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There are several theories on who discovered America. Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) was not the first foreigner to land on its shores, but he was among the first to encourage Europeans to establish regular channels of contact with the New World. In the decades following Columbus's journey of 1492, many European countries explored the New World. While their exploration and trading efforts were generally successful, establishing settlements and permanent colonies were more difficult tasks.


Columbus's voyage was funded by the monarchs of Spain. Spain continued to explore the New World after Columbus's success. It concentrated on Central and South America, where gold and silver were abundant. While Spain explored the geography and populations in North America, the lack of gold and silver deposits discouraged Spain from focusing its efforts there.

As Spanish fleets carried New World treasure back to Spain, they tended to stay along the Florida coast before heading out to sea. For this reason, the Florida coast became a haven for pirates. In 1565, the Spanish government created a permanent settlement as a base for warships to protect the Spanish sailing ships. Called St. Augustine, it was the first European settlement in what became the United States.

Spain made early forays into the area of New Mexico , but since it too lacked riches, no permanent settlements were pursued for some time. In 1598, a group of missionaries arrived among the Native Americans and opened a small outpost. The missionaries worked to convert the Native North Americans to Christianity. A greater Spanish settlement eventually evolved with the founding of Santa Fe in 1610. Isolated from the major centers of the Spanish colonies, these settlements were never too important in the power struggle to control North America.


Impressed with the Spanish importation of wealth, France undertook its own exploration of the New World. In 1524, King Francis I (1494–1547) commissioned a Florentine navigator, Giovanni da Verrazano (c. 1485–1528), to search for the elusive “Passage to the Orient,” an all-water route from Europe to Asia. Though he did not find one, Verrazano did map much of the east coast of North America.

Later voyages by Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) brought the French expeditions into Canada from the St. Lawrence River. Attempts to settle this area were abandoned after harsh winters, and the French never committed to creating colonies like the English did.

The history of France in America is really a history of trade based mainly on furs. Expansion of New France , which went into regions now known as Minnesota , down the Mississippi River, and into Louisiana by 1700, were motivated mostly by trade interests.


Dutch claims in America stemmed from the trading posts and commercial centers of the Dutch West India Company . Around 1625, it established its first settlement at New Amsterdam (the area that would become New York ). Challenged by Indian wars and slow growth, the colony was nearly devastated by 1645.

Under new leadership, the colony grew to almost four thousand by 1650. It became an important base for the Dutch maritime fleet, which dominated world trade at the time. Conflicts in 1664 with the English forced the Dutch out, and its areas would become English.


Like France and Spain, England's initial efforts to build settlements in the wilderness of the New World met resistance from Native Americans. English persistence eventually brought success, and colonies began to flourish.

In 1585, a colony supported by a charter granted to English adventurer and writer Walter Raleigh (1554–1618) was established along the Carolina coast. Called the Roanoke Colony , its settlers were ill-prepared to do the work required to build a viable community. In 1590, relief ships arrived from England, but the colony had mysteriously vanished. It is often referred to as the Lost Colony.

The failure of Roanoke delayed further English colonization efforts until the early 1600s. A single charter was granted to two companies, the Plymouth Company and the London Company, to plant two colonies. The Plymouth Company's settlement on the Maine coast at Sagahadoc failed quickly.

The London Company, however, established a colony in 1607 on the James River, calling it Jamestown . Though it encountered many difficulties, it managed to survive, and eventually the settlers mastered living in the New World. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in America, the successful beginning of a large movement of English settlers to the New World.

In 1620, another group of settlers sailed to America aboard the Mayflower . Several of the passengers were Puritans , or Pilgrims, who were seeking religious freedom in the New World. Though their original intentions were to settle in Virginia , the group landed and stayed at Plymouth (eventually Massachusetts ). The success of this colony quickly attracted others who settled in the area of New England.

By 1630, Jamestown and Plymouth were quite successful, and there were fur trading and fishing villages scattered along the New England coast. In 1629, a group of English merchants organized another venture and moved the Massachusetts Bay Company to New England. In early 1630, seven hundred passengers arrived in Massachusetts to start the Massachusetts Bay Colony . Within a year, they had established seven towns, including Boston. This effort sparked the beginning of the Great Migration, in which over twenty thousand people emigrated to America by 1642.

By 1650, English settlements had a population of almost fifty-five thousand. Another proprietary, or business-owned, colony had been established near the Chesapeake colony of Virginia. Called Maryland , it competed in the production of tobacco and was a haven for Catholics in the New World. Similar proprietary colonies established Pennsylvania , the Carolinas, and New York. Religious dissenters from the Massachusetts Bay Colony established Rhode Island , Connecticut , and New Hampshire .

By the end of the seventeenth century, twelve of the original thirteen colonies (excepting Georgia ) had been founded. Five major cities developed as centers of trade and commerce along the Atlantic seaboard between Maine and South Carolina . The English colonies were thriving.

Conflict and motivation

Choosing to live in the colonies meant living a difficult and dangerous life. Challenging weather, illness, and conflict with Native Americans made life perilous. For many colonists, however, the benefits of life in the New World made the efforts worth the risks. Many Protestants found religious freedom to practice their Christian faith in supportive, like-minded communities. Those who could not find enough work in Europe were assured of land and work in the New World. Business investors knew the riches to be had from the natural resources and new crops.

