10 European colonies in America that failed before Jamestown

The Jamestown settlement in Virginia, which officially was started on May 14, 1607, was one of the first European colonies to last in North America, and was historically significant for hosting the first parliamentary assembly in America.


But Jamestown barely survived, as recent headlines about the confirmation of cannibalism at the colony confirm. The adaption to the North American continent by the early Europeans was extremely problematic.

The success of tobacco as an early cash crop helped Jamestown weather the loss of most early colonists to disease, starvation, and attacks by the resident population of Native Americans.

A turning point in Jamestown’s fortunes was in 1619, when a General Assembly met at a church on July 30. Two representatives from 11 regions of the area debated the qualifications of membership and other matters for six days. A heat wave ended the session of what would be known as the House of Burgesses.

The session established a government that citizens could address to settle grievances and end legal disputes. It was a huge step forward, since numerous European attempts to establish any foothold in North America had failed for almost a century.

Spain has tried to establish at least five colonial settlements in North America during the 16th century. It had established footholds in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Peru. But Spanish efforts failed in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia, in short order.

The settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape in what is now Georgia or South Carolina was built in 1526 with the first use of African slaves in North America. It only lasted three months. The colonists dealt with same problems as the Jamestown residents, with the added dimension of a slave revolt.

Another Spanish attempt near St. Petersburg, Florida, failed in 1527.

Fort San Juan was another failed Spanish effort in what is now western North Carolina in 1566 and 1567. The fort was abandoned and most other troops at other forts died.

The Spanish also tried to set up a Jesuit mission in Virginia in 1570, which failed when it was left unprotected and its priests and brothers were killed.

France failed in three attempts, before Jamestown, to set up colonies in the current-day United States in South Carolina, Florida and Maine. The settlement at Sainte-Croix Island in 1604 quickly moved on to a fort at Port Royal in Nova Scotia, in order to survive. Half the settlers died at Port Royal, and the survivors moved on to what became Quebec.

And the English had two notable failures.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke was set up in 1585 and its first settlers lasted almost a year, until they went back to England with Sir Frances Drake. A small force was left to guard a fort.

A second expedition returned in 1587 to try again to establish a settlement. The guards were all missing. About 115 people stayed behind. When English ships returned three years later, all the people, and their buildings, were gone.

The Popham Colony in Maine was established at the same time as Jamestown but only lasted for one year.

There were some early colonies that did survive from the pre-Jamestown era.

The settlement at Saint Augustine in Florida endured since about 600 colonists from Spain established the settlement in September 1565. The town was burned several times by pirates and English forces, but it survived.