Untold lives blog

101 posts categorized "Commerce"

01 July 2021

Theft from an East India Company London warehouse

On 30 November 1814, Truman Wood was convicted at the Old Bailey for stealing from the East India Company 24 lb of paper, value 6s, and 21 lb of tea, value £3.  He was sentenced to be transported for seven years but remained in England on prison hulks.

Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour by Ambrose-Louis Garneray circa 1812-1814 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 


Truman Wood had worked for the East India Company as a labourer for sixteen years.  His theft of Company goods from the Haydon Square tea warehouse was discovered when an officer searched an old woman in the Commercial Road on 27 October 1814.  Hidden underneath her petticoats were a bag containing a small amount of tea and some India paper.  After questioning her, the officer went with two colleagues to Wood’s home at 3 Trafalgar Square, Stepney.  There they found several jars, caddies and parcels containing tea. together with a quantity of India paper.  They also discovered £100 in notes, four guineas in gold, and some bags of silver.

Wood asked the officers if they could just take the money, paper and tea, and say nothing more about it.  It would be the ruin of him if the matter came to the Company’s ears.  He was taken before a magistrate and claimed that the paper was a perquisite of his job and that he had bought the tea from a man in the Commercial Road.  The Old Bailey jury found Wood guilty of theft.

Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816 - British Library IOR/E/1/252 p.21 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 16 August 1816, Wood wrote to the directors of the East India Company from the Portland hulk moored at Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth, expressing his ‘sincere and unfeigned sorrow’ for his crime and begging their forgiveness.  He had always tried to conduct himself with the ‘greatest recititude’ in his warehouse duties and in his service with the Royal East India Volunteers.  Before his lamentable lapse, Wood had never been suspected of an illicit transaction.  He had suffered the 'greatest privations and heartfelt afflictions' during his imprisonment.  His wife Jane and two children were reduced to ‘most poignant distress’, which was aggravated by Jane having ‘a Complaint in her breast’ which prevented her from looking after the family.  Wood asked the directors to recommend him for a free pardon.

Wood IOR E 1 251Letter from East India Company to Viscount Sidmouth 17 September 1816 British Library IOR/E/1/251 p.509 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company forwarded the petition to the Home Secretary, Viscount Sidmouth, with a covering letter expressing the hope that Wood might be pardoned.  The directors asked for Wood’s past good character to be taken into consideration, and suggested that the imprisonment he had suffered might be seen as a sufficient warning to others.  They believed that a continuation of his punishment would be the total ruin of his family who had borne the calamity ‘with becoming resignation and propriety’.

The Company’s intervention was not immediately successful. In October 1816, Wood was transferred to the Bellerophon hulk at Woolwich.  However on 10 July 1818 he was granted a free pardon by Sidmouth and released ten days later.

Sadly it appears that Jane did not recover her health.  The burial records of St Dunstan Stepney show a Jane Wood dying of cancer in February 1819.

Wood married widow Ann Blendall in May 1822 in Bethnal Green.  He was buried at Wycliffe Congregational Church in Mile End Old Town in July 1837.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Petition of Truman Wood - British Library, IOR/E/1/252 pp.21-23, IOR/E/1/251 p.509
Old Bailey Online - Trial of Truman Wood 
Home Office records of Newgate Prison and the hulks – The National Archives via Findmypast
Parish registers for East London via Ancestry and Findmypast

 

12 February 2021

Chinese New Year in Canton 1731

James Naish was Chief of the English East India Company Council in Canton (Guangzhou), China.  He kept a diary of ‘Observations and Transactions’ which includes a description of Chinese New Year celebrations in January and February 1730/31.

View of  Canton (Guangzhou) circa 1760-1770View of  Canton (Guangzhou) c.1760-1770 Maps K.Top.116.22.2 tab. BL flickr

Naish’s diary reads –

27th January This being the first day of the new Moon & of the new Year, great ceremony is observed by the Mandarins & all other persons in their visits and congratulations thereupon.

