European Exploration in the Americas — APUSH 1.3 Notes, Review, and Terms


APUSH Unit 1, Topic 1.3 covers the European exploration of the regions of North America, Central America, and South America, up to the settlement of Jamestown.

Christopher Columbus, Portrait, Piombo

Christopher Columbus. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Summary of European Exploration in the Americas

APUSH Unit 1, Topic 1.3 covers the European exploration of the regions of North America, Central America, and South America and is often referred to as the Age of Exploration. 

European Exploration Begins with the Vikings

Although APUSH Unit 1 covers the years 1491 to 1607, European Exploration started much earlier. As early as the late 10th Century, Vikings from the Scandinavian Region of Northern Europe sailed west to Greenland and established a settlement on the southwest coast. That was followed by the voyage of Leif Erickson to present-day Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada — 500 years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

The Impact of the Renaissance

Starting in the 15th Century, Europe began to rise out of the Middle Ages due to the Renaissance. The Renaissance saw a revival in the humanities, including the arts, literature, philosophy, and science. It started in Florence, Italy around 1450 and spread throughout Europe until roughly 1650. 

As it spread, it led to social changes and technological advancements. The social changes contributed to the Protestant Reformation, which was followed by the English Reformation. The technological advancements enabled European explorers to travel the world and map all the continents except Antarctica.

The Golden Age of European Exploration Begins

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed west, searching for a new trade route to the east, and landed in the Bahama Islands. Within five years, explorers from Spain, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands were sailing west, claiming the land they found for their respective nations, or for the nations that sponsored their voyages.

From 1494 to 1604, various settlements were established in the Western Hemisphere by European Explorers. Some still stand today, including St. Augustine, Florida. Others, like the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, vanished or have otherwise been lost to time.

Landing of Columbus, Vanderlyn, AOC
Landing of Columbus, John Vanderlyn, 1847. Image Source: Architect of the Capitol.

APUSH 1.3 Review Video

This video from Heimler’s History provides an excellent overview of APUSH 1.3. You can also check out our APUSH Guide provides a look at all Units and Topics in the APUSH Curriculum.

APUSH 1.3 Review Terms and Notes for Unit 1 Key Concepts and APUSH Themes

The terms and definitions that follow are related to the Key Concepts for Unit 1 and are broken into sections by APUSH Themes. Within the explanations of APUSH 1.3 Terms are links to content on American History Central that should provide a more comprehensive understanding of each topic.

Unit 1 Key Concepts

Key Concept 1.1 — As native populations migrated and settled across the vast expanse of North America over time, they developed distinct and increasingly complex societies by adapting to and transforming their diverse environments.

Key Concept 1.2 — Contact among Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans resulted in the Columbian Exchange and significant social, cultural, and political changes on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

APUSH Themes

  1. American and National Identity
  2. Work, Exchange, and Technology
  3. Migration and Settlement
  4. Politics and Power
  5. America in the World
  6. Geography and the Environment
  7. Culture and Society

Geography — North America

The following APUSH Terms and Definitions fall under the theme of Geography and are locations in North America.

Baja California

Baja California is a peninsula in Northwestern Mexico, separated from the rest of the country by the Gulf of California. It was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, primarily as a strategic outpost and a stopping place for Spanish ships traveling to and from the Philippines. Baja California played a limited role in Spanish colonization compared to other regions in Mexico, but it has a unique cultural and geographical identity.


Florida is a region located in the Southeastern United States. It was first explored by Spanish Conquistadors, including Juan Ponce de León, who is credited with giving the region its name. Florida became a major focus of Spanish Colonization and was the site of the first permanent European settlement in the present-day United States, St. Augustine, established in 1565.

New Albion

“New Albion” was the name given by Sir Francis Drake to a region in present-day Marin County California, during his explorations in the late 16th century. It represented English claims to the area and was named after the ancient name for England, “Albion.” Drake’s visit marked one of the first English explorations of the region, although no permanent English settlement was established there.


Newfoundland is an island located off the Northeastern Coast of North America, part of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It holds historical significance as one of the earliest areas visited and settled by Europeans, particularly Norse explorers. It later became a focal point for British and French colonization efforts and a strategic location for the fishing industry and transatlantic trade.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia, meaning “New Scotland” in Latin, is a Canadian province located in Eastern Canada. It was originally inhabited by Indigenous peoples, such as the Mi’kmaq. The area was colonized by the French in the early 17th century, but it came under British control after the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession and Queen Anne’s War. Nova Scotia played a significant role in maritime trade and fishing industries in the Colonial Era and was a point of conflict between the British and the French. It later became an important destination for Scottish immigrants, contributing to its name.

Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a narrow strip of barrier islands located off the coast of North Carolina, United States. Known for its picturesque beaches and unique ecosystem, the Outer Banks has a rich history intertwined with maritime exploration and pirate lore. It served as a haven for pirates such as Blackbeard and was a site of shipwrecks due to treacherous offshore shoals.

In 1719, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote a poem about Blackbeard called The Taking of Teach the Pirate.

Geography — Europe

The following APUSH Terms and Definitions fall under the theme of Geography and are locations in Europe.


Aragon was another medieval kingdom in the northeastern region of the Iberian Peninsula, now part of modern-day Spain. It originated in the 11th century and experienced significant territorial expansion through military conquests. Aragon played a crucial role in the Reconquista and was instrumental in the formation of the Kingdom of Spain. The marriage of Isabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon brought the two kingdoms together.

Ferdinand and Isabella, Monarchs of Spain, Painting
King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella II of Castille. Image Source: Wikipedia.


Castille, or Castilla in Spanish, was a medieval kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula that played a crucial role in the history of Spain. It emerged as a political entity in the 9th century and eventually became the dominant kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. Castille expanded its territories through conquests and marriages, absorbing neighboring territories and kingdoms. It played a significant role in the Reconquista, the centuries-long campaign to retake the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. Castille was the birthplace of Queen Isabella I, who, together with her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, united the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon to form modern Spain.


England is a country located in the southern part of the island of Great Britain in Europe. England’s long, complex history has made an impact on the world due to its political, cultural, and economic developments. England played a prominent role in European history, particularly during the Medieval Period, the Renaissance, and the Colonial Era. It was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and became a global power through its vast empire, including territories in North America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.


France is located in Western Europe. It has a rich history and is known for its cultural and intellectual contributions to the world, along with its rivalry with England. France played a pivotal role in medieval history, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution. It had a vast colonial empire, including territories in North America, Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.

Iberian Peninsula

The Iberian Peninsula is located in southwestern Europe and is comprised mainly of present-day Spain and Portugal. During the Age of Exploration, the Iberian Peninsula played a leading role as the launching point for many voyages of discovery. Spanish and Portuguese explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, set sail from the Iberian Peninsula, expanding European knowledge and influence around the globe.


The Netherlands, also known as Holland, is a country located in Northwestern Europe. It is known for its flat landscapes, windmills, canals, tulip fields, and cycling culture. The Netherlands has a long history, including the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, when it became a major economic and colonial power. The Dutch established a global trading empire and played a significant role in exploration and colonization, particularly in the East Indies — present-day Indonesia — and the Americas.


