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Oceans, Migrants, and the Character of Empires:
English Colonial Schemes in the Seventeenth Century

Alison Games
Georgetown University

      An examination of the points of connection between different ocean basins„whether commodities, pathogens, or especially people„can offer important clues about the ways in which empires were structured and conceptualized in the first decades of European commercial and colonial expansion overseas.  In her essay on the organization of empires, Carla Rahn Phillips has identified the shared features that held the Iberian empires together in the early modern period.1  The degree of centralization and consolidation in Iberian expansion looks remarkable viewed from the perspective of European competitors.  This paper illustrates a very different model at work in the case of the English, a model of an empire less "managed," to borrow Phillips' apt term, than built haphazardly through the overlapping experiences of private individuals and companies under vague if avaricious royal oversight.  Although the companies that sponsored overseas endeavors required royal charters which delineated the geographic and commercial scope of their permitted activity, these ventures were funded, organized, and shaped by private investors.   With no single centralizing agent, the commonalities that ultimately emerged in different transoceanic enterprises derived from two factors.  First, local features and the customs occasionally dictated common styles of engagement (whether settlement or trade).  Second, shared personnel provided common knowledge and experience that glued together these different and distinct enterprises.  Investors in London ventured their funds in multiple schemes, but more critical to this process were the people who actually traveled overseas in many successive ventures, as colonists, merchants, factors, colonial officers, trade consuls, ministers, and mariners. 

     Their travels and experiences provided an alternative to the centralization of the Iberian empires.  The English empire was not constructed and shaped at the imperial center.  Rather, it was an empire built on the ground, in the peripheries, in colonies and trade factories, on islands and in port towns, on board ship and within fortifications.  It was an empire whose ultimate configuration depended not on the coherent vision imposed by a monarch or the Board of Trade, but instead on the experience of men who lived around the globe in a series of overseas experiments.   Models devised in different colonial and commercial settings were subsequently adapted and transported around the globe by the men whose travels tangibly linked one enterprise to another.  By the time the British crown turned in the mid-seventeenth century to administering this patchwork of private enterprises, imposing an umbrella of commercial regulations that aspired to impose uniformity on diverse ventures, such commonality as existed derived from the ways in which experienced personnel had adapted successful models in different and new environments and had accumulated the knowledge and expertise that shaped these endeavors.   But that world also remained deeply fragmented, with the English perhaps best embodying the pastiche that Lauren Benton has delineated in her exploration of the legal geography of the seventeenth-century oceans.2  Only in a later period would Britain and its holdings overseas acquire the integration or coherence that we see described in Eliga H. Gould's essay on the legal history of the Atlantic.3

     This paper derives from a project on cosmopolitans who circulated among successive English colonial and commercial ventures around the globe between 1560 and 1660.  Scholars who work on imperial histories and global encounters are familiar with comparable populations of globe-trotters, yet, aside from merchants and a handful of adventurers, little attention has been focused on the variety of people engaged in English ventures in this early period.4  This neglect stands in contrast to scholarship for other empires and to research on the eighteenth-century Anglo-Atlantic world, including important work by two participants in this conference, Alan Karras and Marcus Rediker.5  Moreover, with the notable exception of economic historians, historians of British activities overseas tend to focus on single regions defined by ocean basins.  This is especially the case among historians of the American colonies and the Atlantic basin more generally, but it is also apparent in studies of English comņmercial interests in Europe, the Mediterranean, or the Indian Ocean, which are generally divorced from the questions that occupy students of colonies to the west.  It is precisely this regional specialization (with corollaries about economic specializations within each ocean basin) that has obscured the existence, much less the centrality, of the men who concern me in my larger project.  Indeed, one expert on the early British empire has suggested that men with transoceanic visions and experiences were a rarity.6  But in marked contrast to this characterization, my research has revealed these men in a virtually unmanageable abundance.  In fact, I argue that the typical leader of a commercial or colonial venture, in America, India, or the Mediterranean, was precisely this kind of cosmopolitan figure, a man who had been elsewhere or who was on his way there.  Moreover, this global experience permeated colonial societies and trade factories, from governors, ministers, and officers down to colonists, traders, and the tars who manned English ships.  No one knew what type of venture would prove viable or profitable, so men who grasped the enthusiasms of the age tried them all.

     In the course of chasing these cosmopolitans around the globe, I have found myself repeatedly stumbling across a number of obscure colonial experiments in which they were involved„mostly, as it turns out, colonial failures.  Although„or perhaps even because„they were failures, these colonial visions offer interesting correctives to a narrative of imperial expansion.  Moreover, most of these ventures were collaborative projects.  Men with experience in different oceanic basins joined to promote these new colonial efforts, attempting to fuse, for example, Atlantic settlement models with Indian Ocean or Mediterranean trade.   These schemes give us the opportunity to explore the extent to which there were distinct oceanic styles of engagement and to what extent these styles were portable and mutable.  The failures enable us to recapture the expectations of contemporaries, who had a range of commercial and diplomatic styles available to them.   This paper offers two examples, the two failed colonies on and near Madagascar in the 1640s, and an aborted colonization scheme for Tangier in 1661.  Together they illuminate the tension between global enterprises and oceanic or regional cultures in the first century of English expansion.   They point to the challenges that hindered European expansion, even in those ventures attempted by well-informed and experienced men who brought with them every conceivable advantage for successful exploitation of distant resources but who were thwarted in these particular examples by two constraints, the variant oceanic styles already coming into definition and the resistance of indigenous people.

