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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Settlement
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Settlement
Text 1. First Arrivals
Text 2. Hardships
Text 3. Q&AS for Potential Settlers
Text 4. Instructions for Leaders
Text 5. Missions to the Indians
Text 6. Enslaved Peoples
Text 7. Go Ahead?


Resource Menu


Topic Framing Questions
  •  What motivated the Europeans in their initial settlements?
  •  How did the European nations differ in their vision of a successful settlement?
  •  How did they differ in the institutions they created to maintain their settlements?
  •  What factors led to the survival or abandonment of a settlement?
  •  What relationships evolved among European settlers, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans?
  •  What did "America" signify to Europe in 1630? What did "Europe" signify to Native Americans and enslaved Africans?

1.  First Arrivals» Reading Guide

- Spanish: Columbus's first settlement in the New World, 1493
- English: The first months of the Jamestown colony, 1607
- English: The first year of the Plymouth colony, 1620-21
- Artifacts:


When we talk about the European settling of North America, the word "first" creeps into the discussion very soon—the first ever, the first "permanent," the first "permanent" that still exists today, the first with women and children, the first Spanish/French/English, etc. While the discussion may force us to define our terms, a valuable exercise, we will begin this topic, SETTLEMENT, with "first arrivals"—Europeans who cross the Atlantic, disembark on land unsettled by Europeans, find a suitable site, and begin to build with the intention of staying, not merely exploring.
  • ISABELLA was a small town that Columbus ordered his men to build on the northeastern shore of Hispaniola (in present-day Dominican Republic) during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. Hunger and disease soon led to mutiny, punishment, disillusion, and more hunger and disease. Isabella barely survived until 1496 when Columbus ordered a new town built on the island as the Spanish capital (now Santo Domingo). Isabella was the "first of the Indies," declares Antonio de Herrera, the seventeenth-century historian who compiled this history of early New Spain from state archives.
    [Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano (General History of the Deeds of the Castilians on the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea), Madrid, 1601-1615]

  • JAMESTOWN is justifiably called "the first permanent English settlement" in the New World—a hard-won designation. As historian Alan Taylor recounts, of the first 104 colonists who landed in April 1607, only thirty-eight survived the winter. Of the 10,000 who left England for Jamestown in its first fifteen years, only twenty percent were still alive, and still in Jamestown, in 1622. The first months of the colony were chronicled by John Smith, Edward Wingfield, and in this selection by George Percy, who twice served as the colony's governor. After writing several accounts to justify his actions as governor, Percy left Jamestown for good in 1612. (John Smith, who also felt compelled to defend his leadership, had left for good in 1609.)
    [George Percy, Observations Gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southern Colony in Virginia by the English, 1606, publ. 1608]

  • PLYMOUTH. To American schoolchildren of many generations, the term "colonist" spurs images of stalwart Pilgrims setting sail on the Mayflower to land at Plymouth Rock—an epic tale of adventure and determination. And it's true. Unlike the single men—the courtiers, soldiers, and adventurers—who built Isabella, Jamestown, and many other early European settlements, the Pilgrims were skilled, hardworking, and self-disciplined. In addition, they settled as families for the most part, unique in Atlantic coast settlement at this point. Here we read from the journal of the colony's longtime governor, William Bradford, of the colonists' hard first year after landing in November 1620 to the first harvest in autumn 1621.
    [William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, written between 1630 and 1647]
To gain a fresh perspective on these well-known "first arrivals," view the European and Indian artifacts unearthed from each settlement before you read the documents. (16 pages, excluding the artifacts.)