Portugal is a country located on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula in Europe. Portugal was heavily involved in exploration and colonization during the Age of Exploration. Portugal played a leading role in maritime exploration, establishing a colonial empire that included territories in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal, under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, embarked on numerous expeditions in search of new trade routes and territories. Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Bartolomeu Dias made significant voyages, opening up new sea routes to India, Africa, and the Americas.

Geography — Islands

The following APUSH Terms and Definitions fall under the theme of Geography and are important islands.


The Bahamas is an archipelago consisting of more than 700 islands located in the Atlantic Ocean. It played a significant role in the history of European exploration, as it was one of the first areas encountered by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage. The islands were subsequently colonized by various European powers, with the British establishing dominance in the 17th century.

East Indies

The East Indies, also known as the “Indies,” refers to a group of islands in Southeast Asia, including modern-day Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. During the Age of Exploration, European powers, notably the Dutch and Portuguese, sought control over the lucrative spice trade originating from the East Indies. The pursuit of these valuable resources greatly influenced European colonization efforts in the region.


Hispaniola is an island in the Caribbean, divided between the present-day countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was claimed by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Hispaniola was subsequently colonized by Spain, becoming a center of Spanish colonial administration and a hub for trade, including the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

San Salvadore

San Salvador, also known as Guanahani, is an island in the Caribbean Sea. It gained historical significance as the first landfall in the New World by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage. Believed to be part of the Bahamas, San Salvador marked the initial encounter between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and it ignited the age of European exploration and colonization in the Western Hemisphere.

Geography — Waterways

The following APUSH Terms and Definitions fall under the theme of Geography and are key waterways in North America related to European Exploration.

Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay is a large estuary located on the East Coast of the United States, primarily in Maryland and Virginia. Explored by Captain John Smith in the early 17th century, Chesapeake Bay became a vital waterway for English colonial settlements, including Jamestown. The region later became a major center for tobacco cultivation and played a crucial role in the development of the English and British Colonies in North America.

Captain John Smith,Illustration
This illustration depicts John Smith. Image Source: Captain John Smith by Tudor Jenks, 1904,

Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is one of the longest rivers in North America, flowing through the United States from its headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. It was explored by various European expeditions, including those led by Hernando de Soto and René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. The Mississippi River played a significant role in the exploration, colonization, and trade in the interior of North America and is called the “Father of Waters.”

Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage was a sea route that was sought by European explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries as a way to access the wealth and resources of the Pacific Ocean. The Northwest Passage was believed to be a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and it was the subject of numerous expeditions. European explorers, including Martin Frobisher and Henry Hudson, sought the passage. Although it was not found until 1851, expeditions during the Age of Exploration allowed Europeans to gain a better understanding of Arctic geography and Canada’s northern regions.

St. Lawrence River

The St. Lawrence River is a major river in North America, flowing through the Great Lakes and connecting the Atlantic Ocean. Explored by French explorers such as Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, the St. Lawrence River became an important waterway for Fur Trade and French Colonization in Canada.

Migration and Settlement — Dutch Explorers

Adrian Block

Adrian Block was a Dutch explorer and navigator who played a significant role in the early exploration and colonization of North America. Block was part of the Dutch West India Company and is known for his explorations along the northeastern coast of the continent. In 1613 and 1614, he led expeditions that resulted in the mapping and exploration of areas such as Long Island, Block Island, and the Connecticut River. Block’s voyages contributed to Dutch claims and presence in the region.

Migration and Settlement — English Explorers and Investors

John Davis

John Davis was an English explorer and navigator who made several voyages in search of the Northwest Passage. In the late 16th century, Davis explored the Arctic regions of North America, including the coasts of Greenland and Baffin Island. He made important discoveries and contributions to the understanding of Arctic geography.

Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was an English privateer, explorer, and naval officer. He gained fame for his daring circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1580. Drake’s exploits included raids against Spanish colonies in the Americas, capturing immense wealth, and disrupting Spain’s dominance in the New World. Renowned as a skilled navigator and commander, Drake played a pivotal role in establishing England’s naval supremacy and bolstering its position as a major colonial power. His daring voyages helped lay the foundation for England’s vast overseas empire and significantly influenced the balance of power among European nations.

Drake also visited the Roanoke Island Colony in 1586 and transported some of the colonists back to England. A local Indian, Manteo, also sailed with Drake’s fleet to England.

Sir Francis Drake, Portrait, Gheeraerts
Sir Francis Drake. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Martin Frobisher

Martin Frobisher was an English navigator and explorer who played a significant role in the search for the Northwest Passage. In the late 16th century, he made three expeditions to the Arctic Region, primarily focusing on present-day Canada. Although he did not find the passage, his voyages were followed by others.

Humphrey Gilbert

Humphrey Gilbert, an English explorer and colonizer of the late 16th century, played a key role in England’s efforts to establish colonies in North America. Gilbert’s endeavors included unsuccessful attempts to establish settlements in Newfoundland and the Chesapeake Bay Region, including the Roanoke Island Colony. Gilbert was also the half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Raleigh Gilbert

Raleigh Gilbert was an English colonizer, the son of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and the nephew of Sir Walter Raleigh. Gilbert played a role in the early attempts at English colonization in North America and was involved in the leadership of the Popham Colony.

Ferdinando Gorges

Ferdinando Gorges was an English colonial entrepreneur and a significant figure in early English attempts to establish colonies in North America. He was a prominent member of the Plymouth Company, which played a role in the colonization of Maine and granted the Pilgrims a land patent to settle in the New World. Gorges was a proponent of English expansion in the New World and sought to establish permanent settlements in the region. He was involved in the formation of the Council for New England and received land grants for territories in Maine, becoming an influential figure in the development of English colonies in North America, including New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Bartholomew Gosnold

Bartholomew Gosnold was an English explorer and colonizer who played a key role in the early English ventures to North America. In 1602, he led an expedition to explore the New England coast, discovering and naming Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Gosnold’s voyage laid the groundwork for future English settlements in the region and contributed to the colonization efforts in the early 17th century. Gosnold was one of the first colonists at Jamestown and a member of the Governor’s Council.

John Hawkins

John Hawkins was an English naval commander and slave trader during the 16th century. Hawkins played a key role in the development of the English Slave Trade. Hawkins oversaw voyages to West Africa where he captured and transported African slaves to be sold in the Spanish Colonies of the Americas.

Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson was an English explorer who is credited with discovering the Hudson River and the Hudson Bay in North America in the early 17th century. Hudson’s voyages, which were funded by the English government, helped to establish English claims to the region and laid the foundations for the later colonization of the northeastern part of North America by the English. Hudson’s voyages also helped to establish trade routes between England and the New World.

John Popham

John Popham was an English lawyer and member of the Plymouth Company. He helped organize and fund the Popham Colony.

Martin Pring

Martin Pring was an English explorer and navigator who conducted several voyages to North America in the early 17th century. In 1603, he embarked on an expedition to what is now Maine and Massachusetts, exploring and mapping the region. Pring’s voyages provided valuable information about the geography and resources of New England, paving the way for future English settlement and trade.

Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh was an English explorer, writer, and adventurer who is best known for his role in the colonization of the New World. Raleigh also led several expeditions to the New World, including the establishment of the Roanoke Colony in what is now modern-day North Carolina. The colony, which was funded by Raleigh, was established in 1585 and was the first English settlement in the New World. However, the colony was abandoned a few years later and is known as the “Lost Colony” due to the disappearance of its settlers.

Sir Walter Raleigh, Portrait, 1590
Sir Walter Raleigh. Image Source: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

John Smith

John Smith was an English soldier, explorer, and leader in the early years of Jamestown Colony. He played a critical role in the survival of the colony, implementing strict discipline, establishing relations with Native American tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy, and exploring the Chesapeake Bay Region. Smith’s leadership and determination were instrumental in ensuring Jamestown’s survival in its early years. Smith’s accounts of the colony’s challenges and achievements provide important insights into the early English colonial experience.

George Weymouth

George Weymouth was an English explorer and mariner who led an expedition to North America in 1605. Sailing under the sponsorship of the Plymouth Company, Weymouth explored the coast of present-day Maine and conducted diplomatic interactions with Native American tribes, particularly the Penobscot people. His voyage contributed to English knowledge of the New England Region and played a role in future colonization efforts.

Migration and Settlement — French Explorers

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier was a French explorer who is credited with discovering the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada in the 16th century. Cartier’s voyages, which were sponsored by the French government, established French claims to the region and laid the foundations for the later colonization of Canada by the French. Cartier’s voyages also helped to establish trade routes between France and the New World and played a significant role in the early history of Canada.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain was a French explorer and colonizer who is credited with establishing the first permanent French settlement in North America at Quebec in 1608. Champlain’s voyages, which were sponsored by the French government, helped establish French claims to the region and laid the foundations for the later colonization of Canada by the French. Champlain’s voyages also established trade routes between France and the New World and played a significant role in the early history of Canada.

De Champlain was involved in the Beaver Wars, an early conflict for control of the Fur Trade in North America.

Samuel de Champlain, Fighting Iroquois, 1609, Illustration
Samuel de Champlain and Algonquin allies fought the Iroquois Confederacy in 1609. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Robert de La Salle

Robert de La Salle was a French explorer who is best known for his expeditions in North America during the late 17th century. La Salle explored the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River, claiming these territories for France. He is credited with establishing a French presence in the interior of North America and played a significant role in French colonization.

René Goulaine de Laudonnière

René Goulaine de Laudonnière was a French explorer and colonizer who played a significant role in French attempts to establish a colony in North America. He is best known for his involvement in the establishment of Fort Caroline, a French Huguenot settlement in present-day Jacksonville, Florida. In 1564, Laudonnière led an expedition to Florida under the sponsorship of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. He founded Fort Caroline as a haven for French Protestants. However, conflicts with the Spanish and internal challenges ultimately led to the destruction of Fort Caroline by the Spanish in 1565.

Jean Ribault

Jean Ribault, a French naval officer and explorer, led an expedition to Florida in 1562. Ribault aimed to establish a French colony in the region and successfully founded Fort Caroline. His efforts bolstered the French presence in North America, challenging Spanish claims and igniting fierce competition among European powers for control of the continent.

Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval

Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval was a French nobleman and explorer who led an ill-fated expedition to establish a French colony in Canada in the 16th century. In 1541, Roberval was appointed as the lieutenant-general of New France by King Francis I of France. His expedition aimed to establish a permanent settlement in North America, but it faced numerous challenges, including harsh weather, conflicts with indigenous peoples, and internal strife. The venture ultimately failed, and Roberval’s colony was abandoned.

Migration and Settlement — Italian Explorers

John Cabot

John Cabot, also known as Giovanni Caboto, was an Italian explorer commissioned by King Henry VII of England. He embarked on voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, seeking a western route to Asia. In 1497, Cabot reached Newfoundland, making him one of the first Europeans to set foot on the North American continent since the Vikings.

John Cabot, Painting
This painting depicts John Cabot. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Sebastian Cabot

Sebastian Cabot, the son of John Cabot, followed in his father’s footsteps and made several voyages in the early 16th century. Cabot explored the northeastern coast of North America, including parts of modern-day Canada. His maps and writings contributed to European knowledge of the New World.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who is credited with discovering the Americas in 1492. Columbus made four voyages to the Americas, sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain — Ferdinand and Isabella — and his expeditions helped to establish the first Spanish colonies in the Americas. Over time, Columbus has become a controversial figure due to the impact his voyages ultimately had on Indigenous peoples in the Americas.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer and navigator sailing under the French flag, made significant contributions to European knowledge of North America in the early 16th century. Verrazzano undertook expeditions along the eastern coast of the continent, charting and exploring areas such as present-day New York Harbor and Narragansett Bay. Verrazzano’s explorations laid the groundwork for future European colonization in North America and influenced the geopolitical rivalries among European powers seeking to claim territories in the New World.

Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer who is best known for his role in the exploration and mapping of the New World. He is credited with the discovery of the mainland of South America and was the first to suggest that the landmass was a separate continent, not part of Asia as had previously been believed. Vespucci’s explorations were funded by the Medici family of Florence, Italy, and he wrote extensively about his travels, providing valuable information about the geography and indigenous peoples of the New World.

Migration and Settlement — Portuguese Explorers

Pedro Álvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese explorer who is credited with the discovery of Brazil. In 1500, while attempting to sail to India, Cabral veered off course and landed on the eastern coast of South America. His arrival in Brazil marked the beginning of Portuguese colonization in the region.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was a Portuguese explorer who sailed for the Spanish Empire. He is known for leading the first recorded European expedition to explore the California coast. In 1542, Cabrillo set sail from Mexico with the goal of finding a northwest passage to Asia. He explored the California coastline, reaching as far north as present-day Oregon. Cabrillo’s voyage provided valuable information about the geography of the region and the indigenous peoples encountered along the way. His exploration marked an important early European contact with California and laid the foundation for future Spanish and European presence in the area.

Bartholomeu Dias

Bartholomeu Dias was a Portuguese explorer who became the first European to sail around the southernmost tip of Africa, known as the Cape of Good Hope, in 1488. Dias’s expedition opened the way for future European sea trade with India and Asia by establishing a new route around Africa. His voyage demonstrated the reality of reaching the Indian Ocean via the southern route and contributed to Portugal’s dominance in maritime exploration during the Age of Exploration.

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer who commanded the first successful sea voyage from Europe to India. In 1498, he reached the Indian subcontinent by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the Indian Ocean. Da Gama’s expedition opened a direct sea route between Europe and Asia, bypassing the traditional overland Silk Road trade routes. His successful voyage established Portugal as a major maritime power and initiated an era of European dominance in Indian Ocean trade.

Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who is best known for leading the first voyage to circumnavigate the world. He set out on his voyage in 1519 with a fleet of five ships and a crew of over 200 men. Magellan’s expedition encountered many challenges, including mutiny, starvation, and disease, but ultimately succeeded in circumnavigating the globe, returning to Spain in 1522 with just one ship and 18 survivors. Magellan himself died during the voyage, in 1521.

