By the 19th century Britain held the largest Empire in the globe and yet three centuries earlier colonisation had not even began for the small island nation. The colonisation of the Americas was therefore key for the country and began their conquest of Imperialism. In this essay I will try to explain what was the main motivation for the acquisition of North American soil. The three most important themes of the English expansion were religion, economic gain, and political advantage, with the most important reasons being to seek religious freedom, and economic opportunity. To a lesser degree, the colonists sought to establish a stable and progressive government.
However, when asking which is the most influential factor in colonization a historian will often find themselves perplexed and unable to place more weight on one cause over the other. Although the importance of each factor fluctuates throughout the one hundred year period of study. In the end, one can only conclude that the factors for colonization, are inextricably linked.”The Political Ideas of the Puritans” by Herbert L. Osgood is not a very useful source firstly for its strong moral judgement, this is due to the fact that the source was written in 1891 this means that it was still written in the time of the British Empire and therefore holds a strong Imperialist school of thought. One can find a strong influence from earlier structuralist, his professor, John Burgess in his works and one can see how Burgess’ book from 1890 entitled “Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law”. It is clear to see that Osgood also influenced and provoked a new wave of Imperialist historians such as George Louis Beer, Charles M.
Andrews and Lawrence Gibson who all wrote works on the first British Empire from 1893-1930’s and took favorable views on the benefits of Empire, emphasizing its successful economic integration. What places Osgood’s work above other historians is his insightful knowledge on the views of Puritans at the time, we know his content to be true as it is substantially identical with information independently researched by Mr. Ch. Borgeaud of the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris. Osgood supports an Imperialist school of thought, he argued that the founders of the Puritan land of New England were the only class among the early settlers of America who were politically self-conscious. He, therefore, states that the majority of American Colonisation was instead wholly the product of the physical environment and of tradition (religion).
This side of religious devotion can be seen in that they were “advocates of a definitive religious system, which they came to the new world to put into practice.” One can see that this was an important system to them as they made all interests, social and political, contribute to its maintenance and advancements. Overall Osgood argues that religious freedom was a greater factor over economic gain because of the fact that all proceeded theory and policy both locally and internationally with the home government were ultimately determined by religious devotion and prioritise this factor over economic gain. This therefore shows that the British colonists of America valued religious freedom above all else.
“The Economy of British America, 1607-1789,” by John J. McCusker Russell R. Menard is a strong source firstly because it is written in a manner which is at once clear and readable, it analyzes the sources, surveys the current literature, delineates opportunities for further reading, all while backing its historical thesis with basic economic theory. It is clear to find the influence for this piece of writing from John J. McCusker Russell R.
Menard as historians such as Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Earl Gregg Swem, College of William and Mary and Richard Lee Morton had all previously written for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, the publisher which the two historians wrote for. What sometimes limits this work compared to other historians is that sometimes Russel and Menard end up placing too much emphasis on economic theory and allow it to over justify parts of their thesis without searching for primary sources from the time. However, the fact that the work was written nearing the end of the 20th century, 1986, is a strength as it means that the historians had a greater availability of sources to reference and cite from.
This more recent work also means that the men are not apart of the Imperialist school of thought but are instead involved with the tradition of the Malthusian, or frontier interpretation. They argued that it was trade and commerce that linked the far-flung colonies to the British Homeland, that international trade created the demand for staples production and fostered the economic conditions which made colonial population growth inevitable. This means that therefore without these economic conditions the colonies would never have been able to survive. The text also makes the distinction between what is colonization, for, without this economic climate some pilgrims would still have traveled to America for religious freedom.
However, it would not have been on a large enough scale to class it as colonization. What places this text above other historians is the fact that it is full of thought-provoking insights and integrates business history and the history of science and technology as few other books do to explain why the economic success of the American colonies was such a key development to achieve full colonization. The historians greatest weakness is the sometimes lacking continuity in certain chapters and the somewhat narrow definition of some factors of industrial science. This source therefore argues the religion was not the greatest cause for the colonisation that religious freedom was not the main cause for the colonisation for the Americas but instead it was the economic opportunity found in the land.
