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Motivations for English colonization

KC‑2.1.I.C (KC)
MIG (Theme)
Unit 2: Learning Objective B
In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the United Kingdom cast its gaze westward and joined the quest for American colonies. In this video, Kim discusses the motivations for English colonization, including competition with Catholic nations for riches and souls, and the development of 'joint-stock' companies.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the last video, we discussed why it took England another 100 years to start colonizing the New World after Christopher Columbus first set foot in Hispaniola. Among those reasons was conflict within the United Kingdom, colonial projects closer to home, specifically Ireland, and economic depression that prevented England from taking much time to look outside its borders to the broader world. In this video, I'm gonna walk about what led England to finally get in the colonial game. So what changes that allows England to become a premier colonial empire and go on to found what will be the United States of America, today even an English speaking country? Well, some of these factors kind of turn to their advantage. Once the internal religious conflict has been sorted out, turning England into a Protestant nation, they turn some of that animus outward to Spain, a Catholic nation, and they feel that they have to compete with Spain for riches and for souls. So certainly, the Protestant nation of England doesn't wanna be left behind anymore than it already has been by Spain, which has clearly been reaping great riches from the New World in the form of gold down here in Mexico and Central America and sugar, the Sugar Islands, and they also don't wanna be one upped by the Catholic nation of France, which has been reaping some excellent profits trading with Native Americans up in the region which is today New York and Canada, and they're getting furs. So there's clearly a lot to be had in the new world and a lot of Catholics to triumph over in having it. Another thing that allows England to join the imperial game in the New World is the invention of the Joint Stock Company. Now, Joint Stock Companies were kind of the precursor, I mean, more than kind of the precursor, really the precursor to the modern day corporation, and like modern day corporations, what they did was kind of spread both the riches and also the risk of any kind of entrepreneurial undertaking. And what I mean by this is that people could buy shares in a Joint Stock Company, and those shares were kind of divested from your personal wealth. So you could invest in something that, if it went belly up, wouldn't necessarily ruin you 'cause you just had a few shares. So it's, you know, similar to the stock market today, a very early version of that. So these Joint Stock Companies meant that adventurers, people seeking wealth, could go out to the New World, for example, with many different backers, the risk spread across all of them, and try to make profit for their investors. So many what we would call promoters of the New World tried to drum up interest in expeditions to the New World. Now, everybody knows that Spain is making a killing from gold and sugar, and so they're saying, "Well, maybe private individuals "with the blessing, though not the sponsorship "of the crown can go to the New World "and start extracting some of these resources "and start creating wealth for their investors." And so England issues several charters to Joint Stock Companies that are still familiar names to us today. For example, the East India Company, which Americans know best as the company that supplied the tea that Bostonians dumped into Boston Harbor slightly before the American Revolution, but the one that plays the most role in the early founding of the United States is the Virginia Company, and it's under the auspices of the Virginia Company that explorers like John Smith head to Virginia and Virginia is named for Elizabeth the First, Henry the Eighth's daughter, who never married, and therefore was said to be the Virgin Queen, so a new land named after her was Virginia. Now, we'll talk more about the Virginia Company in the next video, but the last thing I wanna say about what prompted England to join the imperial game in the New World was that England was having a serious economic depression and some real poverty. Now remember that England was a highly classed society with aristocracy and gentry, and these were inherited roles, right? You couldn't rise to be among these ranks, generally. So, you know, about 95% of the population didn't belong to either of these groups, and a strong majority of those were in dire poverty in the 1500s and early 1600s, and there were a number of reasons for this. The market for wool, which England, being a major textile producer, had collapsed, so many people who had been wool producers were in dire straits. In fact, many of them were Puritans, and we'll see more about what happens to the Puritans who leave England in another video, and there's a process going on in this time period known as enclosure, the Enclosure Movement. And what enclosure meant is kind of what it sounds like, which is that early English towns and manor houses were kind of set up to have, you know, the house. That's the big manor house, so just bear with me and imagine here, and then they might have some forest filled with a nice deer to hunt, and then they might have some nice fields, just grass, and these were kind of considered common lands. So if you were a peasant, for example, you might graze your cows on these common lands. You might go hunting in the forest. Well, in this time period, these great English lords started to close off, enclose these common lands. So they'd fence them off. This kind of makes sense to our modern idea of property holding, right? It makes us understand who owns what thing and how it gets deeded, et cetera, but for very poor people, this was a huge transition because now they didn't have a place to raise their livestock. They didn't have a source of hunting, protein, so it made people who were already on the edge of poverty extremely poor. It was a very difficult time if you were already kind of living in the foraging or small farming aspect of English life. And so, because of this Enclosure Movement and depression, crime rates are going up in England, and this is a time when theft is still a capital crime. So if you're starving and you steal something to eat, you could be hanged, and so many of the English gentry, the people in Parliament, are looking around and saying, "Alright, what's going on? "Are we having a moral crisis?" Because they don't think in terms that say, "Alright, many people are poor. "Maybe they're going to steal." Instead, they're saying, "Why are people stealing? "What's wrong with people?" And so they think of this as surplus population, say there are too many people in England. Now this is patently untrue because there are way more people living in London today than there were in all of England at that time period, but the English Parliament, sort of major thinkers in England, start to think that there are too many people in England. There are just too many people for having enough stuff to go around, and so they start wondering. Maybe these people should go elsewhere. Maybe they should go to colonies where maybe they can buy more goods, produce more raw materials, and find a different place in the social structure and economy of England, and that starts to come true when the Virginia Company sets off for Jamestown, which they'll reach in 1607, and we'll talk about that in the next video.