30th January The Foyen or Vice Roy of the Province haveing signified his approbation of all sorts of diversions, costly Pageants are daily carried about the streets, in which the State & Power of Mandarins in high stations are represented, Country & Low life well describ’d, & the seasons curiously discover’d.  At night the streets are finely illuminated, & a vast variety of fire works continually seen in the Air from all parts of the City.

17th February The Foyen hath Affixed a chop in several places which putts an end to the long continued festival, & likewise directs all persons to return to their professions & employments, the Mandarins of Justice may punish such Offenders as have been guilty of any crimes since new years day, from which time to this no sort of punishment could have been inflicted upon any criminal whatever.

Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary
Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary IOR/G/12/32 p.1 27 January-17 February 1730/31 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Naish was a very experienced China trade merchant.  He was supercargo on East India Company voyages to Canton in 1716, 1722, 1725 and 1730, and had also worked for the Ostend Company.  In 1730-1731 he spent a whole year at Canton instead of returning to England between trading seasons, the only English East India Company supercargo ever to do this.   Naish wrote reports on the tea industry during his extended stay.

When China merchant George Arbuthnot arrived back in England in the summer of 1731, he accused Naish of fraud.  Arbuthnot claimed that Naish had understated the amount of money received for goods sold in China and inflated the cost of commodities purchased there.  Naish was also said to have imported a large quantity of gold bullion from China without paying duty. The East India Company decided that Naish had broken his covenant and considered sending a ship to seize his unlicensed goods and bring him to England under arrest.  Naish’s wife Hester was desperate to prevent this.  She had been given a letter of attorney by her husband in 1729 authorising her to conduct his business, so she agreed to deposit £20,000 with the Company to allow Naish to return as a free man.

The Company began proceedings in the Court of Exchequer.  Naish protested his innocence and lodged counter-claims against the Company in the courts.

The legal process dragged on for years.  When Naish made his will in 1736, he left everything to Hester because the size of his estate was uncertain, dependent upon the outcome of several pending law suits.  He said the family had long experience of Hester’s skilful management of his affairs whilst he was abroad and he trusted her to divide the estate as he would wish.  Although Naish did not die until January 1757, this will was the one submitted for probate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/12/32 Observations and Transactions by James Naish at Canton in China (1926, 1929)
The Political State of Great Britain, Volume 44 July-September 1732
The Athenaeum January-June 1892,p.793
Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Courts of King's Bench ..., Volume 2 Naish v East India Company

04 February 2021

East India Company instructions for keeping records

We’re returning to the ship New Year’s Gift to share some more of the instructions it carried.  This time we’re looking at rules for record-keeping in Asia in the earliest days of the East India Company and the use of codes in correspondence.

The Company merchants in the fleet of four ships which sailed from England in March 1613/14 were told before they sailed that they were expected to record their work with care and ‘exquisiteness’. They were provided with –
• Four pairs of ‘faire bookes,’ i.e. journals and ledgers
• Four large ‘industriall’ or day books
• Books for expenses
• Books for copies of letters
• Large ruled sheets of paper for making copies of the journals
• Eight reams of paper, large and small
• Ink
• Penknives
• Quills
• Hard wax

More books had been sent to the Company’s trading post in Bantam in the ship Concord.

East India Company instructions for record-keeping 1614Instructions to East India Company factors 1614 from Thomas Elkington’s notebook IOR/G/40/25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Having provided ample supplies of stationery, the Company expected accounts to be kept ‘perfectly’ in all places.  The chief factor at Surat, or someone else appointed to the task, was to keep a fair pair of books for the Company general account.  All factors, whether working at settled factories or employed buying and selling commodities in fairs or markets, were to give their accounts from time to time to the chief factor at Surat so they could be brought into the general books there.  But all factors were also to send to London a copy of their journal and the balance of their ledger whenever Company ships sailed for England.  The chief factor was to send by every shipping a verbatim copy of his journal written on the large ruled paper being supplied.  Since all copies sent would be the same size, they could in future be bound together in one volume in London.  The Company also expected to receive the balance of the chief’s ledger from time to time, and an exact copy of his ledger once a year.

