Beginnings Of North European Expansion

 

European overseas expansion after 1600 entered a second phase, comparable
to developments at home. As Spain declined, so did the Spanish empire and that
of Portugal, which was tied to Spain by a Habsburg king after 1580 and plagued
with its own developing imperial problems. These new conditions afforded
opportunities for northern European states. The Dutch, between 1630 and 1650,
almost cleared the Atlantic of Spanish warships and took over most of the
Portuguese posts in Brazil, Africa, and Asia. The French and English also
became involved on a smaller scale, setting up their global duel for empire in
the eighteenth century.

The Shifting Commercial Revolution

Behind this change was a decisive shift in Europe's early commercial
revolution. Expanding foreign trade, new products, an increasing supply of
bullion, and rising commercial risks created new problems, calling for
energetic initiatives. During the sixteenth century the Spanish and Portuguese
had depended upon quick profits, and because of weak home industries and poor
management, wealth flowed through their hands to northern Europe, where it was
invested in productive enterprises. Later, this wealth generated a new
imperial age.

European markets after the sixteenth century were swamped with a
bewildering array of hitherto rare or unknown goods. New American foods
included potatoes, maize (Indian corn), peanuts, tomatoes, and fish from
Newfoundland's Grand Banks. In an era without refrigeration imported spices,
such as pepper, cloves, and cinnamon, made spoiled foods palatable. Sugar
became a common substitute for honey, and cocoa, the Aztec sacred beverage,
spread throughout Europe. Coffee and tea, from the New World and Asia, soon
produced new social habits throughout Europe. North American furs, Chinese
silks, and cottons from India and Mexico revolutionized clothing fashion.
Luxury furnishings, using rare woods, ivory, and Oriental carpets appeared
more frequently in homes of the wealthy. The use of American tobacco became
almost a mania among all classes and contributed further to the booming
European market.

Imported gold and, more significantly, silver probably affected the
European economy more than all other foreign goods. After the Spaniards looted
Aztec and Inca treasure rooms, the gold flowing from America and Africa
subsided to a trickle, but seven million tons of silver poured into Europe
before 1660. Spanish prices quadrupled and, because most of the silver went to
pay for imports, prices in northern Europe more than tripled. The influx of
bullion and the resulting inflation hurt landlords depending on fixed rents
and creditors who were paid in cheap money, but the bullion bonanza ended a
centuries-long gold drain to the East, with its attendant money shortage. It
also increased the profits of merchants selling on a rising market, thus
greatly stimulating north European capitalism.

At the opening of the sixteenth century, Italian merchants and
money-lenders, mainly Florentines, Venetians, and Genoese, dominated the
rising Atlantic economy. The German Fugger Banking house at Augsburg also
provided substantial financing. All south European bankers, particularly the
Fuggers and the Genoese, suffered heavily from the Spanish economic debacles
under Charles V and Philip II. As the century passed, Antwerp in the southern
Netherlands became the economic hub of Europe. It was the center for the
English wool trade as well as the entrepot (way station) for southbound trade
from the Baltic and Portuguese goods from Asia. It was also a great financial
center, dealing in commercial and investment instruments. The Spanish sack of
Antwerp in 1576 ended Antwerp's supremacy, which passed to Amsterdam, where it
furthered Dutch imperial ventures.

Meanwhile, north European capitalism flourished in nearly every category.
Portuguese trade was rivaled by that of north European merchants in the Baltic
and the North Atlantic. Northern joint stock companies pooled capital for
privateering, exploring, and commercial venturing. The Dutch and English East
India companies, founded early in the seventeenth century, were but two of the
better known stock companies. In England, common fields were enclosed for
capitalistic sheep runs. Throughout western Europe, domestic manufacturing, in
homes or workshops, competed with the guilds. Large industrial enterprises,
notably in mining, shipbuilding, and cannon-casting were becoming common.
Indeed, the superiority of English and Swedish cannon contributed to the
defeat of the Spanish Armada and the Catholic armies in the Thirty Years' War.

