The British Empire is one of the most extensive empires in the world history. The empire is said to have ruled a population of between four hundred and seventy to five hundred and seventy million people by 1921, which is equivalent to a third of the world population. The development of the British Empire can be dated back to the activities of King Henry VII who reined in a period dated 1485 to 1509. King Henry had a strong drive to improve the British economy through trade and development of factories within and outside Britain. As a way of promoting trade, he established a modernized merchant system which mostly depended on sea transport, thus promoting the building of ships and seafaring. This is one of the reasons that led to the discovery and exploration of the New World as the merchants circumnavigated the world in search of a short passage in the Northwest.
The expansion and establishment of the British empire in the new world however took place in later years during the reign of Queen Elizabethan I. The vastness of the empire especially to the newly discovered land of Americas also referred to as the new world by the early explorers, was initiated by queen Elizabeth I, who was King Henry VII’s granddaughter. Despite a successful establishment of the empire in the new world, several factors including the fall of colonialism in America and the first World War attributed to its fall after several years of superiority. This paper, therefore, outlines the historical events that led to the establishment of the British Empire in the New World including the reasons for the exploration and colonization of the Americas and the subsequent fall of the empire.
Early British settlement in the new world
As history states, the New world or the modern day America, was first discovered by the explorer Christopher Columbus who gave the continent the name ‘New World’ as it had not been discovered before. However, settlement by the foreigners had not taken place as little was known about the existence of this new world. The early British settlement in this part of America occurred in the early 16th century after the British merchants and explorers circumnavigated the world in search of the easiest Northwest Passage that could ease the sea transport. However after the discovery of the new world, mainly North America, the navigators took a chance of exploring the place including its potentiality in increasing the wealth of England. The first attempt of the English people to settle in the new world was made in 1457 by John Cabot and his crew just a few year after the discovery made by Christopher Columbus, as they searched for a possible passage.
In contrast, as a result of intensified political and religious wrangles and the war with Spain and French, England took little interest in the new world as they were preoccupied with the intense war. This made various attempts to expand the settlement into a new world almost impossible including the attempts made by Martin Frobisher, who landed in Canada, John Hawking, and Sir Francis Drake. However, after the tremendous defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, England regained the superpowers to become the world’s strongest country. This prompted the state under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I seek to expand the British Empire behold the current territories.
As a result, the request by Sir Walter Raleigh to expand the British Empire into the new world was granted by the queen without any conditions, especially since Raleigh had played an appealing role in suppressing the rebellions in Ireland. The first attempt to expand the British Empire in America took place in 1585 where the first colony was formed at Roanoke, the modern day Virginia under the supervision of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Raleigh named this colony Virginia in favor of the queen of England. Sir Raleigh had vowed to continue the legacy of his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who had previously claimed Newfoundland as part of the Britain kingdom. This led to a subsequent settlement of 150 colonists in the region, under the leadership of Captain John White in 1855.This colony, however was short lived as the Kingdom could not provide adequate primary support to the colony as a result of the ongoing war with Spain back at home. In addition, the disappearance of the colonists in 1858 after Captain White had gone to get colony supplies discouraged further resettlement in the region. This led to the collapse of the territory
Following a prolonged war between England and Spain, the effort to seek new territories in the New World were post phoned until the year 1607 when the attempt to find new lands to generate wealth were made at Jamestown. A group of businessmen who referred themselves as the Virginia Company of London moved to Jamestown with a hope of creating wealth from gold and silver discoveries in contrast to their precedent colonies of Virginia who had settled with the aim of colonization (Porter, 72).
As a result, the colonists ventured into large scale farming in tobacco plantations after the formation of the General Assembly of the Virginian burgesses that was convened in 1618 that led in formation of the first governing system in the new British territory (Weir, 190). The success of the cash crop plantations, however, required ample supply of the labor force and this prompted the settlers to engage in the slave trade with an attempt to acquire workers for their farms. The failure of the Virginia Company to make profits from their farms however, led to the revocation of the charter in the year 1624, thus making Virginia a royal colony whose political structure was directly administered under the English customs and laws.
The second strongest British colony was established in 1620 when a group of religious pilgrims settled in Plymouth after they had fled from Europe as a result of religious wrangles, thus making them to flee to the New World in search of new settlements (Weir, 238). This group of settlers related fairly well with the local communities and engaged in small-scale farming as compared to the southern colonists who embarked on large-scale farming.
However, the eruption of King Phillip’s war of 1675 resulted to tension between the local Wampoang and the Red Indian communities and the colonist although the colonists won the war. After a prolonged administration of the Charter rule in Massachusetts, the colony was later absorbed by the royal colony in 1691, thus unifying the colonies and making the British Empire stronger and broader.
