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Why Didn't Spain Claim Virginia?


After the 'discovery' of America in 1492, Spain gained significant wealth from the gold and silver they transported from the Americas. Spain spent much time and effort during the 1500s and 1600s trying to protect its shipping lanes in the Caribbean and along the east coast of the modern-day United States from pirates and privateers, who wanted to capture a share of that wealth. Given the vulnerability of their ships in these areas, it leaves historians and students asking "Why didn't Spain establish more colonies along the east coast of North America which could be used as military outposts to protect their treasure ships?"

In this lesson, students read two articles answering the question of why the Spanish did not settle in the Virginia area during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, leaving the area available for English settlers to establish Jamestown in 1607. After hypothesizing their own theories, they compare the theories from the articles, and analyze a quote about exploration.


In this lesson, students:

  • Read two articles (authentic texts) about Spanish colonization in the present-day southeastern United States.
  • Hypothesize why Spain did not colonize those areas.
  • Compare theories presented in the articles.
  • Analyze a quote about exploration and relate it to Spanish and English colonization during this period.



  1. Show the Map: The Spanish Entrada into North America. Emphasize the extent of Spanish exploration in North America.
  2. Show the Map: North America, 1700. Discuss and pay particular attention to population density for each country. Point out Virginia and ask students to be thinking about "Why is Virginia Not Spanish?" if the Spanish explored all throughout Virginia and the southeast United States. It may help students to see the two maps side-by-side.
  3. Read aloud or ask students to read and annotate part one of "Why Virginia Was Not Spanish".
  4. Divide the class into small groups. Ask students, "Why didn't Spain make a stronger effort to colonize the entire east coast of North America and therefore prevent their mortal enemy England from establishing a foothold in the area?" Groups should list possible reasons in the first column of their Knowledge Charts.
  5. Have groups read part two of "Why Virginia Was Not Spanish" (the last two paragraphs of the article). Groups should answer the question again in the second column of their Knowledge Charts using the new information.
  6. Regather the class. Display the Exploration Quote. Explain to students that though this quote was not written about this exploration specifically, it can apply to it.
  7. Discuss the "bad luck" of the Spanish and the "good luck" of the English. How does Amundsen's quote tie in with why Virginia is not Spanish? Students should complete the writing organizer using facts from "Why Virginia Was Not Spanish."
  8. Have students, independently or in their small groups, read the article "Fort Tells of Spain's Early Ambitions".
  9. Ask students what reasons are given in this article for Spain not settling the area that would become the southeastern United States. Have students write those answers in the third column of their Knowledge Charts.
  10. Ask students how the ideas in the three columns of their chart are different. Did the two articles they read contradict each other? Or are the different theories compatible?
  11. Discuss with students how history is not static—it changes as historians and archaeologists discover new information, publish new theories, and even as our culture changes.

Lesson Extensions

  • Students can research famous Spanish explorers to determine how they impacted Spanish efforts at colonization in the new world. Students can present their research as:
    • Posters
    • Presentations
    • Raps/songs/poems that they perform
    • Fandex cards

This lesson was written by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Master Teachers Ron Adkisson, Prospect, KY, and Teresa Potter, Oklahoma City, OK.