A History of Latin America and the Caribbean
Chapter 3: A New World No More, Part I
1650 to 1830
This chapter is divided into three parts, which cover the following topics:
A Hollow Empire
The Spanish Empire must look curious to the casual reader -- it has a beginning and an end, but not a middle. If you don't count Cuba and Puerto Rico, which Spain held until 1898, the Spanish Empire lasted 333 years in the New World, from 1492 to 1825. There was plenty of activity in the first ninety-six years (1492-1588, from Columbus to the Armada), and in the last sixty-three years (1762-1825, from the Seven Years War to liberation), but not much from the 174 years in-between.
When I completed the previous chapter, I was asked why I chose to end it at 1650. After all, the chapter began with 1492, a year that even non-historians know was critical, but 1650 wasn't such a year. Well, my choice of 1650 for the year to divide Chapter 2 from Chapter 3 is purely arbitrary; any year between 1588 and 1762 would have worked here. Of course, a lot of people don't mind living in a year when nothing happened. The typical historian likes to write about wars and other disasters, which is just what the rest of us don't want. Hence, the historian will quickly skip over years that were peaceful but dull, and you may have heard the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
It was a similar story with the Portuguese Empire. This empire lasted as long as it did because after Portugal regained independence from Spain in 1640, it stopped attracting attention from others. The Portuguese did not threaten the colonies or commerce of any other empire, and they stayed out of European politics. Between 1640 and 1801, the Portuguese only got involved in two conflicts, the War of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years War, and in both they were minor participants; they didn't fight at all in the first war, and only fought briefly in the second. But while most of the empire, from Madeira to Macao, took the form of sleepy outposts, Brazil became the place to be, especially after Portugal's royal family moved there.
The typical reduction was managed by two or three Jesuits. It had a large grassy square at its center, with the community church on one side and longhouses on the other three sides. The longhouses were made of sun-dried bricks or wattled canes, and could hold more than a hundred families; each family had a private apartment within the structure. The Guarani did not have to work very much, when they lived by hunting, so besides teaching them how to be good Christians, the Jesuits had to coax them to work harder than they were used to working. The Jesuit equivalent of reveille went like this:
“They marshalled their neophytes to the sound of music; and in procession to the fields, with a saint borne high aloft, the community each day at sunrise took its way. Along the paths, at stated intervals, were shrines of saints, and before each of them they prayed, and between each shrine sang hymns. As the procession advanced, it became gradually smaller as groups of Indians dropped off to work the various fields, and finally the priest and acolyte with the musicians returned alone. At midday, before eating, they all united and sang hymns, and then, after their meal and siesta, returned to work until sundown, when the procession again re-formed, and the labourers, singing, returned to their abodes.”(1)
The main tasks of the Guarani were to grow crops, especially yerba mate, and to herd cattle and sheep. Others wove cotton or labored in workshops to produce all kinds of manufactured goods: leather, wood, clothing, rope, boats, carts, books, arms, gunpowder, musical instruments and books. In return for the goods they grew and made, the Indians received rations of food and clothing, and a few manufactured goods like knives, scissors and telescopes. Besides the work days, the natives were also told when to attend church, and when the times for holidays or recreation arrived.
At the peak of the Jesuit mission, between 1650 and 1720, there were more than 60 reductions, which were home to more than 100,000 people. The drawback to it was the paternal attitude of the Jesuits; they treated the natives like children who would never grow up. Most were not given responsibilities or taught to think for themselves, so while their souls were saved, and their standard of living was somewhat better in the reductions, they did not learn the skills needed to be successful elsewhere, especially in cities like Asuncion.
