10 January 2022
R. Grant Kleiser is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, New York City, and was a 2021 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
During my time as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library, I was interested in material concerning the diffusion of so-called ‘free ports’ in the Spanish, French, British, and Danish Caribbean from roughly 1750 to 1787. In this short period, all the aforementioned imperial powers enacted legislation to welcome foreign merchants to trade in certain colonial harbours (‘free ports’) under low customs duties. Previously, each European empire generally forbade or limited trade with other imperial powers, e.g. England and its colonies were only supposed to trade with each other. Thus, this free port movement marks a notable moment of colonial reform towards opening commerce with foreigners. In a testament to free ports’ importance, political-economic writers such as Adam Smith and Thomas Paine highlighted free ports in their treatises that advocated for what we might call “free trade” today.
Scholars are beginning to chart the origins of Caribbean free ports and their economic effects in the region. But few historians have considered such free ports’ establishment in conjunction with one another, nor have many works examined the impact free ports made on enslaved people’s lives. This is what my broader project sets out to do. Specifically, at the British Library, I wanted to understand how Spain’s lone free port of Monte Cristi (established in 1756) fit in with Britain’s Free Port Act of 1766 (which opened four ports in Jamaica and two in Dominica).
Monte Cristi lies on the northern coast of the island of Hispaniola, just on the border between Santo Domingo (the modern-day Dominican Republic) and Saint-Domingue (today Haiti). Spanish policy-makers had decided to experiment with liberalizing that port for ten years starting in the 1750s to stimulate the desperate local economy and provide support for the Spanish population there. For decades, settlers from Saint-Domingue had been attempting to push into Santo Domingo, and Madrid believed that sparking trade in that region would supply Spanish inhabitants who could defend against such incursions. Even though hundreds of British and British American merchants subsequently flocked to this port, Monte Cristi hardly figured into British politicians’ discussions to establish their own Caribbean free ports in 1766. Why did these policymakers in Westminster and Whitehall ignore Monte Cristi as a free port model when it was so popular with British merchants?
I found a critical folder to answer this question in the British Library, and it has all to do with the chaos of wartime. From 1756 to 1763 the British were engaged in a global military conflict with France, what we now call the Seven Years War. As well as head-on battles and skirmishes at sea, an important maritime wartime strategy for Britain was the naval blockade, when Royal Navy ships would try to prevent merchant ships from accessing French and French colonial ports and so starve these territories of vital supplies. To bolster the blockade effort, in 1756 the British Parliament enacted the so-called Rule of 1756. This Act extended the Navy’s efforts beyond interrupting France’s trade with its own colonies, by seeking to disrupt any neutral European power from trading with the French. British subjects were prohibited from trading with neutral powers who were also trading with France (such as Denmark and, before 1762, Spain), and in practice, the Rule often was used to legitimize the seizure of ships from any nation conducting commerce with the enemy French.
Since Monte Cristi was open to merchants of all flags and was located only a few miles from French Saint-Domingue, British naval vessels identified this port as a potential nest of illegal wartime commerce. Add MS 36213 contains the testimony from multiple appeal hearings concerning British Navy vessels that had seized merchant ships that had conducted commerce in Monte Cristi. The testimony from the appeal hearings demonstrates how many ships in and around Monte Cristi the British Navy captured, including ships from Ireland, British North America, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The captains of these ships swore that they were only trading with the neutral Spanish, and not with the enemy French. However, the British courts clearly suspected fraud on the part of the traders and also on Spanish officers in Monte Cristi providing false certificates concerning the provenance of the ships’ cargoes. These reports, taken together with other documents and Britain’s general stigma at this time against Spain as a decadent, corrupt, and lazy power, show that British policymakers in 1766 would not view Monte Cristi as a well-regulated free port worthy of emulation.