    The English tried twice to settle colonies on or near Madagascar, or what the English called St. Lawrence, once at Augustine Bay in 1645-46, and five years later on the island of Assada.  Both efforts failed quickly in the face of Malagasy resistance and high mortality from disease: the few surviving planters were evacuated within months of first settlement.  These disastrous colonial enterprises have been overshadowed by the many contemporary successful English colonization efforts in the Atlantic and by the intermittently formidable success of trade with the East Indies.  Yet the two Indian Ocean plantations are significant not only because they are an odd and unexpected chapter in an uneven epic of English expansion, but also because they illuminate critical elements of English imperial aspirations in the seventeenth century.  Although inspired by the enormous success of the East India Company, the Madagascar efforts were not shaped by trade aspirations alone.  An important feature of the Madagascar colonies is the role that English experiences in the American colonies across the Atlantic played in circumscribing plans for colonization in the Indian Ocean.  Personnel signaled the connection: Sir William Courteen, who had first held the patent for the West Indies before he lost it to the Earl of Carlisle, held the patent for Madagascar, while Robert Hunt, who had previously served as governor of the Caribbean colony of Providence, promoted and led the second colonization party on Assada.  The Madagascar experiments therefore illustrate the overlapping interests of colonial investors, officers, and agents and the mixed benefit of the experience such men could bring to bear on their different interests.  They also demonstrate the important and circular connections between trade and settlement in the haphazard early years of English economic expansion when strategies since separated by historians were regarded as two overlapping routes on a single avenue to profit.  In this instance, however, these connections contributed to the failure of the settlement.   The colony on Madagascar suffered from a number of impediments: an adverse disease environment would likely have dictated the colony's demise regardless of other circumstances.  But the colony was also hindered by the cosmopolitan nature of its structure: rivalry with the East India Company and clumsy dealings with the Malagasy, predicated more on American than Indian Ocean models, ensured the failure of the settlement.7

      In 1635, Sir William Courteen secured a grant from Charles I that gave him and his associates the right to initiate trade anywhere that the East India Company had not established trade or fortifications.  In the face of stagnating trade with the east, the intent was to enable a second company to trade and, as one participant recalled, "to settle Factories and plant Collonies after the Dutch manner."8   Soon a circle of illustrious men pondered with excitement the possibility of planting the island with English men and women.  By the time the first Sir William Courteen had died and his son, eager to bolster the family's precarious fortunes, turned his eyes covetously to plantations in the east, several utopian promotional works, with visions whose ambitions typically exceeded English ability or experience, had appeared to laud the scheme.9 

         Walter Hamond's 1640 promotional pamphlet, A Paradox. Prooving, That the Inhabitants of the Isle called Madagascar, or St. Lawrence...are the happiest People in the World announced the proposed Madagascar venture and did so in an exuberantly utopian fashion which subsequently earned Hamond the bitter enmity of the Madagascar plantation's unfortunate governor.  Repeated comparisons to Adam and Eve populate Hamond's pamphlet, and for those who were yet unconvinced, Hamond wrote a second pamphlet three years later titled Madagascar, The Richest and most Fruitfull Island in the World, where he established the comparison still more bluntly, saying the earth was "like that of Eden."  Indeed, even the beasts of the field and forest there were "as humble, and serviceable to man as they were before his transgression."10  Hamond, who had spent four months on Madagascar a decade earlier, envisioned an island conquest by the English in which the natives would not be "betray[ed] servitude," but rather instructed in "Religion and the Arts."11  Yet Hamond thought little of the country's people.  "If any where, the proverbe, terra bona, gens mala, may be here applied," he wrote critically, complaining that the inhabitants were "a sluggish and slothfull people" who needed neither to plant nor sow, "yet live plentifully by the fat of the Soyle," a phenomenon of which it was clear Hamond disapproved enviously.12  Yet the people were ready and eager to trade, and Hamond promised a place of plenty and harmony.

     What makes Hamond's depiction important, and more than merely the fanciful and formulaic conjecture of an adventurous London merchant, was its impact.  So dismayed was Governor John Smart by the reluctance of the people to engage in the trade essential to his colony's survival that he singled out Walter Hamond for criticism.  John Smart wrote with venom of the island's inhabitants that "Mr. Hamond must excuse me, if I tel him he lyeth in mainetayneing their equety & fidelitie, there not being a more perfidious theevish people liveing upon the earth. . ."13  All the advice he had received about trade, including that contained in a French source he named, Smart dismissed with disgust as "ribble, rabble. . . meere chimeras."  By the end of his time on Madagascar, the governor had come to see the colony, so far from Eden, as a "more then miserable prison."14 

