Potential in the New World of the Americas

For most of the 16th century, England was too poor and too timid to do much about the opportunities presented by the opening of two new continents. By 1604, however, when England and Spain signed a tenuous peace treaty, the English had good reasons to think about branching out to the new lands of the West. Among them were

  • Economic incentive: A middle class of merchants, speculators, and entrepreneurs had formed. By pooling their resources in “joint-stock companies,” these capitalists could invest in schemes to make money in the New World by backing colonists who would produce goods England and the rest of Europe wanted. They could also harvest resources, such as timber, for which England had to depend on other Old World countries.

  • Overpopulation: Even though the entire population of about 4 million was less than half that of modern-day London, many Englishmen pined for a less-crowded land.

  • Religious dissent: Protestantism, a rival Christian religion to the one led by the Pope in Rome, had developed in the 16th century and become firmly rooted in England. Even though the country’s own state church was Protestant, many English Protestants felt it wasn’t different enough from the Roman Catholic faith they had left. Religiously restless, they looked to America as a place to plant the seeds of their own version of Christianity.

  • Wool: England’s woolen industry was booming in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Farms were turned into pastures for more and more sheep, and the tenant farmers on the former farms were forced off, with no particular place to go — except the New World.

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