May 7, 2021


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European conquest of America II

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In the 15th century, these are 
approximately the known lands in Europe.  

To the east are the Indies, from where spices 
and silk come. In Europe, the trade of these  

luxury products is controlled by the powerful 
Republics of Genoa and Venice. But in 1453,  

the Ottomans seize Constantinople and bring 
down the Byzantine Empire. By extending their  

influence over the Mediterranean, they put an 
end to the golden age of the Italian republics. 

In the west, Portugal dreams of opening a 
new trade route to the Indies and seizing  

the monopoly on the spice trade. They take 
advantage of the development of the caravel,  

a more robust ship capable of handling the 
oceans, to send explorations to Africa. In 1484,  

Christopher Columbus, a Genoese navigator living 
in Lisbon, proposes to the Portuguese king to try  

to reach Asia by sailing west. According 
to his calculations, Cathay and Cipango,  

currently China and Japan, are close enough for 
the crossing to be feasible. But the king rejects  

the project. Confident, Christopher Columbus 
tries his luck with the rival queen of Castile,  

but in vain. Two years later, while Portugal 
reaches the Cape of Good Hope, the Spanish  

monarchy completes the Reconquista by seizing 
Granada. Nothing seems to stop its ambitions.  

It must now catch up with Portugal in its race 
towards the Indies. The Queen of Castile and  

the King of Aragon authorize and finance 
the expedition of Christopher Columbus. 

On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus leaves 
Palos with three ships and 90 men. After a short  

stopover in the Canary Islands, they head 
west and sail for 36 days into the unknown.  

The crew finally see an island, Columbus lands and 
meets with the local Taino people. Convinced he  

has reached the Indies, Christopher Columbus 
names them Indians. After a few exchanges,  

he leaves and explores the surrounding islands. 
Thinking he is in Asia, he looks for the kingdom  

of the Great Khan mentioned in the writings 
of Marco Polo. On an island called Quisqueya,  

which he renames “La Hispaniola”, he builds the 
fort of the Nativity, leaves 39 men behind and  

returns with 7 Tainos, gold, pearls, and parrots 
as proof of the success of his expedition.  

Welcomed as a hero, he returns to the Nativity 
a few months later, this time with 1,500 men,  

to found a permanent colony of which he would be 
the governor. But he finds the 39 men left behind  

dead. He then founds La Isabela 
in honor of the Queen of Castile  

and continues his explorations. During this 
time, the Spanish monarchy and Portugal,  

to avoid conflicts around the newly conquered 
territories, agree to draw a meridian. The  

lands to the east can be claimed by Portugal, 
those to the west by the Spanish monarchy. 

England in turn begins to search for a new 
maritime route to India. An expedition is  

sent further north and reaches a land that is 
unknown to them. Vasco De Gama, for Portugal,  

crosses the Cape of Good Hope, enters the 
Indian Ocean and reaches India on May 20,  

  1. A second Portuguese expedition leaves 
    for India, but as it moves away from the coast  

to take advantage of the sea currents, the 
expedition reaches a new land located east  

of the meridian of Tordesillas. There, an exotic 
wood grows from which can be obtained a red dye  

like an ember, or “Brasa” in Portuguese. This will 
later give the name of Brazil to their new colony. 

While the Spanish colonists discover products 
unknown in Europe such as potatoes, tomatoes,  

tobacco, and cocoa, ships loaded with gold, 
emeralds, and pearls return to Spain, which  

motivates the departure of many colonists to the 
new Spanish lands. They bring with them domestic  

animals, and seeds, but also diseases that were 
previously unknown to the indigenous populations,  

who are therefore not immune. These diseases 
spread throughout the continent faster than the  

colonists and decimate the populations. In 1506, 
after a fourth trip, Christopher Columbus dies.  

A few months later, the word America appears on 
a map in honor of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  

The continent would henceforth be called 
America. In the Spanish territories,  

colonists impose forced labor on the local 
populations. But the Spanish monarchy,  

influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, opposes 
this mistreatment and tries via new laws to  

increase its control over the new territories 
and to improve the condition of the natives.  

The Catholic Church also sends missionaries to 
evangelize the local populations. From the Spanish  

colonies, conquerors called conquistadors explore 
everywhere. To the north, they discover a land  

they name Florida. To the south, an expedition 
goes inland and discovers a sea on the other  

side. Finally in 1518, an expedition goes 
north along the coast, passes a peninsula  

and meets representatives sent by an emperor. The 
governor then decides to send a mission there. 