I also came into the British Library hoping to find records that would detail the experiences that enslaved people had in such Caribbean free ports. While, as several historians have noted, free ports were sites of further sale and displacement of enslaved people of African descent, I argue that free ports also provided heightened opportunities for such enslaved people to claim freedom. Specifically, I note that the increased presence of Spanish vessels in British free ports offered enslaved people an easier means of escape. Spain promulgated several Reales Cédulas or royal decrees that promised freedom to any enslaved person escaping from Protestant empires who were willing to convert to Catholicism in Spanish realms. In British free ports then, Spanish merchants brought news of these decrees to eager people held in bondage as well as potential berths to stowaways. The above source, “Memorial of the West India Planters complaining that the Spaniards invite the Slaves to desert their Masters,” combined with other documents indicate that British Grenada experienced a heightened “problem” of freedom-seekers fleeing to nearby Spanish Trinidad after St. George’s, Grenada became a free port in 1787. Thus merchants and white inhabitants were not the only ones to benefit significantly from the free-port reform movement.
These documents in the British Library will serve as fundamental sources in my examination of the development of mid-to-late eighteenth-century Caribbean free ports and their impact on the Atlantic world. Not only can such research help us to understand the roots of many of our modern commercial and political-economic practices and ideas, but it can also shed light on historical actors’ experiences that have too often been silenced by contemporary writers, archival prioritization, and later scholars.
06 February 2021
In this blog post, Lucy (Oceania Curator) and Scott (Conservation Support Assistant) use a selection of collection items from Aoteaora New Zealand to discuss Waitangi Day, the country’s national day commemorated annually on 6th February.
Waitangi Day marks the anniversary of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) by representatives of the British Crown and Rangatira (Māori chiefs) at Waitangi on 6th February 1840. The treaty, drafted by the governor, William Hobson, was translated from English into te reo Māori (the Māori language) by the Christian missionary, Rev. Henry Williams with help from his son, Edward. This version was used to outline the agreement to Rangatira and gather signatures around the country, but it was not an exact translation of the English document. The result was two treaties with significantly different interpretations; the English version asserting the sovereignty of the Crown, and the reo Māori version retaining the full authority of the chiefs, an authority previously affirmed in the Declaration of Independence document of 1835.
Whilst the treaty documents officially confirmed European settlement in Aoteaora New Zealand, the exact meaning and intentions of the treaty text has since been fiercely debated. In 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal, set up to mediate the differences between the two texts, found that the Rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown, but did agree to share power through different roles. The tribunal ruled that the Crown has the right to govern (kāwanatanga), subject to the protection of Māori interests (rangatiratanga). This ruling is not universally accepted in Aotearoa New Zealand, and public commemorations on Waitangi Day are often when this dispute is brought firmly into the spotlight.
Lucy: The dual language book pictured above is an example of the resources now used in schools to teach children about the events that led to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and what has happened since. What are your memories of Waitangi Day when you were growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand?
Scott: It was quite difficult to be Māori growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly in the South Island. The media tend to portray the day as ‘rogue’ elements of Māori ruining a lovely sunny day by harassing the terrified politicians running the gauntlet to Te Tii Marae at Waitangi [the sacred Māori meeting ground at Waitangi - politicians are usually invited here on Waitangi Day]. Growing up, the first flag I ever knew was the United Tribes of New Zealand flag and, as a (reputed) descendant of Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi Te Waharoa (the ‘Kingmaker’), the affirmation of the Kīngitanga [Māori King] movement. But when I moved to a rural area of the South Island, I found that my Pākehā friends and classmates inherited and perpetuated their parents' fear and anger that Māori were going to ‘claim their land back’.
Combined with a lack of teaching in school around the Treaty and the New Zealand Wars, in many areas that has led to a continuation of the same attitudes towards Māori. I learned swiftly that we were, and often still are, seen as second-class citizens in our own land. But while restitution is a part of the Waitangi Tribunal process, for me it is about establishing Māori as equal partners to the Crown; to regain the equality with Pākehā which our ancestors never gave away. This graphic novel superbly illustrates what I feel is the best part of Aotearoa New Zealand; the combination of both Māori and Pākehā working together in both languages, educating us all on the importance, but also effects, of our founding document. As the book says on page 15, “If we are honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today”.
