Why Did Europeans Come to America?
There were a multitude of reasons why various European immigrants traveled to the Americas, but two of the biggest reasons were economic opportunity and freedom from religious persecution.
Though people have been traveling to the Americas for thousands of years, Christopher Columbus is often credited with “discovering” it in 1492. Though he did not actually discover America, Columbus’ travels to the New World prompted the Golden Age of Exploration in the 1500s when many European countries financed expeditions and settlements in America. Each country had similar reasons for traveling to the New World, primarily to expand the European empires and exploit the resources of the new land.
English Immigrants in America
In the late 1500s, English immigrants began traveling to America in search of gold and to establish new settlements. The first English settlers settled in Roanoke. All of these settlers mysteriously disappeared, leading the colony to later be referred to as “The Lost Colony.” The Pilgrims began settling in America in the early 1600s, with their first settlement in Plymouth. Later, Puritans seeking religious freedom fled England and settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
From 1620 to 1640, Great Britain focused a lot of resources and efforts on establishing new colonies in America. This period was known as the Great Migration when an estimated 50,000 immigrants from Great Britain settled in America and established the 13 colonies. Nearly 80 percent of the immigrants were brought over as indentured servants and used as cheap labor to help build the New World.
Spanish Immigrants in America
The main objective for Spain to travel to and settle in America was to gain wealth and prestige for the country as well as to spread the Catholic religion. Spain established towns, missions and military installations throughout the south Atlantic coast, Mexico and Caribbean islands. The first Spanish settlers began arriving in New Spain, as it was called, in 1519. The first colony was established in Florida. The Spanish had control and heavy influence in the region for nearly 300 years.
French Immigrants in America
France’s primary goal for traveling to the New World was to acquire as much land as possible. In the more than 200 years of travel and exploration, France amassed over 300 million square miles of land in America. France claimed the entire Mississippi Valley region including Canada and the land all the way down to Louisiana. In 1763, following the Treaty of Paris, France ceded all of the land east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain.
Other Immigrants in America
While England, Spain and France were the three most powerful European countries settling in America, they were not the only ones. Swedish immigrants came in the 1840s due to famine and crop failure in their home country. Likewise, German immigrants were mostly farmers traveling to American for better farming prospects. Many Scottish and Irish people immigrated to America as indentured servants then later for better economic and employment opportunities.
While there were several reasons for European immigrants to travel to America, the common theme is that the New World offered new opportunities and a new life for many people living in Europe. Many traveled willingly, and others were forced to make the long and dangerous journey to help expand the empire of their home country.