Migrants, and the Character of Empires:
English Colonial Schemes in the Seventeenth Century
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
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
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] ...to 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
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,"
17 Copy of a general letter sent from Soldana
Bay to England, January, 1644, Add. Ms. 14,037, f. 4recto,
18 Copy of a letter to England, 18 August
1645, ff. 13-14verso, Add. Ms. 14,037, BL.
Smart to Kynnaston, 15 December 1645, f. 17verso, Add. Ms.
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,
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.
30 Add Ms. 14,037, f. 10 recto, consultation
on board the Sun, St. Augustine Bay, 14 August 1645,
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,
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
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.
43 Meeting about Assada, 28 January 1649/50,
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,
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
Copyright: © 2003 by the American Historical
Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle and Brandon Schneider. Format
by Chris Hale.