Ferdinand Magellan, Portrait
Ferdinand Magellan. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Prince Henry the Navigator

Henry the Navigator was a Portuguese prince who played a significant role in the Age of Exploration in the 15th century. Henry the Navigator was a patron of exploration and an advocate of the use of new technologies, such as the caravel, a type of sailing ship that was well-suited for exploration. Henry the Navigator also supported the establishment of a Trading Post Network and colonies along the West African coast, which helped to expand Portuguese trade and influence in the region.

Migration and Settlement — Spanish Explorers

Pedro Menendez de Aviles

Pedro Menendez de Aviles was a distinguished Spanish admiral and explorer who played a pivotal role in the early colonization of the Americas. Tasked with establishing a Spanish foothold in Florida, he founded the settlement of St. Augustine in 1565. His primary objective was to defend Spanish interests and counter the encroachment of French and English rivals in the region. His efforts solidified Spanish control in Florida.

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón was a Spanish Conquistador and explorer who played an important role in early Spanish efforts to colonize North America. In 1526, he led an expedition to what is now the southeastern coast of the United States, specifically present-day South Carolina. He established the short-lived colony of San Miguel de Guadalupe. However, the colony faced significant challenges and was quickly abandoned.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa

Vasco Núñez de Balboa was a Spanish explorer who is best known for leading an expedition that crossed the Isthmus of Panama. In 1513, he became the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. His discovery paved the way for future explorations and expeditions in the Pacific region, including the eventual colonization of present-day South America by the Spanish.

Juan de Bermúdez

Juan de Bermúdez was a Spanish explorer and navigator who is believed to have discovered the uninhabited islands now known as Bermuda in the early 16th century. The islands were named after him.

Hernán Pérez Bocanegra

Hernán Pérez Bocanegra was a Spanish Conquistador and one of the first European settlers in New Mexico. In 1598, he joined the expedition led by Juan de Oñate to establish a colony in the region. Bocanegra played a role in the early colonization of New Mexico and the interactions between the Spanish and the people living in the area.

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition into the southwestern United States in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola and other riches. From 1540 to 1542, Coronado and his forces explored regions such as present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, encountering various indigenous cultures along the way.

Hernán Cortés

Hernán Cortés was a Spanish Conquistador who led the expedition that resulted in the fall of the Aztec Empire in present-day Mexico. In 1519, Cortés and his forces arrived in Mexico and engaged in alliances and conflicts with various indigenous groups. Cortés eventually conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521, establishing Spanish control over the region.

Hernan Cortes, Portrait
Hernán Cortés. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Antonio de Mendoza

Antonio de Mendoza was a Spanish Conquistador and the first Viceroy of New Spain. He held the position from 1535 to 1550 and played a key role in the early administration and governance of the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Mendoza implemented policies to promote Spanish control, colonization, and conversion of indigenous peoples, laying the foundation for Spanish rule in Mexico and establishing the framework for colonial governance in the region.

Alonso de Ojeda

Alonso de Ojeda was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who participated in several expeditions to the Americas. He sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage and later led his own expedition along the northern coast of South America. Ojeda is most well-known for his role in establishing the first European settlement in present-day Venezuela.

Francisco de Orellana

Francisco de Orellana was a Spanish Conquistador who is known for leading an expedition down the Amazon River in South America. In 1541, Orellana and his crew navigated the entire length of the Amazon River, from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda

Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda was a Spanish explorer and cartographer who mapped the Gulf Coast of North America. In 1519, he sailed along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Mexico, mapping and exploring the area. He is credited with creating one of the earliest European maps of the region.

Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish Conquistador who led the conquest of the Inca Empire in what is now Peru. In 1532, Pizarro and his forces captured the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, marking the beginning of Spanish control over the region. Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca Empire brought vast wealth and territory under Spanish control.

Hernando de Soto

Hernando de Soto was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition through the southeastern United States in the early 16th century. His expedition explored regions including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The expedition was one of the first major European expeditions into the interior of North America.

Francisco de Ulloa

Francisco de Ulloa was a Spanish explorer who sailed along the western coast of present-day Mexico and the Gulf of California in the early 16th century. In 1539, Ulloa embarked on an expedition to explore and map the Gulf of California, becoming the first known European to do so.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer who is best known for his accounts of the Narváez Expedition and his subsequent journey across the present-day southern United States. Shipwrecked near present-day Galveston, Texas, in 1528, Cabeza de Vaca and a small group of survivors embarked on a remarkable journey across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico.

Angel de Villafane

Angel de Villafane, a Spanish naval officer and explorer of the 16th century, undertook numerous expeditions that contributed to Spain’s colonization efforts and the establishment of its empire in the Americas. His voyages encompassed regions such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, where he explored uncharted territories, charted new routes, and expanded Spanish knowledge of the New World.

Migration and Settlement — Settlements

L’Anse aux Meadows (11th Century)

L’Anse aux Meadows is an archaeological site located in Newfoundland, Canada. Discovered in 1960, it is the only confirmed Norse settlement in North America. L’Anse aux Meadows dates to the 11th Century and provides evidence of the Vikings’ presence in the New World, predating Columbus’s arrival by several centuries.

La Navidad (1492)

La Navidad was the first settlement established by Christopher Columbus during his first voyage to the Americas in 1492. Located in present-day Haiti, it was named after the ship Santa María, which had run aground nearby. The settlement did not last long, as it was destroyed by the Taino People.

La Isabella (1493)

La Isabella was the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Americas. It was founded by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage in 1493 on the island of Hispaniola, present-day Dominican Republic. Named after Queen Isabella of Castile, the settlement served as the capital of the Spanish colony and played an important role in the early Spanish colonization and administration of the region.

Santo Domingo (1496)

Santo Domingo, officially known as Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital city of the Dominican Republic and the oldest continuously inhabited European-founded settlement in the Americas. It was founded by Bartholomew Columbus, the brother of Christopher Columbus, in 1496. Santo Domingo served as the administrative and economic center of Spanish colonial rule in the Caribbean and played a vital role in the development of the Spanish Empire’s presence in the New World.

Caparra (1508)

Caparra was the first Spanish colonial settlement established in Puerto Rico. Founded in 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, it served as the original capital of Puerto Rico until it was relocated to San Juan in 1521.

Panama City (1519)

Panama City, also known as Panama Viejo or Old Panama, was a historic Spanish settlement founded in 1519 by Pedro Arias Dávila, also known as Pedrarias. Located on the Pacific coast of present-day Panama, it served as the first European settlement on the mainland of the Americas’ Pacific coast. Panama City became an important location for Spanish colonial activities, serving as a starting point for expeditions to explore and conquer the Inca Empire in South America. The city was a trade center and played a key role in the transportation of gold and silver from the Spanish Colonies in South America to Europe. Panama City was destroyed by the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan in 1671, and the capital was subsequently moved to the current location of Panama City, Panama.

