Motivations for Colonization

Motivations for Colonization

Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands established colonies in North America. Each country had different motivations for colonization and expectations about the potential benefits.


3 - 12


Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Religion, Social Studies, Economics, U.S. History, World History


Jamestown Colony Ferry

The opportunity to make money was one of the primary motivators for the colonization of the New World. The Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown colony to make a profit for its investors.

Painting by Richard Schlecht
The opportunity to make money was one of the primary motivators for the colonization of the New World. The Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown colony to make a profit for its investors.
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Hundreds of years ago, Europe traded goods with Asia using a land route. It was called the Silk Road. New rulers in Europe and Asia began making that trip harder. It then became better to travel by sea. This led Europeans to explore more parts of the world. Soon, Europe began taking over lands in the Americas.

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer. He wanted to find a faster way to get to Asia. He was hired by Spain's king and queen to do this. By mistake, he landed on an island in the Caribbean Sea, not far from North America. He thought he was in India, but he was wrong.

Other explorers heard about this and wanted to set sail as well. They said they were going to the "New World." Countries from Europe began to fight over these new lands. Spain, France, the Netherlands, and England all fought. Soon, colonies were settled and growing in the New World.

Money and Power in the New World

Spain wanted money and power. The country's explorers took over many empires and lands. They grew rich from the gold and silver they took. The Spanish also built many buildings. Today, we can still see some old buildings that the Spanish built. The oldest one in the United States was built in 1565. It is in Florida. Many others did not survive fights with Native Americans.

The Spanish wanted everyone in the New World to be Christian. They taught the native people Christian and European ways. The places where they settled began to grow from villages to cities. Many cities today started as these Spanish towns.

Fur Trading Was Good for France

The French began trading fur with the Native Americans in 1534. The land they took over in North America was mainly in Canada.

The Netherlands was a small but powerful country. The Dutch controlled trade with Asian islands in Indonesia. An explorer named Henry Hudson tried to find a faster way to get to Asia for the Dutch.

He did not find it, but he discovered a river that led to what is now New York City. Then the British took over the area in 1664.

England's Colonies

England had the most land in North America. The country wanted riches and a good way to travel by sea. Many of the English also wanted to be free to have their own church. In 1620, a group of settlers sailed to the New World. They wanted to get away from the Church of England. They were known as separatists.

Their ships landed in what is now Massachusetts. These were the first Pilgrims. They created many goods, which helped the British for many years. Colonies were built up and down the coast that made money for England.

Then, 200 years later, the colonies fought for their freedom from England and became a new country.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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