     Smart's critique of Hamond and of the indifferent support provided his venture by the Malagasy points to the problematic intersection of Atlantic colonization models and Indian Ocean schemes.   This first plantation contained a population of men and women whose presence signaled the intention of permanent settlement: indeed, extant letters clearly identify this effort as a plantation, not as a trade factory.15  The effort commenced in October of 1644, when a convoy of three ships, containing some 150 passengers under Smart's command, departed England for the bay of Augustine (on the southwestern side of Madagascar, at the mouth of the Onilahy River), which they reached five months later in March of 1645.16  On the voyage out, "foure brave boyes" were born aboard ship, and others were expected.17  The plantation was settled at the bay, an uninviting site, reported the colony's governor, "altogether unfitting for our residence, as not affording any thing for or subsistence, the earth being barren [of] Salt, and not produceing any thing of seede, plantes, or rootes that have beene sowne."  The cattle the English purchased died as soon as they reached the English settlement, unless the English had arranged for some local shepherds to tend to them.  The colony's inhabitants were quickly plagued by disease, by "tedious & violent burning Agues. . . others with fluxes."18  By December of 1645, no medicine was left and all the important craftsmen, smiths, house and ship carpenters, sawyers, and the bricklayer, were either dead or "dangerously sicke."19  The mortality rate of this venture was staggering.  Complaints of illness accompanied the colony's first settlement.  By December of 1645 only 100 people were still alive, and when the governor left in that month on a trip around the island, he returned to find only 63 still alive.  Only 60 survived to be evacuated in May of 1645.   However incompetent the English proved in their dealings with indigenous people, high mortality ensured the failure of the colony.

      Illness rendered the English unable to secure an adequate supply of food.  Despite the predictions of the colony's promoters, planters on the island did not find cheap "necessaries both for back and belly...out of India," and planters were instead dependent on supplies from England.20  Unfortunately, their own vessels arrived depleted.  Although outbound ships stopped along the way to replace exhausted and rotten provisions and to give travelers and sailors the opportunity to recover their health, the lengthy voyage landed passengers in conditions of great weakness.  When the James finally reached Madagascar after her five month voyage, "most of their people [were] sicke, and had she contynued at sea but one weeke longer (without Gods great mercy they had all perished)."21  Even before the first convoy reached the island, the colony's governor wrote ominously to the Courteen Associates from earlier stopping points requesting a surgeon and medical supplies.22   When in December of 1645 outbound ships reached the small colony at Augustine Bay carrying neither trade supplies nor passengers beyond a gardener and some vines, Governor Smart wrote his cousin that the inhabitants "were utterly dismayed."23 

     Hunger and false expectations drove the English to adopt adversarial styles of interaction.  The promotional literature, both French and English, had encouraged them to expect the Malagasy to provide for their wants in an echo of English colonial experiences in the north Atlantic.  Indeed, promoters and participants were self-conscious in their comparisons.  Richard Boothby regularly compared this new settlement to Trinidad and Virginia, and drew his North American comparisons with particular care, yet did so in such a way as to convey the harmony of Madagascar: where experience in New England and Virginia revealed "the treachery of the Salvages," the inhabitants of Madagascar were "affable and curteous."24  The Malagasy supply of cattle was all that stood between the settlers' survival and starvation, and the colony's records reveal a steady preoccupation with procuring cattle both for personal consumption and to have available to supply English ships. 

     To secure cattle, the English departed from prevailing practices in the region. When the English ventured within the Indian Ocean, they customarily did so as traders, accommodating themselves to local norms in order to ensure favorable terms and coveted commodities.  Yet settlement schemes seemed to inspire and often to require clumsy and coercive styles of interaction.  The English were dependent on the Malagasy to supply them with food: this strategy was common in North America, and occasionally prompted conflict.  What might have worked in North America proved reckless and self-destructive on Madagascar.  In a final desperate effort to obtain some cattle the English thought were already their own, a party of Englishmen, after devising an elaborate and theatrical scheme complete with the governor in disguise and a secret password, employed a time-honored strategy from Atlantic endeavors and kidnapped a neighboring chief, Andria Brindah, and his son for a ransom of cattle in October of 1645.25  In response, Andria Brindah's men attacked a small English party, killing two planters. The English retaliated by executing two men who were subjects of the chief Andria Pela, "considering," they solemnly recorded, "of the insufferable wrong that wee have sustained by the loss of two of our people which are of more vallew to us then all the Blackes of this Island."26  This act they ominously referred to as "the beginning of their Revenge."  The result was easily predicted: skirmishes ensued and three more English planters were killed.  The Malagasy attacked the small English hamlet, burning the colony's barge, and setting their skiff adrift: the forge was also burned, and one John Brown was murdered when he went stravaging to gather watermelons.27  Finally in May, after fourteen dismal months on Madagascar, the surviving colonists„30 men, 11 women, and 19 boys„abandoned the plantation and evacuated to the Courteen factory at Acheh, leaving behind letters naming the four chiefs who had damaged English expectations, justifying their flight, and pleading with subsequent visitors for revenge on their behalf.28 

