The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

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8 Annotations

First Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. These islands generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean islands are part of the somewhat larger West Indies grouping, which consists of the Greater Antilles on the north, the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), as well as the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (the Lucayan Archipelago, which does not border the Caribbean Sea). Geopolitically, the Caribbean islands are usually regarded as a subregion of North America.…

Soon after the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, both Portuguese and Spanish ships began claiming territories in Central and South America. These colonies brought in gold, and other European powers, most specifically England, the Netherlands, and France, hoped to establish profitable colonies of their own. Imperial rivalries made the Caribbean a contested area during European wars for centuries.

The development of agriculture in the Caribbean required a large workforce of manual labourers, which the Europeans found by taking advantage of the slave trade in Africa. The Atlantic slave trade brought African slaves to British, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the Americas, including the Caribbean. Slaves were brought to the Caribbean from the early 16th century until the end of the 19th century.…

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

At the start of the 17th century the Spanish claimed the Americas as a whole, but did little to deter settlers in North America. The vast distances combined with Spanish satisfaction with the wealth from their two viceroyalties of Mexico and the Caribbean and Peru (meaning the rest of South America) meant they had little reason to spend any effort searching for and evicting interlopers. But they continue to claim exclusive rights to all of the Americas.

The English colony of Virginia, established 1607, had a profound impact on English interests in the Caribbean. To cross the Atlantic, the trade winds make it easiest to cross westward to the Caribbean and then sail up the East Coast of North America; from there the winds blow eastward to Europe. When ships needed fresh food and water after making the westward crossing, they naturally visited the Caribbean islands.

However, the first island to attract English colonial attention, initially because of ships being wrecked there, was on the northern return route: Bermuda.

Additionally, Virginia only survived because of profitable tobacco, which is easy to plant and cultivate, although it quickly exhausts the land, creating its own expansion dynamic. Early on people learned that tobacco was native to the Caribbean, and so entrepreneurs set up plantations on St. Kitts from 1623, Barbados in 1627 and Nevis in 1628.

Tobacco thrived in the tropical climate of the Caribbean islands, but most of the settlers succumbed to disease. Attempts to boost population with indentured servants did no better. Then the price of tobacco crashed in the 1630s as over-production in Virginia and the Caribbean islands undermined its value.

Diversification of crops and workforce was soon necessary. Maize and cotton found limited success, but it was sugar that provided the economic foundation of the Caribbean economy for the next two centuries.

When Dutch sugar planters were forced to flee from Brazil when the Portuguese reconquered their colonies, many settled in the Caribbean. The first successful transplantation of sugar was to Barbados and organised by James Drax, who started the process before the Dutch were evicted from Brazil, so when the Portuguese seized the Dutch sugar plantations in 1645, the price of sugar increased massively. Drax and other early adopters in Barbados became wealthy overnight.

The Dutch also brought their slaves with them, which helped solve the second problem of maintaining a healthy workforce. African slaves were resilient to the tropical diseases found throughout the Caribbean. Africans could also be brought over relatively cheaply, if brutally, by the favorable Trade Winds from Africa. Sugar soon eclipsed all other plantation crops as the insatiable demand for it in Europe outstripped supply.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Disease was a constant problem in the Caribbean settlements: the tropical weather, poor hygiene, poor medical care, and huge population shifts including thousands of slaves transported in appalling conditions meant that settlers had a high chance of dying of nasty tropical diseases. It is estimated that in the 17th Century, one third of all new settlers were dead within 3 years of arrival. The others were afflicted, but survived to tell tales of lost loved ones. Slaves, although hardier than the local Amer-Indians, also suffered appallingly.

The settler population in the New World tended to migrate from the Caribbean to the North American colonies. About 2,000 settlers moved from Barbados to Virginia in the mid-17th Century. Their views on slavery and plantations moved with them.

But Europeans wanting to make their fortunes were still more likely go to the Caribbean than North America as stories of the wealth of sugar planters eclipsed those of tobacco planters. It was also an overwhelmingly male destination with 90% of settlers to the Caribbean being men. It was no place to raise a family.