Veracruz (1519)

Veracruz is a major port city on the Gulf of Mexico coast in eastern Mexico. It was the site of the first Spanish settlement in Mexico. Hernán Cortés founded the settlement of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz in 1519 as a strategic base to use for his conquest of the Aztec Empire. Veracruz became an important hub for Spanish colonization, trade, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

San Miguel de Guadalupe (1526)

San Miguel de Guadalupe was a short-lived Spanish colony established in 1526 on the coast of present-day South Carolina. Led by Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, the settlement aimed to establish a Spanish presence and exploit the region’s resources. However, due to harsh conditions, disease, and conflicts with indigenous peoples, the colony was abandoned within a few months.

Puebla de Zaragoza (1531)

Puebla de Zaragoza, known as Puebla, is a city in central Mexico. It was founded in 1531 by Spanish conquistadors led by Hernán Cortés. Puebla played an important role during the Colonial Era as a center for Spanish control in the region.

Santiago de Querétaro (1531)

Santiago de Querétaro, also known as Querétaro, is a city in central Mexico. It was founded by the Otomi People before the arrival of the Spanish. In 1531, the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Pérez Bocanegra established the Spanish colonial settlement. Querétaro became an important religious, political, and economic center during the Colonial Era. Later, it played a key role in the Mexican War of Independence.

Charlesbourg-Royal (1541)

Charlesbourg-Royal was a French settlement located near present-day Quebec City, Canada. It was established in 1541 by Jacques Cartier, the French explorer, during his third voyage to North America. The settlement was intended to serve as a base for the colonization of the area and to secure French territorial claims. However, the harsh conditions, conflicts with local peoples, and lack of supplies led to its abandonment in 1543.

Nueva Ciudad de Mechuacán (Morelia) (1541)

Nueva Ciudad de Mechuacán, later known as Morelia, is a city in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. It was founded in 1541 by Antonio de Mendoza, the first Viceroy of New Spain, as part of Spain’s efforts to establish control over the region. Morelia became an important political, economic, and cultural center during the Colonial Era.

Pensacola (1559)

Pensacola is a city in the state of Florida, United States. Initially established by the Spanish in 1559, Pensacola served as a strategic outpost for Spain in the Gulf of Mexico and played a role in the broader Spanish colonization efforts in North America. Over the centuries, it changed hands multiple times between various European powers, including Spain, France, and Britain.

Charlesfort (1562)

Charlesfort was a French settlement established in 1562 on Parris Island, present-day South Carolina. It was founded by French explorer Jean Ribault and served as a strategic outpost during France’s attempts to colonize the southeastern region of North America. However, the settlement faced challenges and was abandoned.

Fort Caroline (1564)

Fort Caroline was a French Huguenot settlement established in 1564 in present-day Jacksonville, Florida. Led by René Goulaine de Laudonnière, the settlement aimed to establish a French presence in the southeastern part of North America. Fort Caroline became a focal point of conflict between the French and Spanish, eventually resulting in the Spanish destroying the fort in 1565 and establishing St. Augustine, a Spanish colony, in its place.

St. Augustine (1565)

St. Augustine, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States. Located in present-day Florida, St. Augustine served as a military outpost and a hub for Spanish colonial activity in the region.

Ajacán Mission (1570)

Ajacán Mission was a failed Spanish Jesuit mission established in 1570 in present-day Virginia. The mission aimed to convert and establish a settlement among the people in the region. However, the mission faced numerous challenges and was abandoned.

Roanoke Island (1585)

Roanoke Island is an island located off the coast of present-day North Carolina. It holds historical significance as the site of the Roanoke Colony, an early English attempt at establishing a permanent settlement in North America. The colony, also known as the “Lost Colony,” was established in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh. However, the colonists faced numerous challenges and mysteriously disappeared. The fate of the Roanoke Colony remains unknown.

Roanoke Island, Lost Colony, Map, John White
This map by John White shows the location of Roanoke Island. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Port Royal (1603)

Port Royal, established in 1603, was an English settlement located in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada. It was one of the earliest English colonies in North America. Port Royal served as a base for fur trading and fishing activities, and it played a significant role in the expansion of English presence in the region. The settlement was later captured by the French in 1613.

St. Croix Island (1604)

St. Croix Island, located in present-day Maine, was the site of a French settlement established in 1604. Led by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, the settlement aimed to establish a fur trading outpost and served as the first French attempt at permanent colonization in North America. However, the harsh winter and scarcity of resources led to significant hardships, resulting in the abandonment of the settlement the following year.

Popham Colony (1607)

The Popham Colony, also known as the Sagadahoc Colony, was an English settlement established in 1607 in present-day Maine. Sponsored by the Plymouth Company, the colony aimed to establish a profitable trading outpost in North America. Led by George Popham and Raleigh Gilbert, the colony faced numerous challenges, including harsh weather, scarcity of resources, and conflicts with the indigenous people. The colony lasted for just over a year before it was abandoned due to hardships and lack of support.

Jamestown Colony (1607)

Jamestown Colony was the first permanent English settlement established in North America. Founded in 1607 in present-day Virginia, it was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London. The colony faced numerous challenges, including harsh conditions, food shortages, and conflicts with Native Americans. However, it survived and grew due to the leadership of figures like John Smith, and John Rolfe, and the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop. Jamestown Colony marked the beginning of English colonization in America and played a crucial role in shaping the future of the Virginia Colony, the Chesapeake Bay Region, and North America.

Migration and Settlement — Business

Joint-Stock Companies

Joint-Stock Companies were a type of business organization that emerged in Europe during the early Colonial Era. They were formed by the merging of individual investments into a single enterprise, with each investor receiving a share of the company’s profits in proportion to their investment. Joint-Stock Companies were often used to fund long-term ventures that included immigration and the establishment of settlements.

Company of Merchant Adventurers of London

The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London was a prominent English trading company established in the 16th century. It was composed of wealthy merchants who engaged in international trade, particularly in northern Europe. The company had a monopoly on the trade of English cloth in certain regions and played a significant role in expanding English commerce and influence. It established trading posts and networks across Europe, particularly in the Low Countries and Baltic regions, and contributed to the growth of England’s economic power during the early modern period.

Muscovy Company

The Muscovy Company, also known as the Russian Company, or the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands, was an English trading company founded in the 16th century. It held a monopoly on English trade with Russia and the surrounding regions. The company sought to establish trade routes to Russia and to engage in commerce with the Muscovite tsardom. The Muscovy Company played a crucial role in developing trade between England and Russia, importing goods such as furs, timber, and Russian products. It established important trading posts and helped pave the way for future English-Russian trade relations.

Virginia Company of London

The Virginia Company of London was a Joint Stock Company founded in 1606 by King James I of England with the purpose of establishing colonies in the New World. The company received a charter from the king granting it the right to settle and govern a large area of land in what is now modern-day Virginia. The company funded the establishment of the Jamestown colony, which was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Typically referred to as just the “Virginia Company,” it played a key role in the colonization and development of the region, but it eventually lost its charter and was dissolved in 1624.

Virginia Company of Plymouth

The Virginia Company of Plymouth, also known as the Plymouth Company, was an English Joint Stock Company established in 1606. It was one of the two companies granted charters by King James I to colonize North America, the other being the Virginia Company of London. The Plymouth Company wanted to establish settlements in the northern parts of Virginia, which included present-day New England. The Plymouth Company’s charter was eventually revoked, and its territory was absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Company.

