It’s no secret that the history of North America is rife with tales of failed colonies. From the English’s first attempt at colonization to more recent failures like Roanoke and Jamestown, there are plenty of stories to choose from. So, in the interest of brevity, we’ll focus on five failed colonies in particular: Popham Colony, New Sweden, Fort Louis de la Mobile, Fort Caroline, and Newfoundland.
The Popham Colony was established in 1607 by Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of England. It was located in present-day Maine and named after its founder. Like James Town, it was founded by the Virginia Company. Although Popham Colony produced the first British Ship in North America, named “The Virginia,” the colony was short-lived. It was abandoned just two years later due to a change in common and a lack of essential supplies. By the end of 1608, most of Popham Colony’s remaining inhabitants returned to England.
The New Sweden colony was founded in 1638 by Swedish settlers. It was located along the Delaware River in present-day Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. New Sweden is responsible for the creation of the American-style “log cabin,” as well as responsible for the introduction of Lutheran Christianity to North America. Similar to the Popham Colony, New Sweden, too, was short-lived. After several years of internal conflict, the Dutch West India Company took over the colony in 1655. Although it only existed for 17 years, the colony left one lasting legacy: the city of Wilmington, Delaware, which was founded due to the colony’s settlement.
Fort Louis de la Mobile:
Fort Louis de la Mobile was the first permanent French Colonial settlement in North America. It was built in 1702 near present-day Mobile, Alabama. Fort Louis de la Mobile and, subsequently, the town of Mobile became the capital of French Louisiana. The colony became a popular place for trade between French colonists and the Native Americans of the surrounding area. It was intended to be a haven for French colonists fleeing British rule in the Carolinas. However, in 1711 due to consistent flooding in and around Fort Louis de la Mobile, the French colonists insisted on relocating the settlement to an area with a higher sea level. Thus, Fort Louis de la Mobile was abandoned, eventually becoming an area where cattle grazed.
Fort Caroline was a French fort built in 1564 near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. Like Fort Louis de la Mobile, it, too, was intended to be a haven for French colonists fleeing British rule further north. Unlike Fort Louis de la Mobile, Fort Caroline lasted a bit longer; it survived for ten years before being sacked by Spanish forces in 1574.
Newfoundland is an island off the east coast of Canada that the English and French colonized in the early 1600s. The English colony lasted until 1697, when it was ceded to France as part of the Treaty of Ryswick. The French colony lasted until 1713 when it was ceded to Britain as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. Although neither colony lasted very long, both left their mark on Newfoundland. Today, nearly 30% of its residents are descended from early English settlers, while nearly 15% are descended from early French settlers.
The history of North America is full of failed colonies; some were short-lived, while others managed to stick around for a few decades before succumbing to disease or conflict. Popham Colony, New Sweden, Fort Louis de la Mobile, Fort Caroline, and Newfoundland are just five examples out of many. But despite their failures, these colonies have forever left their mark on North America and our history.