The different European ventures in North America all had some success by the mid-1600s. The Dutch were a major maritime power that had substantial trading success, but they lacked numbers, and this allowed the English to squeeze them out of New York, which had been New Amsterdam until 1664. For...
The different European ventures in North America all had some success by the mid-1600s. The Dutch were a major maritime power that had substantial trading success, but they lacked numbers, and this allowed the English to squeeze them out of New York, which had been New Amsterdam until 1664. For more on New Netherlands and New Amsterdam, see the first link below. The Dutch and the French both focused almost exclusively on commercial ventures, treating the natives as allies and trading partners, and had few colonists.
The Spaniards had some dramatic successes in the Americas, starting with the voyages of Columbus in the 1490s and 1500s, but they did not focus on North America. They conquered two major empires, the Aztec and the Inca in Central and South America, respectively, and established New Spain. They had larger numbers of colonists than the Dutch and the French, but success in North America was limited. The settlement of Florida was tenuous. Harsh policies in what is today New Mexico led to the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.
As the Spaniards' treasury grew, so did their bad reputation. In 1542, Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas published A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, bringing to light appalling Spanish abuses against native populations. The revelation of Spanish abuses necessitated the publication of the New Laws by the Spanish crown, but Las Casas' tract spread far and wide. The English enthusiastically printed it in large numbers. For a full text, see the second link below. By this time, King Henry VIII of England had issued his 1534 Act of Supremacy, broken from the papacy, and established a separate Church of England with himself at the head. The English saw themselves as a kindler, gentler alternative to the Spanish "papists" for the settlement of the Americas. There was, of course, also economic rivalry.
There is more to the important prehistory of the English colonization of North America. Even before the settlement of North America, the English had a strong rationale for colonization, as articulated by Richard Hakluyt “the Elder” in 1585: to plant the Christian religion, to conduct commerce, and to conquer. Colonization and conquest, of course, were not a recipe for harmony with the natives. Sir William Herbert wrote in the early 1590s that the assimilation of the English into native cultures can best be avoided by completely destroying the culture of the natives. The English already had experience with establishing colonies and using force to impose their ways in Ireland. In North America, they followed a similar model.
There were also population pressures back home driving English colonization. The population of England grew rapidly in the 1500s, as did the number of the poor and homeless. These people were mostly able-bodied but unemployed and deemed a threat to morality and the social order. The government came to see the colonies as a place to put them.
Once the English overcame early difficulties in Roanoke and Jamestown, the colonies began to grow dramatically. There was a motive. There was a model in place. There were people to send. There were no direct competitors, except for the natives, in the areas they settled. The adoption of tobacco as a cash crop, the importation of slaves, and the early 1700s legislation of race-based slavery, which meant a big increase in numbers through procreation, all led to dramatic demographic growth in England's main colony of Virginia.