While ultimately beneficial and profitable for many Europeans, colonization of the New World proved harmful to other societies. Native Americans, who had lived in the New World for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans, lost the power struggle for control of North America. Most Native American societies perished, and the few that survived did so barely on often marginal lands. At the same time, the need for cheap agricultural labor in the New World resulted in the enslavement of Africans until slavery in the United States was abolished in 1865.

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Expeditions . The population movements of the Archaic Period (700-480 b.c.e.) differed greatly from the mass migrations of the Dark Age (1000-800 b.c.e.). This time the emigrants departed under the aegis of the mother city and sometimes at her behest and with the sanction in the form of an oracular pronouncement of a god, usually Apollo. The metropolis also organized the colonizing expedition and appointed its leader. The colony that the emigrants founded at their place of destination was a regular city-state right from its inception. In organizing the new settlement the colonists generally replicated the civic and religious institutions of their mother city.

Settlements . Among the earliest settlements abroad were the colonies in Sicily and southern Italy, as far north as the Bay of Naples. Most of these colonies date to the eighth century b.c.e. Other regions colonized include the northern and eastern shores of the Aegean along the coasts of Thrace and Asia Minor. The number of the settlements in these areas grew until the entire Aegean littoral was Greek by the beginning of the fifth century. Meanwhile, the coasts along Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporos had also been settled by Greeks, while other colonies had sprung up at various spots around the Black Sea and along the southern coast of Asia Minor. Greeks also settled the island of Cyprus and established a colony at Cyrene in North Africa. There were Greek colonies in the far west on Corsica and the Balearic Islands, along the coast of Spain, and in the south of France near present-day Nice, Antibes, and Marseilles.

Social and Economic Causes . Until recently many economic historians believed that the motive for colonization was commerce. An economic revolution in old Greece, beginning in the eighth century, was the cause of a great increase in agricultural production and in the manufacture of durable goods, and so the need to export both increased also. The foundation of colonies overseas had in part the purpose of establishing new markets for the surplus production of the home states. The social and political consequence was the rise of a new class of wealthy manufacturers and merchants who demanded, generally unsuccessfully, equal political rights with the old landed aristocrats controlling the governments of the archaic states. The demands of the nouveaux riches were eventually met by the so-called tyrants, sole rulers, who came to power as the champions of the new mercantile class. In the meantime the emerging commercial world required an easy means of exchange and found it in the invention of coinage. The use of money, however, benefited only the rich and caused the small farmers to fall into debt.

Modern Model . In large part the model for this reconstruction was the industrial and mercantile world of modern times. The ancient evidence on which it rests is of necessity chiefly archaeological, that is, the distribution of pottery, since whatever written evidence scholars have is not detailed and mostly records political events. Pottery was widely used, and great amounts of it have been found throughout the Mediterranean region. It is not, however, an accurate indicator of the scale either of manufacture or of trade. First of all, only the fine, painted pottery has been studied extensively. Second, the manufacture of painted pottery was a luxury industry. Decorated vases were owned only by the rich; hence, the demand for them and the quantities produced and sold were small. Third, the fine ware also tended to be small in size and was therefore not used as containers of exportable goods, such as wine or oil. Finally, the majority of Greek states did not produce and

export painted pottery, while some of the overseas colonies such as on Sicily and near Marseilles that might be expected to import ceramics from the mother city made their own instead.

New Explanations . The results of recent archaeological research and the reexamination of the literary evidence have provided a different and better understanding of economic activity in ancient Greece. In this new picture the manufacture of pottery and trade with it, the backbone of the older reconstruction, plays a comparatively small part. The second large movement of people out of mainland Greece was caused by economic problems, or more exactly by overpopulation and consequently, scarcity of land. The population of many states and cities had been on the increase since the end of the Dark Age, while the supply of food had not. Greece and all other ancient states, like those of preindustrial Europe, were agrarian societies. The annual yield of a harvest, as in most parts of Europe today, was of only three or four times the seed grain. With such meager yields, even from a good harvest, grain became so scarce during the worst months of winter that bread was rationed; when the harvest was bad, there was starvation. This situation was made worse in Greece by the custom of dividing estates between all the male and, occasionally, female heirs. Disposing of an estate in this manner meant that smaller farms were the rule and large estates an exception.

Solutions . Efforts were made to limit the number of people living off a farm. One way was to delay marriage and procreation. According to the poet Hesiod, who wrote around the end of the eighth century, the right age for a man to marry was thirty. More than a century later the Athenian legislator Solon set the right age at twenty-nine to thirty-five years. Since males in ancient Greece were considered old enough to marry and have children at eighteen, clearly marriage was either being postponed deliberately. This scenario means that, given the life expectancy in that era, the son married when his father was near the end of his life or dead, so that a farm did not have to support the older generation as well as that of the son. Another consequence of a delayed marriage was that men between the years of eighteen and thirty would probably not have children; moreover, some men did not live to reach the age of thirty. Hesiod also recommended having only one son, which implies sexual abstinence in marriage. This recommendation and the pressure to marry later in life encouraged prostitution, well attested in the Archaic age, and the tolerance of homosexuality. Other ways of dealing with overpopulation were infanticide and exposure of newborns, and, if there was no dowry for her, marrying one’s sister rather than bringing another woman onto the farm.

