By the late sixteenth century, Spain possessed a vast empire, one centered on towns and cities throughout South and Central America. It featured a complex imperial bureaucracy headed by royal officials known as viceroys. While we usually associate the economics of the Spanish Empire with the extraction of mineral wealth that prevailed in parts of Central America and other areas, there was actually a wide array of economic activities in the Empire. Spanish plantations in the Caribbean, for example, produced sugar, and imported enslaved Africans in massive numbers. The spread of Catholicism in the wake of the Reformation was a major driving force behind the Empire, and Spanish missionaries from Argentina to modern California established missions aimed at converting Native peoples to the faith.
The Dutch and French empires existed on a much smaller scale than the Spanish Empire. The French Empire was centered on the Caribbean sugar islands and settlements in Canada. Beyond that, it consisted of trading outposts scattered throughout North America. French people settled in relatively small numbers, leaving a fairly light imprint on the continent. While French missionaries sought to convert Natives, they lacked the backing of a powerful government, and did not try to stamp out Native culture as many Spanish missionaries did. In general, the French sought to gain influence through alliances, such as with the Algonquian people near the Great Lakes. They had no real designs on conquest.
The Dutch Empire also included Caribbean and South American outposts, in addition to, briefly, New Amsterdam. Like the French, the Dutch Empire was mainly focused on commerce, and did not seek territorial conquest on a large scale. Dutch settlements were noted for their religious tolerance, and did not attempt to convert Native peoples. As the world's leading maritime power, the Dutch were very active in the slave trade in the seventeenth century. Overall, however, the Dutch focused much of their imperial attentions in Asia, where they possessed colonies throughout the Indian Ocean rim.