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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Power
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Imperial Rivalry I: Spain and England in the Caribbean
Text 2. Imperial Rivalry II: Spain and France in Tejas (Texas)
Text 3. Imperial Rivalry III: England and France in the Northeast
Text 4. Colonial Rule
Text 5. Colonial Rebellion (English Colonies)
Text 6. Indian Relations
Text 7. Indian Wars
Text 8. Africans I: English Colonies
Text 9. Africans II: Spanish and French Colonies

Reading Guide
Gutierrez, map of the western hemisphere, 1562, detail
Gutiérrez, map of the western hemisphere, 1562, detail
Imperial Rivalry I: Spain & England in the Caribbean
- Spanish/English: Rivalry for power in the Caribbean, 1498-1670, eleven documents (excerpts) (PDF)
- Maps (zoomable):

English: A New Map of the English Plantations in America, 1690 (Map #11)
Spanish: Descripcion de las . . . Indias Occidentales, 1765

In this fifth and last section of the Toolbox, we consider the fuel driving this two-hundred-year history of Europe in North America: power. Getting it, keeping it, sharing it, redefining it, losing it, and hardest of all, keeping a clear view of where one stands in the reshuffling of power relationships. Country-country, country-colony, colonists-governors, colonists-Native Americans, and colonists-Africans: each relationship will be considered separately while we remind ourselves that each is a facet of a complex whole. We begin with three country-country power struggles of the late 1600s—Spain and England in the Caribbean, Spain and France in Tejas (Texas), and France and England in the northeast mainland.

When one views North American history as "proto-United States" history, the story begins in the Spanish Caribbean with Columbus and Cortés, as it should, but rapidly heads north to the English colonies of Jamestown and Plymouth, leaving the West Indies to the footnotes of "triangular trade." But in the mid 1600s "several small but fertile subtropical islands in the West Indies, "writes historian Alan Taylor, "became the crown jewels of the English colonial empire." And their "king" crop was sugar. From its Caribbean colonies England imported more than three times more goods than from its mainland colonies—and four times more sugar than tobacco. Its sugar islands, especially Barbados, "served as the great economic engine of the English empire."*

But to win islands and influence in the Caribbean, England (and France, the Netherlands, and later Denmark) had to face Spain's long-held dominance in the region. Challengers fought each other as well as Spain to claim even tiny islands. As they won and lost, they ping-ponged and even divided islands west-east (Hispaniola), north-south (St. Martin), and even west-central-east (St. Christopher, now St. Kitts). Amidst the official warfare was the incessant piracy on Spanish shipping by English and French buccaneers, so damaging to Spain's trade that it vowed to send all foreign ships "to the bottom." In these excerpts of eleven documents spanning 173 years, we study England's campaign to chip away at Spain's hegemony in the Caribbean, Spain's determination to keep it, and the 1670 treaty of agreement to co-exist, grudgingly, in the West Indies.

We recommend viewing the two online zoomable maps before you read, one English, one Spanish (be sure to study the map cartouches). We also offer a quick review of Caribbean geography and the major territorial claims as of 1660: Spanish, English, French, Dutch (bi-colored names reflect shared islands, whether officially acknowledged by both sides or not). (7 pages, excluding maps.)

CARIBBEAN (WEST INDIES) = Bahamas,Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles
(major claims as of 1660)        ¦       ¦
Puerto Rico
Barbados, Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Lucia, Virgin Islands, St. Christopher (St. Kitts), Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Curaçao, Aruba, Saba

Discussion questions
  1. What power relationships between Spain and England are reflected in these documents?
  2. How does the dominant power work to keep its dominance?
  3. How does the challenging power work to establish dominance?
  4. If the countries are equal rivals, how do they position themselves to gain power?
  5. How does each country justify its actions? How does each feel entitled to its claims?
  6. What role do Native Americans play in the European rivalry? At any point are they the dominant power?
  7. What role do other European countries play in the rivalry?
  8. What role do suspicion, rumor, and fear play in the rivalry for power?
  9. What is the final result of the rivalry as presented in these documents and maps?
  10. Who "won" or "lost" land, status, influence, allies, or strategic options? Does one side have the upper hand?
  11. How does the rivalry in the 1690s position the countries for later North American competition in the 1700s?
  12. Compare the documents by author and purpose, e.g., orders from monarchs, memoranda to monarchs, advice from ambassadors, and pleas from colonists.
  13. How do the maps reflect each country’s perspective on the rivalry and its outcome?
  14. Compare the European-European power relationships in the Caribbean with those in Tejas (#2) and the northeast mainland (#3).
  15. Compare the European-Indian power relations in the Caribbean with those in Tejas (#2) and the northeast mainland (#3).

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What power relationships had been forged among the peoples of North America by 1690?
  •  How did the European rivalries of the 1690s in North America set the stage for the later imperial conflicts of the 1700s?
  •  What did "North America" signify to Europe in 1690? to the inhabitants of North America?

Spanish/English rivalry:  7 pages, excluding the maps
Supplemental Sites
Internet Resources on the Caribbean, by country or territory, from the Library of Congress, Portals to the World

Barbados history and overview, from the Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia

Spanish-French rivalry in the Caribbean (Haiti), in France in America/La France en Amérique, from the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque National de France

*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
Maps: Library of Congress
University of Alabama, Dept. of Geography

Image: Diego Gutiérrez, map of the western hemisphere entitled Americae sive quartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio . . . , 1562, detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, Rosenwald Collection, G3290 1562 .G7 Vault Oversize.

*Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), 205.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Contact | Exploration | Settlement | Permanence | Power

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Revised: September 2006