The conquistador Hernán Cortès leaves Cuba 
in 1519. On his way, he recovers a Spanish  

shipwrecked man who survived eight years in 
Mayan country, and then he obtains a mistress  

after a confrontation. Both will assist him as 
interpreters. Once on dry land, he understands  

that he is in the Aztec empire, whose capital 
Tenochtitlan controls the surrounding regions.  

Impressed by the firearms and horses they have 
never seen before, some of the people choose to  

join the Spanish crown. Cortes is guided to 
Tenochtitlan where the emperor welcomes him  

peacefully. At the same time, to the south of 
the continent, Ferdinand Magellan, who is also  

trying to reach the Indies to the west, passes 
through a strait that will one day bear his name  

and enters a new ocean that is unknown to him. In 
Tenochtitlan, a war breaks out between the Aztecs  

and Cortés who had been chased out of 
the capital. He allies with the rebels  

and enemies of Tenochtitlan, then besieges the 
city and cuts off its drinking water supply.  

But the inhabitants suffer above all from smallpox 
which decimates the city. After 75 days of siege,  

Tenochtitlan collapses and Cortes 
becomes the governor of New Spain. 

Despite strong resistance, the Spaniards continue 
to extend their control in Central America. Spain,  

which is indebted to German bankers, authorizes 
them in return to found a colony in an area where  

houses are built on stilts and which is then 
named Little Venice or Venezuela. To the south,  

an expedition goes inland and rumors circulate 
about a certain “Piru” kingdom. The navigator  

Francisco Pizarro then leaves to search for it. 
He lands and learns that he is in the Inca empire  

which is in a full war of succession. After 
several contacts by intermediate embassies, a  

meeting is organized in Cajamarca with the emperor 
Atahualpa. But the meeting degenerates and Pizarro  

arrests the emperor. 9 months later, in spite of 
the enormous gold and silver ransom received for  

his liberation, Pizarro executes Atahualpa and 
then seizes Cusco, the capital of the empire. 

While strong rivalries appear between the 
colonists who want to monopolize the Inca wealth,  

in the north of Tomebamba, a pocket of 
Inca resistance is organized around the  

general Rumiñahui. But finding himself in 
a difficult situation, he decides to burn  

Quito and to hide all the Inca wealth. 
Captured and tortured, he does not reveal  

the location of this treasure which, if it 
exists, has never been found. Further south,  

Pizarro founds a capital, the City of Kings, 
which later will become Lima. In 1536 in  

Cuzco, the Incas rebel and take the city. 
Almagro, Pizarro’s ally, who returns from  

unsuccessful conquests in the south, takes the 
city and proclaims himself governor of Cuzco.  

A war breaks out between Pizarro and Almagro. 
Taking advantage of the chaos, the Incas found  

the kingdom of Vilcabamba which will resist 
the Spaniards for 36 years. Further south,  

a group of populations called the Mapuches, 
also firmly resist the Spanish intrusions. 

In the north, Spain continues to enlarge its 
territory considerably. The priest Bartolomé  

de Las Casas denounces the cruel treatments 
imposed on the natives. Spain, in 1542,  

passes new laws in order to return freedom to 
the slaves by abolishing the encomienda, and by  

affirming equality of the rights of the natives. 
In Peru, these laws are very badly received by  

the colonists. The viceroy tries to make them 
apply, but a revolt breaks out and he is beheaded.  

Spain finally manages to regain control of the 
region and suspends the conquests in America,  

although many populations still 
resist Spanish colonization. 

In Europe, new powers are interested in the riches 
of America. France, which does not recognize the  

treaty of Tordesillas, sends expeditions to 
Brazil. The colony of France Antarctique is  

founded there. Annoyed by the new competition, the 
Portuguese destroy the colony in 1560. They then  

develop colonization by sending expeditions 
deep inland in search of mines and slaves.  

England also has its eye on America. Irritated by 
the commercial monopoly that Spain is establishing  

in the Pacific Ocean, the Queen of England 
secretly finances an expedition by Francis Drake,  

who plunders Spanish wealth on the Pacific 
coast. Further north, Drake founds New Albion  

in the name of the English crown, before heading 
west to return to England. At the same time,  

the Spanish monarchy takes over Portugal. The 
United Provinces, quickly followed by England,  

take advantage of this and try to seize the 
trade routes and the Portuguese colonies. 