    Such violent dealings with the Malagasy were particularly problematic in light of the population's long experience with European traders.29  They possessed crucial goods, most especially cattle and their skill tending them, for the survival of Europeans outbound to India.  Scattered trading posts gave Europeans and Malagasy alike experience dealing with each other.  When, for example, the English colony at Augustine Bay dispatched the Sun to the eastern side of the island to St. Lucia to trade, the captain found the French already settled there and in control of local trade.  They discovered, moreover, that the Dutch were "settled and fortified" elsewhere on the island, on the northeastern coast at Antongil.30  In those frequent instances when the Dutch or French proved shrewder trading partners, the indigenous people were reluctant to trade with or supply the English.   It was particularly important to have the correct trade goods on hand.  When the first colonization party reached the Bay of Augustine in 1645, the English governor reported indignantly that "the Rogues" refused to trade unless the English gave them an orange rolled small India bead, called vacca.  But a month later, Governor Smart fumed that only brass wire would satisfy them.31  Subsequent Courteen employees sent copies of the most popular beads back to England so that merchants could more successfully equip English merchants for trade.32  Moreover, local traders knew the price the market could bear: when Smart sought cattle on one provisioning foray, the sellers demanded "greate rates knowing our necessitie."33  When confronted with these savvy traders and their own inadequate preparation, English planters turned to combative styles of interaction more commonly associated with the Atlantic. 

     This style earned the stern criticism of those Englishmen more familiar with the mores of the region, the traders of the East India Company.  The EIC resented greatly the presence of Courteen's men and ships in their territory and rarely aided their beleaguered countrymen in their plantation venture.  Indeed, EIC members recorded with a grim satisfaction the debacle of the first colony.34  The East India Company's factors accused Courteen's men of making counterfeit coins on their plantation and passing the coins off in their trade activities, thus damaging the EIC's own trade in the area.35   When the EIC heard of the nature of relations between Smart's company and the Malagasy, they placed interests of trade above any alliance with other English settlers and blamed Courteen's men for their "inhumane" treatment of the natives and for their almost irreparable damage to trade.  As one trader put it, he required of the natives "rather their Bulls then themselves in sacrifice," in response to Smart's written plea for all future English traders to retaliate against the four local leaders for him.36   One trader found in July of 1646 that he could not trade because the natives were afraid of the English, and once trade was finally secured, the Malagasy remained mistrustful.  The EIC labored to reestablish old alliances.  Indeed, one leader, Smart's nemesis Andria Pela, had figured in an earlier promotional work as a good friend of the English, and reappeared in 1646 when the EIC courted him for renewed trade.37  The Courteen Associates and East India Company records reveal diametrically opposed styles of engagement in Augustine Bay.  Trade required amicable relations; provisions for English ships similarly depended on the support of local merchants and leaders.  Settlement undermined the careful harmony English traders secured in a volatile and competitive marketplace.

     The second effort to plant an English colony in this part of the world, this time on or near the island of Assada (off Madagascar's northwest coast), proved even less auspicious, although the colony seemed to possess advantages not present in the colony at Augustine Bay.38  Three challenges to successful colonization„competition with other English merchants, the absence of supplies, and the menace of unwelcoming residents combined with English diplomatic incompetence„could be circumvented with adequate planning.  While the first colony was organized by men vehemently opposed by the East India Company, the second effort, organized by a group called the Assada Adventurers, was absorbed into the East India Company.39

      This venture was led by Robert Hunt, who had gained valuable colonial experience in the West Indies when he was governor of Providence Island from 1635-36.40   Hunt optimistically detailed the luxury crops he hoped to raise on Assada: sugar, indigo, ginger, cotton, rice, pepper, and tobacco to export; for their own consumption, corn, cattle, hogs, poultry, rice, and citrus fruits.  His sojourn on Providence had given him familiarity with some of these commodities.  Hunt also used his years in the West Indies to attract colonists: his pamphlet offered detailed comparisons to the costs of setting up a plantation on Barbados.41  Hunt's colony was to be a factory on the continental model, "As Batavia is to the Dutch, and Goa to the Portingalls."42 

     Hunt ventured to the colony in the winter of 1649-1650 aboard the Assada Merchant.43  More planters, 210 altogether, were organized and equipped by the EIC over the course of the year 1650.44  These English adventurers consisted only of men: not for Assada the family settlement of Madagascar.  Some were craftsmen„the organizers took care to send a gardener, glover, butcher, baker, cook, weaver, cooper, and bricklayer, along with husbandmen and two gentlemen.45  These men were also well supplied.46  And men were enticed overseas with a device familiar to planters of America, headrights.  Although the EIC had not secured any legitimate claim to land, for each servant he sent, a planter could receive thirty acres.47 

     The Assada Adventurers sought to secure amicable relations with the King of Assada (a man they credited with greater political power than the leaders around Augustine Bay), thus preventing the miseries of the Madagascar experiment and drawing on the rich diplomatic experience of the EIC.  Robert Hunt delivered a letter to the king from the EIC pledging their service and assistance and alerting the king to their plans to cultivate sugar on the island (for example, an engine to grind cane, complete with furnace, accompanied the first planters).48  The Company also took pains to secure gifts that they hoped would insinuate themselves into the king's affections and secure his consent to their own island for settlement.49  Yet these efforts clearly did not work.  What precisely led to the failure of the plantation is not clear, but an early massacre that killed Governor Hunt and nine other men prompted survivors to flee to safety and suggests that, as in the case of the Augustine Bay settlement, incompetent relations with indigenous inhabitants destroyed the colony.

