What European Countries Had a Colonial Presence in the 17th Century?

A 17th century panorama of New Amsterdam, which would become New York.
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After Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, a race began among European powers to see who could acquire the most territory in the New World. This was particularly true after conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro conquered Mexico and Peru, respectively, and gold and silver began flowing back to Spain. North of Mexico, The English, Dutch and French settled in relatively large colonies in the 17th century, with Spain making inroads in Florida.

1 First English Colony

The first permanent English colony in America was in Jamestown, in 1607. Despite battles with Indians and malaria, the colony eventually prospered. In 1620, a new wave of English immigrants arrived farther north in what is now Massachusetts when the Puritans landed. Because New England was settled by families, instead of Jamestown's single settlers, and since the climate was more healthful, New England’s population grew more rapidly than that of colonies south of Chesapeake Bay. By the end of the 17th century, despite the bloody King Philip’s War with the Native Americans, the population of New England had grown to 50,000.

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2 Along the St. Lawrence

The French explorer Jacques Cartier claimed possession of what is now Canada for France in 1534, when he sailed up the St. Lawrence River during his search for a northwest passage, but Canada didn’t begin to colonize until 1608. Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in that year, the first permanent French settlement of what would come to be called New France. Centered mainly around fur trading and small farms along the St. Lawrence, the colony was hindered by fierce opposition from the Iroquois, who fought French occupation until the Great Peace of 1701. Hindered by a much smaller population than Britain’s colonies, New France would eventually be lost to the British after the French and Indian War ended in 1763.

3 New Amsterdam to New York

The Dutch, too, colonized North America during the 17th century. Sent by the Dutch East Indies Company, explorer Henry Hudson – like Jacques Cartier, seeking a northwest passage – sailed up the Hudson River and claimed the area for the Netherlands. In 1624, 30 Dutch families arrived on the island of Manhattan and started a settlement named New Amsterdam. Under the aggressive governorship of Director General Peter Stuyvesant, who arrived in 1647, the colony expanded north up the Hudson and became a bustling, profitable mercantile center, growing from its original 30 families to 9,000 people in 1664. However, in that year the Dutch lost New Amsterdam to Britain during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The British occupied New Amsterdam in September of 1664, renaming it New York.

4 The Oldest New World City

While Spain had powerful colonies in Mexico, which included parts of today’s American Southwest, and South America, Florida was her one attempt to colonize the Atlantic seacoast. Spain founded the city of St. Augustine in 1565, making it the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. St. Augustine was less a colony of settlers than a military base, from which numerous failed expeditions were sent out to pacify the Indians of the surrounding countryside. Spain lost the territory of England after the Seven Years War, although regaining it briefly after the American Revolution.

Based in New Jersey, Joseph Cummins has been a freelance writer since 2002. He has written 17 books covering history, politics and culture. He has a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Columbia University. His work has been featured in "The New York Times" Freakonomics blog, "Politico," "New York Archives" magazine, "The Carolina Quarterly," "The Michigan Quarterly" and elsewhere.