European Expansion in Africa

Following the Portuguese and Spanish examples, several other European powers sought to expand their trade networks. By the 1600s, the French, English, and Dutch all had footholds along the coast of West Africa. These outposts often changed hands as European countries battled for control of the new trade routes. Like the Portuguese, they used these footholds to protect and expand their trade routes in Africa, the Indian Ocean, and India.

The Dutch Settle Cape Town

In 1652, Dutch settlers began to arrive at the southern tip of the continent. They built Cape Town, the first permanent European settlement in Africa, to supply ships sailing to or from the East Indies.

Dutch farmers, called Boers, settled around Cape Town. Over time, they ousted, enslaved, or killed the people who lived there. The Boers held a Calvinist belief that they were the elect, or chosen, of God. They looked on Africans as inferiors. In the 1700s, Boer herders and ivory hunters began to push north from the Cape Colony. As they did so, they battled powerful African groups like the Zulus who had settled in southern Africa.

The British and French Explore

By the mid-1600s, the British and French had both reached present-day Senegal. The French established a fort in the region around 1700. In the late 1700s, stories about British explorers' search for the source of the Nile River sparked an interest in Africa among Europeans, especially the French and British. In 1788, the British established the African Association, an organization that sponsored explorers to Africa. Over the next century, European exploration of Africa would explode.

Painting of several ships in a small harbor including carrack style and rafts.

In the late 1600s, the Dutch colony at Cape Town was busy with arriving and departing ships.


  1. Identify Cause and Effect Why did Europeans explore Africa, Asia, and the Americas beginning in the 1400s?
  2. Identify Steps in a Process Describe how the Portuguese gained dominance of the spice trade.
  3. Draw Conclusions How did competition between European countries such as Portugal and Spain affect overseas exploration and expansion?
  4. Summarize Summarize European searches for a direct route across the Atlantic Ocean to Asia.
  5. Cite Evidence How did religious beliefs cause Dutch immigrants to aggressively expand their settlements in southern Africa?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments