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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Exploration
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Exploration
Text 1. Into the Interior: The Spanish
Text 2. Into the Interior: The French
Text 3. Northwest Passage: The British
Text 4. Illustrating the New World (Pt. II)
Text 5. Catching Up: The British
Text 6. Failed Colonies
Text 7. The Slave Trade

Reading Guide
Catching Up: The English
- Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, et al., Dedicatory poems urging an English colony in North America, 1583 (PDF)
- Richard Hakluyt, Reasons for an English colony in North America, 1584 (PDF)

By the 1580s, English financiers and navigators became anxious that their chances for North American wealth and claims were fading. Spain dominated the Caribbean and southern regions of the continent, and France had established missionary and trading posts deep into the northern woodlands. Mexico City was a metropolitan center of trade, politics, and culture. Tadoussac was a small but vital French post on the St. Lawrence River. And both nations had fledgling settlements on the Atlantic coast—San Agustín and Fort Caroline. The continent was being divided up, and England wasn't there.

By the end of the decade, however, England had sent three expeditions to Roanoke Island on the Atlantic coast and had established a colony there in 1587 (the ill-fated "Lost Colony"). Part of the impetus to explore and settle the continent came from men like Richard Hakluyt and George Peckham who wrote long promotional pieces—advertisements they were sometimes called—urging the Queen and the rich to support English exploration and colonization. Two are excerpted here:
  • FRANCIS DRAKE, MARTIN FROBISHER, and other well-known navigators contributed dedicatory poems for George Peckham's 1583 account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to Newfoundland. It was more than a history for, as Peckham promised in his subtitle, he would also "briefly set down her highness's lawful title thereunto, and the great and manifold commodities, that is likely to grow thereby, to the whole realm in general, and to the adventurers in particular. Together with the easiness and shortness of the voyage." Six of the dedicatory poems are presented here, in addition to the book's table of contents.
    [George Peckham, A True Report of the Late Discoveries and Possession, Taken in the Right of the Crown of England, of the Newfound Lands: by that Valiant and Worthy Gentleman, Sir Humphrey Gilbert Knight, 1583]

  • RICHARD HAKLUYT (hak-loot) was an English scholar and writer who compiled numerous accounts of European voyages into the mega-volumes known as Divers Voyages and Principal Navigations. In 1584 he wrote the promotional piece known as Discourse of Western Planting to urge a reluctant Queen Elizabeth I to support English colonies and to convince rich businessmen to invest in them. Usually one finds only its chapter headings in anthologies and online collections, but a closer look is necessary to reveal Hakluyt's careful reasoning . . . and earnest naïveté, as historian David Quinn points out in his edition of Discourse. Also included is Hakluyt's final chapter in which he lists necessary personnel and supplies for a colony, again with astounding naïveté.
    [Hakluyt, A Particular Discourse Concerning the Great Necessity and Manifold Commodities that are Like to Grow to this Realm of England by the Western Discoveries Lately Attempted, Written in the Year 1584, known as Discourse of Western Planting, 1584]
We recommend reading both works aloud, with dramatic flourish, so the message of these sixteenth-century English marketing men comes through clearly. It's worth the effort, after all, for these Englishmen would come to dominate the continent in two hundred years. (15 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. What arguments are presented repetitively in these works? Whose interests are emphasized?
  2. How do the promoters admit and address the downsides of colonization?
  3. To what extent are these works "advertisements" in the modern sense?
  4. Why do you think promoters like Peckham and Hakluyt never went to the New World themselves?
  5. To what extent is rivalry with other nations a consideration?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What motivated the Europeans' explorations? What were they looking for?
  •  What led them to deem an expedition a failure or success?
  •  How did the Europeans interpret the natural world they encountered?
  •  How did their experience of the New World comport with their expectations?
  •  How did the relationships of Europeans and Native Americans change after their initial encounters?
  •  What did the "New World" signify to Europe in 1550? in 1600?

(Frobisher, Drake, et al.)
Hakluyt: 11
15 pages
Supplemental Sites
Cultural Readings: Colonization and Print in the Americas, from University of Pennsylvania Library

Richard Hakluyt, overview from

Richard Hakluyt, works in Online Books

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Texts:   National Humanities Center

Images: Sir Francis Drake, line engraving by Robert White after an unknown artist, 1705 (NPG D13560). Martin Frobisher, line engraving by Robert Boissard, ca. 1590-1603 (NPG D20541). Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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