European Rivalries in the Caribbean
From the 15th century onwards, European countries like Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Britain began to build empires around the world. These nations expanded their political control, their economic systems and their cultural influence in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
Portuguese sailors and navigators were among the first to set out on remarkable voyages of exploration. In 1415, the Portuguese captured the city of Cueta in North Africa. They then went on to conquer the West African coast that was rich in gold, ivory and silver. In 1498, an explorer named Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, going around the continent of Africa for the first time in history. This opened up a sea route to India for Europe.
While the Portuguese explored the east, the Spanish set out to explore the oceans to the west. Encouraged by an Arabian idea that the world was round, Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492, hoping to reach China and India. After a hazardous ten-week voyage, he sighted the Bahamas on October 12, l492. To the Europeans this was a new world. But Columbus at first thought he had reached India. It is because of this mistake that we still call the people who first lived in the Americas "Indians" and the islands in the Caribbean the "West Indies". The Continent itself was later named America after another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who reached this "new world" in 1499.
British Supremacy in the Caribbean
It was the Spanish ships the "Pinta," the "Niña" and the "Santa Maria" that first landed in the Caribbean. Spain wanted absolute control over the "New World". They wanted only Spanish people, Spanish trade, Spanish religion and Spanish government to control the lands and bring riches of gold home. Spain defended its monopoly by destroying the island peoples such as the Arawaks and the Caribs. They also conquered the great Aztec and Inca civilizations on the mainland.
The riches of this new world, however, attracted other European powers. The British, Dutch and French challenged Spain's monopoly in the 17th century. They used piracy, smuggling, and outright war to take over lands and set up their own colonies.
The Dutch, for example, took Guiana, and the British captured St. Kitts, Barbados and Jamaica from Spain. In the middle of the 17th century, some British pirates settled among logwood forests on the coast of the Bay of Honduras - what would later be called the Settlement of Belize. The French were also settling in North America and the Caribbean.
In the 18th century, the British and French fought for supremacy over the "New World". The British took control of more and more territories in the Caribbean. By the 19th century the British were the major power in the Caribbean. The British empire extended to all parts of the world, including the Americas, Africa, India, Asia and Oceania.
In the centuries that followed the great powers of Europe struggled with each other in heated and often violent rivalry to build their huge world empires.