The New World was first made known to Europeans when Italian mariner Christopher Columbus, serving as an admiral of Spain, happened upon it while sailing west in an attempt to discover a nautical trade route to India. He claimed the New World for Spain. In the early 16th century, Portugal disputed the claim before Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI on the ground that his predecessors had agreed to a division of the coast of the Atlantic Ocean between the two powers. The Spanish claimed that this referred only to the eastern shores of the ocean. Alexander granted the Portugese the rights to colonize parts of the region, but not enough to rival Spanish supremacy, at least at first. Over the ensuing centuries various other Europeans made claims in the New World; Asians and Africans never did.
The tobacco plant is native to the New World, and its growing popularity in Europe was the most important sector of the colonial economies of the region.