What were some similarities and differences between the French and the Spanish colonies in the Americas?

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larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I respectfully disagree that the Spanish colonies were more "civilized" than the French. Quite the contrary was true. The Spanish forced Indians to work as slaves in gold and silver mines and also on sugar plantations. The Spanish government in fact created a settlement system known as the encomienda in which large grants of land were disseminated together with the right to enslave and work the Indians within the territory. Spanish priests made half hearted attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, but were more interested in destroying Indian religious artifacts as "pagan," the end result of which meant that much of Indian culture was lost forever.  The Spanish were much more concerned with hauling away gold and silver than with establishing permanent settlements; as a result they never attempted to set up permanent colonies with the possible exception of St. Augustine.

Spanish settlements in North America had one purpose only: to protect their shipments of gold and silver from competing European powers. The first successful settlement in North America, St. Augustine, Florida was built to protect Spanish fleets from attack by privateers. The statement above that the Spanish had "big cities. large farms" is patently incorrect.

It should be noted that the first successful rebellion in America; Pope's rebellion, also known as the Pueblo revolt, was the result of numerous failed promises on the part of the Spanish. Four hundred Spaniards were killed in the revolt and the Spanish lost control of New Mexico.

The French did attempt permanent settlements based on trade with the Indians. The French realized early on that peaceful relations with the Indians was more productive than the confrontation that had marked the Spanish policy. The French adopted Indian customs, wore Indian clothes, often married Indian wives, and overall treated the Indians with fairness and respect. The French often allied with Indians in wars with other Indian tribes. French interference in a dispute between the Huron and Iroquois Indians led the Iroquois to side with the British in the French and Indian war whereas the Huron sided with the French. French settlements were NOT sparsely settled; in fact Quebec was a major French settlement and Detroit a major French fort. Had the French territories been sparsely settled, there would have been a "Spanish and Indian War" which obviously there was not.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The major similarity between French and Spanish colonies in the Americas is that both were what one textbook I teach from calls "frontiers of inclusion."  In both of these countries' colonies, Native Americans were made an integral part of society.  This is very much in contrast to the British colonies, in which Indians were pushed out and not made part of the society.  In both French and Spanish colonies, many whites intermarried with Indians and Indians came to form the backbones of the colonies.

One major difference between the two is that the Spanish colonies were much more intensively settled and a much more developed economy was created there than in French colonies.  French colonies were sparsely settled and were used mainly as ways to trade with the Indians for furs.  By contrast, Spanish colonies had big cities, large farms, mines, and other such things.

In both countries' colonies, then, Native Americans were very important.  The difference is that the Spanish colonies were much more densely populated and much more "civilized" than the French colonies.

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