Colonizing America is Hard

Something inspired by the Vinland discussion we had recently.

There seems to be a feeling that to settle North America, you sail west, and, lo, endless land and riches await.

Yet Roanoke failed. Numerous French colonization attempts in North and South America failed. Darien failed. Rio De Janero was abandoned after its initial colonization. Jamestown, Plymouth Bay also failed. New Amsterdam was doing very poorly before Van Stuyvesant took over.

I think this is something we forget when discussing Vinland, and colonization of America in general.
 
Agreed. Hard...not impossible, as OTL proved, but rather harder than "build it and they will come".

I think the trick is getting that critical mass of colonists. Get enough people over such that their numbers grow faster than their losses and there's a chance. This was far harder for the Norse since they lacked the population.

Also, a population critical mass of another kind and/or visit frequency is needed for disease to establish itself endemically to "keep the native kills going".

Interbreeding with the natives would help acheive critical mass faster with less of a population investment.
 
Agreed. Hard...not impossible, as OTL proved, but rather harder than "build it and they will come".

Very much agreed.

The many and varied treasures awaiting colonists in the Americas are such a given in 2011 that too many posters cannot realize they were in no way readily apparent or even guessed at during the times in question.

I think the trick is getting that critical mass of colonists.
Agreed again. You need a mechanism to lure or force more people across the Atlantic. Even with a mechanism or mechanisms in place, the situation is still a crap shoot and a long term crap shoot at that.

In the OTL, Spain's initial "discovery" of gold in Central America led to more explorations first in Central America and then elsewhere. However, colonization beyond Central America took another two generations to occur.

Interbreeding with the natives would help acheive critical mass faster with less of a population investment.
Yes, that would be a cultural/technological colonization of sorts and it could produce wide ranging results faster.
 
You are absolutely right. It seems that generally, on these fora, there is a mindset which makes people believe that you can put many thousands of people aboard a huge armada, find good locations for a city in no time to settle thousands of people and survive the first few years mostly unharmed then thrive.
 
It seems that generally, on these fora, there is a mindset which makes people believe that you can put many thousands of people aboard a huge armada, find good locations for a city in no time to settle thousands of people and survive the first few years mostly unharmed then thrive.

Well, it works in every version of Civilization so why shouldn't it work in reality? :rolleyes:
 
Hence why in my "Vive le Canada" tl, France periodicly just kept throwing Huguenots at Canada until it worked and why expansion in the Midwest (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois) is growing rapidly and has a higher then OTL population of Metis in that area.
 
There was a bit of bad luck with Roanoke IIRC. Weren't the colonists waiting for a supply ship whcih would have given them more people and stuff when Francis Drake arrived, saw they were in the shit and evacuated them, and then in a day or two the supply ship and people arrived to find the colony empty? Change this sort of bad luck and things could be different.
 
Even a fairly large settler population wont do it.
They will need to be able to produce food and learne how to survive. Starting a homestead will be hard, if said homestead is across the atlantic from most resources you are used too...
Natives and the differces in the eviroment wont help either.
 
Vikings...

IIRC, the Vikings were not immune from the European settlers' unfortunate tendency to sneer at the indigenous populations and treat them as mostly-harmless savages who could be cowed by a show of force...

While settlers played nice, trade went well. Unfortunately, it only took one bloody incident to set off tit-for-tat reprisals, where the locals had 'home advantage' plus woodcraft...

Also, several settlements were unfortunately sited in malarial areas. IIRC, the Darien Project was rapidly decimated by disease...
 
Settling America isn't easy, but I would argue it's only really hard (at the level of a population, not an individual) if you go in with misplaced expectations. The problem IMO is the model the Spanish set. Columbus stumbled into the single best place for conquest and happened to have the model of exploitation in mind that actually worked. Everyone else for a long time expected that this would just replicate itself. Of course it didn't. But even with all their problems (which really didn't sort themselves out until Malthusian pressure worked its magic), wherever there were marketable resources to be exploited, settlement did happen. Europeans set up shop first not in the mild dales of Virginia or the verdant forests of Vermont, but on the rocks of Labrador and the much less hospitable rivers of canada. Why? Because there, they could harvest a resource they could sell. Virginia and Vermont were just land, and not even empty land at that. You couldn't pack it up and ship it home. Much of the efforts of the early settlement colonies were devoted to finding saleable product (Carolina rice, Virginia tobacco, Massachusetts cod). A non-centrally planned pattern of American settlement is much more likely to look like this, at least for the first century or so.
 

