Settlers are people who have travelled of their own choice, from the land of their birth to live in "new" lands or colonies. In modern history, the word "settlers" is synonymous with terms like pioneers, colonists, or (as British people once called them) "colonials". It has been argued that all peoples are "settlers", since migration has featured throughout human history and prehistory. However, the word settler is generally used only in relation to modern or early modern history.
The reason for emigration of settlers varies, but often includes one or more factors such as: economic or personal financial hardship; social, cultural, ethnic, or religious persecution (e.g. the Pilgrims, Mormons and Zionists), or; political oppression and/or policies aimed at encouraging foreign settlement.
The colony concerned is often, but not always, controlled by the government of a settler's home country, and emigration is usually, but not always, approved by an imperial government. The term settler is not usually used in relation to the later histories of well-established and/or independent, postcolonial countries with continuing immigration, like the present-day United States, Canada or Australia, where terms like immigrants are preferred.
In almost every real historical case, settlers live on land which previously belonged to long-established peoples, known as indigenous people (often called "natives", "Aborigines" or, in the Americas, "Indians"). This land is usually settled against the wishes of the indigenes, and then controlled, defended and expanded by force, or it is bought or leased from indigenous people on terms highly favourable to the settlers, sometimes under a treaty (e.g. the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand). In some cases (e.g. Australia), the legal ownership of some lands are contested much later by indigenous people, who seek or claim traditional usage, land rights, native title and related forms of ownership or partial control.
In the Middle East, Israeli settlers are Jews who have moved to areas also claimed by Palestinian Arabs. It has been argued that Palestinians are themselves descended from "settlers" in the Land of Israel (which the Roman Emperor Hadrian had renamed Palestine in 135AD), after the Caliphate conquered the area in the 7th Century. However there are ties between Palestinians and peoples living in the region before that time.
The word "settler" was not originally usually used in relation to unfree labour immigrants, such as slaves (e.g. in the United States), indentured labourers (e.g. in South Africa), or convicts (e.g. in Australia). More recently descendants of these immigrants may argue that they have as much right to use the word "settler" as the descendants of free immigrants.
Although they are generally thought of as travelling by sea — the dominant form of travel in the early modern era — significant waves of settlement could also use long overland routes, such as the Great Trek by the Afrikaaners in South Africa, or the Oregon Trail in the United States.
Settlers in hypothetical societies, such as on other planets, often feature in science fiction or fantasy fiction and/or games.