    The colony's demise was discovered first by the many EIC supply ships that traveled to the island.50  As early as June of 1650, as the ship Bonito reached Assada to deposit planters, the ship's purser Charles Wilde recorded in his journal a report from another ship that the colony's governor had been killed and most of the men evacuated to nearby Goat's Island.  Thoughts of settlement were not yet abandoned. Wilde's party included four ships, with many planters, and some of the men ventured on shore.  Wilde himself drew a map, carefully marking Assada, "where wee went to In Habbitt."  A new governor was appointed to replace Colonel Hunt, but soon the entire effort was abandoned and the refugees hired instead by the EIC at various factories abroad.51

     This was a failure that infuriated another man who had traversed the island in search of the lost colony.  Dismayed by the desertion of the colony "upon such slender grounds," Captain Blackman, bound for Surat as the new company factor, fumed that it was the planters' own folly that destroyed the colony, not "the Peoples treachery."  He marched all over the island, accompanied by a large band of fully armed men.  Blackman was determined that a second effort was not only possible but desirable.  His inspiration came from other English adventurers.  "Had those who are to bee honoured for planting, Virginia, & S. Christopher, deserted them upon such slender grounds, I believe wee had not had at this Day a Plantation in America. . ."  And he knew what the plantation would need: 600-800 men, with two or three ships to stay permanently with them.52

     Nobody listened to Captain Blackman, and Assada was abandoned for good.  But he understood the lessons of previous colonies, not only the recent failures on Assada and Madagascar, but also the distant successes on Virginia and St. Christopher.  And he believed ardently that a sugar colony on Assada, modeled after the success of Barbados, would benefit the East India Company as fully as did its trade factories along the coastline of the Indian Ocean.  On Assada, Blackman hoped to see the intersection of trade and settlement, of an East Indian plantation on a West Indian model.  Blackman, however, was precocious in his aspirations.   Abundant manpower in the first decades of the seventeenth century might have secured English plantations in the North Atlantic, but personnel alone would not resolve challenges in the Indian Ocean, where disease staked a claim and where acumen and experience characterized the indigenous inhabitants.  Atlantic experiences and models only complicated and imperiled settlement efforts elsewhere.

      Yet these Atlantic models proved tantalizing to men in a variety of venues.  A second illustration of the ways in which ventures in one ocean were inspired by ventures elsewhere can be found in the brief interlude of English occupation of Tangier.  Until the 1660s, English engagement in the Mediterranean was characterized by a style of accommodation and dissimulation.  Both qualities facilitated trade, the main reason that the English entered the region in the first place, but proved similarly advantageous as Protestant English navigated the Catholic western Mediterranean and the Muslim strongholds of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.  Decked in local garb, adept in indigenous languages, scrupulously adhering to local sumptuary laws, prepared to deny both nationality and religion, the prudent and accommodating English travelers in the region proved walking advertisements for Fynes Moryson's injunction: "he that cannot dissemble, cannot live."53  In 1661, England's relationship with the Mediterranean changed.  With the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza, the English restored dynastic ties with the Catholic monarchs of the western Mediterranean.  And with Catherine's dowry, Charles acquired the fortified city of Tangier.   Tangier gave the English both a first tenuous toe-hold in a Muslim stronghold and a strategically and financially advantageous port. 

     Where the English had previously traveled gently in the Mediterranean as a vulnerable minority, in Tangier they signaled their arrival with expensive fortification schemes and apprehension about likely attacks by the Moors they both disdained and feared and whom they banned from the city except between "sun & sun."54   Tangier ultimately became an important naval base for the English, its value embodied in the large mole whose construction and maintenance proved a steady English preoccupation.55  But before the city's strategic and economic role was determined, one enthusiastic supporter of Tangier, an experienced English traveler named James Wilson, proposed an elaborate colonization scheme for the city and its hinterland.56  Wilson readily conceded the commercial opportunities the city afforded, but his vision was more broadly strategic and colonial, and in that respect consistent with the coherent vision that Charles II brought to his overseas holdings.    Wilson believed that Tangier offered two benefits: first, it could thwart Spanish power, and, second, it could prevent the Portuguese and the Dutch from defeating the English in trade with Europe or the East Indies.  But to secure the status of the town, Wilson advocated not only the construction of fortifications and a mole, a point on which most agreed.  He also insisted on the necessity of colonization, by which he meant the aggressive recruitment of men and women to settle there. 

     The scale of Wilson's ambitions was considerable: if one-third the population of Scotland ventured to Tangier, it would be no loss for the king, who derived little benefit from that kingdom, but a great gain for Tangier.  Zealous Protestants, particularly those who "are of a homor to pull downe the pope,"  would be particularly engaged in the enterprise because of the closer proximity of their target, although he also conceded more pedestrian motivations for those lured by the gold of Barbary.  The recruitment of Protestants from the continent would further bolster the town's prospects, and Wilson envisioned assimilation of these foreigners into "good english men" in the space of one generation.  Murderers might well be banished there, where they would "become honest people."  (Oddly, Wilson drew the line at drunkards, who were to be kept in England).  Wilson was adamant on the importance of including women, whom he perceived as important for cultural reasons, their presence rendering English men more tractable and preventing their unnecessary and scandalous recourse to "wemen of the country."  

