1629: English colonists navigate King-parliament rift; & news from East Asia.

1629 CE saw a deepening rift between England’s King Charles and the parliament. That made it a challenging year for the English investors and merchants who were trying to build a sustainable and above all profitable colonial presence in various distant continents but who now needed to navigate potentially perilous political shoals not only in the lands targeted for colonization but also at home. The mainly Puritan investors in the Massachusetts Bay Company came up with a novel solution to this problem.

Elsewhere in the Americas, Puritan English colonizers established one new colony at Providence Island off the coast of today’s Nicaragua (while their investors back home in London were sowing the seed for anti-monarchist political movements to come.) The infant English colonies at St Kitts and Nevis got completely taken over by the Spanish. And to the far north of the Atlantic coast a group of Scottish investors tried to build what they called “Nova Scotia.”

And there was news from East Asia, too.

Scroll on down to learn more about all these topics! Welcome to 1629.

Massachusetts Bay Company forges new path for colonizers

John White

John White was a Puritan minister in Dorchester, in the English county of Dorset. He was one of many Puritans who thought that Puritans needed to emigrate if they wanted to live and worship as they pleased, though he never emigrated himself. But where to emigrate to? Twenty years earlier, many had emigrated to Netherlands, which was much friendlier to Puritans than rigidly Anglican England; but they found their children grew up “too Dutch” there. So the solution they settled on was to build a completely Puritan, completely Anglophone society from scratch, in a part of the world that already had numerous other peoples from other societies, who had lived in a harmony with its rhythms for many generations. You have to recognize the settlers’ chutzpah (along with the deep racism of their assumption that the natives of those places should simply move over or move away completely and make room for them.)

John White was a member of the group of Puritan investors and planners who in 1628 had founded “The New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts Bay”, which sought to bring together the various smaller Puritan colonization projects that existed in that area. In 1629, the Company, which became known as the Massachusetts Bay Company, got a royal charter from King Charles, which superseded all previous land grants in the area. This WP page on the MBC says, “It was not apparent whether Charles knew that the Company was meant to support the Puritan emigration, and he was likely left to assume that it was purely for business purposes, as was the custom. The charter omitted a significant clause: the location for the annual stockholders’ meeting.”

A little later in 1629, as we know, Charles dissolved parliament. At that point, the MBC’s directors met to consider the possibility of moving the company’s center of governance to the colony, which they did. The Massachiusetts Bay Colony thus became the the first English chartered colony whose board of directors did not reside in England. As WP notes, “This independence helped the settlers to maintain their Puritan religious practices without interference from the king, Archbishop Laud, or the Anglican Church. The charter remained in force for 55 years.”

Then, this:

A flotilla of ships sailed from England beginning in April 1630… Over the next ten years, about 20,000 Puritans emigrated from England to Massachusetts and the neighboring colonies during the Great Migration. Many ministers reacted to the repressive religious policies of England, making the trip with their congregations, among whom were John Cotton, Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, and others. Religious divisions and the need for additional land prompted a number of new settlements that resulted in Connecticut Colony (by Hooker) and the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (by Williams and others). Minister John Wheelwright was banished after the Antinomian controversy… and he moved north to found Exeter, New Hampshire.

Other English Puritans colonize Providence Island (near Nicaragua)

Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick

Another group of English Puritans chose a very different location for their overseas colony. These were the (perhaps more upper-class?) Puritans who established the “Providence Island Company”, which intended to use the island known today as Isla de la Providencia, which lies off the coast of Nicaragua but is part of Colombia’s national territory. This WP page tells us that,

The island was first documented on November 25, 1510 by Lope de Olano, a Basque sailing for Castile-Aragon. It remained unsettled and was known to French and Dutch pirates, but apparently was first visited by English ships in 1628. In that year, the Puritan Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, sent three privateer ships to the West Indies…

Upon “discovering” Providence Island, with its location so handy as a base for pirating/privateering ships seeking to raid Spain’s voluminous amount of valuable ship traffic in the area, in 1629 Warwick and his friends founded the “Providence Island Company”, which set about establishing a very special kind of Puritan colony there and chose the Governor of Bermuda, Philip Bell, to lead it:

In February 1631 Captain William Rudyerd was appointed commander of the settlers sailing from England to Providence Island in the Seaflower. About eighty Bermudians moved to Providence in 1631…