2.  Hardships» Reading Guide

- Spanish: Hunger and rebellion on Hispaniola, ca. 1499
- English: "Starving time" in Jamestown, 1609-10
- French: Jesuit index of a year in New France, 1616
- English: Servitude and hunger in Jamestown, 1623
- English: Lean years in Massachusetts Bay, 1630

Food: ultimately this section is about food, or the lack of it. In describing the phenomenon, historians will use words like drought, disaster, hunger, and weakness, i.e., the causes and consequences of the lack of food. But those who experience it are more direct in their memoirs. George Percy tells us that men in Jamestown cried out in the night "we are starved, we are starved." Jesuits list, one by one, their desperate actions "in search of food in time of famine." "Either to find food or die" is the expressed goal of a Spaniard official in Hispaniola. "Through hindsight," writes historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman, "we can see that settlers and planners defeated themselves by inadequate preparation for the rigors of transplantation, but these lessons were learned very slowly and at great human and monetary cost." How the settlers defeated themselves is poignantly clear in these five accounts of early settlers' hardships—disease, injury, war, mutiny, Indian attacks, severe weather, abandonment, power struggles, and the hardship they stress the most, no food.
  • HISPANIOLA, CA. 1499. Hunger, rebellion, and Indian attacks defined the settler's life on this island which Spain had claimed seven years earlier. In this letter by the chief justice of Hispaniola who is appalled by the Columbus brothers' leadership, we glimpse the desperation of the settlers and the Indians caught in power struggles among the Spanish officials. Amidst all the intrigue is hunger due to drought, war, and the lack of provisions from Spain. Who can remedy the situation? "God and Their Highnesses," the official writes, as he negotiates for a ship to take him and his followers home to Spain.
    [Francisco Roldán, Hispaniola, Letter to Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros, Spain, ca. 1499]

  • JAMESTOWN, 1609-1610. Known as the "starving time," the winter of 1609-1610 brought such "a world of miseries" to the settlers that hunger became the force governing the colonists. They ate their horses, then rats, then shoe leather. Some were driven to murder and digging up corpses. Others stashed food as they planned a secret return to England. Food was begged from the Indians or, if not forthcoming, stolen. The resulting cycle of attacks and counterattacks brought more misery and death. Who was to blame? John Smith? As the colony's previous governor he had compelled the men to work and was soon deposed and sent back to England, later justifying his dictatorial policies in repetitive histories and accounts. Or George Percy? Governor of the colony during the "starving time," he wrote this "true relation" partly as his defense against accusations of failed leadership. That Jamestown wasn't abandoned for good in June 1610 is due to the chance meeting on the James River of the ship carrying the sixty surviving colonists back to England, and the ship bringing provisions and 300 new colonists from England. But it was still many years before Jamestown was anything but "a world of miseries."
    [George Percy, A True Relation of the Proceedings and Occurances of Moment which have happened in Virginia . . . anno 1609 until my departure out of the Country which was in anno Domini 1612, publ. 1624]

  • NEW FRANCE, 1616. Arriving in 1611 in Acadia (Nova Scotia), the Jesuit missionaries became synonymous with New "France," along with the ever-present fur traders. We include several selections in this Toolbox from the Jesuits' annual reports to their home office in France, but nothing from a fur trader, unfortunately. As Reuben Gold Thwaites, editor of the Jesuit Relations, explains, "the trader nearly always preceded the priest. But the trader was not often a letter-writer or a diarist; hence, we owe our intimate knowledge of New France, particularly in the seventeenth century, chiefly to the wandering missionaries of the Society of Jesus." As Jesuits, they were intellectual, perceptive, disciplined, and almost obsessively thorough in their chronicles of the missions' progress, the Indians' culture, the English threat, and, above all, their astounding and steadfast religious determination. As an introduction to the Jesuits' perspective on New France, we begin with the index to the volume for 1616. More than a dry skimmable list, the index reads like the prologue to an epic of discovery and hardship. From simple entries like "Scurvy, or land disease, common in Canada" to the mini-sagas like "Father Biard refuses to disclose to the English the position of Sainte Croix, for which he is in danger of losing his life," you will find this an engrossing document that suggests hardship, intrigue, ambivalence, and wonder.
    [Jesuit Relations, Vol. 4: 1616, index]

  • JAMESTOWN, 1623. Thirteen years after the "starving time," Jamestown was still a place where barely-holding-on counted as success, but with the introduction of tobacco cultivation the colony had its first lifeline. Tobacco sold for a solid profit in England, enticing more settlers to cultivate more fields, requiring more workers to tend the fields, attracting more impoverished young men to bind themselves in labor contracts for several years as indentured servants (and later, of course, locking captured Africans in the permanent "contract" of slavery). Here we read a letter from a newly arrived indentured servant, Richard Frethorne, to his parents, in which he plaintively lists the daily instances of hunger and deprivation in his life. He pleads with them to buy out his indenture and let him return to England as "there [is] nothing to be gotten here but sickness and death."
    [Richard Frethorne, Letter to his father and mother, 20 March, 2&3 April 1623]

  • MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, 1630s. Roger Clapp arrived in New England in May 1630 at age 21, having overcome his father's opposition to his emigration. In his seventies he began his memoir to tell his children of "God's remarkable providences . . . in bringing me to this land." A devout man, he interprets the lack of food for his body as part of God's providing food for the soul, in this case the souls of the Puritans as they created their religious haven. Not only does he document the settlers' privations, he lists the punishments and fates of those who dared to criticize the Puritan leadership in the hard early days of the settlement.
    [Memoir of Roger Clapp, written ca. 1680]
Comparing these early settlers' experiences with those of New World explorers can provide a deeper appreciation of the phenomenon of resilience (for those who wrote memoirs were the resilient ones). (22 pages.)

3.  Q&As for Potential Settlers» Reading Guide

- English: Reasons to plant a colony in New England, ca. 1628
- French: Advice and replies for emigrants to New France, 1636
- Dutch: Dialogue on the advantages of New Netherland, 1655
- English: Opposing views for prospective settlers, 1624/1670
- Online exhibition: Cultural Readings: Colonization & Print in The Americas, from the University of Pennsylvania Library

In 1450 the printing press arrived on the scene in Europe, just in time to provide a marketing tool for New World promoters after 1492. Already the top bestsellers were travel and exploration narratives. A 1486 account of the Holy Land went through twelve editions in five languages in twenty years. Columbus's 1493 letter describing his first voyage to the Caribbean went through seventeen editions in just five years. A century later Theodore de Bry began publishing his massive collection of exploration narratives, the Grands Voyages (America) and Petits Voyages (elsewhere), which had more influence, it can be argued, than any other texts on Europeans' vision of the New World (see EXPLORATION: Illustrating the New World II).

Here we consider the next phase of New World publicity—the essays, "true relations" and mass-produced pamphlets written to entice Europeans to join the New World venture. Some, like the Hakluyt and Peckham works in Topic 2: EXPLORATION, were directed at financiers and "adventurers." Others, such as the five included here, were aimed at potential settlers. The first three include Q&A-type sections that address specific concerns of potential settlers. The fourth selection pairs the opposing advice offered by English settlers of New England and New-York.
  • NEW ENGLAND. John Winthrop, the longtime governor of the Puritan colony at Massachusetts Bay, is the probable author of this widely circulated pamphlet, written just before colony was founded in 1630. In addition to listing nine "reasons to be considered" for founding a new colony, Winthrop rebuts ten frequent objections, four of them theological. His famous justification for taking land "unsubdued" by the Indians is Answer #1 to Objection #1. (Anyway, he adds, there are so few Indians left after the great plague.) Almost 14,000 English Puritans emigrated to New England in the Great Migration of the 1630s.
    [John Winthrop, General Observations for the Plantation in New England, 1628]

  • NEW FRANCE. In contrast, there were about one hundred French colonists in Canada in 1630, men living near the small fort of Quebec built by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. The "settlers" of New France were fur traders and Catholic missionaries, and the "settlements" were fortified trading posts or small missions in the woodlands. From this 1636 report to the Jesuits' home office in France written by the mission superior Paul LeJeune, we excerpt three important sections: (1) LeJeune's rhapsodic account of the growth of New France which had "multiplied far beyond our hopes" and now included men with families; (2) his Q&A section addressing concerns about settling in New France (all practical and secular); and (3) his advice to the two kinds of people who "desire to come and increase this Colony"—rich people and poor people. He concludes with a plea that all emigrants "come with a desire to do good [so] New France will some day be a terrestrial Paradise." By 1650 the French population had more than doubled to 700. Meanwhile, the population of the English colonies was approaching 50,000 people.
    [Paul Le Jeune, S.J., Relation de ce qui s'est passé en La Nouvelle France en L'Année 1636 (Account of what transpired in New France in the year 1636)]

