As Europeans fought for control of the trade on the African Coast, new battles of conquest began in the Americas. In 1492, Columbus mistakenly landed in America in his search for India. His mistake opened a new world of discovery and conquest for the Europeans and a world of devastation for the native Americans and Africans. After Columbusí initial trip, a flood of explorers and fortune hunters followed. In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil for the Portuguese. The Spanish American and Portuguese possessions multiplied from then on. The main economic activities were ranching, mining and agriculture. Spain carried on a prosperous trade with its colonies throughout the sixteenth century. The discovery of vast silver mines in the 1540s enriched the colonial inhabitants and increased the volume of trade across the Atlantic.
Though not initially inclined to do so, other European countries sought to expand their own empires and trading systems and soon joined the Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas. By 1609, the English had conquered Bermuda. By 1623, they also possessed Antigua, Monster, Nevis, Barbados, and other islands. Guadeloupe and Martinique belonged to the French by 1625. The Dutch, Swedes, and Danes also joined in the rush to the Americas.
But the colonization of this new world was not easy. Many European traders who crossed the Atlantic did not want to colonize, but only to profit from the trade. It is reluctantly that many traders decided to live away from their native countries. For example, England's initial plan for the Americas was to put as few people as possible overseas for the efficient running of their trading systems. But soon, the European countries were pushed into a colonial administration by their drive for profit. With the success of sugar and tobacco in the new world, small farmers and profiteers came in droves to the new world to gain from the prosperous new trade. This was only the beginning of the colonization process. To work the large plantations which soon formed, the English and other Europeans sent over white indentured servants. At the same time, the Spanish and Portuguese planters especially were exploiting Indian labor against the will of their governments and of the Catholic Church. The conquistadors raided the interior to find more Indians to exploit. Soon , most of the Indians, unused to the work, died of disease or were worked to death. To replace their dwindling resource, the Portuguese began to import slaves from their African ports. Thus, the African slave trade came to the new world.
Columbus' exploits in the Caribbean Islands for the crown of Castille opened new opportunities for trade and wealth for the Spanish throne. Spanish society of the period was conquest oriented. Even until 1492, the crown was still contending with Moorish settlements to the south. The expansionist mentality was Ingrained in the society . Columbus wanted to establish forts and trading posts , in which Spaniards would work for a salary, to facilitate trade with the native peoples. However, the crown preferred to populate the areas discovered by Columbus and to transplant Spanish society to America. In line with this policy, a large shipment of people and supplies left Spain in 1493 destined for Hispaniola, now the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo became the capital of this new settlement.
GOLD AND INDIAN EXPLOITATION
The Spaniards employed the encomienda system to exploit the labor of the Indians on the island. In the ecnomienda system, a tribe of Indians is given to a powerful Spaniard by the governor for his exploitation. Gold was the only commodity the Spanish could easily produce. So they forced the Indians to mine it for them. This gold supported the colony for twenty years. The colonists traded it for the European goods they desired such as wine and olive oil. The Portuguese monopolized the sugar trade. The colonists' desire to replicate their old society in the "New World" led to increased trade across the Atlantic in European cloth and manufactured goods as well. The Spanish felt that their society was the best and sought to impose it where possible. Italian merchants initially funded and controlled trade between Spain and the Indies, but eventually, members of the Castillian throne took over.
EXPANISION TO THE NORTH AND SOUTH
Conquistadors led Spanish expansion on the mainland in the search for gold, pearls, and Indian Slaves. With their metal weapons, shield, and armor, they easily captured Indian tribes. They later conquered present day Panama and Peru (The Incas) to the south and Cuba and Mexico (The Aztecs) to the north. In their wake they left their culture, mores, and religion. The discovery of silver mines in Peru in the 1540s boosted trade across the Atlantic as booty hunters made their fortunes.
FROM GOLD TO SUGAR
When the gold reserves began to run out, the Spanish resorted to planting sugar around 1515. They brought sugar experts from the Canary Islands and copied the plantation styles of the islands. They also began importing black slaves. By the 1540, there were several large sugar plantations in Hispaniola and around the Caribbean. Spanish throne imposed trading regulations and licenses on merchants heading to the Caribbean with complex restrictions. In spite of all of Spain's efforts however; smuggling was rampant. There was a strong demand for slaves, and a guaranteed profit for anyone who would provided them.
FRANCE THREATENS SPANISH POSSESSIONS IN THE EARLY 17TH CENTURY
The French threatened Spanish possessions in the New World. Separatist organizations in Holland prevented serious interest from being developed in the New World in the very early 17th century. Florida was the focus of France's attacks. Soon French pirates and buccaneers were intercepting Spanish ships entering and exiting the Caribbean
Complex sugar cultivation began in Cyprus and Sicily long before the Portuguese began exploring the African coast. The Italians took control of the sugar trade and actively traded it and financed its cultivation. They brought the techniques of sugar production, estate `management, and commercial organization to the Iberian Peninsula, the Atlantic Islands and later to the Americas. The Atlantic Islands included Madeira, Sao Tome, the Canaries, and the Azores. With Italian funding, the Portuguese developed complex sugar plantations and monopolized sugar production. Later, the Dutch West India Company became middlemen for the Portuguese as well.
BACKGROUND ON BRAZIL
Pedro Alvares Cabral, a Portuguese captain, was the first European to enter Brazil in 1498. Brazil was named after the brazilwood trees that lined its coast. The Portuguese had ignored the new discovery in favor of oriental trade. However, when the French began trading with the native peoples of Brazil for their trees, the Portuguese became concerned. European dye makers loved the dye extracted from the Brazil trees. The Spanish also traded somewhat along the Brazilian coast. The Portuguese therefore established Brazil's first settlement, Sao Vincent, in 1532 to ensure their dominion over the colony.
SUGAR AND SLAVERY
Colonization of Brazil was a lengthy process. Eventually, though, sugar became a major industry. The labor force was of course comprised of black slaves. The discovery of gold in 1693 led to a decline in sugar profits. European masters, bringing their slaves, flocked to gold mining sights in order to make their fortunes. In spite of this slump and others that would follow, sugar continued through 1750 to be the major crop of the Caribbean which enriched many European powers.
Tobacco production in the Caribbean was extremely important to the "triangular trade." The good quality tobacco was sent to Europe for pipes and snuff. Poorer quality tobacco was mixed with molasses and other additives and sent to Africa. However, tobacco was always secondary to sugar.
Mulatto or mixed race people were the inevitable byproduct of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Lonely European men who worked in the new world took mistresses and wives from among the Native Americans and some of the black slaves. Europeans discrimnated against this new race of people. However, they occasionally rose to positions of prominence within soceity.