- Imperialism was a policy by Europe to extend its power and influence over the world through diplomacy and military force.
- Americas was a colony in the Age of the old imperialism (1450 – 1650) but a participant in the age of new Imperialism (1870 – 1914)
- America evolved from two colonies in Jamestown and Virginia to 13 Colonies
The Age of Imperialism
To understand the present-day United States of America, it is important to recount the history behind its formation. Historians refer to the period between 1450 – 1650 and 1870 – 1914 as the age of the old and new imperialism respectively. Imperialism was a policy by Europe to extend its power and influence over the world through diplomacy and military force. The old imperialism was fashioned against three main objectives, God, Gold, and Glory. The Europeans desired to spread the Gospel, hence God, and in the process acquire wealth through the acquisition of slaves and new markets in Asia, Africa, and the Americas – Gold, for the Glory of their home nations. The leading proponents of the old imperialism were the Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, and Netherlands. The approach used at this time was setting up administrative structures that would protect the economic interests of their countries in the foreign nations.
Slave trade arose during the age of the old imperialism, permitted in the 1502 by the Spaniards. The first British colonist engaging in slave trade in 1563, his name was John Hopkins. This marked the transition from the old to new imperialism and also the beginning of the transatlantic salve trade also known as the triangular trade routes between European nations and their colonies in Africa and the New World. Raw materials were taken to Europe; finished goods were shipped to the new World through Africa. Slaves were taken from Africa to the New World through the middle passage. The middle passage was the transportation of slaves from the West coast of Africa to the New World.
In the Age of the new imperialism, the primary objective was to secure raw materials for their industries and markets for the final outputs. The participants in the new imperialism also increased, including those of the old imperialism and Germany, Italy, United States, Belgium, Russia, and Belgium. Towards the end of the old imperialism and into the new imperialism, the Europeans would set up quasi-governments modeled against and representing the governance structure/system of their home countries. The colonial governments were non-representatives and strengthened the control of the colonizers in the colony. Citizens were also encouraged to migrate and settle in the territories.
America, as a nation, was among the participants in the new imperialism. In the old imperialism, the colonization of Americas in 1492 was at first led by the Spaniards, who established colonies in present-day Florida, California, Mexico, Central America, and South America. England, Holland, and France also sent explorers to America. At first, they did not establish colonies; the French were particularly interested in trapping otters and beavers for the European markets. Later, they (French) sent explorers to form colonies in North America with Quebec as the centre of their activities in America.
Formation of Colonies in the United States
England made efforts to establish colonies in the Americas in late 1500 without much success until the crown started sending companies with charters to establish colonies in the Americas for its benefit. In 1607, the Virginia Company of London sent by 100 English settlers landed in Virginia organized, with permission from the crown of England to colonize the eastern north coast. They named their settlement Jamestown after their King. Early days in the colony was difficult, because of conflicts with natives and farming challenges undermined food supply. However, the settlers’ experimentation with tobacco became successful, and they produce it for export. They also traded corn, sugar and flax. The immigrants became rich and able to afford for themselves a comfortable lifestyle. Their success attracted other immigrants into the region, who at first came in as contract servants, financed by the companies, with four to seven-year contracts until they paid off their transportation cost across the Atlantic. Once they were free (except African slaves), they were given small pieces of land for them to live on and develop.
The Dutch in 1609 sent Henry Hudson under the Dutch East India Company to explore the Mid-Atlantic region of North America. They claimed the land, along the river, presently referred to Hudson River and established the New Netherland colony with the capital known at the port of New Amsterdam. The rich Dutchmen covered transportation costs for their people into America in exchange for vast pieces of land along the Hudson River. In 1664, England forced the Dutch out of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York. The Dutch were allowed to retain their property and lifestyle, which (art and lifestyle) which persisted throughout the eighteenth century.
Lord Baltimore and another colonialist of England established the Maryland colony in 1633 for the religious freedom of the Catholic. He allowed the establishment of churches by other religions. The third quarter of the seventeenth century saw Virginia and Maryland as being agriculturally based colonies with robust socio-economic structures. The wealthy were slave owners living in mansions and had large tracks of land. They followed with forlorn Europe’s art and culture. The less affluent, German and Scots-Irish immigrants settled inland, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains.