What ended the Jesuit experiment was the jealousy of non-Jesuits, who envied the success the Jesuits enjoyed with their Indian work force. The reductions also attracted slave raiders from Brazil, the bandeirantes, who came looking for Indians to carry off; not only were the priests and Indians nearly defenseless, but other Spaniards in the vicinity did not do much to protect the reductions. Finally, King Charles III did not trust the Jesuits, so a decree from him in 1767 expelled the Jesuits from Spain, and ordered their property confiscated. The men put in charge of the reductions, both clergy and civil administrators, did not know how to manage them. The Indians wandered off, and either went back to their old way of life or became workers on European-owned plantations. Within a few years the reductions were ruins, reclaimed by the Amazonian jungle, along with the surrounding orchards and fields.
In the same year that Jamaica was conquered, England gained another foothold in Central America, to go with the one they already had at Belize (see Chapter 2). Details are not clear, but at some point in the 1630s, the Providence Island Company (the same group of Puritans that tried unsuccessfully to found a colony on a small island near Nicaragua), brought the son of a Nicaraguan chief to England, and he requested an alliance. London agreed and the chief's son returned under English protection. That was where matters stood until 1655, when the English declared that the whole eastern coast of Nicaragua and part of Honduras, henceforth known as the Mosquito Coast, would become an English protectorate.(3)
The success with Jamaica and the Mosquito coast encouraged more Englishmen to come to Central America, to harvest hardwood (chiefly mahogany) and dyewood. Besides going to the logging camp already established at Belize, they founded a second one on the other side of Yucatan, at Campeche Bay. Of course the Spaniards were not pleased to have these new neighbors, and they succeeded in getting rid of the Campeche group in 1717. They also drove the English loggers out of Belize four times (1717, 1730, 1754 and 1779), but because they did not settle Belize, the English always came back. The decisive battle came on September 10, 1798; a strong Spanish force tried to wipe out the Belize colony, but the loggers drove them off with the help of their slaves, an armed sloop, and three companies of a British regiment. This battle was named the battle of St. George's Caye, and it is celebrated as a national holiday in modern-day Belize. The Spaniards never bothered Belize again after that, because with their empire now coming undone, they had much bigger concerns to keep them busy elsewhere.
England's next move was a second attempt to colonize the Bahamas. These islands had been a deserted archipelago for more than a century; by 1520, all of the original Indians had died from disease or were relocated to Hispaniola by the Spaniards, to work on their plantations. We also saw in the previous chapter how an early English attempt to set up a colony had failed. The second colonization effort also used settlers from Bermuda, and they set up a home on the island of New Providence in 1666. Whereas the first colonists had been mostly farmers, the second colonists made a living off the sea: salvaging shipwrecks (“wrecking”), and collecting salt, fish, sea turtles, conchs and ambergris. Then in 1670, King Charles II transferred ownership of the islands to the Carolina Company, the same organization that had founded North and South Carolina on the mainland. One year later, the Bahamas received its own governor and parliament, too. But that didn't mean life was getting better. For one thing, the “Lords Proprietor” of the Carolina Company had trouble getting the independent-minded Bahamians to follow their orders. An even bigger problem was piracy; an archipelago with as many islands as the Bahamas provides many hiding places for pirates. The most famous pirates who set up home bases in the Bahamas were Henry Morgan, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), John “Calico Jack” Rockham and his lover Anne Bonny, and a second female pirate, Mary Read.
The pirates encouraged Spain to capture the Bahamas in 1684, but as with Belize, they did not stay, and the English returned to start their colony again. This time they founded Nassau (named after a Dutch territory ruled by King William III) on New Providence Island, and fortified it as the new capital. By 1717 the pirates were making so much trouble that England terminated the Carolina Company's mandate over the islands and appointed a new governor, Woodes Rogers. His chief task as governor was to end piracy, and he did that by pardoning the pirates who accepted his authority and hanging the rest.