Sharers of Land . The driving force behind this great wave of colonization was keeping population growth in check at home and satisfying the hunger for land by establishing colonies abroad. Finding new good land for agriculture was the aim of the emigrants. The colonists most often settled in regions that were the most fertile in grains. The first settlers of Syracuse in Sicily called themselves gamoroi (“sharers of land”), while the colony at Metapontum on the Gulf of Taranto struck coins that bore as the city’s symbol an ear of wheat.

Safety Valves . The Greeks took for granted that the colonies were primarily agricultural foundations providing safety valves against overpopulation in the mother country. They applied different terms to settlements abroad in order to distinguish an agricultural settlement from a commercial settlement. When a colony, often led by an aristocrat, was founded, it was called an apoikia (“house away from home”). A commercial foundation, on the other hand, was termed an emporium (trading post).


Antony Andrewes, The Greeks (New York: Knopf, 1967).

John Boardman, The Greeks Overseas (Baltimore: Penguin, 1964).

Thomas James Dunbabin, The Western Greeks: The History of Sicily and South Italy from the Foundation of the Greek Colonies to 480 B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948).

Antony M. Snodgrass, Archaic Greece: The Age of Experiment (London: Dent, 1980).

Chester G. Starr, The Ancient Greeks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

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Colonization occurs when a species enters and spreads into a new geographic area or habitat. This process involves both the initial entry, or invasion, into the new area by the species and its successful establishment there, which includes finding adequate resources for growth and reproduction. Less commonly, the term may be used when a parasite enters into and spreads inside a host or when a gene enters into and spreads within a new population.

The process of colonization is intensively studied along with theories of island biogeography because islands are discrete, measurable areas where colonization occurs. Island biogeography is the study of the dynamics that effect populations of isolated areas, and that encompasses the entire process of colonization. Island biogeography theories can be divided into three types. The first relates to habitat diversity and focuses on the suitability of the new habitat for the invading species. The second pertains to equilibrium, or the balance of colonization of the new habitat and its rate of extinction. The third concerns itself with the balance between colonization of the new habitat and speciation within it, and employs an evolutionary approach to examine it.

Increased habitat diversity is the most basic explanation to support the well-documented fact that as the area of land under study increases the number of species present increases. An organism that arrives to colonize a new area will need to find an appropriate habitat, or environment, in which to live. For example, a bird that uses large trees in which to nest will not be able to colonize a grassland. The proper habitat is of critical importance for the success of a colonizer, and even small differences in environmental factors such as soil type or humidity contribute to the success or failure of a new colonist.

A second theory of island biogeography is equilibrium theory. It explains the balance that is reached between colonization and extinction. The amount of colonization depends on the distance between the source of the colonizers and the new habitat. For example, the diversity of species on islands is greater when the islands are closer to the mainland than when they are farther away. The obvious reason is that the process of invasion, or the initial journey to the island, is more difficult when the distance is greater. The ease of the journey is different for different taxa, as birds may have no problem flying to an island whereas ground mammals would find it nearly impossible. Extinction is also known to occur faster on smaller islands because the available space fills up more quickly and competition drives some species to extinction.

Sometimes a new colonist finds abundant resources and little competition and is therefore highly successful and potentially free to evolve to take advantage of all the newly available untapped resources. In these cases, the evolutionary process impacts the colonizers faster than invasions of new species.

Examples of this situation can be found on remote islands such as the Hawaiian islands, where there are many closely related species of fruit fly that occur nowhere else. In this case, an ancestor was probably blown into the new habitat, where it established itself and had many generations of progeny, each of which ultimately invaded new habitats or neighboring islands that were free from competition. The new habitats were isolated enough from the founder population so that the invaders evolved into new species.

see also Migration.

Jean K. Krejca


Begon, Michael, John L. Harper, and Colin R. Townsend. Ecology, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1990.

Shafer, Craig L. Nature Preserves: Island Theory and Conservation Practice. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1990.

Smith, Robert L. Elements of Ecology, 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

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118. Colonization

  1. Evander Arcadian, founded settlement in Italy. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 100]
  2. Jamestown, Virginia first permanent English settlement in New World (1607). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 255]
  3. Mayflower ship which brought Pilgrims to New World (1620). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1730]
  4. Plymouth Plantation first English settlement in New England (1620). [Am. Hist.: Major Bradfords Town ]
  5. thirteen original colonies earliest settlements became first states in U.S. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2733]
  6. Williamsburg monument of American colonial period; settled in 1632. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 930]

Comedy (See ZANINESS .)

Comeuppance (See LAST LAUGH .)

Comfort (See LUXURY .)

Commerce (See FINANCE .)

Companionship (See FRIENDSHIP .)

Compassion (See KINDNESS .)

Compromise (See PEACEMAKING .)

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colonization The successful establishment of an invading species in a habitat.

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