Migration and Settlement — Colonists

Virginia Dare

Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the Americas. She was born on August 18, 1587, in the Roanoke Colony. Her birth coincided with the early English attempts at colonization in the New World. Unfortunately, the fate of Virginia Dare and the rest of the Roanoke Colony remains unknown, as they mysteriously disappeared, giving rise to the legend of the “Lost Colony.”

Richard Grenville

Sir Richard Grenville was an English naval commander and explorer during the Elizabethan era. He played a significant role in the early colonization efforts in North America. In 1585, Grenville led an expedition to establish the first English colony in the Americas on Roanoke Island.

Thomas Harriot

Thomas Harriot was an English mathematician, astronomer, and natural philosopher who made important contributions to the study of science during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He was part of the Roanoke Colony Expedition and is known for his observations and documentation of the New World, including his studies of indigenous people and the natural environment. Harriot’s work on the Roanoke Colony provided valuable insights into early English encounters with the Native American Indian population.

Ralph Lane

Sir Ralph Lane was an English explorer and military officer who was part of the Roanoke Colony Expedition. He served as the first Governor of the colony when it was established in 1585.

John Rolfe

John Rolfe was an English settler in Jamestown Colony and is credited with introducing tobacco as a cash crop to Virginia. His successful cultivation of a high-quality strain of tobacco known as “Orinoco” brought economic stability to the colony and played a significant role in the colony’s prosperity. In 1614, Rolfe married Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan. The “Peace of Pocahontas” ended the First Anglo-Powhatan War, establishing peace between colonists and Powhatan Confederacy. The marriage also encouraged cultural exchange and cooperation between the two groups.

John White

John White was an English artist and colonist who was also part of the Roanoke Colony Expedition. He served as the colony’s Governor during its final attempt at settlement in 1587. White is well known for his watercolor illustrations documenting the flora, fauna, and Native American cultures of the New World. He returned to England in 1587 to gather supplies but was delayed due to the Anglo-Spanish War. When he finally returned to Roanoke Island in 1590, the colony had disappeared, including his granddaughter, Virginia Dare.

Lost Colony, Roanoke Island, Croatoan Carving
This illustration depicts John White finding the Roanoke Island colonists missing. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Migration and Settlement — Causes of European Immigration

Black Plague

The Black Plague, also known as the Black Death, was a devastating pandemic that swept across Europe in the 14th century. It is believed to have originated in Asia and spread through trade routes, primarily carried by fleas on rats.


The Crusades were a series of religious and military campaigns initiated by European Christians in the 11th through 13th centuries. The Crusaders aimed to reclaim and protect Christian holy sites, primarily in the Holy Land, which was under Muslim control.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th century that sought to reform the Catholic Church and led to the creation of Protestantism, a branch of Christianity that rejected the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation was sparked by the teachings of Martin Luther, a German monk who criticized the corruption and excesses of the Catholic Church. John Calvin and others also challenged the teachings and practices of the Church.


The Renaissance was a period of intellectual, artistic, and cultural rebirth that spanned roughly from the 14th to the 17th century. It originated in Italy and gradually spread throughout Europe. The Renaissance marked a shift from the medieval worldview to a renewed focus on humanism, exploration, scientific inquiry, and the revival of classical knowledge and art.

Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada was a fleet of ships sent by Philip II of Spain in 1588 with the goal of invading England and overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I. The Armada was defeated by the English navy in a series of battles, most notably the Battle of Gravelines. The victory of the English navy marked a turning point in European naval warfare and solidified England’s position as a major naval power while weakening Spain’s dominance. In the wake of the Armada’s defeat, England became determined to establish colonies in the New World as part of its Mercantile System.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Painting, Loutherbourg
This painting by Philip James de Loutherbourg depicts the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition was a state-sanctioned institution established in the late 15th century by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille. It aimed to enforce religious orthodoxy and eliminate heresy, primarily targeting Jews, Muslims, and conversos — Jews converted to Christianity — who were suspected of practicing their former faith secretly. The Spanish Inquisition employed methods such as torture, trials, and confiscation of property to enforce religious conformity. Its impact on Spanish society and the persecution it carried had significant consequences, including the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain.

Migration and Settlement — Causes of European Exploration

Anglo-Spanish War

The Anglo-Spanish War refers to a series of conflicts between England and Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries. These conflicts were driven by competition for power, wealth, and influence, both in Europe and overseas territories. Notable events include the Spanish Armada campaign in 1588. The war had significant implications for naval power, colonial expansion, and trade, ultimately contributing to the decline of Spanish dominance and the rise of English supremacy on the high seas.

Dutch Golden Age

The Dutch Golden Age refers to a period of economic, cultural, and scientific prosperity in the 17th century in the Dutch Republic. During this era, the Dutch dominated global trade, establishing a vast colonial empire and becoming one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world. Following the end of the Anglo-Spanish War, England challenged the Netherlands for control of trade on the high seas, leading to the passage of the Navigation Acts.

English Reformation

The English Reformation refers to the religious and political changes in England during the 16th Century, when the Church of England separated from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. It was driven by both religious and political motives, including King Henry VIII’s desire for the annulment of his marriage and the influence of Protestant ideas. The English Reformation resulted in the establishment of the Church of England.

European Expansion

European Expansion refers to the expansion of European influence and control in the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries. European Expansion was driven by a variety of factors, including the desire for land, resources, and wealth, as well as the desire to spread Christianity and European culture to the New World.

Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring believed to grant eternal youth and vitality to those who drink from it. The legend of the Fountain of Youth captivated the imagination of early European explorers, most notably Juan Ponce de León, who searched for it in present-day Florida in the early 16th century.


Feudalism was a social and economic system that dominated Medieval Europe. It was based on the exchange of land for military service and the hierarchical relationships between lords and vassals. In the Feudal System, the land was owned by nobles or monarchs and granted to vassals in exchange for their loyalty and military support. Feudalism provided social order and structure but also reinforced inequality and limited social mobility. Under the Feudal System, the lower classes had little to no opportunity to own land of their own. The opportunity to own land in the New World played an important role in European immigration.

God, Gold, and Glory

“God, Gold, and Glory” is a phrase often used to summarize the motivations and driving forces behind European Exploration, colonization, and conquest during the Age of Exploration. It represents the three primary objectives that inspired and justified European powers’ actions in the New World and beyond.

Land-Based Trade Routes

Land-based trade routes refer to the networks of overland routes that facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures between different regions and civilizations. Examples of significant land-based trade routes include the Silk Road, connecting Europe and Asia, and the Trans-Saharan trade routes, linking Sub-Saharan Africa with North Africa and the Mediterranean world. These trade routes played a crucial role in the exchange of commodities, technologies, and cultural diffusion.

Mercantile System

The Mercantile System, also known as Mercantilism, was an economic policy prevalent in Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It aimed to increase a nation’s wealth and power through the promotion of exports, the acquisition of precious metals, and the establishment of colonies. Mercantilist policies typically involved protectionism, such as imposing tariffs and promoting domestic industries. The goal was to achieve a positive balance of trade by exporting more goods than importing. Mercantilism played a significant role in shaping European colonialism and trade during the Colonial Era.