Until 1635 the Company discouraged planters from bringing their wives and children. To help preserve order, the Company ordered servants and other single people to live in “families”. Governor Bell was instructed to “distribute all the Inhabitants into several families whereof one shalbe the Chiefe.” This chief was responsible for ensuring his family did their duty and was to lead them in prayer twice a day. The company forbade swearing, drunkenness or profaning the Sabbath, and ordered Bell to “take care that Idelness as the Nurse of all Vice be carefullie eschewed.” Bell was instructed to seize and destroy “cards and Dice and Tables” that had been sent to the island…

Labour on Providence island was originally undertaken by indentured servants from England, although Bell brought some enslaved Africans from Bermuda. Around 1634–1635 the four-year terms of the indentured servants expired, and planters demanded the right to use black slaves in their place. One colonist, the pastor Samuel Rishworth, spoke out against this practice, saying that Christians should not hold slaves. Bell tried to silence this man on instructions from the Company, so he could not encourage the slaves to seek their freedom from their masters. Specifically, the Company told Bell to, “Condemn Mr. Rishworth’s behaviour concerning the negroes who ran away, as indiscreet (“arising, as it seems, from a groundless opinion that Christians may not lawfully keep such persons in a state of servitude, during their strangeness from Christianity”) By 1635 there was a population of 500 white men, 40 women, 90 blacks and a few children, scattered across the island. The village of New Westminster had just thirty houses, mostly of timber. Only the church and the governor’s house were of brick. Forty guns were distributed between thirteen forts at different points on the island, making no one point particularly strong.

So while Gov. Philip Bell and his men were building their colony (cum privateering base) over there in the Caribbean, back home in London the 20 shareholders in the Providence Island Company started using many of the meetings they were holding as cover for some very political discussions. This other WP page, on the Company not the Colony, tells us this:

A close kinship group linked several charter members of the Company… The first opposition party in English history coalesced around this nucleus and their friends in both Houses of Parliament, formed at the end of the 1630s in resistance to the imposition of Ship Money, and meeting ostensibly for Company business in Gray’s Inn Lane or Brook House, Holborn, or in the country.

This second WP page quotes the historian C. V. Wedgewood as noting: “The Earl of Warwick and his friends were sincerely trying to create three nests of pirates with the behaviour and morals of a Calvinist theological seminary.”

This page adds these further notes about the colony and its business:

The plantation system required African slaves, which involved the Company in the slave trade, but cotton and tobacco failed to be profitable and were replaced by sugar cane. The islands remained a base for privateering, however, under a tacit agreement from the King, whose foreign policy remained officially neutral with regard to Spain, but who agreed, provided that the Company foot any expenses. Prospects for Providence Island brightened at this, sufficiently for the projectors to capitalise the venture with an additional £100,000 in 1637.

Just to complete this little story, in May 1641 the Spanish and Portuguese conquered Providence Island. Switching to the “Colony” WP page, we learn about what happened to the colony and its residents:

The Spanish and Portuguese took sixty guns, and captured the 350 settlers who remained on the island – others had escaped to the Mosquito coast. They took the prisoners to Cartagena. The women and children were given a passage back to England. The Spanish and Portuguese found gold, indigo, cochineal and six hundred black [enslaved persons] on the island, worth a total of 500,000 ducats, some of the accumulated booty from the English raids. Rather than destroy the defenses, as instructed, [invading Spanish General] Pimienta left a small garrison of 150 men (100 Spanish & 50 Portuguese) to hold the island and prevent occupation by the Dutch.

No word on what befell the enslaved in 1641.

Spanish crush English/French colonies at St. Kitts and Nevis

A Spanish painting celebrating the capture of St. Kitts

The closely linked Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis lie far to the east of Providence Island, and as 1629 dawned it may have seemed to the English and French colonists there that things were looking good for them. In 1626 they had successfully genocided indigenous Kalinagos from all of St. Kitts, and in 1628 they had extended their colonization efforts to Nevis. English settlers had been recruited to the number of nearly 3,000, and guns and ammunition had been sent over.

