1. Say why Europeans engaged in exploration and describe the technology that helped them.
2. Name a Portuguese, British, Dutch, French and Spanish explorer and what they discovered.
3. Explain what happened to the New World colonies of these European countries.
4. Discuss the enslavement of American Indians and Africans and the results.
EXPLORING THE WORLD IN THE 1500s
In the late 1400s and early 1500s, Europeans began looking for new lands and new routes to known places. This period is often called the Age of Exploration. One major reason for exploring was the desire to get rich. For years, goods from China and India such as silks and spices could only be purchased from Italian merchants at high prices. Explorers looked for faster routes to China and India in hopes of trading directly with the suppliers. Other explorers wanted to get famous. Still others hoped to spread their religion to new people. Curiosity about exotic lands and peoples was also a factor.
These voyages were made possible by advances in technology. From China, Europeans learned about the compass, which allowed them to know at all times which direction was north. From the Muslims they learned to use an astrolabe, an instrument which allowed navigators to calculate their location based on the position of the sun and stars. Europeans also made advances in shipbuilding. Their new ship, the caravel was light and fast and steered by a rear rudder like Viking ships instead of by oars. It also had moveable, triangular sails like the Muslim ships, which allowed it to catch the wind from any direction.
EXPLORERS FROM PORTUGAL AND SPAIN
Portuguese and Spanish explorers began the Age of Exploration. Prince Henry the Navigator, the king of Portugal’s son, gathered sailors, mapmakers, and astronomers to help him launch expeditions of discovery. Portugal settled the Azores and Madeira Islands in the Atlantic and learned about Africa’s coast. Henry hoped to find a route around Africa to India, but died before Vasco da Gama achieved this goal in 1497. On the next trip, Pedro Cabral sailed far west before heading south around Africa. He spotted and claimed the land we now call Brazil. In India, the Portuguese built trading centers. They became one of the richest and most powerful European nations
. In 1492 Spain paid Italian Christopher Columbus to sail west to China. Columbus knew the world was round, but believed it was smaller than it actually is. He also had no idea the American continents existed. When he reached a Caribbean island after 2 months at sea, he believed he had reached Asia. He called the people living there “Indians.” He returned to the Caribbean three times, never realizing it was not Asia. Only in 1499 did Amerigo Vespucci conclude that South America was a new land. Mapmakers named the new continent “America” in his honor. In 1513, Captain Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama, becoming the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
to reach Asia. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan tried to sail west around the world. He was killed in the Philippines, but some of his crew made it back to Spain in 1522. They were the first to circumnavigate the globe.
EXPLORERS FROM THE REST OF EUROPE
While the Portuguese and Spanish were busy exploring the southern hemisphere, the English looked for a northern ocean route to China. In 1497, Englishman John Cabot sailed to the Atlantic coast of what is now Canada, thinking it was Asia. Soon the English realized this was a new land, so Queen Elizabeth sent Sir Francis Drake to sail around the tip of South America and explore its west coast. He stopped in California, then sailed north looking for a secret ocean passage back to England. He gave up, headed west and became the second captain to circumnavigate the globe.
Dutch-born Henry Hudson was also sent by England to continue looking for a shorter route to Asia, either a Northeast Passage above Europe or a Northwest Passage above the Americas. He found neither, but did explore the Hudson River all the way to Hudson Bay.
In 1534, France sent Jacques Cartier to look for a Northwest Passage. He sailed up the St. Lawrence River, claiming the land along it for France.
After European explorers reached the Americas, they scrambled to establish colonies in the lands they had found. First, Spain settled islands in the Caribbean using the encomienda system to make a profit. This system gave Spanish colonists a chunk of land and slave labor (in the form of Indians who happened to be living there) to work it. In exchange for this gift, the colonists had to convert the Indians to Christianity. Native American farmers and miners died by the millions from overwork, abuse and European diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, and measles, which were lethal because Native Americans had no resistance to them.
Some Spaniards, such as the Catholic priest Bartolomé de las Casas, protested the mistreatment of natives. Shockingly, he recommended using African slaves for labor instead. Because Africans had better resistance to European diseases, they survived longer in the New World. This sparked a thriving slave trade and the largest forced migration in history. By the time Europeans – and
Americans - banned slavery in the 1800s, over 13 million black Africans had been forced aboard slave ships and brought to the Americas.