     Proximity, a familiar climate: all boded well for this venture, rendering it, Wilson argued, more profitable than either the East or West Indies.  He even assured the king of a silver mine to rival Potosi.  For Wilson, Tangier was part of a larger outlook on English trade and England's relation with a wider world.  The creation of the free port, he envisioned, was part of a larger process of "perfecting the worke of makeing our nation masters when not of all yet of the greates parte of the comerce of the world." Wilson envisioned a line of English settlement that stretched from Tripoli all the way down the west coast of Africa, as far as Gambia: in other words, he pictured a European settlement on the model of the North American coast, mirrored directly across the Atlantic on the African coast.  The Moors had other plans: despite English efforts to ban them from the city, they reclaimed Tangier in the 1680s, ending English claims in the region and returning the English to the old accommodating style of travel and trade in the Mediterranean.

     The Tangier proposal in hindsight looks laughable: who could imagine the anticipated tens of thousands of Scots colonizing this city in North Africa as part of a swath of European settlement stretching thousands of miles?  It is as preposterous as the possibility of a thriving English colony on Madagascar in the 1640s.  Yet even though Wilson's proposal was not pursued, the existence of it provides a useful reminder of contemporary perceptions of the economic opportunities available in different oceans.  Wilson did not appreciate what historians came to understand about overseas ventures: colonies were reserved for the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific, while trading companies and trading factories dominated the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.   These colonies did not fail because of any special English incompetence in overseas enterprises.  Although the English frequently came late to the exploitation of resources outside of Europe, their tardiness was often advantageous.  If they found meager remnants in some parts of the world, in others they could benefit from the misfortunes of more aggressive competitors and, in the Americas, from the demographic disaster that accompanied any European presence.  The settlements on Madagascar and Assada were shaped not only by English experiences in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but also by familiarity with Dutch and Portuguese efforts in the Indian Ocean.  Knowledge, both precise and deceitful, circulated orally and in print, suggesting patterns of trade and settlement and shaping the context within which the English understood the expanding world around them and their opportunities within it. 

     The cumulative impact of this prior experience accompanied a flexibility of approach.    In this first century of English activity overseas, no single style of engagement existed which could fuse different oceanic cultures.  Contemporaries believed experiences to be portable from one place to another: colonial and commercial companies adhered to this belief and acted on it each time they hired personnel with experience elsewhere.  But the failures on Madagascar and the colonial scheme for Tangier which never made it off the drawing board suggest the limits to that portability of experience and point to the clarification and emergence of distinctive oceanic styles instead.   Colonial and commercial settlements were often shaped by the decisions of governors and settlers who responded spontaneously to unforeseen developments.  They reacted in the context of what they thought they understood about local circumstances but also in terms of what they knew about other colonial enterprises.  In this regard, colonial settlements in the Indian Ocean were damaged by precursors in the Atlantic and Caribbean, with adversarial styles of interaction with indigenous people and with other Europeans.  The problem was not a failure of information, but rather a failure of the applicability of prior experience.57  What worked in one place did not necessarily work elsewhere„but that was a lesson learned only through painful, protracted, and deadly experience.


1 Carla Rahn Phillips, "The Organization of Oceanic Empires: The Iberian World in the Hapsburg Period (and a Bit Beyond)."

2 Lauren Benton, "Oceans of Law: The Legal Geography of the Seventeenth-Century Seas."

3 Eliga H. Gould, "Lines of Plunder or Crucible of Modernity? Toward a Legal History of the English-Speaking Atlantic, 1660-1825."

4 David Quinn and Nicholas Canny have long since called our attention to the colonial activities of the Elizabethan adventurers: see especially Nicholas Canny, "The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America," William and Mary Quarterly 30 (1973): 575-598; and the many works by David Quinn; T. K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire: Merchant and Gentry Investment in the Expansion of England, 1575-1630 (Cambridge, 1967) and Jacob Price, Perry of London: A Family and a Firm on the Seaborne Frontier, 1615-1753 (Cambridge, MA, 1992) have offered two different approaches to a study of diverse mercantile interests in this period.  For the eighteenth century, see especially David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London merchants and the integration of the British Atlantic community, 1735-1785 (Cambridge, 1995).

5 See particularly A. J. R. Russell-Wood, A World on the Move: The Portuguese in Africa, Asia, and America, 1415-1808 (New York, 1992).  Alan L. Karras, Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800 (Ithaca, 1992) and Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: merchant seamen, pirates, and the Anglo-American maritime world, 1700-1750 (Cambridge, 1987).  Rediker and his co-author Peter Linebaugh extended the time frame of their analysis in The many-headed hydra : sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic  (Boston, 2000), but the geographic focus remained on the Anglo-Atlantic.

6 Nicholas Canny, introduction, The Origins of Empire (Oxford, 1998), p. 19.

7 This chapter in English colonization has received little attention: see W. Foster, "An English Settlement in Madagascar in 1645-6," English Historical Review 27 (1912): 239-250.  Robert Brenner discusses the Madagascar experiment in Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 (Princeton, 1993), pp. 171-181.  Raymond K. Kent touches on the first effort and uses the published promotional pamphlets in Early Kingdoms in Madagascar 1500-1700 (New York, 1970), pp. 184-185.

8 Copy of the original grant can be found in H39, ff. 91-141, India Office Library, BL; John Darell, Strange News from th'Indies: or, East-India Passages further discovered (London, 1652), p. 4.