Changes in personnel at Surat must not lead to alterations in the methods of record-keeping.  No factor was to take away Company books as had happened in the past.  Completed books were to be sealed up and sent to London, with copies made to retain in the factory if required.  Local coinage and weights should be used in the accounts, with an explanation provided for London.

Similar instructions were given for the factory at Bantam, with a central record taking in information sent by merchants working away from base.  The Company advised all factors to write down immediately everything that happened – ‘our memory at the best hand is very slippery’.  Moreover, sickness and death could strike at any time.

If factors wrote home about an important matter using a dangerous or doubtful conveyance and passage, the Company asked them to write the letters, or at least ‘poynts of moment’, in ‘caracters’ i.e. a code or cipher.  Then, if the letters were intercepted, trade secrets would not be disclosed and cause damage to the Company.  A copy of the cipher was included with the instructions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/40/25 Instructions to East India Company factors from Thomas Elkington’s notebook
IOR/B/5 Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 1613-1615

19 January 2021

Richard Walpole and the East India Company at sea

Writer Horace Walpole had a cousin Richard who served as an East India Company maritime officer from 1744-1757.  Richard Walpole had at least two encounters with hostile French shipping whilst serving as a Company officer, exemplifying the dangers faced by merchant ships even when as heavily armed as East Indiamen.

During Walpole’s first voyage as 6th mate and purser in the Augusta, his ship captured the French vessel Baronette on 21 October 1747.

Whilst commanding the Houghton in March 1757, Walpole was involved in an action near the Cape of Good Hope.  His journal of the voyage records how on the afternoon of 9 March the East Indiamen Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin were approached by two unidentified ships.  Walpole immediately began to clear his ship in readiness for battle.  The three East Indiamen steered away but were followed.  Walpole had everyone on board prepared for action all night.

At daybreak the Suffolk raised its flags and made the signal for line of battle.  Here is a splendid drawing of that line of battle from the journal of the Suffolk.

Drawing showing the three East India ships in the line of battleLine of battle for the three East Indiamen from the journal of the Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At 8 am the unknown ships hoisted French colours.   The larger of the two shot at the English ships and the Suffolk returned fire.   After a short exchange, the ‘warm engagement’ ceased as the ships found themselves positioned outside the bearings of each other’s guns.  The French made to sail westward but were pursued by the East Indiamen.  They then tacked and came in close to the English ships and ‘a very smart fire’ was maintained by both sides.  At noon the French sailed away, probably bound for Mauritius.  Walpole recorded: ‘Every Body behaved during the whole Engagement with great Courage & Resolution; several of the Shot from the large Ship reached us, & four of them have lodged…(thank God) no Body hurt’.

Letter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in the Newcastle Courant newspaperLetter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757 British Newspaper Archive

The three ships reached the UK without further incident.  Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reported that the officers and sailors ‘behaved with all the Bravery and Intrepidity peculiar to our English seamen’.  He and his fellow captains asked the Company to honour a promise to reward mariners for their response to enemy attack.

Some of the crew of the Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin did not reach their homes at the end of this eventful voyage.  They were pressed by the Royal Navy and found themselves on board HMS Hussar.

The French did defeat Richard Walpole five years later.  The ship Walpole for which he was Principal Managing Owner was captured off Ceylon by two French men of war and a frigate on 20 September 1762 on its outward journey to Bengal, laden mainly with cloth.  Captain Parson Fenner and some of the crew ended up at the Cape of Good Hope, others at Mauritius.  The East India Company decided that the capture was not through any misconduct of Fenner or his officers, but entirely owing to the superior force of the enemy which they were ‘utterly unable to resist’.  Richard Walpole was given permission by the Company to build a new ship for Fenner on the bottom of the Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Court Minutes IOR/B/74 and IOR/B/79
Ship journals: Houghton IOR/L/MAR/B/438H; Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D
British Newspaper Archive (also accessible through Findmypast) e.g. Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757

 

