Discovery and Competition
Explorers like Christopher Columbus were looking for a westward route to Asia when they stumbled onto the American continents. European nations competed to claim these new lands and the riches they might contain.
Spain claimed vast territories, including Mexico and the southwestern portion of the future United States. In their search for gold and other treasures, Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. The Spanish also brought enslaved Africans to the Americas to plant and harvest crops. In the American Southwest, Spanish missionaries worked to convert American Indians to Christianity.
The French staked a claim to much of present-day Canada, as well as Louisiana, the territory west of the Mississippi River. Most French settlers were more interested in trapping and trading furs than in farming or establishing large settlements.
The English based their claim to North America on John Cabot's 1497 voyage. After several attempts, the English established their first permanent colony at Jamestown in Virginia.
The Dutch established a foothold in North America by founding the colony of New Netherland. The English, however, drove the Dutch out and renamed the colony New York.
Effects on American Indians
For American Indians, the arrival of Europeans brought many changes, including new technology and new ideas. But they also brought deadly diseases that killed great numbers of the first Americans.