Which was the more powerful force in the colonization of the New World: economics or religion?

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Various factors prompted European colonization of the New World, including territorial expansion, the need for critical raw materials for industry and a market for surplus products, the search for investment opportunities, and the desire to flee persecution. The Spaniards and Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the new lands. Later on, the English and the French joined them. When the first colonists arrived in the New World, they encountered indigenous peoples, and their interactions resulted in economic gains for the Europeans and religious conversions for the natives. However, economic reasons were undoubtedly stronger force than religious concerns in New World colonization. This paper discusses the economic reasons that led to the colonization of the New World, providing specific examples.

One of the main attractions for the colonists as for the New World was land exploitation. For example, in Roanoke colonization, Sir Walter Raleigh’s intention was to increase the expanse of land owned and governed by the English people, thus increasing their powers in the colony. He even named Virginia State after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth. The Spanish, on the other hand, used a system called Encomienda, which entitled them to own lands in the colony as well as use labor in any way they pleased, whilst promising to convert the native Indians into Christianity as a reward (Colonization in the New World, 2011).

Furthermore, the colonists sought to enrich themselves with the natural resources found in the New World such as minerals and fish. A clear example is the colonization of Jamestown, where the English established the Virginia Company of London. Their aim was to make profits from silver and gold discovered in the New World. Similarly, the Spanish were attracted by gold and other jewels. They would steal the treasures from Aztecs and display them all over Spain in order to arouse interest and gather support in their mission to colonize the New World. The Massachusetts Bay is an example of a colony that first emerged as a fishing venture (Colonization in the New World).

The majority of the colonists were previously practicing farming in their countries, but due to shortage of land and unsuitable soils like those in England, they moved to colonize the New World, which had richer soils and favorable climate for agriculture. For instance, Virginia was suitable for tobacco production, which was promising huge returns. Chesapeake Bay and Maryland became the important sources of cash crop. Rice and indigo cultivation was widespread in the colonies of Georgia and South Carolina, which served as sources of goods for European markets with Charleston as the main port (Colonization in the New World).

Trade was another economic motive. The French were particularly interested in trading metals, weapons and textiles for fur, which led to the establishment of trade relations with the Algonquians, Huron and Montagnais people. Similarly, the Dutch traded weapons for fur with the Iroquois people. Other goods that were traded in the European markets included cotton, sugar, ginger and dyewoods (Colonization in the New World).

In conclusion, the colonists’ desire to expand their empire, acquire new lands and settle as well as their thirst for wealth made them colonize the New World. The Europeans brought profound transformations in the lives of the natives as well as the landscape of the new lands. Generally, economics was a major motivating factor for the Europeans in colonizing the New World.

Work Cited

“Colonization in the New World.” 2009. Teaching American History in South Carolina. Web. 23 March 2017.

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