This was not a good situation from the viewpoint of the Spanish, whose vast “New Spain” empire sprawled all over the Caribbean basin. In summer 1629, we learn from this WP page that:

[A] Spanish expedition, under the command of Admiral Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo Osorio, dropped anchor at Nevis Island and captured and destroyed several English ships anchored there. Spanish soldiers were then sent ashore to destroy the few newly built structures and capture the settlers.

When Nevis was seized by the Spanish forces, the “planters” (plantation owners) were deserted by their [possibly enslaved?] servants, who swam out to the Spanish ships to cries of “Liberty, joyfull Liberty,” preferring collaboration with the Spanish than to the subjection of tyrannical English masters.

On 7 September 1629, the Spanish expedition moved on to the sister island Saint Kitts and burned the entire settlement.

Fwiw, this Spanish takeover ended somewhat differently than what would happen at Providence Island in 1641:

By the terms of surrender, the Spanish allotted shipping to carry some 700 of the colonists back to England. But other colonists, variously estimated at 200 to 400, evaded capture by taking to the hills and woods. After an agreement between the Spanish and English crowns, the Spanish departed in 1630, handing the island to England. The fugitives returned to their plantations to form the nucleus of a new phase of colonization.

Scots poke French by building colony in ‘Nova Scotia’

Back in 1625, a Scottish dude called Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinar published a tract in which he expressed an intention to found a new plantation on the Atlantic coast of today’s Canada. Not coincidentally, England (and its subsidiary monarchy, Scotland) were in a state of war with France, which was then the strongest colonial power in that northern part of North America.

On 1 July 1629, seventy Scots, led by James Stewart, 4th Lord Ochiltree, landed at Baleine on Cape Breton Island, probably encouraged by Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinar. Ochiltree arrived at Baleine with Brownists [one branch of Puritans] and built Fort Rosemar. It was a military colony, one that owed its origins to the exigencies of war, and not a permanent agricultural settlement. Ochiltree’s primary objective was to erect a military post to assert King Charles’s claims, and by extension the rights of the Merchant Adventures to Canada, in a crucial theatre that linked the St. Lawrence with Nova Scotia. Ochiltree’s party carried a good supply of guns, ammunition, and heavy artillery. One of its first actions was to attack and capture a sixty-ton Portuguese barque which they found at anchor near the site of their proposed settlement. The ship was dismantled and stripped of its cannon, which were then used as additional artillery to guard Fort Rosemar. Ochiltree proceeded to capture French fishing vessels off the shores of Cape Breton.

During this time, while Nova Scotia briefly became a Scottish colony, there were three battles between the Scots and the French: one at Saint John; another at Cap de Sable (present-day Port La Tour); and the other at Baleine. The series of English and Scottish triumphs left only Cape Sable (the present-day Port La Tour) as the only major French holding in North America, but this was not destined to last.The haste of King Charles to make peace with France on the terms most beneficial to him meant that the new North American gains would be bargained away in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye of 1632.

News bulletins from East Asia

New Ming Emperor faces big problems

The Chongzhen Emperor

I guess I failed to note earlier that in 1627 China had acquired a new emperor, who upon his accession at the age of 16 acquired the name of the Chongzhen Emperor. He succeeded his half-brother the Tianqi Emperor, who had no surviving heir.

English-WP tells us this about his rule:

From the beginning of his rule, the Chongzhen Emperor did his best to stem the decline of the Ming dynasty. His efforts at reform focused on the top ranks of the civil and military establishment. However, years of internal corruption and an empty treasury made it almost impossible to find capable ministers to fill important government posts. The emperor also tended to be suspicious of his subordinates, executing dozens of field commanders, including general Yuan Chonghuan, who had directed the defence of the northern frontier against the Manchu…

Well, the current iteration of the “Manchu” in that area were the Later Jin, whom we last met in 1626 when they repulsed by the Ming army at Ningyuan.

Now, in the winter of 1629, Jin leader Hong Taiji bypassed the Ming empire’s northeastern defenses by breaching the Great Wall of China west of the Shanhai Pass and reached the outskirts of Beijing before being repelled by reinforcements from Shanhai Pass. They secured large amounts of war material by looting the region around Beijing. This was the first time they had broken through the Great Wall into China proper since they rose up against Ming China some decades earlier…

Spanish strengthen their presence on Formosa (Taiwan)

Three years earlier, the Spanish had established a first small fort off the northern tip of Taiwan, at today’s Hoping Island. In 1629, they added a second fort nearby, at Tamsui, on the landmass of Taiwan itself. They named this one Fort San Domingo. The Spanish had two reasons to be active there. One was to further and protect the trade they could carry on, on behalf of the growing Spanish colony in the Philippines, with mainland China. This was somewhat illegal under prevailing Chinese regulations– but the Ming navy had almost no capability to enforce the regs.

The other reason for the Spanish forts was to counter the influence of the Dutch, who had a non-trivial presence down on the southwest coast of Taiwan, from where they would frequently harass and plunder Spanish (and Chinese) shipping.

Japan gets an empress

Empress Meishō

In 1629, a five-year-old girl in Japan became Empress Meishō (明正天皇, Meishō-tennō.) She was the 109th Imperial ruler of Japan.

In the history of Japan, Meishō was the seventh of eight women to become empress regnant. Six had reigned before her (though none since 770 CE.)

Meishō’s father was Emperor Go-Mizunoo and by an amazing coincidence (!) her mother was Tokugawa Masako, daughter of the second Tokugawa shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada. She became “empress” after the shōgun forced her father to abdicate.

This WP page tells us that “it is believed that Meishō’s father actually ruled in her name until she abdicated in favor of her younger half-brother”. That happened in 1643.

Big Dutch shipwreck & later dramas, on Australian reef

Reproduction of the ‘Batavia’

This, from English-WP:

Batavia was a ship of the Dutch East India Company [VOC]. Built in Amsterdam in 1628 as the company’s new flagship, she sailed that year on her maiden voyage for Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies.

Soacs of the ‘Batavia’

The boat was not as long or as heavy as the Vasa, the big “prestige” ship that Sweden’s monarch had launched in 1628. It did not have as many cannons (and they were better placed.) It had a larger area of sails, but they did not save it.

On 4 June 1629, the Batavia was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, a chain of small islands off the coast of Western Australia. As the ship broke apart, 40 of the 341 passengers drowned in their attempts to reach land.

The ship’s commander, Francisco Pelsaert, sailed to Batavia to get help, leaving merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz in charge. Cornelisz sent about 20 men to nearby islands under the pretense of having them search for fresh water, abandoning them there to die. He then orchestrated a mutiny that, over course of several weeks, resulted in the murder of approximately 125 of the remaining survivors, including women, children and infants; a small number of women were kept as sexual slaves, among them the famed beauty Lucretia Jans, who was reserved by Cornelisz for himself.

Meanwhile, the men sent away had unexpectedly found water and, after learning of the atrocities, waged battles with the mutineers under soldier Wiebbe Hayes’ leadership. In October, at the height of their last and deadliest battle, they were interrupted by the return of Pelsaert aboard the Sardam. He subsequently tried and convicted Cornelisz and six of his men, who became the first Europeans to be legally executed in Australia. Two other mutineers, convicted of comparatively minor crimes, were marooned on mainland Australia, thus becoming the first Europeans to permanently inhabit the Australian continent. Of the original 332 people on board Batavia, only 122 made it to the port of Batavia.

(The banner image above is a 1649 engraving of the hanging of the Batavia mutineers.)

Well, it all sounds a little soap-opera-ish.

The financial loss to the VOC was also significant:

Batavia carried a considerable amount of treasure. Each ship in the Batavia class carried an estimated 250,000 guilders in twelve wooden chests, each containing about 8,000 silver coins. This money was intended for the purchase of spices and other commodities in Java. The bulk of these coins were silver rijksdaalder produced by the individual Dutch states, with the remainder being mostly made up of similar coins produced by German cities such as Hamburg.

Batavia‘s treasure also included special items being carried by Pelsaert for sale to the Mogul Court in India where he had intended to travel on to. There were four jewel bags, stated to be worth about 60,000 guilders, and an early-fourth-century Roman cameo, as well as numerous other items either now displayed in Fremantle and Geraldton, Western Australia, or recovered by Pelsaert.

This is worth noting. At that point in the 17th century and for a long time thereafter, Europe was not producing any goods that people in Asia needed or valued, whereas Asia produced numerous goods– manufactures as well as high-value spices– that European markets craved. For more than 200 years, the only way European traders could acquire Asian goods was with silver, gold, or high-value jewels. (Then, they got the Asians hooked on opium, but that’s another story.)