France, Spain and England in America
In the l7th century, New Mexico, and the fortified town of St. Augustine on
the east coast of Florida, were Spain's only North American colonies. Both
served as buffer states -- in Florida, against the English in Georgia and the
Carolinas; and in New Mexico, against the French, who from their base in Canada
had claimed the entire Mississippi Valley.
France's North America empire, however, was vastly different from Spain's in
purpose and practice. The French were in North America primarily for commerce,
not colonization. They wanted to control the lucrative fur trade, and to get
furs, they made alliances with the Indians. They didn't want Indian lands, or
labor. And their Jesuit missionaries were amazingly tolerant and highly
successful in dealing with the Indians. As were French fur traders, who
married into Indian families and lived with natives and mixed-bloods at
frontier trading posts. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
In l600, Spain was the only European nation with colonies in North America.
Samuel de Champlain had not yet established a French settlement at Quebec. And
Protestant England, under Queen Elizabeth, had tried and failed to plant a
colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. The settlers on
Roanoke Island had mysteriously disappeared around l590. To this day, no one
knows what happened to them.
At this point, England was at war with Spain and might have postponed
colonization for some time had it not been for two of the greatest spin-doctors
of the Elizabethan age, two cousins, both named Richard Hakluyt. The Hakluyts
believed England's future greatness would be based on overseas colonies. In a series of massive books and reports, they implored the Crown to expel the
Spanish papists from North America, convert the Indians to Protestantism, and
begin trading with them. The Hakluyts described an America where the earth
would produce things in abundance, as in the Garden of Eden, "without toil or
labor." These are their words.
When a company of gentlemen adventurers was finally sent to in Virginia in
l607, they apparently took the cousins at their word -- and died in appalling
numbers. But the struggling colony was saved -- but just barely -- by the
soldierly discipline of the swashbuckling captain we'll meet in our next
John Smith's mission was to make certain that, in America, the seventeenth
century would be England's century.