were brought back to the colonists (Békés in Creole) and then freed by the state.

Wars of Independence in Latin America[edit]

The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) and the various wars in South America (Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Peru) in the 1810s and 1820s led by famous Libertadores such as José de San Martín in the south and Simón Bolívar in the north, brought independence from Spain to most Latin American countries.

As in North America, the independent territories still had to be fully explored. Thus, in Argentina, caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas pursued the "conquest of the desert" from 1829 to 1852, explicitly leading a "campaign of extermination" against the indigenous people (source?). The Empire of Brazil was proclaimed in 1822 by Dom Pedro I. The 1888 Lei Áurea abolished slavery, creating public uproar among Brazilian slave owners and upper classes, which was the immediate cause of the toppling of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic in 1889.

The 1898 Spanish-American War, during which the United States occupied Cuba and Puerto Rico, ended Spanish occupation in the Americas.


Coast discovered in 1500 AD onward, Colonisation began in 1533–1535AD, By 1780 AD Portuguese conquered all territory of modern Brazil, In 1822 Brazil declared independence from Portugal see Colonial Brazil

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus. Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag. p. 33. ISBN 3-87294-202-6. (German)
  2. ^ 20th century estimates in Thornton, Russell. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492. University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8061-2074-6, p.22; Denevan's consensus count; recent lower estimates
  3. ^ Stannard, David E. American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-508557-4; p. x (quotation), p. 151 (death toll estimate).
  4. ^ Cf. R. J. Rummel's quote and estimate from his website, about midway down the page, after footnote 82. Rummel's estimate is presumably not a single democide, but a total of multiple democides, since there were many different governments involved.
  5. ^ See the Bolivian Gas War for a historical and current example of social conflict based on the popular revendications to process the gaz in the country itself instead of exporting it as a raw material