Why was S. America colonized before US ?

Looking at history there were S. American settlements from Europe in the early 1500s but in the area that became the US it did not happen until 1600 in most cases.

Was this because Spain and Portugal were just more aggressive in sending out their people to S. America? As opposed to England which sent people to N. America.

The early Spanish colonization of the Americas was driven especially by the search for gold. And the Spanish mainly did not send colonists; instead they were often adventurers looking for quick riches.

Eastern North America north of Mexico lacked easily exploitable resources such as gold. Therefore it was neglected by all the major colonial powers until later.

The Aztec Empire and Maya had more wealth to plunder.

The region had a lot of trade goods like coffee, chocolate, yams, rubber that could be cultivated and sold in Europe.

The Spanish did colonize the US in the 1500’s.

I think in the 1500s there was very little knowledge of N. America north of Mexico so they did not know what was there to take. But I suppose they were too busy in S. America to find out.

In 1500, there was no “north” or “south” America - just the New World. The center of expansion was the Caribbean, and the Spanish used that as a base to explore and settle. There’s no mystery here. The common element to their colonization was principally the value of commodities. This included gold, yes, but also many agricultural products. Most of the the regions settled in the later Thirteeen Colonies weren’t nearly as valuable in that regard.

Verranzano explored much of the east coast in 1524. But he and subsequent visitors didn’t find much gold or other resources. In fact, there isn’t much gold in the eastern US compared Mexico and South America.

That’s part of it.

The early explorers found an amazing variety of new foods enjoyed by the Aztecs, Mayan, and Inca peoples. A lot of this could be introduced and sold in Europe.


The Central American Indian culture was quite advanced and prosperous compared to most in North America.

people tend to think of British people coming to the US for religious freedom and that was part of it. But at Jamestown many of those people came to make money. For 1 example they made glass to sell back to England since wood was plentiful to make the fires need to make glass.

The Spanish launched all sorts of expeditions to North America. The reason they came to nothing was that they never found vast treasures of gold and silver they could loot. Sure, lots of Indian cities and villages, but they weren’t interested in conquest for conquest’s sake. They wanted loot. Conquering a nation stuffed with gold that you could take back to Spain was the goal. Conquering a nation of maize farmers so you could become a farmer yourself wasn’t.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hernando_de_Soto

The Spanish model was to come in and subjugate the existing populations and have a relative handful of Spanish guys (and perhaps families) rule over a bunch of natives as they mined for gold and silver. Then a whole lot of inter-marrying and mixed race children and stuff.

The British model seemed to be more about displacing existing natives so they could make all-European settlements.

I’d guess that the Spanish model of placing your flag over existing towns and cities led to faster expansion than the British model of starting largely from scratch (I say largely because I’m aware of things like the Pilgrims finding an abandoned settlement but it’s not as though they found an established settlement with 300 living people and claimed the whole package).

The Spanish settled Mexico & Central America first (which is not part of South America). They moved on to South America right after that because they heard rumours from native Panamanians that the Inca Empire had lots of gold.

South America also had a more advanced civilization (i.e. the Inca Empire) than the US did, and it was easy for the Spanish to use the existing Inca infrastructure (roads, compulsory labour requirements, etc.) for their own purposes.

Yes; the city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496. And St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565.

The cause and effect of looking for gold and silver is a bit more complicated.

E.g., there is gold in N. Georgia and Western North Carolina, etc. However the locals in these areas just weren’t into big time mining and exploitation of these resources.

Ditto the locals in N. California and W. Nevada.

It’s not so much that the Aztec and Incan empires sat on a lot of gold and silver, but they had advanced enough to exploit them heavily.

If you want to find a lot of loot attack the major civilized areas first. That’s happened many times and will happen again.

There was no one “British model.” Various groups got permission from the King (or Queen) to set up colonies for various reasons.

Gentleman adventurers went to Virginia–the first mainland British colony–to become rich. There were no precious metals & the road to the Pacific kept getting longer; lack of farming skills meant that most of the early settlers died. Eventually, raising tobacco & importing it led to wealth–for some. Rice did well in the Carolinas.