New France

New France was the French colonial empire in North America from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It included regions such as present-day Canada, the Great Lakes, and parts of the Mississippi River Valley. New France was primarily focused on Fur Trade and establishing friendly relations with Native American tribes. French colonists, known as Canadiens or Acadians, developed a distinctive culture and society in the region. However, conflicts with the British, such as the French and Indian War, eventually led to the cession of most French territories in North America to the British Empire.

New Spain

New Spain was the Spanish colonial empire in North America and the Caribbean during the 16th to 19th centuries. It encompassed a vast region including present-day Mexico, Central America, the southwestern United States, and parts of the Caribbean. New Spain was characterized by Spanish colonization, the imposition of Spanish culture and institutions, and the exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources. It played a crucial role in the Spanish Empire’s economic and political power, serving as a source of wealth through mining, agriculture, and trade.


Quivira was a legendary city believed to be located in the interior of North America, described as a wealthy place filled with gold and precious gems. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an expedition in search of Quivira in 1541, exploring the present-day American Midwest, including parts of present-day Kansas.

Seven Cities of Cibola

The Seven Cities of Cibola refers to a mythical area of seven wealthy cities believed to be located in the southwestern United States. The legend of the Seven Cities of Cibola motivated several Spanish expeditions, including Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s, in search of great wealth and cities made of gold.

Trading Post Empire

A trading post empire is a type of colonial empire that was primarily focused on establishing trading posts and maintaining control over strategic points along trade routes. Instead of large-scale colonization, trading post empires, such as the Portuguese Empire in the Indian Ocean and the Dutch East India Company, aimed to control trade and secure access to valuable resources. They often built fortified trading posts and relied on local alliances and commercial dominance rather than direct territorial control. These trading post empires played a significant role in European expansion and the development of global trade networks.

Trading Post System

The Trading Post System was a system of economic exchange that emerged in North America during the Colonial Era. It involved the establishment of Trading Posts, typically located in strategic locations such as along rivers or at the confluence of trade routes, where European traders could exchange goods with Native American tribes for furs, pelts, and other valuable commodities.

Water-Based Trade Routes

Water-Based Trade Routes refer to the routes of maritime trade that connected different regions and civilizations through the seas and oceans. Notable water-based trade routes include the Mediterranean Sea, which connected Europe, Africa, and Asia, and the Indian Ocean trade routes, linking the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and East Africa. These trade routes facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and technologies, and they were essential for the growth of global commerce and cultural exchange.

Politics and Power — Monarchs, Politicians, Clergy

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, also known as the “Virgin Queen,” was the Queen of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603. She is considered one of the most influential monarchs in English history. Her reign was marked by political stability and the expansion of England’s influence in the world. Her reign saw England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada and the establishment of England as a major naval and colonial power.

Queen Elizabeth I, Pelican Portrait, Hilliard
Queen Elizabeth I. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Ferdinand and Isabella

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were the joint rulers of the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They are best known for their role in the unification of Spain, as well as their support for the voyages of exploration led by Christopher Columbus. Ferdinand and Isabella are also known for their support of the Catholic Church and their role in the Spanish Inquisition, a period of persecution of non-Catholics in Spain.

Francis I

Francis I was the King of France from 1515 to 1547. He sponsored several exploratory expeditions, including those led by Giovanni da Verrazzano, Jacques Cartier, and Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval. These expeditions aimed to find new trade routes and territories and expanded French influence in North America.

Richard Hakluyt the Elder

Richard Hakluyt the Elder was an English geographer and writer during the Elizabethan era. He was a key figure in promoting English exploration and colonization. Hakluyt’s most notable work was “The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation,” a collection of travel accounts and geographical information that aimed to inspire English exploration and establish a colonial empire.

Richard Hakluyt the Younger

Richard Hakluyt the Younger was an English clergyman, geographer, and editor who carried on the work of his uncle, Richard Hakluyt the Elder. He continued to collect and publish accounts of voyages and explorations, further promoting English expansion and colonization. Hakluyt the Younger played a crucial role in disseminating knowledge about overseas exploration and encouraging English colonization efforts during the early 17th century.

Henry VII

Henry VII was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from 1485 until his death in 1509. He was the founder of the Tudor Dynasty and played a crucial role in consolidating power after the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII sponsored voyages of exploration, including those led by John Cabot, in search of new trade routes and territories.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII was the King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He is one of the most well-known monarchs in English history. Henry VIII is notable for his role in the English Reformation, which resulted in the separation of the Church of England from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. His desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn led to the establishment of the Church of England, with Henry VIII as its Supreme Head. His reign also saw the dissolution of the monasteries, the establishment of the Royal Navy, and significant political and religious changes in England. Henry VIII had six wives and is known for his efforts to secure a male heir, which led to divorces, annulments, and beheadings. Queen Elizabeth I was his daughter.

James I

James I was the monarch of England and Ireland from 1603 to 1625. He granted the charter to the Virginia Company of London, allowing the establishment of Jamestown Colony in the New World. He played a pivotal role in encouraging English colonization efforts and providing support to the Virginia Company. During his time on the throne, there were significant developments in English colonization, exploration, and overseas trade, setting the stage for further expansion and influence in the New World.

Philip II

Philip II of Spain was a powerful monarch who ruled over the Spanish Empire from 1556 to 1598. He was the son of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal. Philip II’s reign was marked by Spanish dominance in Europe, extensive colonial expansion, and his strong commitment to Catholicism. He launched the Spanish Armada in an attempt to invade England and restore Catholicism, but the defeat of the Armada marked a turning point in the balance of power in Europe.

Pope Alexander VI

Pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo Borgia, was the pope of the Catholic Church from 1492 until his death in 1503. He is known for his controversial and corrupt actions, particularly in relation to the colonization of the Americas. Pope Alexander VI issued several papal bulls, including the infamous Inter Caetera, which granted Spain and Portugal the rights to explore and colonize newly discovered lands and impose Christian dominion over the people living in the New World

Politics and Power — Treaties

Inter Caetera

Inter Caetera is a papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493. The bull divided the newly discovered lands between Spain and Portugal, providing them with exclusive rights to explore, colonize, and convert the people they found living there. It established the Line of Demarcation, a boundary dividing the world between the two nations. Spain was granted rights to lands west of the line, while Portugal had rights to lands east of the line. Inter Caetera played a crucial role in shaping European colonial expansion in the Americas and contributed to the subsequent era of Spanish and Portuguese colonization.

Line of Demarcation

The Line of Demarcation, also known as the Papal Line of Demarcation, was an imaginary line established by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. It was a division agreed upon by Spain and Portugal to divide the newly discovered lands outside of Europe. The line was drawn by Pope Alexander VI in the papal bull Inter Caetera. The purpose of the line was to avoid conflicts between the two Catholic powers and to define their spheres of influence in the exploration and colonization of the New World. The line ran from pole to pole, dividing the world into two zones: the eastern zone granted to Portugal and the western zone granted to Spain. Portugal received rights to lands and territories east of the line, including present-day Brazil, while Spain gained rights to territories west of the line, encompassing most of the Americas. Over time, the line was adjusted through various treaties and negotiations as other European powers entered the scene of exploration and colonization.