The English Civil Wars were a time of political turmoil. The links between Dutch settlers and traders meant that the isolated English colonies found it easier to supplying the profitable Dutch re-export market through Amsterdam than do business in London.

The English Civil War also strengthened the trading ties between the North American English colonies and the Caribbean. Whilst Barbados in particular was converting virtually all of its available land for sugar cane production, it was no longer growing enough food stuffs to provide for its sizeable population. Barbados was the most populous English colony in the New World by the 1640s reaching a population of 30,000, and by 1650 had more than twice as many people as the Virginia and Massachusetts colonies combined. New England producers clubbed together to build their own ships in order to provide the Caribbean with food. Rhode Island in particular traded heavily with Barbados.

The colonies were in the process of becoming self-sufficient as the Civil War forced the colonies to fend for themselves for an extended period of time. Yes, Parliamentarian forces were evident from time to time, and Royalist privateers sometimes attacked merchant ships and isolated communities, but so long as the Civil War raged, English attention was on the British Isles and little thought was given to those communities across the seas.

The fledgling Caribbean colonies stayed mostly neutral during the Civil War, but feelings and loyalties were strained by the 1649 execution of King Charles.

Bermuda declared for Charles II, as did Barbados and Antigua. Parliament sent out a fleet under Admiral Ayscue to bring their most important colony, Barbados, under Parliamentarian control. A tense stand off occurred with several skirmishes between the forces loyal to Parliament and those loyal to Charles II.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

When news of Royalist and Scottish defeats in England filtered across the Atlantic, the isolated Royalist cause faltered. A generous settlement was initially offered to the Royalist ringleaders, although this generosity was later curtailed by Parliament.

The Parliamentarians also took the opportunity of despatching many of its Royalist captives to the Caribbean as indentured servants. These were later joined by Scottish and Irish indentured servants as Parliament's battle-hardened army swept all before them. These servants were treated far less leniently than the volunteer indentured servants of the 1620s and 1630s. This had the long-term consequence of establishing a sizeable population with Royalist and Catholic sympathies which would later welcome the Restoration.

Parliament sought to impose their control over the isolated colonies throughout the 1650s. The Navigation Acts (which banned English colonies from trading with foreign ships or markets) was aimed principally at the Dutch and provoked the First Anglo-Dutch War. The Navigation Acts were based on a mercantalist concept of how trade worked, and dominated trade policy for the next 200 years. Essentially, they believed that trade was a zero sum game and that if your competitors took your trade you were worse off. Consequently, policies forced English products to be transported in English ships to English ports. Although this kept prices higher than they needed to be, they did guarantee a market for the produce of the English colonies, and they also promoted the development of an English merchant marine that would ultimately challenge the Dutch and other European powers for pre-eminence throughout the world.

Oliver Cromwell's other major policy to assert control in the Caribbean was the 1653 'Western Design' concept.

At the end of the first Anglo-Dutch War, Cromwell turned his attention back to Catholic rivals. The 'Western Design' was a building block in the development of the Empire. Until now all colonies were set up as private ventures by interested parties who generally were in the pursuit of profit or religious freedom. Attacks on enemy settlements had generally been raids for plunder and/or supplies.

Cromwell's decision to send a fleet to the Caribbean to attack and capture Spanish colonies and turn them into English colonies was a change in policy. The English government was now actively expanding her empire. Spain was the obvious target for Protestant England, and her Caribbean colonies were easy targets for the well-oiled English Army to plunder and capture.

A large fleet sailed under Admiral William Penn and Commander Robert Venable to the Caribbean, where it was swelled in Barbados by additional English recruits from across England's colonies. Their target was the main Spanish settlement on Hispaniola, but unexpected Spanish resistance, tropical diseases and poor morale from the recently raised local rabble saw the attack end in ignominious failure.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Penn and Venables tried to save face by attacking the more lightly defended Jamaica in 1655. Initially successful landings were soon undermined by a determined guerilla war as the Spanish released their slaves into the interior and led harassing attacks on the diseased and increasingly hungry English invaders.

Penn and Venables returned to England in disgrace with a fraction of the forces they had set out with.

Jamaica was regarded as something of a disappointment as its large size, mountainous terrain and hostile ex-slaves (Maroons) made it more difficult to cultivate sugar on and to administer.

Two attempts to recapture Jamaica in 1657 and again in 1658 were only foiled by the inspired leadership of the military governor Edward D'Oyley.

The smaller islands of Antigua, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis were all much more manageable and hence profitable.

The Restoration did not bring a significant change in colonial policy. The Navigation Acts were reissued and many of the key governors, including Edward D'Oyley, were kept in place in order to maintain a sense of continuity.

All these initial colonies had been granted self-governing assemblies along the lines of those in North America. Therefore they had considerable powers and freedoms, generally concentrated in the hands of propertied, monied and well-connected settlers who used their powers to their own benefit. Increasingly harsh codes were enacted to keep slaves in their place and to punish any transgressions severely.

The isolation of these colonies from support from England meant that they felt vulnerable from attack from the French, Dutch and/or Spanish in the various wars that raged in the second half of the 17th Century.

Jamaica came up with a novel way of defending itself by encouraging 'buccaneers' to settle in Port Royal, and to use it as a base for their operations (as long as it was against England's Catholic rivals).

These 'buccaneers' were usually a mixture of English and French Huguenots who had been ejected from St. Kitts in 1629 or Providence Island [Bahamas] in 1641 by the Spanish in one of their many attempts to reestablish control in the Caribbean. The buccaneers had settled in Tortuga or along the north coast of Hispaniola, hiding from the Spanish. They made a living by hunting and skinning wild cattle and selling the hides (boucan - which is where their name derives) to passing ships. Over time they had found piracy to be more profitable.

Therefore, the invitation to come to Jamaica and work with the small English fleet in the Western Caribbean, with a measure of defence provided by the newly-fortified Port Royal, was an attractive offer. Jamaica soon earned a reputation for piracy and violence, and as a result it was largely spared attack from rival European powers.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

War between England and Spain officially ended in 1670, with Spain agreeing to recognise England's claim to Jamaica. Unfortunately, England's ability to restrain the pirates and privateers operating on the opposite side of the Atlantic was less than its desire to do so.

One of Jamaica's more notorious freebooters, Henry Morgan, took a force to sack the Spanish settlement of Porto Belo in 1668 and then another even more impressive expedition across the isthmus to sack Panama in 1671. The problem with the sack of Panama was that it was conducted after the 1670 Treaty. Both Morgan and the governor of the island, Sir Thomas Modyford, were recalled to London to explain themselves.

Henry Morgan was able to sweet talk his way past Charles II, who sent him back to Jamaica as Governor, with the understanding he would bring piracy under control. Then in 1685, the first English naval squadron arrived in Port Royal for permanent patrol and defence of the region, and then an earthquake and tidal wave in 1692 devastated Port Royal (many contemporaries regarded that as divine intervention). Further earthquakes and hurricanes plagued the infamous port time and again over the subsequent years meaning that Port Royal soon became nothing more than a suburb of the relocated capital at Kingston.

The problem of piracy was reduced in Jamaica, but certainly not from the region as a whole as pirates and buccaneers sought alternative ports and bases for their operations. A significant number of pirates relocated to the Bahamas but these were also attacked and harried by naval vessels who eventually captured their main base at New Providence Island in 1718. By the 1730s piracy had been reduced to negligible instances by the increasingly professional and powerful Royal Navy.

External enemies were not the only threat to European planters on these isolated islands. As the number of slaves increased, so did the threat of revolt and rebellion. Slave owners felt that one way to guard against slave rebellion was to ensure that their slaves came from a variety of tribes from Africa and spoke many languages. Over time the slaves evolved a common creole which incorporated the overseers' English, so attempts to divide and rule became ineffective as slaves learned to communicate and work together.

Barbados, as the first island to transform itself into a plantation economy, experienced the first slave revolt, with more after 1670. The so-called Coromantee Plot of 1675 was planned meticulously for many years before being betrayed by a domestic slave who felt pity for the impending doom for her master and mistress. She was rewarded with her freedom whilst the conspirators were treated with great harshness: 6 slaves were burned alive, 11 were beheaded and 25 others were executed. The carrot and stick approach remained a powerful tool of the authorities for as long as slavery was a legal institution in the Caribbean.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In 1688 England experienced a significant political shift that caused long term ripples in the Caribbean. The Glorious Revolution brought the Dutch William of Orange with his Stuart wife, Mary, to the throne.

The consequence of this in the Caribbean was that the Netherlands were no longer the main colonial rival for England. France now became the principal rival, as the relative power of Spain and Portugal continued to wane.

France had considerable imperial ambitions. Almost immediately William III declared war with France, which raged until 1697.

During this war the isolated Caribbean colonies of all European nations became pawns which were attacked, sacked and captured with alarming regularity. All the effort expended was often undermined by generous peace treaties which tended to return the colonies to their ante-bellum status.

Often the planters did not want to capture rival European islands as they did not want to expand the amount of sugar available to sell (reducing their profit margins). They were happy to raid and pillage other colonies, but the established plantocracy was generally content with the privileged and monopolistic access to British and colonial markets.

The Navigation Acts appeared to be a burden, but corruption and bribery could often be used to circumvent the more onerous aspects of these laws. The constant fighting tended to put yet more power into the hands of the planter elite, as they sent the poorer whites to do the fighting, then buying the lands vacated by the deaths of these smallholders.

When the British islands were sacked, it was the wealthy planters who had the economic ability to rebuild their plantations. Smallholders ended up joining military reprisals, or selling up, usually to the planters, and heading to North America to start over again. The unequal proportion of whites to blacks continued to fall -- the constant state of warfare exacerbated that trend.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

One institution established by William III in 1695 was the Lords of Trade and Plantations. This was the start of the Colonial Office, and was to provide oversight of colonial legislatures, with the right to over-rule their laws if they conflicted with English trade policies - ie the Navigation Acts.

The board of the Lords of Trade and Plantations also nominate Crown governors and recommended laws affecting the colonies to Parliament. In effect, it was formalising England's Empire and the fact that it had the appendix 'and Plantations' clearly demonstrated that the Caribbean colonies were the central concern of this new institution.

Obviously the priorities of the influential settlers often conflicted with those of the English government, but the government held strong cards by providing defence for these isolated colonies, and also providing access to markets for their products. Often colonial legislatures would vent and discuss policies at length before accepting the Lords of Trade and Plantations' "recommendations".

One Caribbean scheme that had unexpected ramifications in the British Isles was the attempt by the Scottish to create a trading company at Darien on the Isthmus of Panama in 1698. This was a mercantile response by Scottish traders and politicians who were concerned that they would be frozen out of international trade unless they had their own colonies.

Panama was selected for its location between the economically important Caribbean and the Pacific, and between North and South America. There were dreams of building a canal between the two tantalisingly close oceans.

Unfortunately, it was not appreciated that the Darien peninsular was little more than a malarial swampland surrounded by hostile Spanish concerns who would attack the Scottish settlement had it demonstrated form of success. An attack was unnecessary as it was obvious that the under-capitalised and naive Scottish trading company was barely surviving, let alone thriving.

In 1700, the isolated Darien forlornly surrendered to the Spanish. This failure caused a major economic depression in Scotland, and was a prime reasons Scotland sought Union with England in 1707.

The Act of Union specifically agreed to repay the Darien creditors any money lost on their imperial adventure. Additionally Scotland was no longer barred by the Navigation Acts from trading with English colonies and ports.

Scottish traders and merchants soon become an influential group of colonialists. Many established trading houses and develop commercial ties with what were now the British Caribbean colonies. Glasgow became a hub in the tobacco trade whose 'Tobacco Lords' rose to be some of the richest people anywhere in the British Empire.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.