Massachusetts settlers wanted religious liberty–for themselves. They worked hard at farming & established healthy settlements–but nobody got rich quick. Eventually, some prospered at trade.

The Quakers of Pennsylvania also wanted religious freedom–but not just for themselves. Every colony had a different history–who settled, how they lived, how they got along with the indigenes.

For a long time, those colonies pretty much ruled themselves; British merchants & tobacco factors prospered. Periodic wars with the French (& their Indian allies) sometimes led to British military involvement–although colonial militias fought, too. After the Seven Years War enriched the British Empire worldwide, it was decided to begin managing the colonies more closely. Trouble ensued…

I think Jophiel’s answer is key (as well as the Caribbean being the starting place, in part due to trade winds, but also gold and later tobacco, sugar, etc.): Mesoamerica had more advanced indigenous cultures with an established hierarchy of trade routes, towns and cities, tax collecting, etc. that the Spanish could more or less insert themselves into, to get things started. No coincidence that the great city of Mexico (already with universities and such by the 1580s) was located at the Aztec capital. Also note how the Portuguese instead developed port towns – a sophisticated indigenous civilization was lacking in Brazil.

Henry VII of England sent some explorations commanded by John Cabot to North America in the late 1490s. But these weren’t colonizing expeditions, mainly plant the flag, walk around a bit. They don’t even seem to have met any natives. Henry VII’s elder son Arthur was bethrothed to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and they were married in 1501. I’m not sure if this pending marriage (and Catherine’s subsequent marriage to Henry VIII a few years later) caused Spain to respect England’s claims of the northern part (Cabot probably landed in Newfoundland), dormant as they were. -probably as others have said, the Aztec and Inca civilizations were better organized and once the Spanish conquered them, there was already a structure in place to get the minerals and food (potatoes among other things) they wanted.
I’m not really sure why England waited so long to colonize North America. Henry VII was stingy, Henry VIII spent a lot but that was on palaces and fighting some wars against the Scots and French. His children had their own squabbles and war eventually broke out with Spain which really hurt things…the Roanoke colony disappeared because they were not able to visit it for several years. Finally when James I made peace with Spain, England started to colonize over several decades by different groups. Even then it took a while to find the economic benefits of the North (even Virginia tobacco had to be cross pollinated with tobacco from the south to get the good flavor while poisoning yourself with tar and nicotine).

From my reading of 1492 by Charles Mann the advanced culture in Central America, with regard to intrusion by Europeans, was a bug not a feature.

The existence of the Aztec civilization in Mexico and the Inca in Peru meant in effect that there was a single point of failure for the American culture. Once the Spaniards defeated that one group, it was downhill from there. All the other cultures were smaller and weaker.
Further north, Europeans found a multitude of groups/tribes throughout what is now N. America. Defeating one just meant that there was another equally powerful group a few miles away. Until the plagues destroyed all the populations, that meant it was simply harder to make progress conquering N. America.

It also helped that in N. America the various confederations were well-equipped and experienced in large-scale conflict. Anyone who wasn’t had long since been devoured by their more powerful neighbors.

Have you read Colin Woodward’s “American Nations” book? It goes into great depth about these regional differences in culture that were established in the colonial era and how they remain to this day independent of state and national borders.

In the case of Spain, he mentions that they were so heavily invested in exploiting Central America and the Caribbean that they didn’t really have any resources available to support their northern territories and missions in southern California, Arizona, much of New Mexico, and southwest Texas. At the same time leaders forbade them from trading with natives or rival colonies, perpetuating a rather stagnant settlement pattern.

Introduced, yes. But not sold. Europeans were pretty slow to adopt New World foods. Hardly anyone grew potatoes for anything other than fun or science, for example. The Irish adopted the potato because most of Ireland’s prime arable land was used to graze cattle for export, and not much else would grow in the land that was left to subsistence farmers.

Tomatoes were grown as an ornamental plant at first, and hardly featured at all as a foodstuff. The earliest written references indicate that Europeans thought they were a sort of eggplant (which they are, in a sense).