Pilgrims who, like the Quakers, were also religious dissenters settled in New England. They had left England for America, Virginia aboard the Mayflower ship landed but forced to land in Plymouth in 1620 due to the harsh Atlantic. Before living the ship, they realized that their charter was tied to Virginia and could not be applied in the Plymouth. Before living the vessel, they made a pact, known as the Mayflower Compact, a self-governing system of rules for the inhabitants of the colony. They were plagued with disease, and many died. In 1633, other religious refugees landed in Massachusetts under the leadership of John Winthrop. They obtained a charter to trade and colonize the region in New England in 1629, and the population rapidly expanded to reach 40,000 by 1640 and absorbed Plymouth colony in 1691. When Massachusetts banished Roger Williams from the territory in 1635 because of his unorthodox views, he purchased land from the Narragansett Indians in Providence, Rhode Island Colony. His settlement established the principle of separation of church and state and observed religious freedom. But there were those who thought that Massachusetts still didn’t embody the capture the true values of the pilgrims and formed the Connecticut and New Haven colonies which combined under the former in 1664.
King Charles II granted his brother James Stuart, the Duke of York proprietary over New York and the lands between Connecticut and the Delaware River. The Duke in turn granted the lands to his two friends and supporters of the King during the English Civil War Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, New Jersey, named after Carteret’s place of birth the Isle of Jersey. They made Richard Nicholls governor of the area and invited Quakers and Puritans promising religious freedom and civil rights. In 1674, Lord Berkeley sold his proprietorship to Quakers and Carteret agreed to give West Jersey to those who bought Berkeley’s proprietorships and the East to be left for his heirs.
In 1631, the Dutch founded the Delaware colony and traded beaver fur with the Native Indians. The colony became permanent in 1638 when Swedes settled in the area and are credited for putting up the first wooden cabins in the area. The Dutch from New Amsterdam forced the Swedes out of the area in 1655 and Delaware was administered as part of New Amsterdam until 1682, when the Duke of York ceded the land to William Pence. In the same year, William Penn, and other wealthy Quakers, bought East Jersey together with Delaware. Penn encouraged other European religious dissenters to move to Delaware and promised religious freedom, attracting Amish, Quakers, Baptist, and Mennonites. In 1702, East and West Jersey were formed into New Jersey Colony. These colonies were more tolerant of religious diversity than the South and New England.
Again, in 1681, the King, owing to a debt to his father, granted William Penn the land in present-day Pennsylvania. Penn named the area New Wales and later changed into Sylvania meaning woods. The King changed the name to Pennsylvania in honour of William’s father who was an Admiral. Pennsylvania multiplied with German farmers mostly from the Rhine region settling in the countryside. They prospered from farming, industries based on weaving, cabinetmaking and shoemaking. In the early eighteenth century, Scots-Irish settled in the rural areas and engaged in farming and hunting. By 1685, Pennsylvania’s population had grown, and Philadelphia was its city.
King Charles II awarded eight proprietors commonly referred to as Lord Proprietors for their support in the restoration through the charter of Carolina, Carolina Colony. The Colony was vast, and over time the main settlements, Cape Fear, Charles Town and Albemarle were miles apart. In 1691, the proprietors appointed a governor for the whole colony and a deputy for the northern part, which eventually resulted in the North and South Carolina Colonies in 1712.
To create a buffer for the South Carolina Englishmen, from the Spanish in Florida, French in Louisiana and the Indians, James Oglethorpe established George Colony. The King issued a charter to twenty trustees that enabled them to elect their governor and parliament in 1732. Georgia was the last of the 13 colonies to be established.
Thus an elite group of colonialists emerged from the growing colonies who were mostly plantation owners in the South and merchants in the North. There was a population explosion in the territories. Mainland colonies that over four hundred thousand residents in 1720 had over two million by 1765. A population explosion in Europe also meant more white settlers were willing to move and settle in the United States. The African slave population was also expanding rapidly, along with the same partners as the white settlers. The settlers’ identity evolved around America, regions, seasons, and religious history while the British Empire continued to seek out resources for the sustenance and expansion of the empire, resulted to tensions that led to a revolution for independence. There was a vigorous agitation for freedom by the Americans from Britain, until finally in 1776.
Thus, the colonies became states after independence and were in categories according to regions as the New England colonies, which included Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The middle colonies were New York, New Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Jersey and lastly the Southern colonies Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia.