Monday, February 11, 2013

Brief Note: Difference of British colonies in the so-called new world from Spanish, Portuguese , French and Dutch Colonies

The largest contrast between the British colonies of North America and the Spanish, French, and Portuguese territories in the so-called new world, to include the colonies in the West Indies and the Caribbean, was religion. The British colonies were predominately Protestant and Puritan in character while the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies were overall Catholic. The only exception to this religious balance of power was the Dutch Quakers. The animosity between the protestant and Catholic religions could be seen from the beginning phases of British colonialism to North America as “all Hispanophobes and passionate anti-Catholics” were “willing to support colonization projects as a means of damaging Spain” and as “a way of removing potentially subversive Catholics from England” (James, 5). The divide between these religions was so great in the early North American colonies that in 1634, Catholics in the settlement of Maryland “were officially cautioned to hold their masses discreetly for fear that they might antagonize their protestant neighbors” (James, 10).

The conflicting ideologies of Protestant-Puritanism and Catholicism can also be seen in the new world conflicts between Britain and Spain. After Portugal and the Dutch had been humbled by British power, British leaders such as Cromwell began to view attacks on Spanish territories in the West Indies as an opportunity to “simultaneously damage the wealth and prestige of a leading Catholic power” which would be “interpreted as a victory for Protestantism” (James, 30). The British strike into the West Indies not only served as a protestant victory, it gained the Jamaica for the British Empire, which would become a major sugar producer for the rising hegemon.

Other notable differences were in the fields of agriculture and colonial work force characteristics. In the west Indies and the Spanish dominated Caribbean, where Britain held Barbados and later took Jamaica, Sugar was the staple crop that “enabled some plantation owners to become millionaires” (James, 17). In the North American British colonies, such as Virginia, it was the tobacco crop that “began a revolution that transformed the infant colony and the British economy” (James, 7). In order to export these valuable commodities, a large labor force that could handle physical labor was required. The Spanish colonies of the Caribbean, as a result of the Catholic Papal Bull Dum Diversas issued by Pope Nicolas V in 1452 to the king of Portugal, were already using African slaves prior to the emergence of noticeable British North American colonies. While European colonies in the Caribbean and North America attempted to utilize indentured servants, or settlers, for their main labor forces at the beginning of their colonization process, the African slave trade, provided by Portugal trade vessels, started to flourish during the 16th century in the Spanish Caribbean. The first records of African slaves in British North America show a much later exposure to African slave labor. The first written record of African slaves within a British North American colony were 20 Africans sold at Jamestown, Virginia around the year 1619.

The final difference that separated the British Colonies of North America from the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and French territories is that Britain was a rising hegemon that “from 1650 onwards” embarked on a massive ship building program in order to dominate the seas (James, 29). This “blue water school of foreign policy” advanced colonial possessions for Britain, advanced autarky and mercantilism, and eventually allowed the British Empire to become the predominate force in both the trans-Atlantic slave trade and international trade.

James, Lawrence. Rise and Fall of the British Empire, 3rd Ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Public Broadcasting Station, WNET New York. Slavery and the Making of America: Time and Place. Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004. Accessed on February 11, 2013 from

Sweet, James. Spanish and Portuguese Influences on Racial Slavery in British North America, 1492-1619. Accessed on February 11, 2013 from

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