The Settling of the Western Hemisphere (1450 - 1650) for AP US History

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Updated on Mar 3, 2011

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The Settling of the Western Hemisphere Review Questions for AP US History


There were several reasons why Europeans became interested in the Americas from 1450 to 1500. Economic and political factors were dominant. The French settled in Canada and eventually turned to trapping and fur trading. Overcrowding in England and religious persecution were both factors in driving some Englishmen toward America. In the Jamestown colony indentured servants and the first slaves brought to the Americas made up a majority of the workforce. The Massachusetts Bay colony was established in 1629 by the Puritans; Governor John Winthrop envisioned the colony as a "city upon a hill." Religious dissent led to the founding of several more New England colonies. The ecosystem of the Americas was drastically altered by the Europeans.


Puritans: group of religious dissidents who came to the New World so they would have a location to establish a "purer" church than the one that existed in England.

Separatists: religious group that also opposed the Church of England; this group first went to Holland, and then some went on to the Americas.

Indentured servants: individuals who exchanged compulsory service for free passage to the American colonies.

Native Americans and European Exploration

European Exploration of the Americas

There are several important reasons why Europeans were interested in the Americas in the period 1450–1500. Some historians emphasize that only limited economic growth appeared possible in Europe itself. European monarchs and entrepreneurs therefore had to look abroad for future profits. Europeans could now travel faster and farther, because of better shipbuilding techniques and the perfection of the astrolabe and the compass. The Crusades had whetted the appetites of Europeans for the luxury goods provided by Asia, further encouraging exploration. In addition, the growth of nation-states (governed by kings) during this period increased the competition between European powers for both wealth and territory.

The French in Canada

The French didn't have any permanent settlements in Canada until 1608, when Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec. Few colonists ever came to the French territory in Canada: the climate was considered undesirable, and the French government provided few incentives for them to leave France. In addition, the dissident Huguenots were legally forbidden from emigrating. It should be noted that over 65 percent of all those who did come to Quebec ended up returning to France.

The French also desired to convert Native Americans to Catholicism but used much less coercive tactics than the Spanish had in Central and South America. Samuel de Champlain actually entered into alliances with the Huron and other Native American tribes, largely for protection for his somewhat unstable settlement. The French joined with the Huron and the Algonquians in a battle against the Iroquois tribe in 1608.

Those settlers who did stay in Quebec turned from farming to trapping and fur trading. French explorers ventured into the interior of North America to develop the fur-trading industry. Jesuit Jacques Marquette and fur trader Louis Joliet reached the Mississippi River, Wisconsin, and Arkansas; Robert La Salle continued to explore along the Mississippi River and named the territory Louisiana (after Louis XIV).

The impact of the French on Native Americans they came into contact with was profound. The diseases they brought wiped out an estimated 30 percent of all tribes they encoutered. Many Native American tribes desired to dominate the fur trade desired by the French; this created a series of very bloody wars between these tribes. Jesuit priests were effective in converting thousands of Native Americans to Christianity. Jesuits were more successful than the Spanish Franciscans in converting natives, largely because natives were also asked to become forced laborers in Spanish territories. When the French fought the British and British colonists in the French and Indian wars in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, most Native American tribes sided with the French.

In short, the French territories were successful as a fur-trading enterprise and a place where natives were converted to Christianity; the territories were a failure in the sense that large numbers of settlers never took root there.

It should also be noted that during this period the Dutch made their initial entry into the Americas. The Dutch were largely interested in the commercial possibilities that the Americas offered them. In 1609, Henry Hudson discovered and named the Hudson River, and proceeded to establish trading settlements on the island of Manhattan, at Fort Nassau (soon renamed Albany), and in present-day Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Like the French, the Dutch were unable to attract large numbers of settlers to Dutch territories, and were successful in fur trading. However, the aggression of the Dutch in expanding their territory brought them into bloody conflict with several Native American tribes, thus limiting the success of Dutch economic endeavors.

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