The Dutch Empire

By 1650, the Dutch were supreme in both southern Asia and the South
Atlantic. Their empire, like the Portuguese earlier, was primarily commercial;
even their North American settlements specialized in fur trading with the
Indians. They acquired territory where necessary to further their commerce but
tried to advance their interests by pragmatic policies, in accord with native
cultures, rather than by conquest. Unlike the Spanish and Portuguese, they
made little attempt to spread Christianity.

Systematic Dutch naval operations ended Iberian imperial supremacy,
beginning in 1595 when the first Dutch fleet entered the East Indies. Dutch
captains soon drove the Portuguese from the Spice Islands. Malacca, the
Portuguese bastion, fell after a long siege in 1641. The Dutch also occupied
Ceylon and blockaded Goa, thus limiting Portuguese operations in the Indian
Ocean. Although largely neglecting East Africa, they seized all Portuguese
posts on the west coast north of Angola. Across the Atlantic, they conquered
Brazil, drove Spain from the Caribbean, and captured a Spanish treasure fleet.
Decisive battles near the English Channel coast of Kent (1639) and off Brazil
(1640) delivered the final blows to the Spanish navy. What the English had
begun in 1588, the Dutch completed fifty years later.

Trade with Asia, the mainstay of the Dutch empire, was directed by the
Dutch East India Company. Chartered in 1602 and given a monopoly of all
operations between South Africa and the Straits of Magellan, it served to
concentrate resources and eliminate costly competition. In addition to its
trade and diplomacy, it sponsored numerous explorations of Australia,
Tasmania, New Guinea, and the South Pacific. With its great concentration of
capital, larger than the wealth of most states, the company could easily
outdistance its European rivals.

The Dutch empire in the East was established primarily by Jan Pieterszoon
Coen (1587-1629), governor-general of the Indies between 1618 and 1629 and
founder of the company capital at Batavia in northwest Java. At first he
cooperated with native rulers in return for a monopoly of the spice trade.
When this involved him in costly wars against local sultans as well as their
Portuguese and English customers, Coen determined to control the trade at its
sources. In the resulting many conflicts and negotiations, which lasted longer
than Coen's time, the Dutch acquired all of Java, most of Sumatra, the
spice-growing Moluccas, and part of Ceylon. They began operating their own
plantations, supplying pepper, cinnamon, sugar, tea, tobacco, and coffee for a
fluctuating world market.

Although commercially successful in Asia, the Dutch were not able to
found flourishing settlement colonies. Many Dutchmen who went to the East
wanted to make their fortunes and return home; those willing to stay were
usually mavericks, uninterested in establishing families or permanent
relationships. After 1620, the Dutch East India Company experimented with a
policy of bringing European women to the Indies, but such efforts were
abandoned when they failed to enlist much interest at home or in the foreign
stations. Consequently, the Dutch colonies in Asia, as well as those in
Africa, the Caribbean, and Brazil, remained primarily business ventures, with
little racial mixing, compared with the Iberian areas.

After resuming war with Spain in 1621, the Dutch formed their West India
Company, charged with overtaking Spanish and Portuguese holdings in Africa and
America. The company wasted no time. It soon supplanted the Portuguese in West
Africa and by 1630 dominated the slave trade with America. After driving the
Spanish from the Caribbean, the Dutch invited other European planters to the
West Indies as customers, keeping only a few bases for themselves. The company
then launched a successful naval conquest of Brazil, from the mouth of the
Amazon south to the San Francisco River. In Brazil the Dutch learned sugar
planting, passing on their knowledge to the Caribbean and applying it directly
in the East Indies.

[See Batvia: Batvia(present-day Djakarta) on the island of Java became the
headquarters of the Dutch East Trading Company when the Ditch ousted the
Portuguese and took command of the East Indies trade in the 17th century.
Courtesy]

Dutch settlements in North America never amounted to much because of the
company's commercial orientation. In 1609 Henry Hudson (d. 1611), an
Englishman sailing for Holland, explored the river named for him and
established Dutch claims while looking for a northwest passage. Fifteen years
later, the Dutch West India Company founded New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island;
over the next few years, it built a number of frontier trading posts in the
Hudson Valley and on the nearby Connecticut and Delaware rivers. Some attempts
were made to encourage planting by selling large tracts to wealthy proprietors
(patroons). Agriculture, however, remained secondary to the fur trade, which
the company developed in alliance with the Iroquois tribes. This arrangement
hindered settlement; in 1660 only 5000 Europeans were in the colony.