9 William Hamond, A Paradox. Prooving, That the Inhabitants of the Isle called Madagascar, or St. Lawrence...are the happiest People in the World (London, 1640); Hamond, Madagascar, The Richest and most Fruitfull Island in the World (London, 1643); Richard Boothby, A Breife Discovery or Description of the most Famous Island of Madagascar or St. Lawrence in Asia neare unto East-India (London, 1646). No one was more extravagant in his praise of the proposed venture than the playwright and poet William Davenant.  His poem, Madagascar, published in 1638, tells the reader of a fantastic dream Davenant had of Madagascar.  In this dream, Prince Rupert took flight and conquered the island.  Davenant's poetic conquest proved far easier than England's subsequent efforts to plant the island.  William Habington, Dedicatory poem, in William Davenant, Madagascar: with other poems (London, 1638).

10 Hamond, Paradox, A3recto-verso.

11 Hamond, Madagascar, A3verso.  Hamond was not sure of the religious believes of the natives, but he suspected them to be Muslim, a faith they acquired "by their affinity & neer neighborhood to the Moores; that filthy Sect like a contagious Leprosie hath generally infected almost all those Easterne and Southerne parts of the world..." (p. 11).

12 Hamond, A4verso.

13 Letter to England from John Smart, 18 August 1645, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 13verso, BL.

14 John Smart to Thomas Kynnaston, 15 December 1645, f. 17recto-verso, Add. Ms. 14,037, BL.

15 See, for example, answer to a protest by Thomas Spencer (a Courteen employee), 5 May 1646, I/3/20, f. 17, BL.

16 Records for this effort are contained in a single folio volume in the British Library: the volume includes a record of consultations held concerning the colony and copies of letters sent by the colony's governor and other officers. Add Ms. 14,037, "A Booke of Consultations belonging to the Plantation of Madagascar, als the Island of St. Lawrence," BL.

17 Copy of a general letter sent from Soldana Bay to England, January, 1644, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 4recto, BL.

18 Copy of a letter to England, 18 August 1645, ff. 13-14verso, Add. Ms. 14,037, BL.

19 Smart to Kynnaston, 15 December 1645, f. 17verso, Add. Ms. 14,037, BL.

20 Boothby, Madagascar, p. 1.

21 Letter for England from Captain Smart, 18 August 1645, Add Ms. 14,037, f. 12verso, BL.

22 Copy of a general letter from Soldana Bay to England, January 24 1644/5, f.5verso.  Smart particularly instructed that the medicine not be obtained from Mr. Lawrence Long, "(whom you know to be a knave)."  EIC ships agreed with Smart's characterization of island affirs.  A report from the EIC agent Francis Breton to the Company in January of 1646 noted that some EIC ships had stopped in Augustine Bay in July, where they found "Capt. Smart with divers poor people on shore ...and indeed if supplies arrived not sudainely like to be in a deplorable condition."  I/3/19, f. 299, BL.

23 John Smart to Thomas Kynnaston, 15 December 1645, f. 16verso, Add. Ms. 14,037, BL.

24 Boothby, Madagascar, p. 10; for Trinidad see pp. 61-63.

25 John Smart to Thomas Kynnaston, 15 December 1645, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 17recto, BL.

26 Consultation on shore, 6 January 1645/6, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 30recto.  The English called the people they encountered on Madagascar "blacks," in distinction to the terminology they used to describe slaves from Africa in the Americas in this same period, which was usually "negro."  The Governor John Smart was abroad when this incident occurred.

27 Letter to Mr. Thomas Kynnaston, 15 May 1646, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 23verso.

28 Augustine Bay, To worthy friends Mr. Thomas Spencer, Mr. Ro. Hogg, Mr. Jno Dudson, Mr. Jeremy Weddell, 18 May 1646, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 26recto; John Duisson to "worthie Frende" at Augustine Bay, 20 August 1646, describes the letters "buried under a Rock nere to ye great Rock yt hath ye Kings coulors on it, at ye foote of the hill at ye landinge place" I/3/20, f. 42recto, BL. Some of the survivors were taken to Rajapore and then on to England, others went to Goa, and some ended up at the EIC factory at Swally Marine, where the factor, Francis Breton, employed and supported some.  One widow remarried there.  Francis Breton to EIC, 25 January 1646/7, I/3/20, f. 101recto.

29 Europeans were familiar with the great island: French, Dutch, Portuguese, and English traders broke up their lengthy and debilitating voyages to the trading factories of the East Indies with sojourns on Madagascar, where they repaired their ships, purchased cattle from the natives and ate freely of the abundant fruit--using, according to one visitor, the island's monkeys (surely he was speaking here of Madagascar's famous lemurs) as their food tasters.  Hamond, Madagascar, p. 3.  The English were particularly dependent on landing spots for resupplying their ships.  English ships in the seventeenth century were smaller than those of European competitors.  The English gained speed but sacrificed space for food and water.  See N. A. M. Rodger, "Guns and Sails in the First Phase of English Colonization, 1500-1650," in Canny, ed., The Origins of Empire, pp. 79-98.

