European colonization of the Americas

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During the Age of Discovery, a large scale colonization of the Americas, involving a number of European countries, took place primarily between the late 15th century and the early 19th century. The Norse had explored and colonized areas of Europe and the North Atlantic, colonizing Greenland and creating a short term settlement near the northern tip of Newfoundland circa 1000 AD. However, the later colonization by the European powers involving the continents of North America and South America is arguably more well-known.[2][3][4][5]

American Discovery Viewed by Native Americans, a 1922 painting by Thomas Hart Benton, now housed in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts[1]

During this time, the European empires of Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, Russia, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden began to explore and claim the Americas and its natural resources and human capital,[2][3][4][5] leading to the displacement, disestablishment, enslavement, sometimes even the genocide of the Indigenous peoples in the Americas,[2][3][4][5] and the establishment of several settler colonial states.[2][3][4][5][6] Some settler colonies, including New Mexico, Alaska, the northern Great Plains, and the North-Western Territory in North America, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Yucatán Peninsula, and the Darién Gap in Central America, and the northwest Amazon, the central Andes, and the Guianas in South America remain relatively rural, sparsely populated with Indigenous people as of the 21st century.

Russia began colonizing the Pacific Northwest in the mid-18th century, seeking pelts for the fur trade. Many of the social structures—including religions,[7][8] political boundaries, and linguae francae—which predominate in the Western Hemisphere in the 21st century are the descendants of those that were established during this period.

The rapid rate at which Europe grew in wealth and power was unforeseeable in the early 15th century because it had been preoccupied with internal wars and it was slowly recovering from the loss of population caused by the Black Death.[9] The Ottoman Empire's domination of trade routes to Asia prompted Western European monarchs to search for alternatives, resulting in the voyages of Christopher Columbus and the accidental re-discovery of the New World.

With the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, Portugal and Spain agreed to divide the Earth in two, with Portugal having dominion over non-Christian lands in the world's eastern half, and Spain over those in the western half. Spanish claims essentially included all of the Americas; however, the Treaty of Tordesillas granted the eastern tip of South America to Portugal, where it established Brazil in the early 1500s. The city of Santo Domingo, in the current-day Dominican Republic, founded in 1496 by Columbus, is credited as the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the Americas.[10]

By the 1530s, other Western European powers realized they too could benefit from voyages to the Americas, leading to British and French colonializations in the northeast tip of the Americas, including in the present-day United States. Within a century, the Swedish established New Sweden; the Dutch established New Netherland; and Denmark–Norway along with the Swedish and Dutch established colonization of parts of the Caribbean. By the 1700s, Denmark–Norway revived its former colonies in Greenland, and Russia began to explore and claim the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California.

Violent conflicts arose during the beginning of this period as indigenous peoples fought to preserve their territorial integrity from increasing European colonizers and from hostile indigenous neighbors who were equipped with Eurasian technology. Conflict between the various European empires and the indigenous peoples was a leading dynamic in the Americas into the 1800s, although some parts of the continent gained their independence from Europe by then, countries such as the United States continued to fight against Native Americans and practiced settler colonialism. The United States for example practiced a settler colonial policy of Manifest Destiny and the Trail of Tears.

Other regions, including California, Patagonia, the North Western Territory, and the northern Great Plains, experienced little to no colonization at all until the 1800s. European contact and colonization had disastrous effects on the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their societies.[2][3][4][5]

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