Once the Dutch, French and English had enough Caribbean colonies, they went over to sugar production in a big way. We saw the Portuguese growing sugar previously, first on Atlantic islands like Madeira, then in Brazil. The Dutch learned about the sugar industry while they were in Brazil, introduced it to the Caribbean, and provided plantation owners with the two things they needed the most, a supply of black slaves and a guaranteed market for the sugar. The new technology produced a dramatic increase in wealth (sugar plantations made even poor islands in this part of the world worth having), and an even more dramatic demographic change. Before Columbus, the Caribbean population had been Indian; in the sixteenth century, it was predominantly white; in the mid-seventeenth century, blacks became the majority, and have been ever since. Barbados, one of the first islands where sugar plantations succeeded, had an all-white population of 10,000 in 1640; thirty-five years later it had 50,000 people, of whom two-thirds were black.
The huge profits that the Dutch reaped from trading sugar and slaves were fairly earned, because nobody could match the Dutch in efficiency.(4) However, England wasn't any more willing to let the Dutch take money out of their colonies than Spain was, so in 1651 Parliament passed legislation which, like the Spanish laws of the sixteenth century, gave the mother country a monopoly over the colonial traffic. This led to three Anglo-Dutch naval wars between 1652 and 1674. Although the Dutch won their share of battles, ultimately England won the contest. The factor here was the same one that decided Dutch strategy in their struggle against Portugal and Spain--the bottom line. A Dutch warship was really an armed merchantman, so whereas an English man-o-war only had to fight well, a Dutch ship was expected to both fight and bring a profit. Therefore the Dutch chose to cut their losses when they became convinced that winning wasn't worth the cost. By letting the Portuguese recover Brazil, and by giving New Netherland to England (1664), they were able to save their interests in the Caribbean(5), Africa, Asia--and the trade routes between those places and Holland. As for the English, their victories against the Spaniards and the Dutch gave them the resources to build the world's greatest navy. The Royal Navy would be England's most important tool as it turned its attention back to an older rival, namely France.
Speaking of France, it was doing well in the Caribbean, too, though its achievements weren't as impressive as England's. The French launched their own campaign to conquer Hispaniola, and because their base, the islet of Tortuga, was much closer than England's nearest base, they were more successful. French buccaneers (see below) led the way, because Spain had neglected the western part of Hispaniola; Santo Domingo was on the other side of the island. In 1659 the activities of the buccaneers gained official sanction, when King Louis XIV declared Tortuga a French colony. Although piracy was the main source of income for French settlers on western Hispaniola, they also started plantations to grow coffee, tobacco, sugar and indigo. Spanish retaliation got the same results that we saw, when used against the English at Belize; Spain could drive out the French intruders, but the local resources were rich enough to bring them back after the Spaniards went home. Finally, Spain was forced to recognize that France had more control over the western third of Hispaniola than they did; in the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially ceded this area to France. The French translated the name “Santo Domingo” into French, and gave that name, St. Domingue, to their prize; for the land that Spain still held, it was now simply called Santo Domingo, after the capital.(6) On the other side of the Caribbean, the French took Tobago from the Dutch in 1677.
Because the Dutch, French and English were so successful there, the Caribbean attracted the attention of nations not known for their New World empires. One such country was Denmark, The Danes set up a Danish West India Company, which went to the Virgin islands and settled Saint Thomas in 1672, Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. They did not get all of the Virgin Islands, though, because England took over the Dutch colony already established there in 1672; that became today's British Virgin Islands. In 1754 the Danish outposts were merged into an official royal colony, called the Danish-Westindian Islands. Likewise, Sweden got a temporary outpost in the Caribbean to match its temporary outpost in North America (Delaware). From 1785 to 1878 the Swedes ruled the island of Saint Barthélemy, running it as a free port.
As you can see, sugar production became a big money maker for all the countries that tried it in the New World. Indeed, in the eighteenth century it played the same crucial role in the world economy that spices played in the fifteenth century, or that oil has played in our own time. There was some concern that if one nation gained control over too many Caribbean islands, it would saturate the sugar market, but fortunately that never happened, because world population continued to rise, causing the demand for sugar to rise as well. However, this also meant that the Caribbean was becoming very important to Europe. As the stakes rose, it became more likely that whenever two European nations with Caribbean colonies went to war, they would try to take each other's colonies. And there were many little wars in Europe at this time, which turned into big wars when England and France got involved, because their rivalry always put them on opposite sides. Each war with Caribbean activity saw a larger commitment from each nation, and thus bigger battles. Whereas the War of the Grand Alliance saw just a few naval raids, during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Caribbean was considered important enough to be included in the treaty ending the war, the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), and later on we will see that the next two big wars, the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, had more far-reaching results in the Caribbean theater.
During the colonial era, every European nation with colonies insisted that only it had the right to trade with those colonies. We call this practice mercantilism, and while it was always set up to protect the economy of the mother country, it never worked very well.(7) The main problem was that no country could supply everything the colonists wanted at a fair price, so smuggling quickly became a problem. Attempts to enforce the monopoly made matters worse; the cost of guarding the coast had to be met from customs duties, which increased the price of legal goods and thus increased the demand for illegal goods.
Because the Spanish economy was the largest and the least competitive, Spanish colonies attracted the most smugglers; in the Caribbean, smuggled goods actually exceeded official imports. It was a similar story with Buenos Aires, which had an excellent port, but suffered from the crown's restrictions on trade; here as well, smugglers brought in contraband from Portuguese Brazil and non-Spanish Europe, to meet the needs of the colonists. More police and heavier punishments were the official answer, but as usual repression fought a losing battle with economics. The ships and men available were not strong enough to solve the problem, so the authorities used them viciously when they had them. This taught the smugglers to arm and organize themselves. At first the resident smugglers of the Caribbean only had canoes, but when they captured some real Spanish ships, they turned into the buccaneers, the international “Brethren of the Coast,” with their own captains and admirals.
We saw in Chapter 2 that the first pirates in the New World were French, because in terms of land, ships and money the French could not compete with Spain on an equal footing, so like today's guerrillas and terrorists, they resorted to unconventional warfare. Today the terms “pirate” and “buccaneer” are treated as meaning the same thing, but the technical definition of “buccaneer” means a pirate who belongs to a large group (larger than the crew of one pirate ship), or a pirate who spends all his time prowling the Caribbean (as opposed to those who tried their luck in other places, like the Indian Ocean). The early pirates were also hunters, and they learned from the Arawak Indians to smoke what they caught, so it would last longer and be easier to transport. The Arawak smoked their meat on a wooden frame called a buccan, which the French translated to boucane, and gave the name boucanier to the hunters who used such frames. When the English learned the term, they Anglicized boucanier to buccaneer. Originally manatees were the main item smoked, but because there were now wild cattle and pigs to hunt on Hispaniola, they quickly became the preferred delicacy.(8)
For the second half of the seventeenth century, the buccaneers were the scourge of the Spanish Caribbean. When we saw Caribbean pirates in the previous chapter, they were using Tortuga, the island just north of Hispaniola, as their base, with the consent of the French. After the English took Jamaica in 1655 they moved to Jamaica's capital, Port Royal. England let them in because they gave Port Royal protection against foreign attacks, at a time when England itself did not have enough ships to spare for Jamaica.
While the buccaneers were there, Port Royal gained a reputation as the Caribbean's worst hive of scum and villainy. Outsiders saw it as the Sodom of the New World, a city full of criminals and prostitutes. It was where pirates came for rest and recreation after a successful raid, a place with so much money that drunks gave women extravagant sums of cash just to see them naked. Port Royal's taverns consumed so much liquor that we have reports of wild animals coming there for a drink. Here is how Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutchman who founded Cape Town, described the scene outside the Port Royal taverns:
“The parrots of Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it.”
Appropriately, Port Royal got a Biblical punishment for the sins of its inhabitants. On June 7, 1692, a terrible earthquake destroyed the city, and the northern half of it sank into the sea. In the 1960s, divers in the sunken part of Port Royal found a pocket watch that had stopped at 11:43 AM, so we know the time when the earthquake happened, as well as the date. After attempts to rebuild Port Royal failed, the capital of Jamaica was moved to nearby Kingston, where it has been ever since.