Lucy: The Treaty of Waitangi is often used as a case study, as in the title above, to explore the role of cultural memory and worldviews in translation studies. The Library looks after this 1845 printed handbill of te Tiriti o Waitangi in te reo Māori and you can see the disputed terms, kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga there in articles 1 and 2 (paragraphs 4 and 5). These are the most significant examples of where the translation from English to te reo Māori led to different interpretations of the treaty. What meaning does this item hold for you?
Scott: It’s a good reminder of what many New Zealanders, even today, still struggle to understand; that while it is one document, there are two versions of Te Tiriti [The Treaty]. This is an issue which has been at the heart of race relations and the struggle to preserve not only our heritage, our whenua [land] but also ourselves as a people from Pākehā [non-Māori] assimilation. Here in the handbill, the te reo version of the treaty which most Rangatira, or chiefs, signed on February 6th 1840, allowed the British government over the land by having a governor who could rein in the settlers which had been troublesome to Māori. My ancestors also wanted the protection of the British from possible French incursion, but most importantly, while keeping their own sovereignty; their Mana [authority, prestige and spiritual power] and land.
At the urging of missionaries, Māori signed the te reo version in good faith, assured that we could keep our lands, freedom and way of life. But the British utilised the mostly unsigned English version, which ceded sovereignty to the Queen and led to the horrific New Zealand Wars, mass land confiscation as punishment for ‘rebellion’, and the suppression of Māori way of life and tikanga [customs]. Whether the change in language was deliberate or not is debatable. However, I grew up in a household which regarded Te Tiriti as one of the great con-jobs of history, a Trojan horse of trauma and devastation disguised as friendship.
Lucy: The Library also holds a contemporary artists’ book, pictured above, which considers the bicultural aspect of the Treaty of Waitangi by combining design elements, images from Treaty documents, the Treaty House plans, and Māori and British illustrations from historical documentation in such a way that they become entangled and the distinctions blurred. This blending of cultures is similarly explored in books such as Always Speaking, pictured above, which interrogates the role of the Treaty in everyday life and public policies including broadcasting, housing, maternity care, youth services and the electoral system. How do you embody the Treaty in your everyday life?
Scott: On the basis of the Treaty, Aotearoa New Zealand is a bicultural society, though this sits uncomfortably with many Pākehā. Much in the way the artists’ book blends both Totara [a type of Aotearoa New Zealand wood] and Oak together, the two strongest materials from our cultures, the combination of the two peoples, positively, respectfully and equally is the way forward for us as a nation. For years, the government has acknowledged failure in providing the key concepts of protection, participation and partnership to Māori, but I do believe we are taking slow steps forward. As Tangata whenua, as Māori, I choose to embody the treaty by embracing and celebrating my Māori culture as part of my mixed heritage, to choose to live in te ao Māori [the Māori world]. This was a fairly recent decision after reflecting on the impact 2020 Black Lives Matter movement on myself, as well as so many others.
So now, here in the home of Cook and Banks, and the launching point of some 10,000 soldiers that marched under guns through the Waikato in the New Zealand Wars, I undertake to embody the Treaty by being openly and proudly Māori; utilising my basic understanding of te reo in my emails and in my work. And committing to that partnership with the Crown as equals by exploring how aspects of my culture, such as our view on Kaitiakitanga [holistic guardianship], can be applied here within the British Library for all our future generations.
Lucy: Your role at the Library involves training users in the handling and care of collection items. How would the principles of Kaitiakitanga apply to the stewardship of the Treaty of Waitangi handbill, for example, in the Library’s collection?
