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Why did the Spanish and English settle in the Caribbean in the 15th and 16th centuries?

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The Spanish and English settled in the Caribbean in a quest for wealth and power. The Spanish were the first to colonize the Caribbean, taking advantage of new trade routes and goods and spreading their Christian faith. It was an era of European competition for global power, and the English soon came to the area, too, in an attempt to get gold and glory of their own.

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As a developing empire, Spain settled the Caribbean out of a desire to exploit its perceived wealth. The journals of Christopher Columbus in particular were full of descriptions of the various resources (and peoples) that might be exploited for the benefit of the empire.

Spanish efforts at colonization focused on...

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Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba. On these islands, they conquered and exploited the labor of the indigenous peoples, at first for the purpose of mining for precious metals. This involved the enslavement of the region's peoples, who were often taken from island to island to work in an arrangement called an encomienda, which incentivized their exploitation. Disease, conquest, and the often brutal practices of Spanish settlers decimated the native populations of the Caribbean islands.

Over time, the economic focus of Spanish settlements became the cultivation of sugar, a highly labor-intensive crop. Spanish plantations increasingly turned to enslaved African people to work on sugar plantations. Caribbean islands also became way stations for Spanish ships that came from its colonies in the South and Central American mainland and a staging area for attempts to conquer and settle North America. The Bahamas in particular were rife with pirates and English raiders who preyed on ships laden with precious metals and other commodities.

Still, England did not really settle the Caribbean until the seventeenth century. English motives, like those of Spain, were essentially economic, and its colonies were primarily oriented toward the production of sugar. Wars with Spain resulted in English control of islands in the region including Jamaica and Barbados. Though neither had been central to Spanish plans for the region, Barbados in particular joined the group of centers of global sugar production. Under English control, the Caribbean would become the hub of a "triangular" trade that encompassed the Atlantic World—a supplier of sugar and a massive consumer of the enslaved people who toiled to produce it.

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There were many reasons why the Spanish and English explored and eventually settled in areas like the Caribbean during this time, but the reasons are often simplified to the phrase "God, glory, and gold." These factors all played a huge role, especially for Spain. As previously mentioned, Spain’s main reason for expanding in this region was gold. The explorers who came to these new lands were often paid handsomely, and sometimes they signed contracts that said they could keep a percentage of everything they found. Settling in new lands also meant new goods to trade and cheaper trade routes, which meant more money for European governments.

And with money comes power. As Europeans like the Spanish took over new lands, many felt it was their duty to spread Christianity to the native peoples. But new settlements also came with global power, or "glory." It was a time of fierce competition between monarchies, as the countries with access to the most strategic trade routes, ports, and goods became the most powerful. Spain had colonized the Caribbean first, and when the English saw the Spanish going after God, glory, and gold, they felt they had to do it too in order to maintain a hold on power.

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Spain settled in the Caribbean, as previously noted, early in the 1500's and continued to expand its empire throughout North, South, and Central America.  Although Christianizing the heathen has long been used as an excuse to eradicate native beliefs, the driving force behind Spain's rapid expansion throughout the Americas was indeed gold, after the early Spanish explorers came upon Incan Civilization with its golden artifacts.  Sadly, much of these were melted down and shipped to Spain. Controlling the islands in the Caribbean, of course, allowed for a base of operations and helped safeguard Spanish shipments of precious metals back  to the Old World.  England, which had been at war with Spain, began to infiltrate Spanish outposts, and actually attempted a small settlement in Central America to counter the Spanish influence there in the late 1500's.  Additionally, the English fleet began to raid Spanish vessels en route to Europe and take their gold.  This began the iconographic era of piracy, which lasted until the late 1700's.  After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, England gained and maintained the upper hand as the world's sea power for about 300 years.

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In addition to the answers provided to you previously, these are other reasons why the Caribbean was a good place to anchor a good part of their presence.

As far as the Antilles, their strategic position was prime for trade, natural resources, the creation of forts, defense, and war strategies. Spain, under the ruling of the Kings of Castille and Aragon (Fernando and Isabel) was responsible for affronting the money to Cristopher Columbus in the expedition that came to be known as "the discovery of America".

The resources that were found in the Caribbean were nowhere compared to those found by Hernan Cortez, but the availabilty of three different bodies of water (Caribbean Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean) surrounding these islands definitely proved beneficial for the establishment of new trade routes.

The same thing happened with the English as they began to establish their own trade routes once the colonies started to build a trade economy.

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When the Spanish (in the form of Columbus's expedition) came to the Caribbean in the late 15th century, they were coming for "gold, God, and glory."  They wanted to get rich by finding gold, they wanted to spread Christianity, and they wanted to get glory (the glory of finding new things).

As more settlers came in, there were a few other reasons for settlement.

First, the islands came to be used for growing sugar.  Throughout most of their colonial history, sugar was the main crop of the Caribbean and it made the islands very rich sources of income for the mother countries.  The Spanish and English (and French and Dutch) competed for these islands.

The islands were also important because of how rich the mainland of Spanish America was.  There was silver, in Mexico and Peru and it had to get shipped to Spain each year.  It went through the Caribbean to get there.  So the islands were important for Spain to help defend these shipments (and the mainland itself).  And they were important for the other countries that wanted to try to capture the shipments.

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