The French Empire

French exploration began early and was followed by attempted settlements
in the New World, but no permanent colonies were established until the opening
of the seventeenth century. France was so weakened by religious wars that most
of its efforts, beyond fishing and privateering, had to be directed toward
internal stability. While the Dutch were winning their empire, France was
involved in the land campaigns of the Thirty Years' War. Thus serious French
empire building was delayed until the reign of Louis XIV.

Early French colonization in North America was based on claims made by
Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-1528) and Jacques Cartier (1491-1557). The first,
a Florentine mariner commissioned by Francis I in 1523, traced the Atlantic
coast from North Carolina to Newfoundland. Eleven years later, Cartier made
the first of two voyages, exploring the Saint Lawrence River. These French
expeditions duplicated England's claim to eastern North America.

A wilderness stretching hundreds of miles separated the early French
Canadian colonies from their English counterparts. A first French settlement
was made at Port Royal (Nova Scotia) in 1605. Three years later, Samuel de
Champlain (1567-1635), acting for a French-chartered company, founded Quebec
on the Saint Lawrence. The company brought in colonists, but only a few came
before Champlain's death in 1635 and only 2500 had arrived by 1663. The
company's emphasis on fur trading, the bitter cold of the winters, and the
nearly continuous skirmishes with the Indians retarded growth. Montreal was
established in 1642, after which French trapper-explorers began penetrating
the region around the headwaters of the Mississippi. New France soon expanded
over a wide area, but population remained sparse.

Elsewhere, the French seized opportunities afforded by the decline of
Iberian sea power. They acquired the Isle of Bourbon in the Indian Ocean
(1642) for use as a commercial base. In West Africa, they created a sphere of
commercial interest at the mouth of the Senegal, where they became involved in
the slave trade, with only slight opposition from the Dutch. Even more
significant was the French presence in the West Indies. They occupied part of
Saint Kitt's in 1625 and acquired Martinique and Guadeloupe ten years later.
The burgeoning sugar trade helped make the French islands profitable, but
fierce attacks by the Caribs limited colonization and economic development.

The English Empire

In terms of power and profit, English foreign expansion before 1650 was
not impressive. Like French colonialism, it was somewhat hampered by internal
political conditions, particularly by the poor management and restrictive
policies of the early Stuart kings, which led to civil war in the 1640s. A
number of circumstances, however, promoted foreign ventures. The population
increased from three to four million between 1530 and 1600, providing a large
reservoir of potential indentured labor. Religious persecution encouraged
migration of nonconformists, and surplus capital was seeking opportunities for
investment. Such conditions ultimately produced a unique explosion of English
settlement overseas.

During the sixteenth century, English maritime operations were confined
primarily to exploring, fishing, smuggling, and plundering. English claims to
North America were registered in 1497-1498 by two voyages of John Cabot, who
explored the coast of North America from Newfoundland to Virginia but found no
passage to Asia. For the next century, English expeditions sought such a
northern passage, both in the East and in the West. All of them failed, but
they resulted in explorations of Hudson Bay and the opening of a northern
trade route to Russia. From the 1540s, English captains, including the famous
John Hawkins of Plymouth, indulged in sporadic slave trading in Africa and the
West Indies, despite Spanish restrictions. Their encounters on the Spanish
main generated the exploits of English "sea dogs," like Sir Francis Drake,
whose raids on Spanish shipping helped prepare the defeat of the Armada.

