The European colonization of the Americas describes the history of the settlement and establishment of control of the continents of the Americas by most of the naval powers of Europe.
Political map of the Americas in 1794
Systematic European colonization began in 1492, when a Spanish
expedition headed by the
Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new trade route to the Far East but inadvertently landed in what came to be known to Europeans as the "
New World". Running aground on the northern part of
Hispaniola on 5 December 1492, which the
Taino people had inhabited since the 7th century, the site became the first European settlement in the Americas apart from a small Norse attempt in Newfoundland centuries before. European conquest, large-scale exploration and colonization soon followed. Columbus's first two voyages (1492–93) reached the
Bahamas and various
Caribbean islands, including Hispaniola,
Puerto Rico and
Cuba. In 1498,
John Cabot,on behalf of
England, landed on the North American coast, and a year later, Columbus's
third voyage reached the South American coast. As the sponsor of
Christopher Columbus's voyages,
Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas, from North America and the Caribbean to the southern tip of South America.
Other powers such as
France also founded colonies in the Americas: in eastern North America, a number of Caribbean islands and small coastal parts of South America.
Brazil, tried colonizing the
eastern coasts of present-day Canada and settled for extended periods northwest (on the east bank) of the
River Plate. The
Age of Exploration was the beginning of territorial expansion for several European countries. Europe had been
preoccupied with internal wars and was slowly recovering from the loss of population caused by the
Black Death; thus the rapid rate at which it grew in wealth and power was unforeseeable in the early 15th century.
Eventually, most of the
Western Hemisphere came under the control of European governments, leading to changes to its landscape, population, and plant and animal life. In the 19th century over 50 million people left Europe for the Americas.
 The post-1492 era is known as the period of the
Columbian Exchange, a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations (including
slaves), ideas and
communicable disease between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres following Columbus's voyages to the Americas.