  • NEW NETHERLAND. Imagine the Atlantic coastal colonies in 1650: French to the north, Spanish to the south, and the English on the interior peripheries of each. In the middle were the small and ill-fated colonies of New Netherland and New Sweden. They would not appear on a 1700 map of the region, having become English by surrender and cession. But in 1655 when this promotional piece was written, the colony of New Netherland was thirty years old, commercially and socially successful, and aggressively recruiting settlers. In nine years New Netherland grew from 2,000 settlers in 1655 to 9,000 in 1664, when it surrendered to the superior military might of the English.
    [Adriaen van der Donck, "A Dialogue between a Patriot and a New-Netherlander upon the Advantages which the Country Presents to Settlers, &c.," 1655]

  • NEW-YORK AND NEW ENGLAND. "Diametrically opposed" describes the messages of these two English settlers to their readers back in the home country. From Edward Winslow in the Plymouth colony (when it was four years old) we are urged to "rest where thou art" if we don't have the mettle and would become like those who "are at their wit's end and would give ten times so much for their return." Then from Daniel Denton we are told to run, not walk, to the heaven that is New-York (then six years old as an English colony, having been New Netherland from 1609 to 1664). "If there be any terrestrial Canaan," he writes, "'tis surely here, where the Land floweth with milk and honey." He enumerates the many blessings beyond milk and honey that await Englishmen, especially the poor, who would settle in this colony.
    [Edward Winslow, Good News from New England, 1624; and Daniel Denton, A Brief Relation of New-York, 1670]
In addition, view the online exhibition of illustrations, title pages, and frontispieces from European publications on the New World entitled Cultural Readings: Colonization and Print in the Americas (especially the section "Promotion and Possession") in order to compare the written and visual components of these promotional works. (23 pages, excluding the website.)

4.  Instructions for Leaders» Reading Guide

- Spanish: Monarchs' instructions for Hispaniola, 1501
- English: Investors' instructions for Jamestown, ca. 1607
- English: Founder's instructions for Maryland, 1633
- Russian: Officials' instructions for Kodiak Island (Alaska), 1784/96
- Maps:

Spanish New World, 1511 (Item #2)
Virginia, 1624, by John Smith
Russian America and the Pacific, 1787

European archives are full of written instructions to the founders and governors of New World settlements. Many of the documents are boilerplate and not engrossing reading. But some, amidst the usual orders to survey the area, build towns, and make a lot of money for the home country, reveal the personal visions and political struggles of the founders. As a whole they document the profound challenges of governing colonies in an ungovernable, i.e., unknown environment, and this is what makes them worth dissecting.
  • HISPANIOLA. In 1502 the third governor of the Spanish West Indies, Nicolás de Ovando, arrived in Hispaniola. With him he brought 2500 new settlers and royal instructions that ordered him to build forts and towns, gather all the Spanish settlers into the towns, expel all foreigners, and treat the Indians equitably (while demanding tribute and labor from them). Ovando's seven-year rule set the precedent for effective yet brutal governance in Spanish America.
    [Instructions to Commander Nicolás de Ovando, Governor of Hispaniola, from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, 1501]

  • JAMESTOWN. Hampered by small royal coffers and by war with Spain and Ireland, England did not pursue an Atlantic coast colony for two decades after the loss of the 1587 Roanoke colony. Then in 1607 a new group of investors (the Virginia Company of London) received a charter from the new king (James I) to make a new attempt at a Virginia colony (Jamestown). This time the venture succeeded, but only after years of financial and human loss. This undated set of instructions was written by a Company member, perhaps Richard Hakluyt (hak-loot), to direct the leaders in their initial arrival, placement, and building of the colony. It also provides strict guidelines for dealing with the Powhatan Indians, who had massacred the Spanish settlers in a nearby settlement, Ajacan, thirty-five years earlier.
    [Virginia Company, "Instructions by way of advice, for the intended Voyage to Virginia," ca. 1606]