Scott: For an item such as the 1845 handbill, active and inclusive custodianship would mean that this material would be seen as a taonga, or treasure, to be kept safe. Effective and inclusive custodianship of such a key item in the joining of both Māori and Pākehā cultures is important. It has immense significance for those who may wish to understand not only the differences in language and meaning that led to the horrors that we as Māori had to endure, but also the ‘spirit’ of the treaty, the joining of two cultures, which is especially significant for someone like myself, a blend of both Māori and Pākehā bloodlines.
Custodianship, or kaitiakitanga, fits within the ideals that we already have here at the British Library. We work to ensure such culturally significant material from our past, is preserved in the present for our future generations. Even though the handbill itself hasn’t come forth from my people, or our whenua [land], the fact that it is in te reo, our language, which is regarded as sacred, means it must be handled with active respect for its status, as well as its own mauri [life-force].
Scott, Conservation Support Assistant and Lucy, Oceania Curator
References and further reading:
Sue Abel, Shaping the news : Waitangi Day on television (Auckland 1997) YA.1999.a.9098
Rachael Bell et al., The Treaty on the ground : where we are headed, and why it matters (Auckland 2017) YD.2017.a.2655
Siobhan Brownlie, Mapping memory in translation (London 2016) ELD.DS.299497
William Colenso, The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand ... 1840 ... With copies of the treaty in English and Maori, etc (Wellington 1890) 9004.l.33.(8.)
Robert Consedine & Joanna Consedine, Healing our history : the challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi (Auckland 2012) YD.2012.a.4861
William Hobson, Handbill of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 (Paihia 1845) 74/B.I.1/3.(7.)
I. H. Kawharu, Waitangi : Māori and Pākehā perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi (Auckland 1989) YC.1990.b.2501
Patrick A. McAllister, National days and the politics of indigenous and local identities in Australia and New Zealand (Durham, N.C. 2012) m13/.12015
Toby Morris, The Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Wellington 2019) YD.2019.b.1189
Dominic O'Sullivan, Beyond biculturalism : the politics of an indigenous minority (Wellington 2007) YD.2007.a.8667
Claudia Orange, An illustrated history of the Treaty of Waitangi (Wellington 2004) YD.2010.b.171
Claudia Orange Te Tiriti o Watangi = The Treaty of Waitangi, 1840 (Wellington 2017) YD.2017.b.550
Vanya Steiner, The Tiriti Book (Auckland 2002) Awaiting shelfmark
Veronica M.H. Tawahi and Katarina Gray-Sharp, 'Always speaking' : the Treaty of Waitangi and public policy (Wellington 2011) YD. 2012.a.5143
Nicola Wheen and Janine Hayward, Treaty of Waitangi settlements (Wellington 2012) Y.2013.a.86
23 July 2020
This post by Vanessa Mongey is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.
How far should diplomatic protection extend? Surely, consul James Buchanan argued, there must be limits to American “humanity.” In Belize, a British settlement in Central America, Buchanan was trying to understand his responsibilities towards U.S. citizens. The hurricane season of 1849 had caused a few ships to wreck near the coast and the officers, crew, and passengers had sought refuge in the port of Belize. They turned to Buchanan for help. The consul paid for a few destitute sailors to return home, but the situation soon got out of control. Officers demanded he pay for their room and board. Sailors asked storekeepers to send their bills to him.
When the consul refused to reimburse all these expenses, the crew complained to the local British police and magistrates. They turned to the Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen (1796) that provided certificates for the protection of sailors. They argued that the U.S. government owed them not only diplomatic but also financial protection. Buchanan was as annoyed as he was confused. He asked the State Department what to do with U.S. citizens stranded abroad. He confessed that he had “no legal knowledge of what the consul’s duties are in this matter.”
The correspondences of U.S. consular representatives in the British Library abound with this kind of complaints and queries. Many politicians, jurists, and citizens in the United States embraced the view that individuals had a natural right to leave their country. Increasing numbers of U.S. Americans traveled abroad during the nineteenth century. Some served in Latin American independent armies and navies. Many settled in neighbouring foreign territories like Florida, Texas, and California, eventually leading the United States to invade and annex these territories. Freedom of movement often bolstered U.S continental and commercial ambitions.