Islands to explore the mainland. Hernán Cortés led an expedition to Mexico in 1517. At the time, the emperor of the native Aztec people there was Moctezuma II. The Aztecs were powerful, but also disliked by many of the people they had conquered. As a result, thousands of Native Americans joined Cortés as he marched to the Aztec capital. New diseases again took their toll. In 1519 Cortés reached Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital. The Spanish, who had the advantage of metal weapons, gunpowder and horses, killed the emperor. After months of fighting, Cortés took over the Aztec Empire.
Soon after this, Francisco Pizarro led an expedition to Peru in search of the wealthy Inca Empire. The empire had recently suffered an outbreak of smallpox which led to unrest. In 1532 its new emperor, Atahualpa, met with Pizarro, who demanded that he accept Christianity and hand over his empire to Spain. Though Atahualpa gave Pizarro gold and silver, the Spanish killed him, then took over.
THE LEGACY OF EUROPEAN COLONIES IN THE AMERICAS
Portugal, the country that started exploration, ended up with the smallest amount of territory in the New World. They signed the Treaty of Tordesillas without knowing how big South America was! The signers of the treaty drew an imaginary line from north to south through the Atlantic Ocean west of the Cape Verde Islands. Everything to the west of the line would belong to Spain and to the east to Portugal. The result was that Portugal got Brazil, while Spain got THE REST of South America, the Caribbean, Central America, Florida, and the western United States including California! The Portuguese colonists in Brazil established farms like those of the Spanish with Native Americans doing the work, and soon Africans slaves. Brazil became an independent country in 1822, and Portuguese is still spoken there today. Spain got rich fast and lost it all in less than 200 years. Though searching for gold, they found silver instead a LOT of it! A mountain called Potosi in Bolivia yielded 16,000 tons of silver in the first fifty years, enough money to pay for a variety of religious wars that Spanish kings fought during the Counter-Reformation in Europe. (Remember how the Catholic Church was trying to win back people
to the faith after Martin Luther and the Protestants formed their own church?). When English pirates attacked Spanish galleons loaded with treasure, Spain’s King Felipe II outfitted the mighty Spanish Armada (fleet of warships) to teach Queen Elizabeth a lesson. Though out-manned and out-gunned, Elizabeth’s light, fast ships destroyed the heavy Spanish warships, and the armada limped home in disgrace. Spain nearly went bankrupt and its golden age ended.
Spain lost its New World colonies one by one to the United States, and to revolutionary leaders like Simon Bolivar and Bernardo O’Higgins in South America, and Miguel Hidalgo in Mexico who fought for and won independence for their countries from Spain. Today, these countries still speak Spanish as their primary language, and the majority of the people are Catholic – a heritage from the encomienda days.
In “New France” (Canada), French explorers looking for gold discovered that there was money to be made through trade goods: fish and furs. Small groups of French traders moved to the colony and allied with Native Americans. French priests soon followed, bringing the Catholic faith with them. French explorers claimed new lands to the south, while Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec in 1608. René-Robert La Salle canoed the entire Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the region for France and naming it Louisiana after his king, Louis XIV.
The United States bought “Louisiana” for $15 million dollars in 1803. It included all or part of 14 future states (Minnesota and North Dakota and all states beneath them to the Gulf of Mexico). It doubled the size of the United States back then and made Thomas Jefferson a popular president. Today, French is spoken as the main language of Quebec, and survives in Louisiana as Cajun French.
The Dutch colony in North America is called New York City today. In 1664, the British took it over, but many New York neighborhoods still carry derivations of Dutch names: Coney Island, Brooklyn, Harlem, Greenwich Village, Staten Island and the Bowery.
The first English colony was Jamestown, Virginia, established in 1607. In 1620, Pilgrims seeking religious freedom for their protestant faith started a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Both colonies received aid from Native Americans, but English colonists treated them with distrust and violence. The English also angered French settlers by trying to settle in French territory. War broke out in 1754. Native Americans allied with the French, so the English called this the French and Indian War. Eventually, France surrendered Canada and all of their territory east of the Mississippi. England’s king tried to make colonists pay the costs of the war, which colonists resented, helping to spark the American Revolution.
And what happened to those former African slaves? Some tried to return to West Africa in the early 1800s to a country created for them, known today as Liberia. Sadly, almost half died from African diseases. However, Liberia endured. When Europeans invaded and colonized the continent of Africa in the mid-1800s, only two African countries remained free and independent: Liberia and Ethiopia.