  • MARYLAND. Having received a charter from King Charles I of England to establish a new colony in the northern part of Virginia, Cecil Calvert sent his two brothers with about 150 men to build the first settlements in 1633. Foremost among his concerns in these Instructions is the potential threat from internal enemies and from the settlers of nearby Jamestown and its London backers. He never saw Mary Land himself, feeling bound to stay in England to protect his colonial interests from rivals.
    [Right Honorable Cecilius Lord Baltimore & Lord of the Provinces of Mary Land and Avalon unto his well beloved Brother Leonard Calvert . . . for the government of the said Province, 1633]

  • KODIAK ISLAND (ALASKA). Although the Russian settlement of North America began a century after the end date of this Toolbox, these instructions fit comfortably in this collection. Guidelines for a new settlement are similar regardless of the founding date—surveys must be taken, structures built, resources documented, native inhabitants dealt with, and reports sent home. The distinguishing features in a set of instructions reveal the unique identity of a fledgling settlement. Here it is Three Saints Bay, the first permanent Russian settlement in North America, established in 1784 on Kodiak Island off the mainland of present-day Alaska. The two sets of instructions reflect the founders' goals of expanding their fur trade, creating "Russian America," and, common to all the instructions in this section, establishing effective power over the settlers and native inhabitants.
    [Instructions from Grigorii Shelikhov to Konstantin Samoilov, his chief manager, 4 May 1786; and Instructions from Ivan Pil, governor of Siberia, to Grigorii Shelikhov, 12 May 1794]
The three maps were produced by founders or officials related to each venture, and their perspectives are apparent in the maps' titles, insets, illustrations, and commentary. The Hispaniola map was produced by the Spanish royal historian Peter Martyr, the Virginia map by Capt. John Smith, and the Russian America and Pacific map by Ivan Golikov, a founder of the Kodiak Island settlement. (13 pages, excluding the maps.)

5.  Missions to the Indians» Reading Guide

- Spanish: Franciscan report on the New Mexico missions, 1630
- French: Jesuit reports on the New France missions, 1637-1653

For the early European presence in North America, the term "settlement" includes coastal forts, trading posts, mining centers, shipping stations, farming villages, occasional towns, and a few big colonial cities. And for the Spanish, French, and Russians, "settlement" also includes Indian missions. In some areas, missions were the first significant European settlements, including the Spanish missions in New Mexico, the Gulf coast of Florida, and the Pacific coast of California, and the French missions along the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, and the upper Mississippi River. For many Indians, certainly, the first European they encountered was a Roman Catholic missionary.

The mission reports should not be considered "religious history" alone, for the European-Indian relationships that grew from them set the political stage on which later imperial rivalries were fought. To illustrate this early influence, we read from the reports of two missionary groups—the Spanish Catholic Franciscans in New Mexico and the French Catholic Jesuits in New France.
  • NEW MEXICO. After the failure of Juan de Oñate's colony in New Mexico in the early 1600s, the Franciscan priests remained to establish missions among the Indians. By 1630 they had built numerous churches in Indian villages and baptized thousands of Indians, most of whom combined Christianity with their traditional beliefs and practices. In 1630 the director of the missions, Fray (Father) Alonso de Benavides, prepared a report on the missions for the king of Spain, remembering to laud the area's mineral riches in addition to the friars' harvest of souls.

    Benavides devotes a chapter to each Indian group among the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache nations, earnestly describing the missionaries' church-building, conversions, and teaching of the Gospel, while relating the challenges from the native "sorcerers" who scorned their religious claims. Like the French missionaries in Canada, he stresses the need for more missionaries and more economic support from the home coffers. But what comes through most powerfully is the priests' devotion to their cause. As historian Alan Taylor writes, "In their theatricality, celibacy, endurance of pain, and readiness to face martyrdom the priests manifested an utter conviction of the truth and power of their God."
    [Fray Alonso de Benavides, Memorial to King Philip IV of Spain, 1630]

  • NEW FRANCE. After a brief presence in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s (ending with an English attack on the small colony of Acadia), the French missionaries of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) returned to New France in the 1620s. They soon realized that successful proselytization of the Indians meant learning their languages first and then traveling into the interior to build small missions near their seasonal villages. Later they established larger mission settlements, around which converted Indians lived year-round.

