European Colonization of North America

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What is the difference between a 'colony' and a 'settlement'?

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To some, there is no real distinction between a colony and a settlement. To such individuals, both are manifestations of imperialistic practices on the part of a distant government seeking to expand its territorial acquisitions. This educator disagrees. While the two may overlap in some instances, such as with the Spanish, British and French conquests of parts of North America, the exploration and exploitation of which were directly sanctioned by those nations’ governments, settlements are not necessarily the product of imperialism.

Distinguishing between a colony and a settlement requires a brief examination of the history of foreign settlements, such as those that took place on the continent of North America between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. As students of American history are aware, the earliest English-language settlements in North America, such as those populated by the Pilgrims, were escaping religious persecution in England and sought out new, distant territories where they could establish independent homelands. These were settlements. Later, the British Crown did encourage migration to North America for the purpose of establishing colonies under the Crown’s rule. These were colonies. Settlements independent from some distant European government could evolve into colonies following expansion and reconnection with the land from which the settlers came, but there was a distinction between migrations directed by governments seeking colonies and settlements founded by those fleeing persecution from their own governments.

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