31 December 2020

New Year’s Gift

The New Year’s Gift we are offering you is not wrapped in paper and ribbon.  It is an East India Company ship which sailed from England in March 1613/14 for Surat and Bantam in company with the Hector, Hope and Solomon.  However the fleet was carrying many gifts chosen for rulers in Asia to encourage the granting of trading privileges.

n engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk An engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk c.1616-21. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust 

The presents selected for the Mughal Emperor included a scarlet cloak embroidered with silver, a velvet-covered chest of bottles with ‘hot waters’ (spirits), and several pictures.  The paintings were of King James; his wife Queen Anne; Tamerlane; the Emperor himself; East India Company Governor Sir Thomas Smythe; and three English ladies.

The East India Company was worried about the effect the long voyage would have on the paintings.  Would the colours fade or other damage occur?  They provided detailed instructions for the preservation and repair of the artworks.  Painter-Stainer Edward Gall, trumpeter on New Year’s Gift, was entrusted with carrying out remedial work and directing the making of frames.

Extract from 1613 document giving instructions for remedial work on paintings aboard New Year's Gift Instructions for remedial work on paintings IOR/G/40/25  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The ships were also taking looking glasses to Asia.  The Company feared that these might decay and had sent Robert Young to be trained in foiling.  Young was to teach this skill to four or five of his fellow factors so that they could make repairs if he died.

Robert Young died in November 1614 in India.  Edward Gall also perished and his will leaving everything to his wife Eleanor was proved in the City of London.  The National Archives has a number of wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for other men who died during the voyage.

Many who died in the New Year’s Gift bequeathed items they had acquired in Asia: ‘China girdles’, Chinese porcelain, silk textiles, spices – pepper, mace, nutmeg.  Quarter gunner William Crandall was bringing home 159 lb of pepper when he died.  Sailor Anthony Owen had a barrel contaning 100 lb of mace.

Personal belongings such as clothing and bedding were often left to named crew members.  Otherwise they were sold before the mast and the proceeds added to the estate.  Caulker Christopher Turpin left his tools to his mate Richard Dickson, together with a gown and a remnant of striped taffeta.  This cloth was perhaps left over from the suit of striped taffeta which Turpin left to Richard Brabson – sounds very natty!  Turpin also owned three dimity waistcoats and a laced suit.

Sometimes bequests were made to sailors as thanks for care during sickness.  Close friendships between shipmates are revealed, some pre-dating this voyage.  William Crandall asked his ‘good friend’ Captain Martin Pring to invest a sum of £20 to provide a nest egg for Crandall’s daughter Elizabeth when she came of age.  Master’s mate Lawrence Spooner asked for 30 pieces of satin to be sold and the proceeds invested for the benefit of Pring’s five children.  Spooner left Pring his sword, Euclid’s Elements, clothing and linen.  Pring’s wife Joan received porcelain and a waistcoat, and her mother 20 shillings for a ring.

Poignantly, Lawrence Spooner allocated money to restore the graves of his wife and daughter in Tamworth.  He wanted a likeness of his wife over her monument, with a bowl or spoon in her hand, and the Latin inscription ‘Quisquis eris qui transieris, perlege, plora’ – ‘Whoever you are who pass by, read, weep’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/G/40/25 East India Company instructions to the fleet from Thomas Elkington’s notebook.
Will of Edward Gall MS 9172/29 London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.
The National Archives PROB 11 - wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

 

17 November 2020

William Adams in Japan– a new digital resource

William Adams, 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  Events planned in Japan and the UK to mark the 400th anniversary of his death have unfortunately had to be postponed because of the pandemic.  However the British Library has been able to contribute to the celebration of a remarkable life.  Letters written by Adams during his years in Japan are preserved in the East India Company archive, and we are delighted to announce that digital copies of these are now available to access freely in our Digitised Manuscripts resource.

Firando (Hirado) from the sea 1669 with a Dutch shipFirando (Hirado) viewed from the sea-  Arnoldus Montanus, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598.  He arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600 and built a new life for himself under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  William Adams worked for both the Dutch and English East India Companies after they arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively.

Firando (Hirado) Castle 1669The castle at Firando (Hirado)  - Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

The earliest letter written by William Adams in the English East India Company records is dated 23 October 1611 in Hirado.  He had heard that there were Englishmen at Bantam (Banten) in Java and so the letter is addressed to unknown friends and countrymen.  Adams gave an account of his life, explaining how he came to be in Japan, what had happened to him since his arrival, his relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the honours he had received.  He had been refused permission to leave Japan and asked for word to be sent to his family that he was still alive.  Adams gave information about trading contacts with the Dutch.

This letter was received in Bantam by East India Company merchant Augustine Spalding.  He sent a reply via the Dutch, together with a bible and three other books.

On 12 January 1613 Adams answered.  He had received a letter from Thomas Smythe, Governor of the East India Company, promising that a ship would be sent to Japan to establish a factory (trading post).  Adams passed on to Spalding valuable commercial intelligence and advice about the best way of establishing trade with Japan.

Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613IOR/E/3/1 ff. 157-58  Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams wrote from Hirado on 1 December 1613 to the East India Company in London, announcing the arrival of John Saris in their ship Clove.  He detailed Saris’s reception at court and described how Saris was unhappy when he was not permitted by Japanese custom to hand a letter from King James directly to the emperor but only via his secretary.  Saris asked Adams if he would serve the English East India Company and, after considerable negotiation, a salary of £100 per annum was agreed.

On the same day, Adams wrote to Thomas Best at Bantam updating him with the latest news.  He said that he had intended to go home in the Clove but changed his mind because of discourtesies shown to him by Saris.

Other letters are addressed to English merchants in Japan and to the East India Company in London, with news of people, trade, and Japanese politics.  The final one in the archive was sent in November 1617 from Adams at Sakai to Company merchant Richard Wickham at Hirado.  400 years after his death, the voice of William Adams can still be heard through his written legacy.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/1 ff 116-29 William Adams at Hirado to his ‘unknown friends and countrymen’ at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 157-58 William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 203-04 Contract between William Adams and the East India Company, Hirado
IOR/E/3/1 ff 209-11 William Adams at Hirado to the East India Company in London
IOR/E/3/1 ff 212-13 William Adams at Hirado to Thomas Best at Bantam
IOR/E/3/2 f 43 William Adams at Hirado to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/3 f 78 William Adams at Shizuoka to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/4 f 143-44 William Adams at Hirado to Sir Thomas Smythe in London
IOR/E/3/5 f 189 William Adams at Sakai to Richard Wickham at Hirado

Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London: British Library, 1991)

William Adams - from Gillingham to Japan

 

05 November 2020

Making gunpowder after the English method

A letter dated 2 February 1725 from the East India Company directors in London to their Council in Bengal contained sections on the manufacture and use of gunpowder.  The Company was concerned about the quality of saltpetre being sent from Bengal and sent instructions on how to improve it.  They were also keen to stop gunpowder being wasted.

Saltpetre was a key ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder.  The Company directors complained that the quality of saltpetre arriving in England had been declining for some years.  Very little had been bought at the London sale in March 1724, so they had decided to analyse samples from the 600 bags of saltpetre which had arrived from Bengal on the Lethieullier, Bridgewater, and Sarum.  The man who refracted the saltpetre reported that, although it looked white and good, there was a quantity of salt left in it.  The directors concluded that the Bengal Council must have employed unskilled people to refine the saltpetre, or their workers hadn’t been careful to separate the salt which was essential if good gunpowder was to be made.

Directions for refining saltpetre ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ IOR E/3/102 f.240v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

They sent ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ based on advice from experts.  The workers in Bengal were to use these in a trial on a small amount of saltpetre to see how they got on.
• Dissolve the saltpetre in fresh boiling water.
• As the scum rises, take it off and put it to one side.
• When no more scum rises, draw off the liquor into vessels and let it settle.  The remaining filth or earth which makes the petre look so dirty will sink.
• When the liquor is perfectly clear, draw it off and boil with a gentle fire until a thin film can be seen on the surface.
• Pour into large shallow coolers, no more than eight inches deep.  The saltpetre will shoot into crystals.
• Decant any surplus liquor.  Either start again with fresh saltpetre added to it or boil it down by itself for a second shooting.

