What if British Weren’t the Dominant Colonizers in the New World?

Vern Scott
12 min readDec 15, 2022

At some risk, I’m going to launch a thought-experiment implying “Yes, Anglo-Americans may have been rotten, but perhaps less rotten than any other potential Colonizers” which some might consider mildly offensive. As my reference source, I will be relying on various wars in History, plus the interesting books “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari (an anthropological look at human expedience), “The World Until Yesterday” by Jared Diamond, and “The 11 Nations of the United States” by Colin Woodard (a look at premises and developments of different American regions).

What the US might’ve looked like in an “equal opportunity” colonization where everyone was mostly fair and nice?

There are software games that sort of launch a society based on various premises (ie Golden Rule vs Iron Rule, Communism vs Capitalism, etc). What is interesting is that the “initial conditions” seem to determine the fate of a culture hundreds of years after. The British may have succeeded in spite of themselves. Though they were better organized than the rest, they often fought among themselves (witness the Roundheads vs Cavaliers, American Revolution and Civil Wars, mostly British against British). This may actually have been an advantage, a kind of correcting mechanism that the other cultures lacked. It all led to a new concept called “Nationhood”, which perhaps increased overall capabilities of diverse people to coexist (through Democracy and Capitalism). Jared Diamond argues that Nationhood also reduced the proportions of killing. But anyway, here goes the “what might have happened”:

The British: Of course, this is what actually happened in the New World about 200–400 years ago. Prior to (and sometimes concurrent to) this colonization, the Brits were fighting their own quasi-religious Civil War (between middle class Protestant Puritans and more Anglican and rich Cavaliers) in the mid 1600s. They became the “North” (Puritans) and the “South” (Cavaliers), and established more inclusive (Northern) and less inclusive (Southern) societies. Both more or less adopted the concept of Mercantilism, with some help from the Dutch. Definitely not perfect but more or less the “Democracy” and “Capitalism” that are the premises of today’s United States (both of which helped kick butt in World Wars I and II, plus the Cold War). The Puritans bore the brunt of early Indian wars, with a well-intended yet flawed vision of indigenous conversion to a “perfect” Christianity. The British had a better military (especially Navy) at the time, which helped. Though the Brits habitually pissed off the Native Americans, and some enslaved African Americans, which may have helped them Colonize in a brutal, Machiavellian sort of way.

“The Dying Tecumseh” Tecumseh’s dream of a united confederation of Native Americans fell tragically short.

The French: In second place in the North American power game would be the French, and you might even say that the French had quite a large role in our Nation’s premise (especially the notion of “freedom”, as they helped our Patriots achieve theirs while subsequently launching their own “Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite” that didn’t end so well). Actually, from a distance, the British and French weren’t so different. Both were once ruled by the same people (first the Romans, later the Plantagenets) and both had a mild sort of Templar/Freemason underpinning that embraced Science and challenged Catholicism (both fraternal societies produced many scientists and were leaders of the “Age of Enlightenment”, which also helped produce improved governance). Unfortunately for the French, they didn’t supply their outposts in the New World as well as the British, and were eventually pushed into places like Quebec and Louisiana. They got along better with Native Americans than the British, but this was also their downfall (they kept getting Algonquin allies to attack British Settlers, which led to wars which they lost and ceded control to British, making things much worse for Algonquins). That the French Revolution happened and Napoleon was so Euro-Centric spelled the doom of French rule in North America. If they had prevailed however (perhaps seizing upon opportunities after helping us win our Revolution instead of descending into anarchy), we may have avoided much of slavery and Native American oppression. However, the Spartan efficiency of British government may have been missing, including a lack of fiscal responsibility (remember also that British subjects of the day were much less under the thumb of a King and Catholic Church, two ultimate Colonial inhibitors) Our food and restaurants certainly would have been much better if the French had prevailed.

The Spanish: One thing you’ve got to give the Spanish, the Indigenous Peoples tended to survive much better under their rule than British rule. The conditions may have been harsh, Father Serra-type and quasi-slavery, but they did usually survive (many under British rule were marginalized, died, or became slaves). The Spanish and French rule’s relative success in “transitioning” Native Americans probably owes itself to Catholicism, which blended Native customs much better than the Puritan “my way or the highway” (the only good survival outcome there was to become a “praying Indian”, whom in most Native American circles was a “suck butt”). Of course, the Spaniards were not saints, producing the Conquistadors that plundered the wealth of Aztec and Inca Empires, while killing many and spreading diseases (even more than their British, French, and Dutch counterparts). The Spanish also did not have a great administrative system, seemingly top-heavy and not allowing enough middle-class opportunity. As such, places like Mexico quickly lost territory as even the subjects of these areas (Tejanos in Texas for instance) seemed to prefer the British system of opportunity. A Spanish dominated North America today might look much like today’s South America, a bunch of divided and rather poorly-administrated oligarchies, which always eschewed slavery and abetted Native American survival (at the price of creating a large underclass)

Native Americans: Before you think something like “The Native Americans would have created an eco-paradise where all peoples lived in harmony without exploitation of Nature”, remember that the Native Americans were partly on their way to destroying each other before we Europeans showed up. Though they lacked “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, they may have exacted a greater proportion of killings on each other in actual warfare (theorized by Jared Diamond in the “World Until Yesterday”, but no one knows for sure). For example, the Aztecs and Incas were so hated by their Native American enemies, that Cortes and Pizarro got plenty of help in vanquishing them. The Algonquins and Iroquois, Cherokee and Shawnee, Sioux and Blackfoot hated each other and were easily exploited by European colonizers. The question then might be “was this just entertainment, bush-pruning, or blood-lust like European wars that overall led to progress and Nationhood?” Well, yes and no. The British-Dutch probably didn’t like each other any more than the French-Spanish, but each was able to create a large alliances with each other in times of war. That the Native Americans weren’t able to do this as well was their demise. The closest thing was Tecumseh’s Native American Confederacy that joined forces with the British during the War of 1812, and of course that proved disastrous. Even before you can say “but why didn’t the Native Americans hire great attorneys, since they originally “owned” most of the land”, remember that the Cherokees won a favorable Supreme Court decision only to have it ignored by President Jackson before the “Trail of Tears”. It would seem that all doors for Native Americans led to defeat, whether cooperating, not-cooperating, whatever. The Jared Diamond concept of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” even further cemented the Native Americans doom…they were generally too sick to mount an effective defense. A very sad thought on the history of humanity, I suppose many Native American genetics and traditions blended into our society (recalls that much of Neanderthal genome blended into Cro-Magnon) yet here we are, mostly a bunch of Indian Casinos to show for a previously proud and low environmental impact society. If Native Americans had prevailed, there almost certainly would have been a massive genocide committed against Colonizers (King Phillip’s War in 1676 was one such attempt…the Indians killed about 20% of the then New England population of about 70,000, while burning about 50% of their homes). Perhaps if Tecumseh/British and Cherokee attorneys had prevailed, a similar “cleansing” of white Americans in the Great Lake and Southern regions, where a separate Nation may have existed to this day (called “MichiBama”?)

Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831 may have needed help from sympathetic New Englanders, Haitians, Africans, and Native Americans to have succeeded? Did the Civil War achieve his goals?

African Americans: This one is the most interesting of all, what if somehow African Americans had rose up and defeated their white Colonial captors and became the dominant ethnicity. The most obvious example of this really happening was in Haiti in 1791–1804 (a genocide against the French overlords, actually) and Liberia (1822–1861) where 15,000 freed American slaves were given a chance to create (colonize, honestly) their own African country. The Haitian and Liberian incidents sort of imply that the only solutions to white oppression in the New World were a) Genocide and b) Repatriation, and actually neither really ended well for a) Haiti and b) Liberia. Yet what if some sort of all-star African American cast of George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington all signed a kind of 1885 “Declaration of Independence” for maybe the state of Mississippi, and turned it into an economic powerhouse with good governance (this would be necessary to keep it from failing and being taken over by the US, like what happened to Mexico/Texas etc.). The desire for African American statehood would have surely conflicted with Native American statehood (after all, Mississippi and most of the South was stolen from Seminoles, Cherokees, Shawnees, and others). This nation would hopefully have evolved in the great Christian tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, and perhaps even grown to include all of the deep South, though surely not without violence. I will leave any speculations about music (W.C. Handy), sports (Jack Johnson) and dominance of a peanut-based economy (G.W. Carver) to the imagination of the reader. Would this nation be an evolution of human interaction? (probably not, see Haitian Revolution above). A dominant African-American nation might’ve been less Wakandan and more Louis Farrakhan/Kyrie Irvingian, since truth told many African Americans don’t get along that well with other ethnicities either. More likely “New Mississippi” would be in an alliance relationship with “New England” at odds with “Cavalieria” (what I’m calling the southern 13 colonies, Virginia-Carolinas-Georgia) and Michigan-Alabama, or “MichiBama” (Hey! Why don’t we just call it “MichelleObama”?), kinda like today’s politics? On that note, maybe African Americans would be the underclass in the Native American dominated state and vice-versa…oops! Not much improvement there!

