European colonization of the Americas  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The European colonization of the Americas describes the history of the settlement and establishment of control of the continents of the Americas by most of the naval powers of Western Europe.

Systematic European colonization began in 1492, when a Spanish expedition headed by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new trade route to the Far East but inadvertently landed in what came to be known to Europeans as the "New World". He ran aground on 5 December 1492 on the northern part of Hispaniola, which the Taino people had inhabited since the 9th century; the site became the first permanent European settlement in the Americas. Western European conquest, large-scale exploration and colonization soon followed. Columbus's first two voyages (1492–93) reached the Bahamas and various Caribbean islands, including Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. In 1497, Italian explorer John Cabot, on behalf of England, landed on the North American coast, and a year later, Columbus's third voyage reached the South American coast. As the sponsor of Christopher Columbus's voyages, Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas, from North America and the Caribbean to the southern tip of South America.

The Spaniards began building their empire of the Americas in the Caribbean, using islands such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola as bases. The North and South American mainland fell to the conquistadors precipitating an estimated 8,000,000 deaths of indigenous populations primarily through the spread of Afro-Eurasian diseases.

Some authors have argued this demographic collapse to be the first large-scale act of genocide in the modern era. Florida fell to Juan Ponce de León after 1513. From 1519 to 1521, Hernán Cortés waged a campaign against the Aztec Empire, ruled by Moctezuma II. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, became Mexico City, the chief city of what the Spanish were now calling "New Spain". More than 240,000 Aztecs died during the siege of Tenochtitlan. Of these, 100,000 died in combat.

Between 500 and 1,000 of the Spaniards engaged in the conquest died. Later, the areas that are today California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama were taken over by other conquistadors, such as Hernando de Soto, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Farther to the south, Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire during the 1530s. The de Soto expedition was the first major encounter of Europeans with North American Indians in the eastern half of the United States. The expedition journeyed from Florida through present-day Georgia and the Carolinas, then west across the Mississippi and into Texas. De Soto fought his biggest battle at the walled town of Mabila in present-day Alabama on October 18, 1540. Spanish losses were 22 killed and 148 wounded. The Spaniards claimed that 2,500 Indians died. If true, Mabila was the bloodiest battle ever fought between Native Americans and Europeans in the present-day United States.

The centuries of continuous conflicts between the North American Indians and the Anglo-Americans were secondary to the devastation wrought on the densely populated Meso-American, Andean, and Caribbean heartlands.

The British colonization of the Americas started with the unsuccessful settlement attempts in Roanoke and Newfoundland. The English eventually went on to control much of Eastern North America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. The British also gained Florida and Quebec in the French and Indian War.

Other powers such as France also founded colonies in the Americas: in eastern North America, a number of Caribbean islands and small coastal parts of South America. Portugal colonized Brazil, tried colonizing the eastern coasts of present-day Canada and settled for extended periods northwest (on the east bank) of the River Plate. The Age of Exploration was the beginning of territorial expansion for several European countries. Europe had been preoccupied with internal wars and was slowly recovering from the loss of population caused by the Black Death; thus the rapid rate at which it grew in wealth and power was unforeseeable in the early 15th century.

Eventually, most of the Western Hemisphere came under the control of Western European governments, leading to changes to its landscape, population, and plant and animal life. In the 19th century over 50 million people left Western Europe for the Americas. The post-1492 era is known as the period of the Columbian Exchange, a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations (including slaves), ideas, and communicable disease between the North and South American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres following Columbus's voyages to the Americas.

Henry F. Dobyns estimates that immediately before European colonization of the Americas there were between 90 and 112 million people in the Americas; a larger population than Europe at the same time.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "European colonization of the Americas" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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