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European Settlers and Their Impact on America

Christopher Columbus painted by Sebastian del Piombo

Christopher Columbus painted by Sebastian del Piombo

A New World

Looking for a shorter route to the Far East, Christopher Columbus set sail under the Portuguese flag in 1492. What he found, however, was a “New World” populated with kind natives and brimming with new-found spices, agriculture, and precious metals. This discovery spurred other countries to begin colonizing these lands. European settlers began to settle in the Caribbean, where sugar cane crops were financed by wealthy backers. They also settled in South America where there were new precious metals, and in North America where tobacco and cotton were grown. These new colonists, building a new nation, forever changed the face of commerce and life in the Americas. The European settlers negatively impacted America due to their desire to conquer new lands and peoples by spreading disease to native inhabitants, and by introducing African slavery to the continent.

Europeans in America

In the aftermath of the Crusades, European Christendom was financially at the mercy of the Islamic world (who held a monopoly on spices, gold, and silk trades). This led to the desire to seek out a trade route to Africa and East Asia, thereby circumventing the need to use Islamic merchants to obtain trade goods. Instead, the Americas were found, offering an untapped bounty of trade goods that could turn the tables on Islamic Merchants and provide financial stability and wealth to Europe. By the 1600s the Atlantic seaboard was called Virginia, and Europeans sailed there with dreams of getting rich quickly through the discovery of goldmines. However, they soon found that this dream would not be reached, and began to set up plantations to grow tobacco.

Along with economic reasons, religion was also a driving factor in colonizing the New World. The Islamic Empire was vast and by migrating, Europeans hoped to increase the reach of Christianity in the hopes of one day conquering the Islamic Empire and retaking Jerusalem. As such, Queen Anne I decreed in 1705 “that all servants brought into this country without indenture, if the said servants be Christians, and of Christian parentage, and above nineteen years of age, shall serve but five years; and if under nineteen years of age, until they shall become twenty-four years of age, and no longer.” This desire to spread Christianity also affected the native inhabitants of the region.

Settlers' Affect on Indigenous Peoples

In settling Virginia, one of the stipulations was to attempt to Christianize the Indians. However, any progress was questionable. Furthermore, there was an unforeseen consequence of contact between Indian and European explorers: Europeans brought diseases with them, such as smallpox, measles, and influenza that the Indians had no resistance to fight. These are all considered crowd diseases, meaning that an individual, once exposed to the disease and surviving it became immune. A disease such as smallpox needs a population of 300,000 to survive. Smallpox was the greatest killer of Indigenous people during European colonization. Combined with other diseases, the death toll was between eighty and ninety percent for the Indigenous populace.

Furthermore, the native populace was used as slaves in North and South America. The slave trade was very lucrative for the settlers. Some tribes in the European Colonies resorted to raiding neighboring Indian villages and kidnapping tribal members to be sold to the European settlers as slaves. This practice did not end when African slaves began arriving in the Colonies during the Atlantic Slave trade. The European economy in the colonies was completely dependent on slavery and “was geared toward supporting the slave plantation complex of the West Indies”. Thus, between 1670 and 1720, more Indian slaves were shipped out of Charleston, South Carolina to the Caribbean than African slaves imported into Charleston.

By the 1800s, slavery was firmly established in the Colonies

By the 1800s, slavery was firmly established in the Colonies

African Slavery in the Colonies

By the 1800s, African slavery was firmly established in the Colonies. Many European settlers profited greatly from the African Slave Trade. Not only the profit from the sale of humans, but also the dividends reaped from the sale of crops. In a speech to the Pennsylvania Colonization Society, Alexander McGill claimed that “God brought Africans into slavery so they might adopt the culture of Christian civilization and carry it back to Africa.” This line of thinking perpetuated the Atlantic Slave trade. White European settlers believed that Africans were lesser than themselves, in that they were not civilized in the same manner. As a result of this mindset, they felt that they had the right to use Africans as slaves. Furthermore, similar to the Indian, there were also attempts to Christianize them.

One example of Christianized slaves was Reverend Henson. At the age of eighteen, Henson’s master allowed him to attend his first church service. According to Henson, “the idea that Christ sacrificed his life for every man -- a belief that appealed to him as a slave accustomed to degradation.” This became his focus, which became a catalyst to learn all he could. Before long, he began to tell others of what he learned, and began to pray openly with them. This knowledge of Christ changed Henson’s life and although a slave, it gave him a purpose. The teachings of Christ that all men are worthy of his love, buoyed him through the degradation he suffered as a slave. This allowed him to share his hope with others as well and affect many more slaves in the settlements.

An early American flag

An early American flag

Lasting Changes

The European settlers impacted America because of their desire to conquer new lands and peoples, which spread disease to native inhabitants, and introduced African slavery to the American colonies. The European desire for wealth led them to colonize America. Furthermore, after long years of religious crusades between Christians and Muslims, Europeans felt the need and the right to Christianize the native inhabitants of the Americas. It was felt that by Christianization, the “savages,” who were regarded as nothing better than slaves, could become civilized. However, the close contact between early settlers and natives had disastrous results. Diseases, for which the natives had no immunity, quickly spread resulting in death tolls so high that some tribes were completely eradicated. Additionally, the Europeans introduced African slavery to the Americas. Like the native inhabitants, Africans were also looked on as nothing more than pack animals, because of their color and because they were not civilized in the same manner as the Europeans. While the African Slave Trade was an economic boom, it (obviously) came at the cost of horrific brutality to the slaves. Once again, Europeans tried to Christianize African slaves to civilize them. Many converted and found peace in the teachings of Christ. Christian societies also began the movement to abolish slavery. In this manner, through invasion, disease, genocide, and conversion, European colonization forever changed the Americas.

Works Cited

Taylor, Alan, and Eric Foner. American colonies: The Settling of North America. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2010.

" Acts of the Commonwealth of Virginia 1667 and 1705." PBS. Accessed April 17, 2017.

Ojibwa. Native American Netroots. December 28, 2009. Accessed April 17, 2017.

Gallay, Alan. "Indian Slavery in the Americas." The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. March 21, 2012. Accessed April 17, 2017.

PBS. Accessed April 18, 2017.

PBS. Accessed April 18, 2017.


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 11, 2021:

There's no country of the world that has not pass through slavery. Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Savages. All pass through the system. I take it that human kind was indebt to an entity that start it. For example, a small clan can become indebt corporately in borrowing resource like money to bury the clan head. And if the debt was not cleared on time, they become enslaved. Sadly, such clan as a whole can be sold of as slaves in old days. Sadly again, certain small moslem states still carry on the slave trade secretly.

Brandy R Williams (author) from West Virginia on June 11, 2021:

I completely agree with you both. Thank you for your support. This is a subject that means a lot to me and I feel that people need to know the truth so that it never ever happens again in this world.

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on June 10, 2021:

Miebakagh Fiberesima, I believe that God allowed this to happen so that America could come to be. Greed did play a LARGE portion in the settlement of the Americas, however. I am glad my ancestors endured their trials so that I could live free in America.

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on June 10, 2021:

Europeans ravaged the world, it is true. Now that it has occurred, I would not change a thing. I would want to assure it does not happen again, however.

My ancestors were both slaves and slavers. The past was horrible for some slaves, probably the majority of them. I did not know that it was because of Islam that the Christian White tried to change the world. It worked in America. The Europeans took the whole content and racially mixed all the original tribes away except for a few in North and South America.

Thanks for putting effort into writing the article.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 10, 2021:

It is my believe that the mission of the Europeans is factored only by greed.