It was while England looked the other way that the buccaneers achieved their greatest coups. As an organization, the buccaneers enjoyed their last fling in 1685, when two parties of them crossed Panama to terrorize Spanish America's Pacific coast again. The English buccaneers, a force of 3,000 men led by Edward Davis, John Eaton and Charles Swan, failed to take Panama City, while the French buccaneers, led by Pierre le Picard, looted Guayaquil in Ecuador before returning to the Caribbean.(9) After that, the English, French and Dutch governments stopped issuing letters of marque against Spain. England in particular felt that her colonies were no longer in danger from Spain, but they needed some law and order. The buccaneer brotherhood split into English and French halves, because the only letters of marque still available were for those who wanted to become English privateers against France, or vice versa. Some pirates responded by attacking all ships besides their own; they had short careers, because the governments of the day did not provide vocational rehabilitation to pirates who might want to change jobs. Most of the time, the authorities put the pirates out of business by hunting them down and hanging them (see the fate of Captain Kidd below). The pirate party was over, until our pop culture fell in love with them.
So what would they do with the money? The first plan was to build outposts in Africa and Asia, the way other European nations had done, and thereby get a share of the lucrative trade in gold, slaves, ivory and spices. However, one of the Company's directors, William Paterson, had a different plan. He persuasively argued that if the Company wanted to go to Asia, the best way to do it was to go west, like Columbus did. Of course they would have to cross the Americas at some point, so Paterson told them to build a colony in the Isthmus of Panama, where the overland crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific was only a few dozen miles. According to this reasoning, whoever had a colony in Panama would control the richest east-west trade route in the world.
Only the Scots thought this was a good idea. The part of Panama where they planned to build the colony was the Darien Gap. This is a patch of jungle and swamp so thick that no civilization has ever tamed it. Today, for example, the Pan-American Highway runs across the Americas, from Alaska to Buenos Aires, but the part that is supposed to go through the Darien Gap has never been completed. Even worse, the colony's location put it close to two critical Spanish ports, Porto Bello and Cartagena. We saw in the previous chapter that Peru's silver was sent to Porto Bello before it was shipped to Spain; likewise, Cartagena was the shipping point for the gold and emeralds of Colombia. Whoever built a colony in that neighborhood was sure to make an enemy of Spain, and no other European power wanted to do that, while the succession to the throne of Spain was up in the air. England's King William III was upset most of all, and he ordered all English colonies in the New World to give no support to the Scots.
Scotland went ahead with the “Darien Scheme” anyway. Paterson paid less attention to the reaction of other Europeans, and more attention to the fact that Spain wasn't as strong as it used to be (remember the buccaneer raids on Panama, just a few years earlier). In 1698 the Company of Scotland sent its first expedition across the Atlantic, bringing 1,200 colonists to a part of eastern Panama they would call “Caledonia Bay.” They built a settlement named New Edinburgh and a fort named Fort St. Andrew. However, the colony only lasted for seven months. They ran out of food quickly, and the Scots hadn't taken the jungle climate into account; Spain had a warmer climate than Scotland to begin with, so naturally the Spaniards did not suffer as much as the Scots in a place like this. A disease epidemic killed more than 300 colonists, including Paterson's wife, and their bodies were buried in mass graves. Paterson himself was so sick from the fever that he had to be carried onto the ship, when the decision was made to abandon the colony. After further loss of life, one of their four ships made it back to Scotland.
Unfortunately, that ship did not come back with the bad news before the second expedition left, with another thousand colonists (June 1699). It arrived to find a deserted settlement at Caledonia Bay. Despite this, the settlers decided to try their luck. They were encouraged when they defeated the nearest Spanish army unit in early 1700, but that only made the Spaniards angry, and one week later they sent a much larger force. Against this, the Scots were hopelessly outnumbered, and they surrendered after a two-week siege.
