A Rationale for New World Colonization
Digital History ID 70
During the early and mid-sixteenth century, the English tended to conceive of North America as a base for piracy and harassment of the Spanish. But by the end of the century, the English began to think more seriously about North America as a place to colonize: as a market for English goods and a source of raw materials and commodities such as furs. English promoters claimed that New World colonization offered England many advantages. Not only would it serve as a bulwark against Catholic Spain, it would supply England with raw materials and provide a market for finished products. America would also provide a place to send the English poor and ensure that they would contribute to the nation's wealth.
During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the English poor increased rapidly in number. As a result of the enclosure of traditional common lands (which were increasingly used to raise sheep), many common people were forced to become wage laborers or else to support themselves hand-to-mouth or simply as beggars.
Here Richard Hayluyt recounts the advantages of New World colonization. Later, Hakluyt invested his own money in the company that colonized Virginia.
...All the commodities of all our old decayed and dangerous trades in all Europe, Africa, and Asia...may in short space [count] for little or nothing [compared with]...that part of America which lieth between 30 and 60 degrees of northerly latitude, if by our slackness we suffer not the French or others to prevent us....
For all the statutes that hitherto can be devised, and the sharp execution of the same in punishing idle and lazy persons, for want of sufficient occasion of honest employments, cannot deliver our commonwealth from multitudes of loiterers and idle vagabonds. Truth it is that through our long peace and seldom sickness (two singular blessings of Almighty God) we are grown more populous than ever heretofore; so that now there are...so many, that they can hardly live one by another, nay rather they are ready to eat up one another; yea many thousands of idle persons are within this realm, which having no way to be set on work, be either mutinous and seek alteration in the state, or at least very burdensome to the commonwealth and often fall to pilfering and thieving and other lewdness, whereby all the prisons of the land are daily pestered and stuffed full of them, where either they pitifully pine away or else at length are miserably hanged, even 20 at a clap out of some jail. Whereas if this voyage [to the New World] were put in execution, these petty thieves might be condemned for certain years in the western parts, especially in Newfoundland, in sawing and felling of timber and masts of ships, and deal boards; in burning of the firs and pine trees to make pitch, tar, rosin, and soap ashes; in beating and working of hemp for cordage; and, in the more southern parts, in setting them to work in mines of gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron; in dragging for pearls and coral; in planting of sugar canes, as the Portingales [Portuguese] have done in Madeira; in maintenance and increasing of silk worms for silk, and in dressing the same; in gathering of cotton whereof there is plenty; in tilling of the soil there for grain; in dressing of vines whereof there is great abundance for wine; olives, whereof the soil is capable, for oil; trees for oranges, lemons, almonds, figs, and other fruits, all which are found to grow there already;...in building of forts, towns, churches; in powdering and barrelling of fish, fowls, and flesh, which will be notable provision for sea and land; in drying, sorting, and packing of features, where of may be had there marvelous great quantity.....
In sum, this enterprise will minister matter for all sorts and states of men to work upon; namely, all several kinds of artificers, husbandmen, seamen, merchants, soldiers, captains, physicians, lawyers, divines, cosmographers, hydrographers, astronomers, historiographers; yea, old folks, lame persons, women, and young children, by many means...shall be kept from idleness, and be made able by their own honest and easy labour to find themselves without surcharging others.
Richard Hakluyt, "A Discourse on Western Planting," Maine Historical Society Collections, 2nd Ser., Documentary History of the State of Maine (Cambridge, 1877), II, 36-41
Source: Richard Hakluyt, "A Discourse on Western Planting," Documentary History of the State of Maine, Maine Historical Society Collections, 2nd Ser., (Cambridge, Mass., 1877), vol. II, pp. 36-41.
Copyright 2021 Digital History