After failures in Newfoundland and on the Carolina coast, the first
English colony in America was founded in 1607 at Jamestown in Virginia. For a
number of years the colonists suffered from lack of food and other privations,
but they were saved by their dauntless leader, Captain John Smith (1580-1631),
whose romantic rescue by the Indian princess Pocahontas (a. 1595-1617), is an
American legend. Jamestown set a precedent for all English colonies in North
America. By the terms of its original charter, the London Company, which
founded the settlement, was authorized to act as a miniature government for
the colonists, who were to enjoy all the rights of native Englishmen.
Consequently, in 1619, the governor called an assembly to assist in governing.
This body later became the Virginia House of Burgesses, one of the oldest
continuously operating representative legislatures.

[See Jamestown In 1607: View of Jamestown in 1607 drawn by John Hull.
Surrounded by water on three sides, the marshy peninsula on the James River
seemed an easy-to-defend and thus ideal location for the Jamestown fort. By
1614 there were "two faire rowes of howses" protected by a palisade. Courtesy
A.H. Robbins Company]

Shortly after the founding of Jamestown, large-scale colonization began
farther north. In 1620, a group of English Protestants who called themselves
Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Despite severe hardships, they survived, and
their experiences inspired other religious dissenters against the policies of
Charles I and Archbishop Laud. In 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company settled
a number of English Calvinists near the present-day site of Boston, where they
were given the rights to virtual self-government. From this first enclave,
emigrants moved out to other areas in present-day Maine, Rhode Island, and
Connecticut. Before 1642 more than 25,000 people had migrated to New England,
laying the foundations for a number of future colonies. This exodus firmly
planted English culture and political institutions in North America.

Life in the North American English settlements was hard during those
first decades, but a pioneering spirit and native colonial pride was already
evident. In all areas, food was scarce, disease was ever present, and Indians
were often dangerous. Yet from the beginning, and more than in other European
colonies, settlers here looked to their futures in the new land because they
had left less behind in Europe. Most were expecting to stay, establish homes,
and raise families, as well as make their fortunes. The first Puritans
included both women and men. A shipload of "purchase brides" arrived in 1619
at Jamestown to lend stability to the colony. This was but the first of many
such contingents, all eagerly welcomed by prospective husbands. In addition,
many women came on their own as indentured servants.

American colonial women were legally dependent upon their husbands, who
controlled the property and the children. A widow achieved these rights, but
it was not easy to outlive a husband. Hard work and frequent pregnancies -
mothers with a dozen children were not uncommon - reduced female life
expectancies. Nevertheless, women developed a rough endurance and gained
confidence and practical independence. This independent spirit was revealed by
Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), who was banished from Massachusetts for preaching
her own religious beliefs and then founded a settlement in Rhode Island.
Another example is Anne Bradstreet (c. 1612-1672). Although made painfully
aware that men considered her presumptuous, she continued to write thoughtful
and beautiful poetry.

The English government considered the rough coasts and wild forests of
North America less important in this period than footholds in the West Indies
and Africa, where profit were expected from planting and slave-trading. A wave
of English migrants descended upon the West Indies, after the Dutch opened the
Caribbean. In 1613, English settlers established themselves on Bermuda, and by
the 1620s others had planted colonies on Saint Kitt's, Barbados, Nevis,
Montserrat, Antigua, and in the Bahamas. Tobacco planting was at first the
major enterprise, bringing some prosperity and the promise of more. The white
population expanded dramatically, especially on Barbados, which was not
subject to Carib attack. There the English settlers increased from 7000 to
37,000 in seven years. As yet, however, there were few blacks on the English
islands, although some were already being imported for the sugar plantations.

Meanwhile, English slaving posts in West Africa were beginning to
flourish and English adventurers were starting operations in Asia. Captain
John Lancaster, with four ships, visited Sumatra and Java in 1601, returning
with a profitable cargo of spices. His voyage led to the founding of the
English East India Company, which was chartered in 1609. But expansion outside
of the Caribbean was difficult, because the Dutch were uncooperative. In the
Moluccas, for example, they drove out the English in the 1620s, after repeated
clashes. The English fared better in India. By 1622, the English East India
Company had put the Portuguese out of business in the Persian Gulf.
Subsequently, the English established trading posts on the west coast of India
at Agra, Masulipatam, Balasore, and Surat. The station at Madras, destined to
become the English bastion on the east coast, was founded in 1639.

 

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