Although the nineteenth century saw relatively unregulated movement, the right to travel was racialized. Freedom of movement was often a privilege of European and Euro-descendants as shown by tensions surrounding Chinese immigration to California and issues around enslaved and free travelers of African descent moving across state and national lines.
Even for free white U.S. Americans, the right to travel freely created new challenges: what happened when citizens crossed international borders and got into trouble abroad? Instrumental in defining and implementing diplomatic protection were consular networks. Lacking a significant overseas presence in the first half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. government possessed neither the resources nor the capabilities to monitor the activities of their citizens abroad. With no formal training, consuls were the ones on the ground who assisted Americans when they ended up in jail, aided them in navigating estate and inheritance issues, or represented their legal interests. They often had to decide whether an individual was really a U.S. citizen, and therefore entitled to consular protection, at a time when no definition of national citizenship existed.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States could not set up permanent consular posts in India. The British kept tight control over the region, thwarting U.S. consuls in Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay (Mumbai). The India Office Records and Private Papers in the British Library show that tensions frequently erupted between British and U.S. representatives. British authorities complained about distressed sailors who ended up in their care. One U.S. consul in Singapore simply refused to help naturalized American citizens, arguing that those who were born British subjects fell under the Common Law doctrine of perpetual allegiance. In brief, once British, always British—especially if these individuals were potential drains on consular finances.
In addition to uncertainty and confusion expressed by U.S. consuls, these correspondences also reveal how U.S. citizens understood their rights and responsibilities. When they had the resources or the connections, they sent letters to journal editors in the United States, hoping to put pressure on consuls.
This early phase of diplomatic experimentation came to an end in the middle of the nineteenth century. As the U.S. consular service expanded outside of Europe and the Americas and into China, Japan, and Siam, the government formalised the diplomatic and consular system in 1856. A reform legislation introduced salaries for a greater number of consular officials, hoping to reduce corruption and professionalise the service. The same year, the State Department received sole issuing power over passports and limited their use to U.S. citizens, thus reducing the autonomy of consuls. The Civil War (1861-1865) prompted a sharp growth of the consular service. At the end of the war, the fourteenth amendment defined national citizenship to include all persons born or naturalized in the United States. Monitoring international travel served as a testing ground for restrictions of citizenship rights along class, gender, and racial lines.
For US Federal Government Publications, the finding aid Diplomatic Records: A select catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (shelf mark OPL 973.0076) is available in the Social Sciences reading room. It has been annotated to indicate which microfilms are in the British Library and gives their shelfmarks. I made particular use of ‘The correspondences of U.S. ministers at overseas posts’ (shelfmark SPR Mic.B.21) and ‘U.S. consuls at overseas ports’ (shelfmark SPR Mic.B.22). The India Office Records and Private Papers: the general shelfmark is IOR/Z/E/ and this is the collection guide.
Fahrmeir, Andreas O. & Patrick Weil (eds.), Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002. British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply m03/17964; General Reference Collection YC.2003.a.13981; General Reference Collection DRT ELD.DS.515229.
Glanville, Luke. “The Responsibility to Protect Beyond Borders.” Human Rights Law Review. 12: 1 (2012): 1–32. British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 4336.440550; General Reference Collection ZC.9.b.7074.
Green, Nancy L. “The Politics of Exit: Reversing the Immigration Paradigm.” The Journal of Modern History. 77: 2 (2005): 263-289. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 5020.680000.
Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018. British Library shelfmark: YC.2019.a.4852.
Kennedy, Charles Stuart. The American Consul: A History of the United States Consular Service 1776–1924. New York: Greenwood, 1990. British Library shelfmark: YC.1992.b.1026. (Rev. ed. published by New Academia Publishing, 2015).
Perl-Rosenthal, Nathan. Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. British Library shelfmark: YC.2017.a.660.
Phelps, Nicole. Researching the U.S. Consular Service https://blog.uvm.edu/nphelps/