The Darien Scheme had been a colossal failure. The money spent gained nothing in return, ten of the thirteen ships committed had been lost, and a lot of lives had been wasted; many of the casualties had starved before they could return to Europe, thanks to King William's decree. Because of the fiasco, and a major fire in Edinburgh in February 1700, the Presbyterian Church suggested that God was mad at Scotland, and called for days of prayer and fasting. Indeed, one of the reasons why Scotland accepted the 1707 Act of Union, which merged England and Scotland to form the United Kingdom, was because the treaty called for compensating the Darien investors with an “equivalent” of nearly £400,000, plus 5 percent interest over a nine year period to cover the rest. Moreover, the Scots realized that their nation could not go it alone, nor could they count on England's support, though a Scottish king had ruled England as recently as 1688. Henceforth, in this narrative we will not be referring to the citizens of Great Britain as English, Scots or Welsh, but as British, or simply Brits.
Meanwhile, the European wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries taught the British that it was safer to take colonies overseas, especially small islands, than it was to occupy a territory on the Continent. Limiting their landholdings on the European mainland meant they could sit out the frequent conflicts there, if they chose to do so.(14) Overseas colonies could also be more profitable, if defended and managed right. Accordingly, in the Treaty of Utrecht, one of the things the British asked for, and got, was the French half of the island of St. Kitts. They also won the right to sell up to 4,800 slaves and 500 tons of cargo per year in the Spanish colonies, something they probably considered more important than the land they gained.
The British wanted trading rights because wars are expensive, and they had run up some big debts during the War of the Spanish Succession. By 1711 the national debt was estimated at £9 million; the government staged lotteries and sold tickets to citizens looking for a chance to win prizes, but this only raised a fraction of the money needed to pay down the debt. Then the idea came up of floating a company that would assume at least part of the debt. In return this company, called the South Sea Company, would be given the right to trade in Latin America and the Caribbean, once the Spanish colonies opened up to non-Spanish merchants. The government would also give the company an annual annuity, worth 6 percent of the debt it took on, and this annuity was distributed to the shareholders as a dividend. We don't know who thought of the South Sea Company first; some historians think it was Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe; others think it was William Paterson, the same fellow who gave us the Darien Scheme. If it was Paterson, this shows us that Great Britain did not learn anything from Scotland's experience in Panama.
The trade rights granted by the Treaty of Utrecht were much less than what the South Sea Company had expected, meaning its ability to make a profit legally would be limited. Nevertheless, many saw great potential in Latin America, and persuaded themselves that the company was another Dutch West India Company; once Latin American colonists tried British-made products, the profits would pour in. When the company issued its first shares of stock, investors bought them eagerly. The first voyage by a company ship in 1717 only brought a moderate return, but then King George I became governor of the company in the following year, boosting investor confidence again. By 1720 the company was doing so well that it offered to take over the entire national debt, and Parliament accepted the proposal.
What Parliament did not realize was that the company was experiencing its first cash flow problem; it did not have enough money to pay the Christmas 1719 dividend, and it informed shareholders that payment would be delayed twelve months. Since it would take too long to get the money by expanding trade, Company executives tried bidding up the value of their stock. In January 1720, company shares were trading at £128, and the price had not changed much for a while. Back then one pound (£1) was worth about $400 in today's dollars, so if you do the math, you will see why the stock wasn't selling very fast.
When the company executives told wild stories about the wealth of the lands beyond the "South Sea," how Latin America was loaded with gold and silver that the company would eventually bring to Europe, this caused a buying frenzy, now called the South Sea Bubble, that drove up the value of the stock, to £175 in February, £330 in March, £550 at the end of May, and at its peak in August, around £1,000 a share. Politicians were offered a chance to buy shares at pre-bubble prices, allowing them to make a profit when they sold the shares later. The big bubble also led to the appearance of little bubbles, as swindlers went to investors who missed out on the company stock and offered them absurd get-rich-quick schemes that were limited only by imagination. The proposals put forth by these "companies" ranged from making better soap, to importing walnut trees from Virginia, to a cannon that fired square cannonballs. Probably the cleverest and craziest proposal got investors to put down money "for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage; but nobody to know what it is."