    For the Jesuits as well as the fur traders, Indian rivalries shaped the French experience in Canada. Aligned with the Huron during the ferocious Huron-Iroquois wars of the 1600s, the Jesuits endured the hardships of war and torture as well as the usual deprivations of missionary life. Each year they wrote reports for the Jesuit office in France, often relating the missions' progress in chapters titled "On the State of Christianity" in New France. Here we read selections from these reports covering seventeen years, from 1637 through 1653, in which disease, war, and famine test the fortitude of the Jesuits and nearly exterminate their allies, the Huron Indians.
    [Jesuit Relations (annual reports of the Jesuit missionaries in New France to the home office of the Society of Jesus in France), 1637-1653, selections]
These reports illuminate critical aspects of the Spanish and French presence in North America, secular as well as religious, with immediate as well as longterm consequences. They also reveal the power of individual will and dedication—of the missionaries and Indians alike. (23 pages.)

6.  Enslaved Peoples» Reading Guide

- Spanish: Enslaved Indians in the Caribbean, 1500s
- Spanish: Enslaved Africans in Mexico, 1537

Europeans' enslavement of Native Americans began with Columbus. As the governor of Hispaniola, he forced the Taino Indians to labor in the Spanish fields and mines, and he brought Taino slaves to Spain on his return journeys. About 50,000 Taino died within two years of Columbus's arrival, and by 1510 the Taino population had declined by nearly 90%, primarily from European diseases but also from brutal treatment. A new source of forced labor was required. In 1518 the Spanish king allowed the importation of slaves directly from Africa (previously they had been Spanish-born Africans), and the Atlantic slave trade to the western hemisphere began in earnest, finally ending over three centuries later with the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888.
  • INDIANS of the CARIBBEAN. Brief selections from the accounts of three clergymen in the Spanish Caribbean are presented here, all commenting on the use of forced Indian labor by the colonists. Dated from 1518 to 1561, they include a stern condemnation of slavery, a recommendation to liberate and convert the Indians (the better to exploit their labor), and a plea to import "Negro slaves" to replace the disappearing Indians.
    [Accounts and reports of Fr. Bernardino de Manzanedo, 1518; the Bishop of Santiago, 1544; and Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas, 1561]

  • AFRICANS in MEXICO. The first major slave revolt in North America occurred on the island of Hispaniola in 1522 when enslaved African Muslims rebelled and killed nine Spanish before being recaptured. Thereafter the Spanish were fearfully attuned to the rumors of slave rebellion. In this selection the viceroy of Mexico reports on a thwarted revolt by enslaved Africans in 1537, requesting that the shipment of slaves be temporarily suspended in order to limit the African numbers. Otherwise, the viceroy warns, the Spanish "might be unable to control the situation and the land might be lost."
    [Report of Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, to King Charles I of Spain, 1537]
The transition from Indian to African slavery in Spanish America is encapsulated in these selections that, while brief, convey years of domination and suffering. (4 pages.)

7.  Go Ahead?» Reading Guide

- Spanish: On keeping St. Augustine and New Mexico, 1602-1611
- French: On cultivating New France, 1616
- English: On saving Jamestown, 1624

In 1592, a century after Columbus's first voyage, the European presence in the western hemisphere could be represented by dividing a map at 30° north latitude (near St. Augustine, Florida). South of the line, the Spanish dominated Central America, the Caribbean, and most of South America, while the Portuguese controlled Brazil. North of the line, however, there was minimal European presence. Attempts by the Spanish, French, and English to place settlements on the Atlantic coast had failed (Fort Caroline, Ajacan, and Roanoke among the failures). The French dominated the northern fur trade and joined in the Grand Banks fishing off Newfoundland, but they had yet to build a significant settlement in the hemisphere. The English, in effect, had no presence on the continent.

