The Dutch came to North America to trade, not to conquer. They were less interested in settling the land than in exacting profits from it. Mindful of the Black Legend of Spanish cruelty, the Dutch determined to treat the native inhabitants more humanely than the Spanish. Having won their own independence from Spain after the longest and bloodiest war of sixteenth-century Europe, many Dutch identified with American Indians as fellow victims of Spanish oppression. They justified their imperial ambitions, in part, as an effort to liberate the New World from the tyranny of Spain and the Catholic Church. Initially, however, they aimed less to convert the Indian population than to employ it in the profitable fur trade.

From the beginning, Dutch authorities recognized Indian sovereignty over the land and forbade settlement in any area until it had been purchased. But they also required tribes to make payments to colonial authorities.

The seal of New Netherland, adopted by the Dutch West India Company in 1630, suggests the centrality of the fur trade to the colony’s prospects. Surrounding the beaver is wampum, a string of beads used by Indians in religious rituals and as currency.

Near the coast, where most newcomers settled, New Netherland was hardly free of conflict with the Indians. The expansionist ambitions of Governor William Kieft, who in the 1640s began seizing fertile farmland from the nearby Algonquian Indians, sparked a three-year war that resulted in the death of 1,000 Indians and more than 200 colonists. With the powerful Iroquois Confederacy of the upper Hudson Valley, however, the Dutch established friendly commercial and diplomatic relations.

Thus, before the planting of English colonies in North America, other European nations had established various kinds of settlements in the New World. Despite their differences, the Spanish, French, and Dutch empires shared certain features. All brought Christianity, new forms of technology and learning, new legal systems and family relations, and new forms of economic enterprise and wealth creation. They also brought savage warfare and widespread disease. These empires were aware of one another’s existence. They studied and borrowed from one another, each lauding itself as superior to the others.

From the outset, dreams of freedom—for Indians, for settlers, for the entire world through the spread of Christianity—inspired and justified colonization. It would be no different when, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, England entered the struggle for empire in North America.

A map of the Western Hemisphere, published in 1592 in Antwerp, then ruled by Spain and now part of Belgium. It shows North America divided between New France and New Spain before the coming of the English.


1. Describe why the “discovery” of America was one of the “most important events recorded in the history of mankind,” according to Adam Smith.

2. Using what you read in this chapter about the movement of peoples, explain how North America became the location where East and West came together.

3. One of the most striking features of the Native American society at the time of European discovery was its sheer diversity. Support this statement.

4. Compare and contrast European values and ways of life to that of the Indians. Be sure to look at religion, views on property ownership, gender relations, and views of freedom.

5. What were the main factors fueling the European age of expansion?

6. Describe the political, religious, and economic motivations for Spanish conquest.

7. Compare the political, economic, and religious motivations behind the French and Dutch empires with those of New Spain.

8. Describe how the attitudes and actions of the French and Dutch differed from those of Spain.

9. How would European settlers explain their superiority to Native Americans and justify both the conquest of Native lands and terminating their freedom?


1. Although some European observers believed Native Americans embodied freedom, most reached the conclusion that Native Americans did not know what freedom was because they were “too free.” On what basis did they make this claim?

2. On the eve of colonization, European concepts of freedom bore little resemblance to our modern concepts of personal liberties. Explain how the ideals of “Christian liberty.” obedience to authority, and adhering to one’s social rank shaped the fifteenth-century idea of freedom.

3. Spanish and French settlers both claimed to be freeing Native Americans by bringing them advanced civilization and Catholicism. Justify this claim with specific examples as either of these European powers would have at the time.

4. How did Pope’s revolt in 1680 immediately restore freedom to the Pueblo Indians, and what happened once the Spanish returned?

5. Both at home and in the New World, the Dutch enjoyed greater freedoms than other European citizens. Explore this comparison using specific examples.

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