Portugal and Spain were the first European powers to colonize the New World at any substantial level. However, in the late 16th century, a variety of social, economic and political factors pushed England into the era of European competition.
Below is an excerpt from A Rationale for New World Colonization. This argument for English colonization was written by Richard Hakluyt in 1584. Hakluyt’s writings strongly encouraged the establishment of English colonies in the New World.
…All the commodities of all our old decayed and dangerous trades in all Europe, Africa, and Asia…may in short space [count] for little or nothing [compared with]…that part of America which lieth between 30 and 60 degrees of northerly latitude, if by our slackness we suffer not the French or others to prevent us…In sum, this enterprise will minister matter for all sorts and states of men to work upon; namely, all several kinds of artificers, husbandmen, seamen, merchants, soldiers, captains, physicians, lawyers, divines, cosmographers, hydrographers, astronomers, historiographers; yea, old folks, lame persons, women, and young children, by many means…shall be kept from idleness, and be made able by their own honest and easy labour to find themselves without surcharging others. For all the statutes that hitherto can be devised, and the sharp execution of the same in punishing idle and lazy persons, for want of sufficient occasion of honest employments, cannot deliver our commonwealth from multitudes of loiterers and idle vagabonds. Truth it is that through our long peace and seldom sickness (two singular blessings of Almighty God) we are grown more populous than ever heretofore; so that now there are…so many, that they can hardly live one by another, nay rather they are ready to eat up one another; yea many thousands of idle persons are within this realm, which having no way to be set on work, be either mutinous and seek alteration in the state, or at least very burdensome to the commonwealth and often fall to pilfering and thieving and other lewdness, whereby all the prisons of the land are daily pestered and stuffed full of them, where either they pitifully pine away or else at length are miserably hanged, even 20 at a clap out of some jail. Whereas if this voyage [to the New World] were put in execution, these petty thieves might be condemned for certain years in the western parts, especially in Newfoundland, in sawing and felling of timber and masts of ships, and deal boards; in burning of the firs and pine trees to make pitch, tar, rosin, and soap ashes; in beating and working of hemp for cordage; and, in the more southern parts, in setting them to work in mines of gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron; in dragging for pearls and coral; in planting of sugar canes, as the Portingales [Portuguese] have done in Madeira; in maintenance and increasing of silk worms for silk, and in dressing the same; in gathering of cotton whereof there is plenty; in tilling of the soil there for grain; in dressing of vines whereof there is great abundance for wine; olives, whereof the soil is capable, for oil; trees for oranges, lemons, almonds, figs, and other fruits, all which are found to grow there already;…in building of forts, towns, churches; in powdering and barrelling of fish, fowls, and flesh, which will be notable provision for sea and land; in drying, sorting, and packing of features, where of may be had there marvelous great quantity…
So what do you think of Hakluyt’s case for colonization? If you could remove yourself from your current context, would you have bought into his argument?
- Mintz, S. (2007). A Rationale for New World Colonization. Digital History. Retrieved 29 August 2010 from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/documents/documents_p2.cfm?doc=210