30 Add Ms. 14,037, f. 10 recto, consultation on board the Sun, St. Augustine Bay, 14 August 1645, BL.

31 Copy of a letter for England, 18 August 1645, f.12verso, f. 13recto, Add. Ms. 14,037, BL.

32 John Duisson to "worthie Frende," Augustine Bay, 20 August 1646, I/3/20, f. 42verso, BL.

33 Smart to Thomas Kynnaston, 15 May 1646, Add. 14,037, f. 24recto, BL.

34 Francis Breton to the EIC, 30 March 1646, E/3/20, f. 6verso, BL.

35 Andrew Trumbull to the EIC, Jettapore Road, 10 February 1645/6, I/3/19, f. 332; Francis Breton to the EIC, Swally Marine, 25 January 1646/7, I/3/20, f. 100verso, BL.

36John Brookehaven to the EIC, 20 August 1646, E/3/20, f. 43verso, BL.  For the lingering bitterness of the Courteen-EIC rivalry, see John Darell, Strange News from th'Indies: or, East-India Passages further discovered (London, 1652).  Darell, indeed, was such a loyal Courteen supporter that he believed that the younger William Courteen maintained rights not only to trade with "East-India, Mallabar, Acheen, and China," but also to trade with Barbados and any other islands in the West Indies (p. 38).

37 Boothby, Madagascar, p. 8. EIC letters, John Duisson to "worthie Frende," Augustine Bay, 20 August 1646, I/3/20, f. 42recto, BL.

38 Assada was a large island--one EIC employee saw 40 towns on the coast alone. Journal of Captain Berblock, f. 33recto, E/3/22, BL.

39 I have not entirely figured out the nature of the relationship between the Assada Adventurers and the East India Company.  My understanding, based on the East India Company records, is that a group of men, many of whom were EIC members, formed themselves into a party called the Assada Adventurers, and petitioned Parliament for privileges of trade and plantation.  The Council of State ordered the EIC and the Assada Adventurers to come to some kind of understanding on their own, and the result was that the Assada Adventurers negotiated an agreement with the EIC.  See B/24, f. 61recto; B/22 f. 202recto, BL.  Records for the Assada plantation appear in scattered references in the East India Company records, especially the Court Books, Despatch Books, and Original Correspondence, all located in the British Library.

40 See his promotional pamphlet for an elaboration of his reasons for participating in this venture.  Robert Hunt, The Island of Assada, neere Madagascar, Impartially defined...Clearely demonstrating to the Adventurer or Planter, the right way for disposing his Adventure... (London, 1650), p. 1.

41 Hunt, Assada, p. 3.

42 Hunt, Assada, p. 4.

43 Meeting about Assada, 28 January 1649/50, B/22, BL.

44 Meeting of diverse committees for Assada, 16 September 1650, B/25, f. 4verso, BL.

45 list of persons on board the Assada Merchant "consigned last for the Plantation," E/3/22, f. 37, BL.

46 Thomas Merry to the EIC, 24 October 1650, Swally Marine, E/3/22, f. 53recto, BL.

47 Court of Committees, 5 January 1649/50, B/22, f. 226verso, BL.

48 Copy of letter to King of Assada, E/3/22, f. 19recto-20verso, BL.

49 At a meeting in January of 1650, triumphant bargain hunters reported that they had discovered an old chariot of Queen Anne that they could purchase for £16-17, although it had originally cost £100.  They hoped to accompany this treasure, a suitable gesture of respect for a distant king, with a sword worth 40 shillings and a looking glass, procured for 20 shillings.  The English wanted the island of Nasara, or any other likely place.  Meeting for Assada, 28 January 1649/50, B/22, f. 233recto; letter from EIC to king of Assada, E/3/22, ff. 19recto-20recto, BL.

50 See for example the journal of Mr. James Berblock, on the Supply, selections copied in EIC correspondence, E/3/22, ff. 29recto-36, BL.

51 Journal of Charles Wilde, Sloane 3231, p. 26, BL.

52 Captain Blackman's relation of his voyage to the EIC, 14 January 1651/2, from Swally Marina, E/3/22, ff. 275recto-276 verso, BL.

53 Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary Written by Fynes Moryson gent. First in the Latine Tongue, and then translated by him into the English (London, 1617), book 3, p. 29.

54 Letter to the Duke of York from T. Bockman in Tangier, 10 November 1662, Sloane 2448, ff. 46-47, BL.  These fears characterized the entirety of English occupation: see for example letters to Sir Richard Bulstrode in 1679 and 1680, Add. 47,899, ff. 268-269, ff. 273-4, f. 334, BL.  On the ban of Moors from the city, see 29 January 1662, anonymous journal, V.a.184, Folger Shakespeare Library.

55 See, for example, the journal of John Luke, who reported regularly on viewing the mole, and on the status of repairs to the mole during his time in Tangier between 1670 and 1673.  Add. 36, 528, BL.

56 The following paragraphs are drawn from Mr. James Wilson to (?), 5 October 1661, Add. 4191, ff. 11-14, BL.

57 See William D. Phillips, Jr., "Defining the Coastlines: Eyewitness Testimony and the Mapping of Spain's First American Possessions, 1492-1536," in this collection of conference papers for an example of the ways in which Europeans acquired important knowledge in these first decades of contact.  Harry Liebersohn, "Patrons, Travelers, and Scientific World Voyages, 1750-1850," illustrates this process for a later period.


Copyright Statement

Copyright: © 2003 by the American Historical Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle and Brandon Schneider. Format by Chris Hale.

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