European Colonization of the Americas and What It Meant for Native Tribes

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Chloe Chandler
European colonization of what would become North America was motivated by various reasons, including the desire for religious freedom, profit, or a chance to start over. The colonies were populated by religious groups seeking freedom to practice their religions without interference from England, indentured servants, debtors seeking a clean slate, settlers hoping to find a profit and people who were brought to America involuntarily as slaves from Africa. The establishment of European colonies in North America meant dealing with the Native American tribes who had already lived in the area for centuries. More often than not, colonists treated the native peoples as lesser beings and savages, and tensions between natives and Europeans led to many inhumane acts and deaths, particularly deaths of the native peoples. English colonization took many trial and error attempts before they were able to establish the famed thirteen colonies that would eventually go on to become the United States of America.

Despite the catchy assertion that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and became the first person to discover the “New World”, he was not the first foreigner to set foot in what would become North America. Aside from the native tribes that had already been in the Americas for centuries, there was another group of people to find America before Columbus. The Vikings were the first to discover what would become North America. However, the Vikings did not remain in the area and their discovery of North America became something of a Viking legend.

In 1492 an explorer named Christopher Columbus set out to find a new route to Asia in order to maximize the efficiency of the spice trade between Asia and Europe. Instead of discovering a shorter route to Asia, Columbus stumbled across the new world that would come to be known as America. Though his discovery is referred to as the new world, there were countless groups of Native American tribes who had been living in America for centuries and had their own cultures and ways of life. Columbus did not arrive in the new world with an open mind regarding the native populations. Like many people at the time, Columbus regarded those with a skin color different from his own to be inferior. On Columbus’ second trip to America, he wrote a letter to the King and Queen suggesting that they enslave a large portion of the Native American population. “Their Highnesses will see that I can give them as much gold as they desire...and as many slaves as they choose to send for, all heathens” (Columbus’ first letter, 1493)

After the monarchy refused this suggestion, Columbus proceeded to enslave the native peoples regardless. 1,200 natives were taken from their homes and enslaved by Columbus. 560 of these natives were forcibly sent on a ship to Spain where 200 of them died of illness during the trip (Weatherford).   In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh established the colony of Roanoke on an island off of present-day North Carolina. Roanoke became the first European colony established in America. The charter to establish Roanoke was granted to Raleigh by the Queen Elizabeth I with the intentions of discovering riches in America as well as having a base from which the privateers she had commissioned could raid Spanish ships. The colony of Roanoke survived for three years before mysteriously disappearing, earning it the title “the lost colony”. One of the most commonly held beliefs regarding Roanoke’s fate, is that trouble with the native populations led to the deaths of several colonists, while the rest integrated into the Native lifestyle rather than face starvation or death by other means. In 1534 Jacques Cartier, an explorer for France, founded the settlement New France in the area of present-day Canada and the northern US. The French had a better relationship with the native inhabitants than any of the other countries that had, or would colonize the Americas. The French realized that...
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