Spain and England weren't the only European nations trying to establish colonies in the New World. The French had a foothold for more than a century, and the Dutch and Swedish fought for their own places in America.
Early Colonies in North America
A lot of American students grow up with the basic information that our nation was founded by the British, but you may not realize that many of our most distinctive locations, like New Orleans and New York, weren't established by the English. They were stolen.
Back in the 1600s, seafaring European nations were trying to catch up to Spain's colonial empire. Besides England and France, Sweden and Holland were also trying to compete in the New World.
The western hemisphere is a big place. At first, the European settlers spread out and avoided each other, but it didn't take very long for old European rivalries to spill into the New World. All of these nations had been competing for power and dominance in Europe. Now they were doing the same thing in North America, but only one of them could come out the winner.
The location of New France in North America
You've learned how the first French explorers hoped to find the Northwest Passage, an all-water route to Asia that avoided Spanish territory to the south. France tried several times in the 1500s to get a foothold in North America, especially modern-day Canada. After several failures, they turned most of their attention into settling the Caribbean islands; however, some of the settlers failed and struggling colonies remained. Individuals came to North America to make their own fortunes, particularly in fishing and the fur trade. As a result, New France looked a lot different from other colonial empires. For one thing, there weren't many towns, mostly just trading posts scattered throughout New France.
There were conflicts between French settlers and the Iroquois Indians, but these were mostly a result of an alliance between French settlers and the Algonquin Indians, one of the Iroquois rivals. French settlers, generally, befriended the Native Americans they encountered, and they worked with them as colleagues, especially in the fur trade.
Leaders in New France deliberately sent young men to live with native tribes to learn their language and survival tips. Since there were barely more than 3,000 colonists in all of New France by 1665, single Frenchmen were encouraged to marry Native American women in order to increase the population of the empire. In time, New France would use this friendship with Native Americans to fight off English expansion.
In 1670, an English joint-stock company set up business in Canada to get a foothold in that lucrative fur business. France didn't even try to fight them off. They just moved farther south - as far as the Gulf of Mexico. Though most of the area was sparsely populated, other than a few military forts, they did settle New Orleans and attempted to colonize parts of modern-day Texas. But conflict with England persisted, leading to the loss of territory beginning in 1710 along the east coast. Four wars and 80 years later, the Seven Years War dealt the final blow, when France ceded all of their land to England and Spain in 1763. France did sign a treaty with Spain in 1801 in which the Louisiana Territory was restored back to French control for a little while.
The green area shows the Louisiana Territory
In 1609, the Dutch West India Company sent an Englishman named Henry Hudson looking for a Northwest Passage. On one of several voyages, he searched the area around the bay and the river that bear his name today.
15 years later, in 1624, the company sent a party of settlers to the New World to establish a new fur trade to compete with the French. Peter Minuit, an early governor of New Netherland, didn't like the original site where they had intended to build the capital city and port. So, on May 24, 1626, Minuit bought the island of Manhattan for $24 worth of glass beads from the Lenape Indians - a transaction that some people jokingly call 'the last real estate bargain in New York'. Though at the time, it wasn't called New York; it was New Amsterdam.
Like Jamestown, New Netherland was funded by a joint-stock company that expected to make money from their investment in a colony. New Amsterdam was established for the purpose of shipping raw materials back to the investors on a regular basis; however, Holland was a wealthy society with little social or political unrest at the time. Few Dutch citizens were motivated to leave their homes to participate in the New World fur trade. As a result, a majority of settlers in New Netherland weren't even Dutch!
To encourage Dutch immigration, the Dutch West India Company recruited patroons. These were stockholders who could transport 50 families and were granted large tracts of land in return. A patroon ruled his land like a medieval lord. Conflicts between these patroons and incursions by local Indians led to unrest in the colony, and soon land and business ownership were deregulated. The colony boasted a cosmopolitan population where multiple languages were spoken, religious freedom was protected by law and even the few urban slaves were granted civil rights. The colony prospered. But still, the company just couldn't attract very many settlers, and they were increasingly unable to keep English settlers from moving in. In defense, they built a 12-foot high wall around the city.
The area known as New Netherland became New England in 1674
In 1664, the brother of England's King Charles II sent a small fleet to capture the colony. The company was unable to defend it, and the Dutch king merely protested. Many colonists were sold into slavery in Virginia, and others were murdered.
Then, nine years later, the Europeans were at war again, and Holland sent a large fleet back to the New World to reclaim the land as their royal colony. The king succeeded, but since he'd been at war with France, England and a number of bishops for so many years, the tiny nation was bankrupt. New Netherland became New England, for good, in 1674.
Then, in 1685, English surveyors removed the wall that had separated New Amsterdam from the English settlements. They laid out a wide street where the wall had been. New Amsterdam, now called New York, was already a busy center of international trade. Running from shore to shore, the brand-new Wall Street became the most important place of business in the colony. Today, it may be the most important financial district in the world. Even though there were no more Dutch colonies in America, they gained a firm control over trade in Africa, and that meant slaves here, shaping our nation's future for nearly 200 years.
It may seem hard to believe, but in the mid-1600s, Sweden was actually a powerful military and political force in Europe. They were hoping to extend their dominance, so the government chartered the New Sweden Company. Peter Minuit, the former governor of New Netherland, led two shiploads of Swedish settlers and supplies to New Sweden, which lies in the southern part of New Netherland, in 1638. As former governor, Peter Minuit was fully aware that he was, technically, on Dutch land, and he also knew that the Dutch West India Company couldn't do anything about it.
The location of New Sweden in North America
The Swedish built Fort Christina in honor of the Swedish queen in present-day Wilmington, Delaware. For 17 years, the colony survived and grew modestly, but it never became the colonial powerhouse the Swedish crown had hoped for. When Sweden attacked one of its European neighbors, the Dutch took advantage of this distraction. Sailing from New Netherland, they captured New Sweden in 1655. The Dutch had official control of the law and the profits, but the residents of New Sweden were allowed to keep living autonomously until England overran New Netherland in 1674.
Let's review. Throughout the 17th century, European rivals competed for land and control of trade in North America. New France comprised the largest territory. They dominated the lucrative fur trade and made allies with powerful Indian nations, but it was under-populated and gradually they lost control of their land to England. Likewise, New Netherland was prosperous in both trade and agriculture, and they had a growing population. In 1665, New Netherland took over neighboring New Sweden, but the company couldn't defend the territory, and in 1674, the colony of New Netherland was taken over by the English.