At that point the bubble burst. When those running the South Sea Company realized that their personal shares were worth many times as much as the company itself, they sold their stock, hoping that if they kept this move secret, the company would continue to do all right without them. Instead, word of them cutting and running got out, a panic selling replaced the frenzied buying, and share prices instantly collapsed; prices fell to £175 by the end of September, and £124 by December. Those who got in after the bubble started swelling were financially ruined, especially those who had borrowed money to purchase shares. Among the losers was the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton, who lost £20,000 (worth probably $8 million today) and remarked, "I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men." Well, what goes up must come down, and Newton, of all people, should have known that!
The House of Commons conducted an investigation in 1721, which found plenty of deceit and corruption; at least three government ministers had taken bribes from the company. The prosecution of those officials and the company managers followed. The South Sea Company stayed in business until 1853, but its stock was given to two real moneymakers, the Bank of England and the British East India Company, and it sold most of its rights to the Spanish government in 1750. Finally, the British government outlawed the issuing of stock certificates, and that law stayed on the books until 1825.
In 1740 the War of the Austrian Succession broke out in Europe, and the War of Jenkins' Ear turned into the New World theater of that Old World conflict. Spain staged an unsuccessful invasion of Georgia in 1742, in retaliation for the British attack on Florida. Otherwise the conflict in the Caribbean died down, because France had replaced Spain as Britain's main opponent. After Anson's expedition, the only activity in the Caribbean was a few naval battles between Britain and Spain, off the coast of Cuba, in 1748; both sides were so exhausted at this point that the war ended in the same year. Because Britain had done so much worse than expected, the treaty ending the war had a strange feature: the French islands of Dominica, St. Vincent and Tobago, and the British island of St. Lucia, were declared neutral territories. The official reason given for this was that all four islands still had colonies of Carib Indians, who had not gotten involved in the war. Although this was true, nobody would have expected such a response, had either side won a clear victory. Readers of the North American history series on this website will remember that treaties between the Indians and white men were never kept, and in this case, the neutral status of the islands and the Caribs only lasted until the next war.
Despite their setback in the War of the Austrian Succession, the ultimate winner in the colonial contests was Great Britain. As early as 1700, the British colonies in North America were doing great, and Britain's outposts in India and the Caribbean were also prospering. In terms of tonnage shipped and profits made, the Dutch were still in the lead, but before the eighteenth century was half over, British shipping would catch up and pass that of the Netherlands. Although the French claimed more land overseas than the British or Dutch at this stage, in other ways they were in third place; French colonies were underpopulated and unprofitable, and the French trading network had been disrupted by Europe's wars. As for Spain, back in Chapter 2 it was in the lead, but because the Spaniards managed their colonies even less efficiently than the French, they had fallen to fourth place. The other Iberian power, Portugal, brought up the rear. The Portuguese kept Goa, their base in India, by reaching an agreement with England before the Dutch could take it, and cooperation with Spain allowed them to keep Macao, because both countries wanted to trade with China; Canton was the only Chinese port open to them, and Macao was the nearest European base to Canton. On the other hand, in the late seventeenth century Portugal lost half of its ports in the Arabian Sea (mostly on the coast of modern Kenya and Tanzania) to the sultan of Muscat (modern Oman), the ruler of a nation other Europeans did not even notice.
How the match-up looked on a world map: Britain and allies (blue) vs. France and allies (green).
In fact, understanding the Seven Years War is a bit of a challenge, because it was really two wars happening at the same time. In Europe (1756-63) the war was a grudge match between two heads of state who couldn't get along, Austria's Maria Theresa vs. Prussia's Frederick the Great. Outside Europe the war was the latest round in the rivalry between France and Britain (1754-63), and there a young Virginian named George Washington fired the first shot. The outcomes of the two wars were different, too. In Europe it was a matter of Frederick defending Prussia until the Russians switched sides (in the nick of time); in India and North America the British overcame an early French advantage to win one of their greatest victories ever. Though neither Britain nor France had any interests in Latin America, two battles took place there anyway, so this section will cover them.
