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[Detail] Discovery of the Mississippi: By Ferdinand De Soto

Rival Land Claims

England, France, and the Netherlands became early rivals of Spain in colonizing the North American continent. The collection includes letters, documents, and transcripts relating to Giovanni da Verrazano, the Florentine who explored from Chesapeake Bay to Maine for France (1523-24).

In the 1560s the French attempted to establish several colonies on the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States, lands Spain had claimed as Florida. The French Huguenot colony established in 1562 at Port Royal, South Carolina, failed. However, a more successful colony of Fort Caroline on the St. John’s River in Florida (1564) greatly alarmed the Spanish. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés destroyed the French colony and founded the settlement of St. Augustine near the site of the former French colony. The colonial conflict between France and Spain continued as Dominique de Gourgues led an unsuccessful reprisal attack on the Spanish in 1568. Pierre Vaquieux wrote a narrative of the de Gourgues’s Florida expedition.

  • In general, why would one empire want to eliminate settlements of another empire?
  • More specifically, why might the Spanish alarmed by the prospect of French Protestant settlements in Florida?
  • Can you see any similarities between the concerns of empires in Age of Exploration with the concerns of countries today?

Read the “Notes” preceding the royal letter of King Philip IV to the viceroy of New Spain relating to transportation of wealth on the galleons across the Atlantic. Also read the “Notes” accompanying the Manifiesto Chronologico de las Cruzadas, which provided a legal argument for the collection of special taxes originally granted to the Spanish monarchs during the campaign against the Moslems in Spain.

  • To what extent was Spain dependent on the wealth from the colonies?
  • What inferences can be drawn of the importance of shipping precious metals in convoys across the Atlantic?
  • How was the cruzada taxing system related to Spanish efforts in the New World? What does the continued use of the taxing system suggest about the economic policy of Spain?
  • How might the needs of the Spanish treasury have heightened concerns about settlement by other European empires?

Spain was concerned about the establishment of settlements that could be used as havens for pirates attacking Spanish galleons carrying treasure to Spain throughout the colonial period. Various recommendations were addressed to King Charles II on the fortification of coastal communities in the West Indies against pirates.

England’s early attempts to colonize began as bases to attack Spanish galleons. In the latter part of the 16th century, Juan de Oñate searched the Atlantic coastline for rumored English settlements and reported that England had not made inroads in Spanish Florida. In 1607, however, the Jamestown colony established an English foothold on the Chesapeake. By the 1660s, England had further extended into the Carolinas and in 1732 granted a charter for the establishment of the Georgia colony as a buffer to protect the Carolinas. Spain protested English encroachment in a 1742 document offering historical proof of Spanish title to Georgia.

  • What does the map above show? How would this map bolster Spain’s claims to Georgia?
  • If Spain argued that its claims extended from what is now Florida to the Chesapeake Bay, why were the English and French able to establish settlements in these areas? How might Spain have prevented such settlements?

While European powers clashed over conflicting land claims on the Atlantic coast of North America and the islands of the Caribbean, the inland frontiers of New Spain were unchallenged by European rivals. Under Juan de Oñate, Spain explored an area from the Colorado River to Kansas. In 1610 Pedro de Peralta, the new governor of the territory, established a settlement at Santa Fe. In the next century Spain had established settlements in Texas and New Galicia.

Spain sent expeditions to explore the Pacific coast of California as early as 1542. Later in the century, Spain sought to establish settlements in California as safe harbors for the Manila galleons returning with wealth from the Philippines. By 1668 Spain had sent several expeditions to California without establishing settlements. The Jesuit Eusebio Kino set out to establish missions in California, but the Jesuits were expelled from Spain and Spanish America in 1767. José de Gálvez, visitor general to New Spain, aroused by Russian encroachments in Northern California, sent Gaspar de Portolá and the Franciscan Father Junípero Serra to establish settlements in California. A chain of missions and presidios stretched north from San Diego, assuring Spanish control over California.

Examine maps showing the routes of explorers from various European nations. The collection includes a map of the United States showing routes of principal explorers, from 1501 to 1844, and the 1694 French map below, which shows European land claims in North America.

  • According to the maps, which empire held the most land in North America in 1694?
  • Compare the two maps. Can you find any anomalies regarding explorers and land claims? That is, were any areas first explored by representatives of one European empire but claimed by another in 1694?