Many colonies were founded for religious purposes. While religion was involved with all of the colonies, Massachusetts, New Haven, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were established exclusively for religious reasons. Massachusetts was settled in 1620 when a ship called the Mayflower, with around 1,000 Puritans on board, landed in Cape Cod. These Puritans believed in predestination, the idea that God is perfect and that the King did not enforce a literal enough interpretation of the Bible. Many Puritans in England were persecuted for these treasonous beliefs, persecution punishment could include jail and even execution. The execution of Edward Wightman on 11th of April 1612 in Lichfield, Staffordshire is a prime example of this prosecution, as a vicar, he was burnt for his Puritan beliefs. Therefore, to seek refuge, the Puritans sailed to North America where they would have religious freedom and the ability to retain British culture compared to if they had migrated to Holland where their children would have been raised Dutch. The second group of Puritans in England, the Massachusetts Bay Company, came to Massachusetts for more economically motivated purposes due to their non-minimalist beliefs.
One can see this attraction of the religious freedom in America through, John Winthrop. He is the longtime governor of the Puritan colony at Massachusetts Bay from the conception of the colony to his death on 26 March 1649, and is the probable author of a widely circulated pamphlet called the General Observations for the Plantation in New England , which was written just before the colony was founded in 1630. The strengths of this source is firstly the provenance. As John Winthrop is a governor of a colony, he has first hand experience of the colonial lands and therefore has a greater insight as to the reasons people have gone to settle the Americas, for example, his first point is, “It will be a service to the Church of great consequence to carry the Gospel into those parts of the world.” This shows that many colonised the Americas as they felt that it was their Christian duty. Another strength is the pamphlet style of writing, it is concise and is very clear on the arguments Winthrop is trying to make ,for example, that “The whole earth is the Lord’s garden, and He hath given it to mankind with a general commission (Gen. 1:28) to increase and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it.
” This again supports the claim that Christians have a God given right to colonise the lands. However a weakness is the fact that Winthrop is a Governor, this is a weakness as, as a man of the gentry, Winthrop most likely does not know the popular opinion of the people and as a Governor his cause for being in the Americas is most likely due to a charter from the Queen. Also as a Governor it is in his best interest to expand the size of his settlement, he is therefore going to be purposefully positive in his pamphlet in an attempt to increase the number of immigrants entering the colonies as this would increase the size of his settlement and therefore maximise his power and stature. In addition to listing nine “reasons to be considered” for founding a new colony, Winthrop rebuts ten frequent objections, four of them theological. The fact that theological justification is John’s most discussed argument in the pamphlet shows the great emphasis people placed on religious factors in the period. The fact that almost 14,000 English Puritans emigrated to New England in the Great Migration of the 1630s after the release of this pamphlet is clear evidence that the religious pull factors towards the colonisation of the Americas had a great influence on the people of the United Kingdom. However, one must also note that the pamphlet was not arguing for a sole colonisation of the lands, it was arguing for the farming and cultivating of the lands, and therefore one can also see economic attraction in the settlement of New England.New Haven was colonized in 1638, we know this thanks to the archeological evidence of the “nine square plan” which was laid down a year later.
Connecticut was founded two years earlier in 1636 when John Haynes and Thomas Hooker led 100 people to present day Hertford. These two colonies, in fact, share one dramatic similarity, they too were founded exclusively for Religious purposes. Many of the separatists in Massachusetts felt that the religion was too liberal inside the colony. They felt that the beliefs were not being enforced enough and that the people were not living through literal interpretations of the Bible. These Separatists further separated themselves from Massachusetts and formed a new colony, New Haven. Connecticut was founded by those separatists in Massachusetts who felt that the religion was too strict.
The fact that some of the first permanent British colonies in North America were founded for purely religious reasons proves that the pull of religious freedom was a major factor in the colonization of the Americas.However, there were many other countries within Europe that would have allowed these pilgrims to exercise their religious freedom. Holland, as mentioned earlier, would have allowed the Puritans to practice without any threats of persecution or punishment, this conjoined with the fact that it is cheaper and safer to get to Holland leaves a historian wondering why North America was ever colonized at all. There therefore must have been other factors pulling pilgrims to North America, this remark makes tracing the exact roots of British colonialism quite a daunting task given the varied developments scattered over almost two centuries Sir Charles P. Lucas helps to resolve this matter when he states, in his book, “The British empire; six lectures”, “The English had their age of discovery, adventure, and privateering, and after the glamour was over, there came a prosaic time in the seventeenth century when settlement began and grew as a sober matter of business.” The above quote not only helps in situating colonial settlement in a somewhat exact historical framework but also gives the motivation behind these settlements.From its very outset, Western colonization was operated as a joint public-private venture, the men who looked to improve their fortunes joined the colonial bandwagon. The success that the British were enjoying in their endeavors were visible in the list of territories under their control.