In South America, further inland, a region little 
explored by the Spaniards and the Portuguese  

attracts the covetous. For a century, the 
myth of Eldorado, the city filled with gold,  

has been widely circulated. This attracts 
hundreds of European settlers who devastate  

the region in search of gold, igniting the fury 
of local populations. This does not prevent the  

arrival of French, Dutch, and British Protestants 
who flee Europe in search of lands far from  

Catholic influences. To the north, the coasts of 
Newfoundland, rich in fish, are frequented by many  

fishermen from all over Europe. As early as 1603, 
France finances new expeditions to explore Acadia  

and to found a first settlement at Port-Royal. 
Despite conflicts with the local populations,  

fishing and fur trading develop. Further south, 
England founds Jamestown, its first permanent  

colony. But while the French accelerate 
colonization with the creation of Quebec,  

the English attack Acadia. From then on, the 
two countries and their respective local allies  

are constantly fighting over the region.
After founding New Amsterdam on an island,  

the Dutch negotiate with the locals to purchase 
Manhattan Island in exchange for some goods  

equivalent to 60 florins, which is currently worth 
about a few hundred dollars. Also in the south,  

the Dutch expand their possessions and take 
over a large part of Brazil. But in 1640,  

Portugal regains its independence and recovers 
its territories. The Dutch are expelled and  

concentrate their efforts in the north of 
the continent by absorbing New Sweden. At  

the same time, the British take Jamaica from 
the Spaniards to develop the sugar trade.  

They also obtain permission to exploit wood on the 
coast of New Spain. The growing commercial rivalry  

between the United Provinces and England provokes 
a war that turns to the advantage of the British.  

At the peace treaty, the United Provinces 
cede their North American territories  

and recover Suriname, which was occupied by 
the British. New Amsterdam becomes New York. 

In the West Indies, mainly the French and the 
British take over islands from the Caribs in order  

to develop large sugar plantations that require 
a large workforce. European merchants leave for  

the African coasts where they buy slaves. These 
are then transported to America to be sold in the  

mines or on the plantations. Their life expectancy 
is about 7 years. The ships then return to Europe  

loaded with precious metals and luxury goods. 
In the 17th century, this model become so  

profitable that the slave trade explodes, as 
does piracy, which flourishes in the Caribbean.  

Many people are opposed to slavery, notably the 
Jesuits who found communities throughout America  

to protect the natives from the colonists. They 
are evangelized and work for the communities  

which quickly become rich. But Spain 
and Portugal will eventually expel them. 

In the north of the continent, while the 
British found Philadelphia, the French,  

after an expedition, claim Louisiana, and then 
expand along the rivers to link it to New France.  

New France then signs a peace agreement with 39 
nations, mainly Iroquois. Fearing that they would  

be surrounded, the British attack Acadia again and 
rename it Nova Scotia. The latter, together with  

Rupert’s Land and Newfoundland, are officially 
annexed in the Treaties of Utrecht which end the  

War of Spanish Succession. Spain and the United 
Provinces are weakened, Great Britain is now a  

great maritime and commercial power. In 1733, it 
founds Savannah, which stops the Spanish expansion  

from Florida. From Russia, a Danish captain named 
Vitus Bering leads mapping expeditions on behalf  

of the Tsar. After exploring the strait that now 
bears his name, Bering sights in 1741 the coasts  

of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, where he dies. 
The abundance of prey on these islands attracts  

many Russian hunters. The Russians gradually move 
along the coast to develop the otter fur trade.

Franco-British Tensions (1748-1755) 

In the Ohio Valley, tensions rise between 
the French and the British who are fighting  

over control of the region. A war begins which 
at first turns to the advantage of the French.  

Great Britain then decides to deport en masse 
the French-speaking Acadians still present in  

Nova Scotia. Many die on the way. The survivors 
are scattered throughout the British colonies.  

In Europe, the 7 Years’ War breaks out. 
Great Britain, which dominates the seas  

with its powerful Royal Navy, imposes a 
maritime blockade on the French colonies  

which, without reinforcements, 
fall into the hands of the British.  

In 1763, in the peace treaty signed in Paris, 
France gives up most of its American colonies.  

Spain receives the western part of 
Louisiana in exchange for Florida.  

Great Britain dominates all its rivals. But the 
war has weighed on its finances, and it intends  

now to take advantage of its many colonies to 
replenish its coffers by imposing new taxes.


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