Reasons for Settling the New World

Review General Background
Elementary School Activity
Middle School and High School Activity

General Background
There were many reasons why people colonized North America. One of the main reasons is that the New World presented people with an opportunity to earn a decent living and perhaps even to become wealthy. During the time of colonization, profitable jobs were scarce in England, and land was very difficult to obtain because it was expensive. By moving to one of the colonies, an individual had a better chance to earn a living than if they remained in England. Once in the New World many settlers earned a living by becoming farmers, hunters, and businessmen. Some of these settlers became indentured servants as well.

Another reason that people traveled to the New World was to acquire land. Most settlers were given free land or land at low cost. Land not only gave settlers feelings of independence, it also provided them with status and allowed them certain rights in the community, including voting.

Religion was another reason that people came to the New World. Some settlers wished to have the chance to worship freely while others came to America to escape religious persecutions. Some of these groups were the Puritans, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Huguenots, and Jews.

In the bigger picture, kings and queens were interested in creating colonies because colonies contributed to the political, economic and military superiority of a country. As the English, Dutch, Spanish, and French strove for economic and political superiority, their quest took them into newly discovered lands. The equation Land = Power = Money was at play in this quest, and these lands became important staging areas for the military might of these European powers.

Elementary School – Persuasive Writing

Prior to students selecting one of the activities for this lesson, the teacher needs to outline the five reasons why colonists came to America (religious freedom, opportunity to get rich, find a job, to be with family members, and to strive for economic, political and military superiority).


  • list five reasons why people came to the colonies.


  • persuasive


  1. Write on the blackboard the heading "Reasons Why Colonists Settled the New World."
  2. Brainstorm with students why they think colonists settled in America and write them down on the board.
  3. List the five reasons why people came to America in the early days of colonization and discuss with the students.
  4. Outline the four activities below and have students select one for an outcome project.

    Option 1
    Have students develop an advertising poster using information from the teacher’s presentation about why people colonized the United States. This advertisement could include any combination of factors and should try to entice people to join the colonization efforts.

    Option 2
    Encourage students to talk to family members about what they know about relatives who emigrated to the US; have them investigate their relatives’ motivations. Have students complete a family tree using the flags of family members’ countries-of-origin as the "leaves" on the tree.

    Option 3
    Tell students that they should imagine themselves as colonists who came to the colonies in search of religious freedom. Have them write a letter back home telling how their lives have changed since their arrival. These letters should try to convince family members to join them in the colonies.

    Option 4
    Write a letter or an entry into a diary as if you were sailing to a new home in the American colonies. What are you feeling? What do you miss? What are you eating/wearing? What do you hope your new home is like?

Middle School and High School – Reasons & Realities

Richard Hakluyt the Elder was part of a family that promoted English settlement of North America during the sixteenth century. The primary source used for this lesson contains almost three dozen reasons supporting colonization of the continent.

The Jamestown colony suffered a casualty rate of almost 80% in the first half of its second decade as a colony. The letter of indentured servant Richard Frethorne details the realities of life in the Jamestown settlement.

Since both texts retain the language of their respective authors, students should be made aware that sentence structure and spelling have changed in the English language since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


  • identify and summarize the reasons why English settlers would want to come to the North American colonies.
  • compare the notion of colonization as presented by the proponents of it with the firsthand account of an indentured servant in Virginia.


  • infidel
  • commodities

Primary Source Readings

  • "A Virginia Colonist’s Despair," Richard Frethorne, 1623 (view file)
  • "Reasons for Colonization," Richard Hakluyt, 1585 (view file)


  1. The primary source readings for this lesson should be read together as a class due to the unique sentence structures and spelling found in the resources.
  2. Have students make a two column chart titled "Colonization." The left-hand column should read "Reasons" and the right hand column should read "Realities."
  3. Based on the readings from Hakluyt and Frethorne, have students identify at least ten to twelve reasons for, and realities of, colonization.
  4. Conduct a class discussion using the following questions as a guide:
  • What was the single most important reason for colonization?
  • What was the economic role of the colonies?
  • Describe the relationship between England and the colonies.
  • What were some of the reasons why the dreams and realities of colonization were so different?
  • Why did the colonists have such a difficult time in Virginia while the Native Americans thrived?
  1. Alternative: Create the chart on the blackboard and conduct the discussion using the students’ proposed reasons and realities to drive the discussion.

High School Extension Activities

Option 1
In spite of the problems and challenges that the colonists experienced, they eventually overcame adversity. Have students research why it was important to overcome this adversity and how success was achieved.

Option 2
There were benefits and drawbacks for a country to send people overseas to colonize the New World. Have students explore shifts in power and the power struggles between colonies and their "parent" countries.