In a space of two years, however, in 1607 and 1608, the Spanish, English, and French founded settlements north of the 30th latitude that survived despite the odds against them—Santa Fé in New Mexico (1607), Jamestown on the Atlantic coast (1607), and Quebec on the St. Lawrence River (1608). Earlier, the Spanish had built a small fort named San Agustín on the Atlantic coast of Florida. All foundered in their early years, their continued existence a matter of luck as well as policy. Finally, decisions to nurture or abandon these fledgling colonies had to be made.
  • ST. AUGUSTINE and NEW MEXICO. By 1610 it appeared likely that the Spanish would abandon the San Agustín on the Florida coast and the Santa Fé in New Mexico. They cost too much money, attracted too few settlers, and returned too little economic or strategic benefit. Only the Franciscan missionaries held on, spreading missions beyond each settlement. In correspondence between officials in Spain and Spanish America, the fate of these settlements was debated. In the end, the colonies were not abandoned.
    [Selections from the correspondence of the Council of the Indies, the Governor of Florida, the Viceroy of Mexico, and others to King Philip III of Spain and other officials, 1602-1611]

  • NEW FRANCE. For decades the primary residents of New France were missionaries and fur traders, never in large numbers. Writing in a report to France in 1616, a Catholic missionary urged rigorous "cultivation" of the territory, nearly pleading that his advice be taken seriously. "We are letting this poor new France lie fallow," he warns. "If we give up or become indifferent, we have before our eyes many others [i.e., the Spanish and English] who have shown us that they have courage." Eleven years later, however, the French population of New France was 85 (while the population of Jamestown was over 2,000).
    [Father Pierre Biard, S.J., Relation of New France, 1616]

  • JAMESTOWN. It is remarkable that Jamestown survived its first years. Hunger, disease, frigid winters, failed harvests, Indian wars, feuding leaders, ill-chosen settlers, and the prevalence of what would today be called "gross mismanagement" nearly doomed the colony. In 1610 the situation was so dire that Jamestown was abandoned by its sixty surviving settlers who, as fate would have it, sailed only a short distance down the James River before meeting the new governor, arriving with supplies from England, who ordered them back to Jamestown. Still, Jamestown's population could not stabilize and grow until the cultivation of tobacco began after 1613. Even then the colony never returned profits for its investors in the Virginia Company. In 1624 a commission formed by King James to investigate the colony's failure 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. The decision: Jamestown was put under the control of the crown and the Virginia Company ceased to exist.
    [John Smith, Answers to Seven Questions Presented by King James's Commission for the Reformation of Virginia, 1624]
While these documents reflect different circumstances, of course, and are couched in the bureaucratese of their day, the authors' heartfelt warnings are apparent. Abandoning or neglecting the colony would be a great loss to the home country economically, strategically, and for the Catholic nations, morally. (10 pages.)

-Insula hyspana, woodcut in Carlo Cerardi, [Historia Baetica] In laudem serenissimi Ferdinandi Hispania[rum] regis, Bethicae [et] regni Granatae, 1494, detail. Reproduced by permission of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, #0229-6.

-Construction of Fort Caroline (northern Florida), 1564, detail of hand-colored engraving by Theodore de Bry based on watercolor by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, in Le Moyne, Brevis narratio eorum quœ in Florida Americœ provincia Gallis acciderunt . . . [A brief narration of those things which befell the French in the province of Florida in America . . .], published by Theodore de Bry in series Grands Voyages, V. II, America, Pt. II, Frankfurt, 1591. Reproduced by permission of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, #08915-14.

-Fort of St. Augustine, detail of John White, S. Augustini: pars est terra Florida, sub latitudine 30 grad, ora vero maritima humilior est, lancinata et insulosa, depicting the attack of Sir Francis Drake on St. Augustine, 1589, Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Hans and Hanni Kraus Sir Francis Drake Collection: G3934.S2 1589 .W4.

-Abitation de Qvebecq, copper engraving in Samuel de Champlain, Les voyages du sieur de Champlain Xaintongeois, 1613, detail. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada), FC330 C3 1613. P. 187.

-Three Saints Bay (likely), Kodiak Island, 1794, detail of drawing. Image title and repository unidentified; search in progress.

Quoted statements from:
-Karen Ordahl Kupperman (Silver Professor of History, New York University; Fellow, National Humanities Center, 1984-85). "North America and the Beginnings of European Colonization," in series Essays on the Columbian Encounter. Washington: American Historical Association, 1992.
-Alan S. Taylor (Professor of History, University of California-Davis; Fellow, National Humanities Center, 1993-1994). American Colonies: The Settling of North America. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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