 

View of a Fort St George Madras from the sea, with a church to the left, hill peaks behind and ships in the foreground, including one firing guns.View of Fort St George, Madras, 1782, with a ship firing guns © The Trustees of the British Museum


The letter also reported complaints from the owners of East India ships about the great expense of gunpowder lavished on salutes.  The directors ruled:
• No more than nine guns were to be fired when Company ships arrived at a port in India and had a fort to salute.  The forts were to return salutes with only that number.
• Nine guns when captains first came onshore from Europe or were leaving for Europe. Just seven guns for saluting captains at any other time.
• No more than five guns to answer country ships (except foreigners).
• No more than nine guns when the Governor, members of Council, or other Company personnel came on board or left the ship.
• Be as frugal as possible when using gunpowder at festivals, funerals and other occasions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/102 ff.231-240 Letter from East India Company directors in London to Bengal, 2 February 1725

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

13 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.4 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony continued

A massacre by Plymouth Colony militia

This is a journal chronicling events that occurred between 1622 and 1623 in and around the Plymouth Colony, obviously from a colonialist perspective.  One event in particular stands out.

Title page of Edward Winslow's Good Newes from New EnglandEdward Winslow, Good Newes from New England, C.132.h.20(2) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During these early years of the colony there was a growing threat from the Narragansett and Massachusett tribes.  At the same time, more badly provisioned men were arriving at the colony amidst a shortage of food.  They settled at nearby Wessagusset and stole corn from the Massachusett tribe.  Tensions grew and rumours reached Plymouth of an oncoming attack.

To purportedly pre-empt this, the Plymouth militia massacred a group of Massachusett visitors in Wessagusset.  This atrocity is described by Winslow in this book as 'the just judgment of God upon [the Native American’s] guilty consciences' for plotting against the English.

A different perspective

Page from Thomas Morton's New English CanaanThomas Morton, New English Canaan, 1637. C.33.c.27 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The majority of contemporary printed sources about the Plymouth Colony were written by the colonists themselves or to promote further settlement in North America.  Thomas Morton, however, wrote from a different perspective.

His book is a harsh critique of the Plymouth Colony’s treatment of the native people, who Morton describe as more 'civilised and humanitarian' than the colonists.  Morton claims that Massasoit only made peace with the colonists because they claimed to keep the plague in their powder store and said they could unleash it at any time.   He also recounts the atrocity at Wessagusset, describing how the colonists 'pretended to feast the savages' before stabbing them with their own knives.


The Mystic Massacre

Engraving depicting the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by militia by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified villageJohn Underhill, Newes from America; or, a New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; containing, a True Relation of their War-Like Proceedings, 1638. C.33.c.25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This engraving depicts the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified village during the Pequot War (1636-1638).

The war against the Pequot tribe was fought by an alliance of the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes.  It was ostensibly caused by tribal competition for political dominance and control of the fur trade, however this power vacuum only existed as a result of European involvement in the region and the spread of epidemics that reduced native populations.

The violence at Mystic horrified the colonists’ tribal allies.  Over 500 Pequots died, including women and children, as the village was torched. By the end of the war, the tribe was effectively extinct.

The loss of tribal lands

Deed showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists.Collection of Sundry Original Deeds of Conveyance of Lands ceded by Indian Sachems to English settlers in New England, from 1659 to 1711. Lansdowne MS 1052 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are original manuscript deeds showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists. The Mohegans allied with the English colonists during the Pequot War and later conflicts such as King Philip’s War. This was to defend themselves against the Narragansetts.

By 1676 Uncas had suffered heavy losses and, in this weakened position, he ceded all Mohegan lands apart from a reserve of farms and hunting grounds to the colonists in exchange for protection.  Tract by tract, field by field, Native American lands were slowly lost to the English colonists during the 17th and 18th centuries.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

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