The third territory in the New World was acquired in 1629 in North Carolina after King Charles I granted a Charter to eight businessmen to exploit the riches of this region as a way of accumulating wealth for the empire. The proprietors majored in large scale farming and the region became the main exporters of rice and indigo in 1690 and 1746 respectively. However, the push to have a self-regulatory system in North Carolina resulted to the territory becoming a royal colony after the proprietary regime was overthrown in 1729 (Porter, 120).
As a consequence of the benefits that the new territory provided to the colonists’ mother country which was mainly exports of raw and processed materials to England, the interest to expand the empire in the new world intensifies. Subsequently, more colonies were acquired both in the Northern and Southern America and the Caribbean, making the British Empire in the new world the most successful and strongest. The expansion of the empire however attracted the interests of other Europeans such as Spain, Germany and France.
The administration that was used in governing the colonies in the New World involved three types of colonies mainly the Charter, crown or royal and proprietary colonies. Charter colonies involved the King or Queen of England granting charter to the colonists where they were allowed to make their rules within their territories (Weir, 56). This form of control was administered in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Proprietary colony, on the other hand, was used by the king in granting ownership of the land in the New World mostly to the wealthy merchants and close acquaintances.
As Porter (243) notes, the method mostly benefited the proprietors as they majored in acquiring private property through the rules they administered (Martinez, 98). Crown or royal colonies involved appointment of a governor by the Monarchy to rule the colony. The colony involved administration of a rule that were used in England as compared to other types of colonies where the colonists made their regulations.
Reasons for developed interest in the New World
Colonists and settlers moved into the new world with different agendas, the main one being accumulation of riches and expansion of the British Empire. As stated above, the initial reason for the settlement in the New World was initiated by the navigators who were looking for a possible passage in the Northwest including the likes of Sir Drake and Raleigh. However, as these navigators discovered the existence of the new world, they developed an interest in exploring the riches and potentiality of the region, thus attracting the attention of other merchants.
Also, the discovery of what was thought to be gold by the early explorers presented the New World as a potential source of Wealth for the British Empire (Porter, 300). This made the beginning of the colonists such as the Virginia Company of London to settle in the territory with the aim of exploiting the available wealth. Other navigators, mainly the pirates moved into a new world through collecting valuables from the Spanish ships along the pacific.
In addition, the emergence of Great Britain as the strongest Kingdom after the defeat of Spain prompted the kingdom into seeking new territories with the aim of expanding the empire through ruling as many people as possible. The initial colonies such as Roanoke were acquired as a way of expanding the empire. Other than the drive to expand the kingdom and accumulate wealth, religious and cultural conflicts in Europe also prompted people to seek new settlement place in the new world (Porter, 191). This is seen in the case of the acquisition of Plymouth or Massachusetts colonies.
Factors that led to the fall of British Empire in the New World
The fall of the initial colonies such as the Roanoke also known as the lost colony was as a result of harsh climatic conditions. In addition to the unfavorable weather conditions, settlers were exposed to new diseases such as malaria, chicken pox, cholera, and tuberculosis among other deadly diseases that killed a large population including the natives and the colonists.
The presence of colonists in America was also not welcome by the natives as they were forcefully introduced to new cultures and religion which they were not used to. This prompted the natives erupt into a series of wars mainly to fight for their lands that had been taken by the proprietors. Amidst various defeats, the locals did not give up as they became more determined to reclaim their ancestral land as well as take over the industries that they believed were rightfully theirs.
This subsequently led to the eruption of the American Revolutionary War in 1775 which is marked as the primary reason for the fall of the British Empire in America (Porter, 199). The war primarily led to the destruction of the colonists’ property and burning of their industries, headquarters, and homes thus forcing them to flee for their safety. The natives had an advantage of winning the war as England was preoccupied with the ongoing war with France and Spain. The subsequent signing of a series of treaties including the Treaty of Paris led to the decolonization of the New World colonies, thus bringing to an end the existence of the British Empire in the American land.
Impacts of the empire in Americas
The expansion of the British Empire in the New World can be said to have contributed both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, the settlement led to the increment of riches for the empire as well as stimulated development in the new territories. The agriculture and industries developed by the colonists were the stepping stone to the modern developments of the modern day North America.
However, as the colonists and African slaves settled in the New World, they introduced infectious diseases that led to massive deaths of the native communities. Natives were also displaced from their ancestral land by the proprietor colonists whose main objective was to acquire vast lands for large-scale farming. This as a result led to increased conflicts between the natives and the settlers. Lastly, the widespread of slavery in America was attributed to the colonists’ need to find adequate labor for their farms.
The existence of the British Empire in the New World played a contributory factor in making Britain the most expansive empire in the world. In addition, the new territory contributed to the economic development of England as they obtained raw materials for their industries. On the other hand, vices such as slavery and displacement of the local communities can also be blamed on the expansion of the British Empire in the New World. Despite the fall of the empire in the New World, the legacy of the British Kingdom still remains especially as marked by the formation of the commonwealth organization which represents the countries that were initially ruled under the rule of England.
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