Throughout the Colonial period, economic concerns had more to do with the settling of British North America than did religious concerns.
During the early 17th century, England first began to colonize North America. The Spanish were highly successful in their colonization of parts of South and North America; vast amounts of gold were brought in to Spain from mines in Potosí and Zacatecas. The rich mineral deposits in the Americas secured a large income for the Spanish crown, and consequently strengthened Spain as a European power. Observing this, the wealthy in England were of a common mindset to claim land in the New World. Hoping to attain wealth, entrepreneurs from England ventured out to explore with a charter granted by the Virginia Company of London. Then, in 1607, Jamestown became the first permanent English establishment in the New World. It was a settlement based on economic opportunity and entrepreneurship. Later, in 1620, a group of Separatists (Congregationalists) – colloquially known as the Pilgrims – landed on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, and establish the Plymouth Colony on the foundation of religious freedom. Ultimately, throughout the colonial period, economic and religious concerns were motives for the exploration and colonization of the New World by the English. Religious concerns like the spread of Christianity and religious freedom did provide incentives for settlement in North America. However, it is incontrovertible that the economic concerns of accumulating precious metals and resources (Mercantilism), creating markets to encourage financial growth, and the desire to own land outweighed religious ones.
Although they were outweighed by economic concerns, religious motives did prompt the British to settle in the New World. During the Protestant Reformation, Christianity split into various sects that wanted to practice their own faith. Some of these denominations were not trusted or accepted by European society, and consequently sought religious freedom. For example, the Puritans were a group of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries that viewed the English Reformation as incomplete. They sought to de-Catholicize the Church of England by simplifying practices and regulating forms of worship. These people were seen as Separatists in England and were highly distrusted in British society. Thus, they sought a place where they could practice their religion freely. A group of these people, remembered as the Pilgrims, set sail on the Mayflower and arrived on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in 1620. From there, they established the Plymouth colony on the basis of religious freedom. The settlement – along with Jamestown – was one of the first successful colonial establishments in North America. In fact, many of the colonies in North America were founded on the basis of achieving religious freedom. Thus, religious diversity became a common part of colonial life. People from many different countries saw America as a symbol of freedom and assisted with the British settlement of North America. Events like the Salem Witch Trials (1690's) and the Great Awakening (1730's) dramatically increased the affluence of religion in the British Colonies. They had become a safe haven for Europeans seeking the right to practice their own religion. Hence, religion did contribute to the settlement of the English portion of North America.
Economic and financial motives provided a stronger incentive for the settlement of the colonies. A major economic motive for colonization was Mercantilism. It was the economic theory that if a nation’s exports exceeded its imports, a sizable profit would be generated. Also, the accumulation of precious metals like gold and silver would secure a nation’s economic strength and stability. This theory was widely used by the European powers from the 16th – 18th centuries and greatly influenced the settlement and growth of the British colonies in North America. Mercantilist ideas include the acquisition of foreign colonial territories to develop a favorable balance of trade. Thus, the British began to annex territories all over the globe – including North America – to build their empire. The Jamestown settlement (in the Colony of Virginia) was the first permanent English establishment in North America. English entrepreneurs ventured out to explore with a charter granted by the Virginia Company of London. In 1607, it became a permanent English establishment based on economic opportunity and entrepreneurship. A great number of the English colonies were founded under Proprietary Governors appointed by mercantile charters to independently run settlements.
Economic concerns were undeniably the most successful in promoting the settlement and colonization of North America. Wealthy English businessmen sought new institutions that they could invest in to generate a profit. By backing explorers to settle land in the New World, they automatically created a valuable potential market to trade with. These external markets allowed Britain to achieve the favorable balance of trade prevalent in Mercantilism. However, as the colonies began to develop their own industries, the British had to implement stringent measures to prevent the colonies from trading with other European nations. For example, the Navigation Acts, which were a series of laws that regulated the trade between Britain and its colonies in an attempt to encourage colonial development and a favorable balance of trade with Britain. The goal was to hurt the vast shipping empire of the Netherlands, and hinder the economic development in France and other European powers. Finally, during the 18th century, wealthy English land-owners began to survey and close off their lands, forcing those living on them to leave. The result of the Enclosure Movement was that large groups of poor, homeless, and jobless people were forced to immigrate to the New World in search of economic opportunity and financial security. Hence, the desire to own land was highly enticing for English settlers, and provided a strong economic motive for the settlement of the English North American Colonies.
Both religious concerns (like the spread of Christianity and religious freedom) and economic concerns (like Mercantilism, creating markets to encourage financial growth, and the desire to own land) did provide incentives for the English settlement of North America. However, it is incontrovertible that the economic concerns of outweighed religious ones. Many of the colonies were founded on these concerns, giving the British incentive to settle in North America. Many British people journeyed to the New World to seek freedom from religious persecution, and settled in areas like Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to practice their faith. However, the ultimate motive for the English presence in North America was the desire to establish a colonial empire, secure precious resources, and enhance the British economy by encouraging trade.