The four European powers available for play in Colonization are the ones that had the greatest and longest-lasting influence on the New World: England, France, Holland, and Spain. Says the game's developer/publisher MicroPROSE (MPS), [i]f we had included a fifth nation, we probably would have chosen Portugal. Although Portugal's influence was larger than the Netherland’s, Portugal fell under Spanish rule for much of the time covered by the game and its policies and circumstances were very similar to Spain's.
These four major powers first looked across the Atlantic Ocean for a passage to Asia that would allow direct trade for spices, silk, and other valuable items, and avoid Arab middlemen. On the eve of the discovery and colonization of the New World, Portuguese explorers had rounded the Cape of Good Hope and opened just such a sea route through the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese fought to defend their monopoly over this route because it offered tremendous trade advantages over other European nations. The have-not nations, led by Christopher Columbus and Spain, eagerly sought an alternative route that would break Portuguese domination.
As we know, Columbus's voyage of 1492 did not discover islands on the eastern fringe of Asia, as he believed, but found instead a tremendous new land mass, unknown to Europe, stretching nearly from pole to pole. As disappointment over failing to find an easy passage to Asia subsided, there arose a corresponding curiosity about what Columbus had found. The early explorers returned to Europe with tales of gold, silver, furs, virgin forests, farmland without end, new foodstuffs, tobacco, and new races of people. The visionaries of Europe saw a wide range of opportunities in the form of quick wealth, fiefdoms, homesteads, religious freedom, raw materials, trading profits, and souls to save.
The following is a summary of the "real life" history of England, France, Holland, and Spain's activities in the New World as described by MPS in the game's manual.
THE WAY OF THE SPANISH
The Spanish were first to establish colonies in the New World and they had a relatively free hand for over 60 years. They had the good fortune to stumble on the largest, most advanced native civilizations in the Americas — areas rich in silver and gold. Beyond Columbus's discovery, 1492 was a momentous year for Spain. The combined Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile finally completed their 700 year re-conquest of the Spanish peninsula from the Moors. The wars of re-conquest (recoquista) had made Spain a nation of warriors and her soldiers were at a peak of skill and motivation. The Inquisition was actively re-establishing Christianity in the country and persecuting all other religions. At a time when years of combined effort and struggle were reaching a conclusion, the question of “what next?” arose. The discovery of the Americas offered an attractive answer: conquest of a New World…
Following Columbus's discovery, zealous adventurers directed their energy to the Americas. They paid their own way, hoping for great material profit in return. In an astonishingly short period of time, the mighty Aztec and Inca—and numerous smaller native nations—were defeated, subjugated, and pillaged. To the now-unemployed soldiers of Spain, the new continents to the west offered the possibility of gold and other riches, plus native populations to be fought, conquered, enslaved, and ruled. They anticipated quick conquest, then retirement in Spain upon riches obtained in the Americas, or retirement in America upon the labor and tribute of conquered natives. Behind the missionaries and conquistadors eventually followed the full train of Spanish Imperial government.
Tensions soon arose between missionaries and colonists over how natives were to be treated and the goals of the new empire. The extreme missionary view... rested upon the belief that the aboriginals were natural subjects of the Spanish Crown, equal to Spaniards, and entitled to the same rights under law. The colonialist view emphasized that natives were poor workers used to subsistence farming and that they needed to be kept under tight discipline. The official policy and theory of empire was determined by the middle of the 16th century. Natives were subjects of the Crown, not of Spain or person Spaniards. They were free men and could not be enslaved... unless they rebelled and were taken prisoner. Their land and property was not to be taken from them. Forced labor was permitted but only under public authority, and natives were to be paid.
The official Spanish policy toward Native Americans was enlightened for the age. Nevertheless, the natives suffered tremendously. Despite persuasion and torture, they would not adopt Christianity. Their resistance played into the Spanish colonists' hands by legally justifying the use of force, conquest, enslavement, and seizure of useful lands. The Spanish colonies eventually revolted from home rule in the 19th century. The revolt was led by colonial landowners who were descendants of the original conquistadors and holders of royal land grants. The Native Americans, however, found themselves no better off under local rule.
THE ENGLISH GO TO STAY
At the time of Columbus's discovery, England was a minor European power. She had lost her possessions in France during the Hundred Year's War and had suffered through a debilitating civil war at home. She was primarily an agricultural nation. Her industrial might and maritime empire still lay in the future. Columbus' discoveries and the following conquests in the New World inspired envy, but the English, like the French, were in no position to challenge Spanish sea power. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 marked the ascendancy of English naval power and the beginning of the end of Spain as an imperial power. But the English were not yet capable of seizing Spanish lands, so, to increase trade with the New World, they decided to settle locations ignored by the Spaniards.
The English settled in areas where there was little or no native population, due primarily to European diseases brought during the first Spanish incursions. The Spanish already held the populated and advanced areas where native labor was abundant. Organizers of the English colonies, therefore, had to import their entire community of laborers, craftsmen, and farmers from England. Settlers had to be induced to emigrate, and their tools, seed, and supplies had to be provided.