By 1650, the British had taken over various regions in America along with Spanish colonies such as St.Kitts, Barbados. In these colonies, constituting the present day West Indies, the British, in 1660, invested in sugar plantations.
Since sugar crops required cheap labor the British entered into slave trade as well, bringing slaves from West Africa. Gradually the slaves were employed in the cotton plantations in Southern America ensuring more profits for the imperial masters. It was as a result of these and many such conquests that Britain became the leading industrial nation in the world by the end of the 18th century.Another example of one of these huge public-private British ventures is the Hudson Bay company. Founded in 1668 with the sponsorship of Prince Rupert and King Charles 2nd the company went on an expeditionary trip to Hudson Bay in the ship the Nonsuch, the ship returned to England on 9 October 1669 with a cargo of fur worth £1,233, around a quarter of a million pounds today accounting for inflation. This monetary gain supported the idea of mercantilism, the idea that the only way to have profitable trade is to have colonies generate resources to be re-sold to the mother nation, these colonies also generate a greater demand for British goods and act as trading posts for said goods thus increasing profits further. This is why on 2 May 1670, King Charles 2 provided the Hudson Bay with a royal charter and a monopoly of the Hudson Bay drainage basin which constituted 1.5 million square miles.
Between 1668 and 1717 the HBC established six posts thus colonizing the area. This shows that due to Economic profit, what we know as Canada today was colonized by the HBC officially for the crown, thus proving that economic opportunity was a huge factor in the causes for British expansion into the Americas. As Ania Loomba states in “Situating Postcolonial Studies”, “Colonialism was the midwife that assisted at the birth of European capitalism” However one must also note that there were few firms that managed to achieve such large profits like the HBC and many of the business ventures of the late 17th century ended in failure.Some evidence of the economic attraction to the Americas is in the 1646 -Land grant from William Kieft, Director General of the West India Company. This land grant from the Director General (Willem Kieft) and the Councillors of the Dutch West India Company to Abraham Planck, Symon Root, Jan Andriessen, and Pieter Harmensen for about 300 acres (100 morgen) of land on the south side of the Delaware River (South River) opposite the Birds’ Land Islet (“Vogele Lant”) on which they were to establish four farms or plantations with dwellings and which they were to settle within the first year. What is valuable about this source is that it is an official royal, legal document from the Dutch in the Americas in the period and therefore shows what other factors nations colonising America were prioritising. One can see this in the line,”to establish there four Farms or Plantations and begin to cultivate the same within a year from this date.
” The content is also valuable as it states that if the land was not settled within the year the contract would be null and void, this shows that the Dutch wanted fast economic expansion in their lands. However, a weakness of the source is that it is a Dutch legal document, this could mean that the source is not useful at all as the English could be colonising the area for completely different reasons. For example, the line, “We Willem Kieft, Director General, and Councilors, in the name of the of the High and Mighty Lords of the States General of the United Netherlands” reveals to us that this was a Dutch document, this is significant as the Dutch were already experiencing religious freedom in their homeland, they therefore do not have or desire the religious causes for their expansion west and therefore there must be other causes for the colonisation. The British however did not have religious freedom and therefore have different motives for the movement westward. This does however, still support my point that large public-private ventures were plentiful in the new world and was therefore a great cause for the emigration to the colonies.
The fact that the contract also stated that colonisation had to occur within the year shows that these contracts were heavily competed for and were therefore a very attractive feature of the New World. Another example of economic opportunity within America can be seen in the man John Rolfe. In 1612 in Jamestown, Rolfe combined tobacco seeds from the Caribbean with Spanish tobacco seeds, thus creating the first ever successful cash crop of North America. The tobacco leaf was a very popular good on the European market and with Spain currently holding a monopoly on the dried leaf, the shipments of cheaper tobacco from America were hugely successful in city hubs like London. By 1617 tobacco exports to England totaled 20,000 pounds. The next year shipments more than doubled.
Twelve years later, one and a half million pounds were exported, this crop transformed Jamestown and saved it from economic turmoil. This story shows the creation of the American dream and was the greatest economic pull of them all. The lower class in England in the 17th century were struggling financially with no social care except the “Poor Man’s Law” of 1602. Therefore one could argue that the opportunity to make a new start and find huge wealth and prosper from nothing was largely the main reason for the migrants of the 1700’s, it must be noted, however, that by this point in time pilgrims had been flooding to America for eighty years. One can, therefore, deduce that colonies would have formed in America without the economic factors, however, they would have formed and developed at much slower rates.In 1624 there was a commission formed by King James to investigate the failure of Jamestown, it questioned John Smith, one of the colony’s early governors, and sought his advice on saving the colony.
