European Colonization of the Caribbean

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European Colonization of the Caribbean

The Spanish conquests in the Americas encouraged other European countries to expand their domains in the New World. In the latter half of the 16th century, Portugal conquered Brazil in the hope of upsetting Spain in South America. Between 1690 and 1650, the French, Dutch, and English made unsuccessful attempts to occupy the northern coasts of Brazil and the neighboring islands of St. Kitts and the Leeward Islands. However, with the onset of the Thirty Years War, Spain began to weaken. His colonial possessions in the Caribbean were occupied by the English, French, and the Dutch. Spanish and Portugal Conquests Checked

Generally, the arrival of other European countries in the New World (with the thought of conquest) forced Spain and Portugal to limit their conquest. For example, in 1621, the Dutch attacked several Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and succeeded in occupying the islands of Curacao, St. Martin, and Araya. The acquisition of vast mount of gold by the Spaniards in the New World attracted the attention of other powers. To their minds, God does not wish the world to be divided only between Spain and Portugal (Treaty of Tordesillas). They wanted a significant share in the wealth of the Americas. The Political and Economic System in Europe

The Thirty Years War (to which Spain was heavily involved) forced Spain to cut expenditures at home and raise taxes and quotas in the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico). In addition, the Spaniards began to implement the plantation system to increase revenues (to finance her wars in Europe). Trade was limited to Spain and he American colonies. The reason is clear: if trade was opened to other European countries, the prospect of a unidirectional prosperity would be prevented (other nations would benefit from the trade). This system is called the ‘mercantilist system. ’ Impact of Mercantilism in the Caribbean and the Outcome

Precious metals (gold, silver) became the basis of the mercantilist system. It served as the medium of exchange between the colonies and the mother country. Mines were established all throughout the Caribbean in order to maintain the flow of metals to the mother country. To fasten the procurement of precious metals, the Spaniards (and other Europeans) utilize slave labor (African slaves). In some sense, Spanish wealth (based on precious metals and product quotas) was essentially created by slave labor (which was very oppressive and unchristian). The wealth Spain accumulated from the New World also attracted the attention of pirates.

They were of two types: buccaneer and marooner. Buccaneer is a group of pirates that had bases in the Caribbean (in a sense, they were considered the most powerful type of pirate). Marooner is a generic term applied to Spaniards who deserted the Spanish Navy to harass Spanish shipping lines in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Society and European Influences Caribbean society was modeled after European society. Some of the influences are as follows: 1) adoption of Catholicism as the main religion (in the case of Spain), 2) Baroque and Gothic architecture, 3) European city planning, and 4) the plantation system.

At the top of the plantation system was the landowner. The manager (usually a relative of the owner) was in the middle position. At the bottom were the slaves and the serfs (local population serving in the plantation). The slaves were often treated harshly by the Europeans. They perceived them as members of an inferior race destined to serve white men’s greed. The same case (though not as oppressive as that of slaves) could be said about women. Women were confined to households, serving their masters with much dedication (by force) as that of serfs.

Racial Hierarchy in the Caribbean Race played an important role in Caribbean society. Race served as the determining factor of administration; a form of societal control. The Europeans were at the top of the racial hierarchy. At the bottom were the slaves, the local population, and Chinese traders (which were seen with contempt by the Europeans). The European themselves were racially categorized. The peninsulares were Europeans born in their mother countries. The insulares were pure Europeans born in the colonies. The mestizos were of European and Indian descent.

Women played a minor role in Caribbean society. They were confined to household chores (like cooking and child rearing). Maroonage strained Spain’s resources in the New World. The revenues derived by Spain from plantations (the same case with other Europeans) were taken by the maroons (on the way to Spain). The oppressive policies of the Spaniards in Cuba led to the Ten Years War. The slaves and the local population rose in arms against Spanish rule. Reference Toynbee, Arnold. 1989. History of the World. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.


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  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 August 2016

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