Treaty of Alcáçovas

The Treaty of Alcáçovas was a treaty signed in 1479 between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile (Spain). It marked the end of the territorial disputes between the two kingdoms and established spheres of influence for each country in the Atlantic Ocean and Africa. The treaty recognized Portuguese control over the Cape Verde Islands, Madeira, and the Azores, while Castile gained control over the Canary Islands. It played a significant role in defining the areas of exploration and colonization for Portugal and Spain during the Age of Exploration.

Treaty of Tordesillas

The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in 1494 between the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and Portugal and divided the New World between the two countries. The treaty was based on the papal bull Inter Caetera, which had been issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, and it established a Line of Demarcation that gave Spain the rights to the lands to the west of the line and Portugal the rights to the lands to the east. The Treaty of Tordesillas helped to shape the modern-day borders of many countries in the Americas.

Politics and Power — Political Structures and Groups


Conquistadors were Spanish explorers and conquerors who played a pivotal role in the colonization of the Americas during the 16th century. Driven by a desire for wealth, land, and spreading Christianity, the Conquistadors carried out expeditions in the New World, particularly in present-day Mexico, Central America and South America. Notable Conquistadors include Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Aztec and Inca Empires, respectively, and established Spanish dominance in the region.


Huguenots were French Protestants who emerged during the 16th and 17th centuries as followers of the Reformed tradition of Protestantism. They were primarily Calvinists and faced religious persecution in Catholic-dominated France. Many Huguenots sought religious freedom and migrated to other countries, including England, the Netherlands, and the American colonies. Their presence in the Americas, particularly in New Netherland, made religious freedom a key benefit of the colony. 


A Nation-State is a sovereign state composed of a single nation or group of people who share a common identity, culture, and language. Nation-states are characterized by their strong central governments and the presence of a single dominant culture within their borders. Nation-States are the dominant form of political organization in the modern world, and they are typically characterized by a high degree of territorial integrity and political stability. Nation-States started to develop in Europe during the 15th Century.


The Puritans were a group of English Protestants who sought to “purify” the Church of England from what they considered to be remaining Catholic practices and beliefs. They emphasized a strict religious and moral code, simple worship, and a personal relationship with God. The Puritans played a significant role in the colonization of New England, seeking religious freedom and establishing colonies such as Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Pilgrims, First Thanksgiving, 1621
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth. Image Source: Wikipedia.


Separatists were a radical group inside the Puritans who believed that the Church of England was beyond reform and chose to separate from it entirely. They sought religious freedom and the ability to practice their faith independently. Separatists faced persecution in England and sought refuge in the New World, where they played a significant role in the early colonization of America and the development of religious tolerance. The most well-known group of Separatists was the Pilgrims, who established the Plymouth Colony in 1620. 

Politics and Power — Events and Ages

Conquest of the Americas

The Conquest of the Americas refers to the process of European colonization of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Conquest of the Americas was a complex process that involved the expansion of European influence and control over the region, as well as the exploitation and oppression of Indigenous peoples and the introduction of new diseases and technologies. The Conquest of the Americas had a significant impact on the history and development of the Americas, and it continues to be a controversial and divisive topic in the history of the region.


The Reconquista refers to the centuries-long process of Christian kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula reclaiming territories from Muslim rule. It began in the 8th century and culminated in 1492 with the Fall of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. The Reconquista had profound political, cultural, and religious implications, as it led to the establishment of Christian kingdoms and the consolidation of Catholicism as the dominant religion in the region.

Age of Exploration

The Age of Exploration, also known as the Age of Discovery, refers to the period from the 15th to the 17th centuries when European explorers ventured into uncharted territories, seeking new trade routes and knowledge. It was driven by various factors, including the desire for wealth, fame, and spreading Christianity. European nations, such as Spain, Portugal, England, and France, sponsored voyages of exploration to Africa, Asia, and the Americas, leading to significant geographic, scientific, and cultural discoveries, as well as colonization and the establishment of global trade networks.

Work, Exchange, and Technology


An astrolabe is a historical astronomical instrument used to measure the altitude of celestial bodies and determine the time and location. It consists of a circular disk with marked degrees and a pivoting arm with sights to observe the position of stars and planets. Astrolabes were used by ancient astronomers and navigators for celestial navigation, determining latitude, and making astronomical calculations. They played a crucial role in early exploration and navigation, aiding in charting routes and guiding ships across vast distances.


A caravel was a small, highly maneuverable sailing ship that was used by the Portuguese and Spanish during the Age of Exploration. The ships were typically around 50-60 feet long and had a narrow hull with a high, rounded stern and a lateen sail. Caravels were used for long voyages of exploration and were instrumental in the European discovery and colonization of the New World.


Cartography is the art and science of creating maps and charts. It involves the gathering of geographic information, the interpretation of data, and the representation of the Earth’s surface on a two-dimensional plane. Cartography played a vital role in navigation and exploration, enabling explorers to record and convey geographical knowledge, chart new territories, and plan sea routes accurately.

Magnetic Compass

The magnetic compass is an ancient navigational instrument used to determine direction relative to the Earth’s magnetic field. It consists of a magnetized needle or card that aligns with the Earth’s magnetic north-south axis. The magnetic compass revolutionized navigation by allowing sailors to accurately determine their heading, enabling them to traverse the open seas with greater precision and confidence.

Printing Press

The printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century, revolutionized the production and dissemination of information. It allowed for the mass production of books and other printed materials, making knowledge more accessible to a wider audience. The printing press facilitated the spread of scientific, religious, and philosophical ideas, fostering intellectual and cultural advancements during the Renaissance and beyond. It had a profound impact on communication, education, and the development of modern society.


A sextant is a navigational instrument used to measure the angle between celestial objects, such as the sun, moon, and stars, and the horizon. It typically consists of a graduated arc, a sighting mechanism, and a movable arm with a small telescope or sighting device. By measuring the angle between celestial objects and the horizon, sailors could calculate their latitude and navigate with greater accuracy.

Sternpost Rudder

The sternpost rudder is a key maritime invention that revolutionized ship navigation and maneuverability. Developed in ancient China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the sternpost rudder is a vertical blade attached to the stern or rear of a ship. It replaced the earlier side-mounted steering oars, providing better control and stability to vessels. The sternpost rudder allowed ships to steer more effectively, enabling longer voyages, improved maneuvering in adverse conditions, and facilitated the exploration and expansion of maritime trade routes.

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  • Article Title European Exploration in the Americas — APUSH 1.3 Notes, Review, and Terms
  • Date 1491–1607
  • Author
  • Keywords AP US History, European Exploration, Age of Exploration, Christopher Columbus APUSH, Renaissance, Reformation, Dutch Explorers, English Explorers, French Explorers, Italian Explorers, Portuguese Explorers, Spanish Explorers, Settlements, Colonies, Causes of European Immigration, John Cabot APUSH, Ferdinand of Aragon APUSH
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 11, 2024