Why did the English want to colonize America?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

English motivations were entirely different from those of Spain, which hoped to enrich itself, and France, which hoped to profit from the fur trade. Although the various groups who traveled to the Americas had separate motives, the basic reason for colonization was stated by Richard Hakluyt in his 1584 Discourse on Western Planting:

  • Extend the new Protestant Christianity to the New World.
  • Create a basis for expansion of trade.
  • Provide a source of raw materials
  • Provide military bases to assist in the war with Spain which was ongoing.
  • Increase revenue for the royal treasury.
  • Find the elusive Northwest Passage to the East.
  • Provide employment for the large number of Englishmen who were idled.

Wrote Hakluyt:

And where England now for certain hundreth years last passed, by the peculiar commodity of wools, and of later years by clothing of the same, hath raised itself from meaner state to greatr wealth and much highr honour, mighty and power than before, to the equaling of the princes of the same to the greatst potentates of this part of the world it cometh now so to passe, that by the great endeavour of the increase of the trade of wools in Spain and in the West Indies, now daily more and more multiplying that the wools of England, and the clothe made of the same, will become base, and every day more base then other; which, prudently weighed yet behoveth this realm if it mean not to return to former olde means and baseness but to stand in present and late former honour, glory, and force, and not negligently and sleepingly to slide into beggery, to foresee and to plant at Norumbega [New England] or some like place, were it not for any thing else but for the hope of the vent of our wool endraped, the principal and in effect the only enriching continuing natural commodity of this realm. And effectually pursuing that course, we shall not only find on that tract of land, and especially in that firm northward (to whom warm clothe shall be right welcome), an ample vent, but also shall, from the north side of that firm, find out known and unknown islands and dominions replenished with people that may fully vent the abundance of that our commodity, that else will in few years wax of none or of small value by foreign abundance &c.; so as by this enterprise we shall shun the imminent mischief hanging over our heads that else must needs fall upon the realm without breach of peace or sword drawn against this realm by any foreign state; and not offer our ancient riches to scornful neighbors at home, nor sell the same in effect for nothing, as we shall shortly, if presently it be not provided for. . . .


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