Although writing with his usual self-serving prose, Smith delivered clear point-by-point recommendations to the commission, one can see this in the line, “The remedy is to send Soldiers and all sorts of laborers and necessaries for them, that they may be there by next Michaelmas.” The decision: Jamestown was put under the control of the crown and the Virginia Company ceased to exist. The value of this source can be seen in the fact that it is a commission formed by King James, this means that all men reporting to this commission would have answered truthfully. The content however, is less valuable as it is speaking upon the ways in which to save the colony of Jamestown instead of speaking upon the causes for the origin of the settlement, “What conceive you is the cause the Plantation has prospered no better since you left it in so good a forwardness 1609?” this means that the content may be less valuable as it does not speak upon the causes for the settlement of Jamestown. However, one can gain some valuable information in the fact that the source speaks of the importance of Jamestown.
In the source it is noted that with the arrival of the tobacco plant Georgetown had the potential to be a large trading outpost and exporter of the valuable good. This therefore shows that many did come to the New World in an attempt to take advantage of this cash crop and make themselves a small fortune. This therefore supports my argument states above that the economic opportunity in the Americas was great factor in the rapid settlement of the Americas in the 1700’s.Politically it is harder to say why England wanted to colonize America.
The most obvious factor is that everyone else was doing so. Spain had held a presence in America since 1492 and had reported back to Europe of the great mineral wealth found there, the French had been founding colonies in the mid 16th century, 1534 to be precise, along with the Dutch. Therefore the British crown may have felt that in order for their nation to be considered one of the leading powers in Europe they too would need to have colonies so that they would have an international presence. American colonies were also an answer to the government’s problems of overcrowding within the small island nation. From 1718 until 1730 ten percent of all migrants settling in the Americas were British convicts, overall 52,000 British prisoners were shipped off to colonial America. This would have reduced costs for the British Government as they would no longer have to house or feed these prisoners, this partially explains why the government had such a political interest in the States of America as it was a cheap and effective solution to overcrowding both in prisons.
One can see the crown’s interest in the land as in 1692 Pennsylvania is named a royal colony. Colonies also solved the national problem of overcrowding as the lower class which were crammed into the bustling cities like London, which, in 1715 had a population of 630,000. Therefore, by removing these lower class workers the government could hope to improve the social climate in the country’s capital as the city was currently famous for crooks and violence.One can also see the political attraction of the colonisation of the Americas as it was a strong vantage point to protect British ships from the Spanish armada. As John Darwin argued in, “Unfurnished Empire.” the first cause for the Queen’s charters to sail westward were to pillage and loot the Spanish convoys.
Therefore in order to protect the British forces post raiding settlements were required for security before the long trip back to London. One could argue that the North American mainland was therefore a mere afterthought. Walter Raleigh chose the first settlement on Roanoke Island in modern North Carolina and was a specifically selected for its strategic location. The site chosen for Jamestown in 1607 also reflected the same desire for protection from Spanish attacks as it was well away from the sea coast and possibly with similar hopes of preying upon the Spanish fleet.
By 1720 England had amassed a huge navy which protected the new British exports from the growing levels of piracy found within the Atlantic.In conclusion, it is easy to see how the factors contributing to the cause of colonisation shifted and changed as the purpose too changed of said colonies. What originally started out as a mere settlement where pilgrims could find religious freedom and safety from prosecution changed into a conquest and control of other people’s land and goods, all in an effort to bolster the political and economic standing of Britain. The addition of cash crops such as tea and tobacco moulded colonial America and business like the Hudson Bay Company caused the greater development and colonisation of lands in the north. Although there were also political advantages to the colonies in the New World such as it establishing Britain as a global superpower and therefore providing Britain with more political standing against France, Spain and the Dutch.
These benefits can be seen to be less significant than the religious and economic attraction of the colonies as the Government only took notice of the settlements after the Pilgrims and Entrepreneurs had cultivated the land. Therefore I would conclusively argue that the attraction of religious freedom was the main cause for the original colonisation of the land with the economic factors helping to further development of the colonies post 1620 when men like John Rolfe were able to see the economic possibility of the New World. What should not be forgotten about the colonies is that they have been the most important cause of shaping the world-economically, culturally and politically-as it is today, and the impact of these original colonies can still be seen in the modern day states.