During the seventeenth century, European powers endeavored to maintain their empires in North America. They did so both defensively (to prevent other nations from acquiring too much power) and offensively (to extend their wealth through trade and colonization). In vying for territory, however, they accomplished more than they had intended. English settlers along the eastern seaboard brought their memories as well as their weapons. They designed towns and buildings that reminded them of home. They crafted objects that expressed their penchant for geometric forms and rational order.
So, too, among the Spanish priests and soldiers in the Southwest, who shaped their missions and fortresses according to memories of what they had left behind. They expressed their nostalgia for European Catholic culture in outcroppings of medieval forms, holdovers from an earlier time.
For Africans, involuntarily brought to the New World, the story was far more fraught. Over the course of the seventeenth century, enslaved Mande, Fulani, Wolof, and other West African peoples were stripped of their local and tribal identities and recast simply as ''Africans" or 'blacks," terms that were generalizing and anonymous. Slavery grew as the demand for cheap labor increased, fueled by the rise of labor-intensive crops like tobacco. For them, the past stayed alive through objects, images, and customs that embodied shared values and helped maintain a sense of the local and tribal identity stripped from them by their masters.
What brought all these peoples into collision was a newly emergent world economy tied to European imperial ambitions. That global economy would continue to grow in the coming century, producing unparalleled demands for new goods and products. As we shall see in the next chapter, the seeds of empire planted in the seventeenth century would bear fruit in the new consumer economy of the eighteenth.