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Big Three Map By Justin WeinmannBackground

After Christopher Columbus’ discovery in 1492, rumors began to spread throughout Europe that treasures and large amounts of land were free to anyone who claimed it. Many countries in Europe would set, sail just as Spain had done, and claim their piece.

Who Were the Big Three

The Big Three refers to the European countries that dominated political, social and economic policies in the New World after Christopher Columbus opened the Americas up to colonization.

After Spain and Portugal ‘discovered‘ new lands to be colonized, most European countries began to explore for their own lands to colonize as well. However, after a short time most of the land in North and South America were claimed primarily by only three countries: Spain, France, and England.


These three countries controlled most of the trade between Europe and the Americas. They established colonies by sending people to live there called colonists. These people would still be citizens of their home country but would live in the New World.Triangular Trade

Having colonists living elsewhere in the world provided the mother country with markets to sell items too. Also, the people living in the colony could gather the land’s resources and send them to the home country.


These three countries also established their religion in America. Spain and France were primarily Catholic countries, so many of the people in their territories would be converted to Catholic, including the Native Americans that already lived there.

England, however, was primarily a protestant country and they allowed their colonies to establish their own religion. English colonies spent less time building relationships with Native Americans in their territory. This would later lead to disputes and even war.


Slash and BurnEuropean countries viewed the land and its resources differently than the natives that lived in America. Europeans felt that the land was meant to provide economic mobility, which means people could use the land to make money and a better life. This would lead to a complete change of the landscape compared to what the Native Americans did.

Many Native Americans felt the land was communal property, which means it belongs to all the people, not to just one person. This was very different from the Europeans who moved onto native lands and converted the land into individually owned farms.

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Discussion Questions

  1. Why did many countries begin exploring and settling in the New World?
  2. Explain the benefits of establishing a colony and sending colonists to live there.
  3. Which country’s colonial religious strategy was better? Explain.
  4. How could the differences between European and Native American land use cause conflict in the future?


Imagine you are a Native American and have never seen a European before. One day you find several Europeans starting a farm on land that belongs to your people. Explain why you allow them to continue and even offer to help them.

Imagine you are a European and have just landed on a patch of land that has several surrounding Native American settlements. The land appears to be just forest and some animal walking trails. Explain why you think its okay to remove all the trees and trails and start farming.

Illustrations by Justin Weinmann