The first successful colony was placed at Jamestown, Virginia. This colony nearly failed several times, but was saved by the development of tobacco as a cash crop. In the Caribbean, the English grabbed several islands ignored by the Spanish. At the suggestion of Dutch colonists expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese, these English began switching to the production of sugar. It was an excellent choice for the climate, and sugar profits were soon triple the tobacco profits of Virginia. Far to the north, religious dissenters founded the third of the early English colonies in New England. The relative economic, political, and religious freedom of the English colonies proved very attractive to many. The first colonies advanced from survival to expansion.
Eventually, the strong hand of the English government was found too oppressive by the colonies. While the Crown felt it possessed the right and need to require colonies to pay for their share of the costs of government and maintaining a navy, the colonists came to vehemently disagree with this policy. The revolt of the North American English colonies in 1776 was an economic revolt as much as a political one.
THE FRENCH OUTPOST STRATEGY
The development of French colonies in the New World closely followed that of the English in many characteristics. Like the English, the French raided and traded in the Caribbean for many years in the early 16th century. They elected to settle in the same sorts of places that the English did in North America and in the West Indies. The French came to appreciate the value of colonies as sources of raw materials, especially naval stores and tropical products. They were well aware of the importance of naval power. The next colonial moves of the French so closely paralleled those of the English that they suggest close and conscious competition between the two countries. With much of the Spanish Armada at the bottom of the English Channel, England and France were now emerging as the true powers of Europe. France had first explored American coasts in the 16th century. France in 1600 was a powerful nation of sixteen million, twice as large as Spain and three times the size of England.
In 1609, Samuel de Champlain agreed to help the local Hurons and Algonquins in a war against the Iroquois to the south. Although this policy improved relations with the local natives and thus the fur trade, the long-term consequences were fateful. When the Iroquois later became the most powerful native nation between the French and English, their deep-rooted enmity to the French helped assure that the English would dominate the continent. France was primarily a feudal country of rich aristocrats and peasants, lacking an aggressive middle class. The middle classes of Spain and Portugal led the drive for Empire while the middle classes of England and the Netherlands fostered their mercantile traditions. French culture was more conservative and the people generally lacked the ambition or means for colonial expansion. French missionaries were the exception to the lack of interest by their countrymen.
The French had access to the interior of the new continent but not sufficient population to hold it. In 1640 there were three hundred Frenchmen in New France versus thousands of English colonists in Virginia, Maryland, and New England. New France consisted mainly of scattered small fortified outposts, built in strategic sites along rivers. By the late 17th century, the French and English in North America had bumped into each other as their colonies expanded. The English expanded inexorably, densely settling the coast and moving slowly inland. The French dotted the interior with small forts and trading posts at strategic places. War in Europe was extended into the Americas where Spain, France, and England fought for control of the continent.
The English gained the upper hand because of their large population base and their alliance with the Iroquois. The fall of Quebec in 1759 sealed the doom of New France. By the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, it became part of English North America: sixty-five thousand French colonists became English subjects. French claims along the Mississippi were transferred to Spain, leaving only a few small islands as French possessions in North America. French possessions in the Caribbean were held much longer.
THE DUTCH SEABORNE EMPIRE
Of the four colonial powers here, the Dutch had the smallest effect of the four in the New World, occupied the smallest land area, and lost most of their colonies to the English. However, their impact in the Americas was important, because what they lacked in size they made up in enterprise. In a series of protracted wars, the Netherlands had freed itself from oppressive and conservative Spanish domination. In asserting her new-found freedom, the Netherlands became one of the most free societies in Europe. Like the other northern European nations, the Dutch were too weak and certainly too small to challenge the Spanish directly. But they, like the others, began grabbing lands on the edge of the Spanish empire that were vacant and less attractive.
The Dutch did dominate seaborne trade in the 17th century. A small country with few natural resources, trade became her primary focus. She catered to other nations as the carrier of materials and goods from all over the world. She was the preferred shipper for most colonials because of low rates, longer credit, cheaper prices for European goods, and dependability. The Dutch most commonly established stations that rarely achieved the status of a colony. The Dutch themselves captured only a few islands for bases. They preferred islands because they were much easier to defend than harbors along the coast of South America which would need landward fortifications. A station in North America was attractive to the Dutch because it could provide an outpost for fur trading and a naval base on the American side of the Atlantic.
New Amsterdam, as the Dutch colony in Norht America was called, never attracted large numbers of colonists. The Dutch had no long-term imperial strategy. Their desires lay in income and profit; they had no interest in the conversion of the natives to Christianity, or any religion. The colony was unruly. The colony grew slowly. Dutch relations with the natives were on a par with the Virigians. One difference was that there was only a trickle of new colonists over the years, not the flood that came to Virginia to plant tobacco. While they were friendly to the natives, buying the land they took, this attitude lasted only as long as it was profitable. They turned on the natives in the lower Hudson Valley when they realized the Indians were unnecessary middlemen. By 1650, the New Amsterdam colony counted only two thousand odd residents, mostly on Manhattan. This was far fewer than the nearby English colonies. Strategically, the New Amsterdam colony was far more important than the Dutch realized at the time.
By the 1660's, continual Dutch infringements on the English trade acts justified an informal declaration of war between the two nations. The New Amsterdam colony surrendered without contest on the arrival of four English warships in its harbour. The colony and Dutch government raised little protest over this annexation. The English conquest was the end of a Dutch presence in North America. Elsewhere, they held on only to Curacao and a few other islands.