Stephen

Banned
If you get enough iron age or viking people to migrate across you may have an advantage in that they may be looking for somewhere to subsist rather than trade.
 
There are several reasons for colony failures.

1) Not enough population to survive setbacks like bad harvests, attacks by native peoples, disease, attacks by rival Europeans, or other disasters.

2) The settlers lacked the actual real skills to build a new community straight up. People with real farming skills were much more likely to remain their lands. I think many actual settlers were urban dwellers looking to trade up, find a place to practice their religion, or were debtors. I don't think there were many "planned" colonizations where people were selected based on what real skills were needed.

3) European farming techniques needed to adjust to different situations in the Americas. It's a different climate with different weather and different soils. This impacts the yield of harvests, especially for non-native (European) crops.

4) Poor leadership. It is very easy for different cultures to turn meetings into violence. I don't think it has anything to do with European culture. It's the fact that people don't understand and can't trust outsiders. Furthermore, if the colony makes friends with one group of natives, they have just gained all their enemies as their own enemies. Since it is almost impossible for new colonists to figure out who is the most powerful tribe or understand the local political dynamics, it is very easy for them to offend the wrong people.

5) Colonies didn't exist to provide for themselves. They usually had to send back some kind of income back home. So not all of their work is going to maintaining their own prosperity and defense. They need to spend a lot of time into doing things which will make the owners/sponsors of the colony back in Europe wealthy.

6) Many European colonies were starved for labor which is why the slave trade boomed. There simply wasn't enough Europeans to do the work to make the colony profitable.

The first colonies to be sucessful were the islands in the Caribbean. Their relative isolation enabled the Europeans to be secure, and allow them to build up numbers, experience, and knowledge for when they finally went to the mainland. A sucessful Norse colonization effort would probably need the same. I don't know if Newfoundland was sparse enough population wise to do that, and smaller islands may be too close to the mainland to prevent incursions.
 
Europeans set up shop first not in the mild dales of Virginia or the verdant forests of Vermont, but on the rocks of Labrador and the much less hospitable rivers of canada. Why? Because there, they could harvest a resource they could sell. Virginia and Vermont were just land, and not even empty land at that. You couldn't pack it up and ship it home. Much of the efforts of the early settlement colonies were devoted to finding saleable product (Carolina rice, Virginia tobacco, Massachusetts cod). A non-centrally planned pattern of American settlement is much more likely to look like this, at least for the first century or so.

I think this is true, but this just goves to prove that settling America is hard. Say a Roman fishing vessel gets sent west by trade winds, and somehow returns.

"We've found vast lands full of primitive savages with nothing of worth."

"Ah yes, Germany."[1]

To profit from Virginia, the Carolinas, etc., you need a Europe advanced enough to take have a market for luxuries like tobacco, who has consumed closer supplies of furs and fish....

[1] Little has changed in the intervening 2,000 years.
 
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Agreed - one of the things people overlook about Spanish early colonization was that 1. it wasn't settler colonization; Sure the soldiers married local women, but the Spanish never really relocated population en masse to their colonies. They instead simply placed themselves on the top of the social strata. 2. Gold was a far easier resource to accumulate in the short term compared to New World cash crops, which though proving more profitable in the long run, certainly wasn't on anyone's mind in the 16th century.
 
IIRC, the Vikings were not immune from the European settlers' unfortunate tendency to sneer at the indigenous populations and treat them as mostly-harmless savages who could be cowed by a show of force...

While settlers played nice, trade went well. Unfortunately, it only took one bloody incident to set off tit-for-tat reprisals, where the locals had 'home advantage' plus woodcraft...

Also, several settlements were unfortunately sited in malarial areas. IIRC, the Darien Project was rapidly decimated by disease...

Precisely. I think the main deterrent for colonizing North America was that colonizing didn't come into it-there were already people there!
 
It's also an issue that malaria comes over straight away. It's not that settlements are built in its midst by bad luck, per se. The issue is that the kinds of places where an early settlement can be built and where the climate is friendly enough for it to succeed, are also exactly the sorts that naturally harbor mosquitoes.
 
Precisely. I think the main deterrent for colonizing North America was that colonizing didn't come into it-there were already people there!
Yes, true, but not always. Remember that the Plymouth colony only survived due to local assistance (the true meaning of Thanksgiving:)).
 
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