Combination of Native and African Americans: This is what I call “Indifrica”, a Nation that could’ve happened if the Algonquins had joined the British Americans during the French-Indian War in 1760 and Colonies in 1780, while Cherokees and Tecumseh/Shawnees had formed a successful confederation around 1800 (also assuming that they heavily assisted the Sioux, Arapahos, etc into the 1870s). On the African American side, this group would’ve had to go full Nat Turner in 1831, with an alliance from sympathetic New Englanders and reinforcements from the Caribbean (Haiti?) and Africa (Liberia? Remember, the African Americans didn’t ordinarily have the numbers or weaponry to oppose the slave holders). The Pacific Northwest would essentially have become part of Canada, while the Southwest would’ve remained part of Mexico (in alliance with sympathetic Native Americans, helping keep the Brits and French out). We’ll keep Louisiana French as its more fun that way (they’d probably ally with African Americans due to the French-African “Creole” culture). Obviously, neighbors have to hate on each other to gin up their populations, so we’ll have the African Americans and Native Americans going at it over territorial disputes (especially in border states N. Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana where populations are mixed). The “American” New Englanders (having lost territory to the Native Americans) will again side with the African Americans, in time producing a bunch of Barack Obama/Steph Curry/Key & Peele-looking populations. The Canadians, having colonized Alaska (too cold for everyone else) and Hawaii (too remote for everyone else) will look upon all this at some distance, being the “nice” people that they are. The Mexicans, being 60% Native American themselves, and enjoying the riches of California and Texas, will give mild financial and military support to the Native Americans while mostly checking out. The Native Americans will produce famous leaders who look kinda like partial Native Americans Rosario Dawson, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Depp, and Rita Coolidge (while being led on the sports fields by a bunch of Jim Thorpe/Chuck Norris looking people who play for teams like the “Sioux City Honkies” and the “Indianapolis Whiteskins”).

“Indifrica” may have been the assortment of Nations created in the U.S. if the Native and African Americans had prevailed (with assistance from sympathetic Mexicans & New Englanders).

Conclusions and Map of What Might’ve Been: Two rules of the jungle: 1) Everyone hates everyone else and 2) Might is Right. Sad but true, yet today “Nationhood” has been invented, gluing together tribes that set aside their hatred of each other so they can hate the neighboring Nation. Maybe this would’ve happened in North American history, with the British keeping the 13 Colonies and much of the Pacific Northwest and Canada, while France would’ve kept “Northern Nouveau France” (Quebec) and “Southern Nouveau France” (Louisiana). Mexico in another reality may have kept the American Southwest, African Americans the State of Mississippi, with Native Americans keeping everything in between, from the Great Lakes down to Alabama and Georgia (including Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Western Kentucky and Tennessee). The Spaniards would’ve kept Northern Florida (with the Jews claiming Southern Florida), the Dutch and Italians claiming much of New York City. Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa? I don’t know, a bunch of Germans and Swedes? All the result of several bloodbaths for sure, but they’d all get along about as well as…Europe? The final conclusion might be “The British were bastards, but they were organized bastards and perhaps no worse than any of the other bastards, plus their system seemed to win World Wars, which turned out well for all Americans”, surely a bleak commentary on the nature of humanity.

Note: I apologize for what might seem to be flippant, insensitive, or overly-simplistic remarks about Native Americans or African Americans. The breadth of material covered in this short essay and need for readability necessitated some wry irony. My intent is for truths to prevail, possibly as preface for some larger understandings and actions.

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Vern Scott

Scott lives in the SF Bay Area and writes confidently about Engineering, History, Politics, and Health