Europe Battles to Claim North America

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  • 0:02 Russians, Swedes & Dutch
  • 1:29 French & Spanish
  • 2:49 English
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

From the Russians and Danes to the French and English, numerous European countries attempted to colonize North America. This lesson takes a look at many of them and explains why the English were ultimately so successful.

Russians, Swedes & Dutch

A common misconception about the colonization of North America is that it was somehow the domain of only a few European nations. However, this could not be further from the truth. During the opening years of colonization, or establishment of settlements overseas by Europeans, empires in America were literally waiting to be built by any European country.

A number of European countries attempted to establish colonies in the New World, including German and Scottish ventures in South America, as well as a successful Danish colony in the Virgin Islands. However, the most well-known colony in North America not founded by the French, English or Spanish is definitely New Amsterdam, now called New York City, founded by the Dutch. While the story of Manhattan being purchased for under $50 may be up for debate, at least according to patchy native sources, it was the strongest colony to be placed in North America by someone not from Spain, France or England.

Additionally, the Swedes set up a colony at Fort Christina, which would eventually become the basis for the state of Delaware. Finally, and furthest away, the Russians attempted to colonize Alaska. However, like the Swedes, they could never convince enough people to move to Alaska. Still, today the site of their colonial capital, Sitka, shows heavy Russian influence.

French & Spanish

The French and the Spanish would both commit much more in the way of resources to their attempts at colonizing North America. However, both groups saw their efforts as largely exploitative. After all, the Spanish had made a fortune exploiting their colonies in South America and saw colonization as a way of furthering wealth for the homeland. The Spanish wouldn't find their great empires, but they did manage to blend Spanish and native cultures in the American Southwest.

While the French never found the massive silver mines of the Spanish, they did manage to control much of the fur trade, with trapping territories that ranged throughout Canada and much of the land west of the Mississippi River. Trade posts were constructed at St. Louis and Detroit, with much larger ports built at Quebec, Montreal and New Orleans. The French also mixed heavily with native cultures, but sought to preserve their European nature in Canada. However, immigration to the French colonies never took off the way it did for the English, so overall population remained rather small. Ultimately, the population of French Canada was enough to prompt real concerns from the English, who fought the Seven Years' War, also called the French and Indian War, to gain control of those areas.

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