European Colonies

1532-1648: The Netherlands, France, and England focus on expansion and colonization

Although pirates were chipping away at Spanish profits from their new colonies, this hardly helped the other European nations subvert Spain's stranglehold to achieve their own goals of controlling part of the region and finding their own gold. It wasn't long before these nations, too, wanted colonies.

New Colonies

As Spain's power declined in Caribbean history, more and more of the islands were colonized by the three powers seeking some part in the region.

Date Colony (Current location) European Power
1532 Trinidad (failed) Spain
1569 Trinidad (failed) Spain
1592 Trinidad Spain
1600 Sint Eustatius Netherlands
1605 St. Lucia (failed) England
1609 Grenada (failed) England
1624 St. Kitts, Nevis, Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), Barbados, Montserrat England

Berbice (Guyana, South America) Netherlands
1625 St. Kitts

St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands) England and Netherlands
1628 Tortuga (British Virgin Islands) France
1631 St. Martin Netherlands
1633 St. Martin Spain (from Netherlands)
1634 Curaçao Netherlands
1635 Sint Eustatius Netherlands

Martinique, Guadeloupe France
1636 Aruba, Bonaire Netherlands
1648 St. Martin England and France (shared)

Each European power created its own type of colony based on its own needs at the time. For example, Spain grew a large amount of the world's tobacco, while others simply wanted land and an upper hand with which to trade goods in the region. Each country had its own designs on the Caribbean. Some countries developed different styles of colonies, but the two needs in the chart below applied to many of the colonies:

Production Colonies
Tobacco Barbados, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Kitts
Trading Berbice, Jamaica, St. Croix, Sint Eustatius

Salt was another top product for Dutch colonies, while Jamaica, of course, was home to a number of sugar plantations.

Dutch Expansion

During this period, the Netherlands was extremely important in the growth of the modern Caribbean. Although the Dutch would have a much smaller political influence on the region during later chapters in history, they dominated the period of earliest exploration.

They are, as the above chart indicates, the first nation that wasn't Spain to stake a claim in the New World, and their domination in the seas kept the Spanish from harming their new colonies. In fact, the Dutch paved the way for French and English settlements by their domination on the sea.

The end of a peace treaty between Spain and the Netherlands in 1618 led to the renewal of warfare between these two European powers. However, this time the war had a new front in the Caribbean, and the Dutch dominated the seafaring world. This war, named the Thirty Years' War, lasted for just that long.

The Dutch also made attempts to capture parts of Brazil, tying up Portugal as well as Spain in battles. However, the main Dutch interest - other than raiding Spanish colonies - was trade, and when the French and English developed colonies in the region, they gladly traded with the Dutch. In fact, even after the 1650s, Dutch ships were preferred in the colonies because the planters often received better agreements.

However, the Dutch West Indies Company in the 1630s truly made expansion in the Caribbean possible - and profitable - for the Netherlands. Much like their company in the East Indies, the company financed expeditions and settlements in the New World.

English and French

Privateering led almost directly to the settlement of the Lesser Antilles, particularly by England and France. These countries needed convenient bases to make repairs on their ships, and stops between voyages led to the development of small settlements on the colonies.

Although the Carib Indians drove the British out of a number of colonies early on, other settlements fared much better. Sir Thomas Warner landed on St. Kitts briefly on a return trip from the Amazon and found it a good place to settle. He began his stay in 1624. French settlers also came to this island in 1625, and the two split the island between themselves after defeating the Caribs. Shortly thereafter, England named Warner the governor of St. Kitts, Nevis, Barbados, and Montserrat.

Barbados quickly became the top colony in the region, and it was more easily settled. In 1627, the first permanent settlement formed. Barbados was not only larger than St. Kitts, it was also not inhabited by Caribs, making the settlement much easier to sustain. Tobacco was the earliest crop on these islands. St. Kitts, however, remained the French capital in the region for many years.

Martinique and Guadeloupe were the next French claims, both settled in 1635. The French quickly settled and imported slaves to work sugar and tobacco plantations on their islands, hoping to cash in on the profits available.

The Caribbean was beginning to take shape, with the islands being divided by the four most powerful European nations. However, the settlement of these islands would not always be so peaceful.

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