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Spanish Colonization of North America: Lesson for Kids

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Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Learn about the Spanish colonization of North America, lasting approximately 400 years. Discover how Spanish colonization began with Columbus, the regions colonized, how Spain maintained colonial control, and how Spain lost their colonies. Updated: 01/05/2022

From Sea to Sea

Have you ever wondered why so many countries throughout North and South America speak Spanish? It's not because they all chose to! Instead, it's because the Spanish empire began controlling much of North and South America by colonization, which means taking over new lands in the name of a faraway land, over 500 years ago. After the first voyages of Christopher Columbus, Spain claimed almost the entire region and quickly began to build cities and control the area. The result is the Hispanic culture, meaning based on Spanish language, religion, and traditions, that spreads from Mexico to Panama.

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  • 0:04 From Sea to Sea
  • 0:46 Early On
  • 2:09 Ruling the Colonies
  • 2:56 Losing Power
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
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Early On

When Columbus returned to Spain from the New World in 1492, he thought he had landed in India because he had no idea North America existed. Quickly, however, the Spanish realized that this was an entirely new area, and not a part of Asia; they began to explore and conquer the region, creating colonies as they went from the Caribbean isles to the mainland of North America. The first major conquest was Hernan Cortes' takeover of the Aztec Empire in modern-day Mexico City. By taking over the Aztecs, as well as the Inca in South America, the Spanish became extremely powerful and wealthy.

For about the first 100 years, Spain ran the show in North America by themselves because of their powerful military and riches. However, just like you always want to play a game that your friend gets, other European powers tried to muscle in and take over parts of North America. At first, they only sent pirates to steal the ships full of treasure that Spain sent back across the Atlantic. But later, the French, English, and Dutch all wanted land for themselves. The first fighting took place in Florida between Spain and France, at a place called San Agustin, or St. Augustine, the oldest European-built city in the United States that's still inhabited.

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