How did the Spanish form of colonization shape North American history?

The aggressive nature of Spanish colonization shaped North American history by driving the British to colonize farther north in order to avoid military confrontations with Spain. This led eventually to British domination of almost all of the North American continent.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Spanish form of colonization was aggressive and relied on superior military technology, such as guns, to impose its will on a territory. This ruthlessness had a devastating effect on Native American populations and also helped determine the shape of North American history by its impact on British colonization.

The...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Spanish form of colonization was aggressive and relied on superior military technology, such as guns, to impose its will on a territory. This ruthlessness had a devastating effect on Native American populations and also helped determine the shape of North American history by its impact on British colonization.

The British deliberately colonized north of the forts established by the Spanish in places like Florida, because they did not want to risk potentially lethal confrontations with Spanish military power. For this reason, the English chose Jamestown as the location for their first successful colony. Not only was it far from Spanish territory, it was far enough inland to discourage attack from Spanish galleons roaming the Atlantic coast.

The Puritans, in turn, aimed for Virginia and were blown even farther north, colonizing the Massachusetts and New England area. A pattern developed in which the Spanish concentrated on southern areas of North America and on California, which they could reach from their colonies in western South America, while the British concentrated on colonizing the northern areas of the continent. This shaped history, first, in that the British had their main clashes on the continent with the French. Eventually, too, the British gained such dominance in North America that formerly Spanish territories such as Florida fell into their hands. By the late eighteenth century, North American destiny was in British hands.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Spanish form of colonization altered North America politically and demographically. The Spanish forced Native Americans to convert to Catholicism and work on their missions or in gold and silver mines. Millions of Native Americans died to Spanish violence or Spanish diseases. Most of these diseases were brought by the Conquistadors who subdued the Aztec and Inca Empires. The Spanish never intended to live in North America; rather, they hoped to harvest gold and silver and to hopefully find the Northwest Passage. Spanish treasure galleons were easy prey for English privateers in wartime and the world's pirates in times of peace.

The Spanish also created a strict caste system in North America. People of European blood were at the top of the caste and often formed the ruling class. People of mixed blood were next, with their social level determined by the amount of European blood they possessed. Finally, Natives were at the bottom—many natives found themselves either enslaved or having limited, underpaid job opportunities.

Finally, Spanish colonization brought the Spanish language and Catholic faith to the New World. Spanish remains the dominant language in Latin America, and many places in the American Southwest reflect Spanish influence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Spanish colonization of large parts of the New World impacted North America in a number of ways.

First, Christopher Columbus had failed to find a route to Asia, so later explorers in North American waters continued to search for it. This search for a way to Asia eventually became a hunt for the so-called Northwest Passage.

Second, Spanish colonial activity was based on "gold, glory, and God." In other words, Spanish conquistadors (conquerors) sought gold and silver, personal honor, and eternal salvation by spreading God's word. The labor system the Spanish set up was the exploitative encomienda: Conquistadors were given land that was worked by Indians. In fact, it amounted to slavery.

Colonial activity in North America was mostly different from the Spanish example. English settlers did not encounter large Indian empires that had huge reserves of gold and silver. Instead, they had to find a way to survive economically. For example, Jamestown turned to tobacco cultivation after a few lean years. English settlers did have an exploitative labor system, however. They used indentured servants and then slaves.

Spain's empire made it very rich for a time. The influx of gold and silver into Europe caused inflation in Spain. England's colonies in North America were more economically diversified with trade, shipbuilding, and agriculture.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Spanish colonization of North American forever shaped the continent, largely to a detrimental degree to the indigenous people who were there first.

With the arrival of the Spaniards came the arrival of diseases—like influenza and smallpox—that resulted in the death of millions of Native Americans. On top of this indignity, Native Americans faced the tactics of conquistadors who conquered huge stretches of land within the New World, partitioning them into land grants called encomiendas; not only did these native people lose their land, but they lost their freedom as well, as they were subjected to the strenuous rule of these new Spanish "landowners" as slaves.

As the Native American laboring population died out due to mistreatment and disease, the Spanish began to import African slaves. Over generations of inter-marriage, the casta system was defined, which further doled out land titles, resources, jobs, and power to the most "pure-blooded" (meaning most purely Spanish) individuals over those whose heritage was partially indigenous or African.

The desire to bring Catholicism to the New World also ultimately resulted in the spread of Dominican, Franciscan, and Jesuit missionaries to what is now known as the American Southwest. These attempts, of course, came with further cruelty and exploitation.

Ultimately, although the Spanish colonization increased cultural exchange, it also had devastating effects for those who were subject to the political, economic, religious, and exploratory movements of this empire.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team