The first battle took place while Spain was still neutral. In November 1757 fifteen French ships sailed out of the port of Toulon; their mission was to reinforce Louisbourg, the main French fort in Canada. The fleet slipped past the British blockade of the Mediterranean at Gibraltar, ran into a fierce storm in the Atlantic, and took shelter in the port of Cartagena. They were still there when a British fleet, also with fifteen ships, arrived in February 1758. Then two more French ships arrived and got past the British to reinforce the French fleet; the British commander, Henry Osborn, wasn't paying attention because he heard that three French ships-of-the-line, some of the largest fighting ships of the day, were coming as well. Sure enough, when those French ships showed up, Osborn sent his four best ships to engage them, and used the rest to keep the French fleet bottled up in Cartagena. The battle which followed showed that the Royal Navy had gotten its touch back; the British lost no ships, two of the French ships were captured, and the third was run aground to keep it from being captured. After that victory Osborn waited until July, and then he let the ships in Cartagena out, figuring that it was too late for them to save Louisbourg. Sure enough, Louisbourg fell to the British in the same month, so the French ships returned to Toulon instead of going on to North America.
By the time Spain got involved in the war, France was ready to throw in the towel. Spain's only motivation was revenge, for two hundred years of injury and humiliation at the hands of the British. But once they joined the French, instead of getting even, they suffered more humiliation. The British invaded Cuba and took Havana in 1762, while another British squadron sailed to the other side of the globe, and took Manila in the Philippines. To get those important cities back, Spain had to surrender Florida.(17)
Meanwhile in the Caribbean, the British scooped up all the French islands except St. Domingue. At the peace talks the British negotiators told the French they could either have New France (Canada) back, or the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique; the French chose the latter, because they were making a bigger profit from sugar than they were from furs. Still, their victories in Canada and India put the British in a generous mood; with the 1763 Treaty of Paris they returned most of the captured islands to France. The only Caribbean conquests they kept were Dominica, St. Vincent, Grenada and Tobago.
In an attempt to make up for the losses suffered in the war, King Louis XV made an ambitious attempt to settle French Guiana in 1763. The 12,000 colonists he sent were lured by stories of the land being rich with gold. What they found instead were hostile natives and tropical diseases; no preparation was made for them at the landing site, and even fresh water was not available. By 1765 only 2,000 were still alive, and they fled to three small offshore islands: Royal Island, St. Joseph, and the infamous Devil's Island.(18) After they returned to France, a long investigation resulted in the imprisonment of the expedition's incompetent leaders, and the terrible stories of the survivors talked everybody out of colonizing French Guiana for the next thirty years.(19)
The French also tried colonizing the Falkland Islands. They established Port St. Louis, on East Falkland in 1764, and gave the islands the name of Îles Malouines, which would later be translated into Spanish as Islas Malvinas, Argentina's current name for the place. In 1765 a British captain named John Byron sailed to the western part of the Falklands; unaware that the French were already in the east, he claimed the islands for Britain, and a British outpost, Port Egmont, was built on the same spot a year later. Then Spain reminded the British and French that this was supposed to be Spain's part of the world. There was a brief war scare when both Britain and Spain sent armed ships to the Falklands. The French agreed to leave, and after Spain promised to compensate the French for their loss, it took Port St. Louis and renamed it Puerto Soledad (1767). The British chose to stay until the American Revolution required that they send their ships elsewhere; Port Egmont was abandoned in 1776, though the British left a plaque which said that they still owned the place. Spain kept a governor there until 1806; they also left because of the revolution in their colonies, and Spain also left behind a plaque asserting that the Falklands were theirs. That last Spanish colonists were withdrawn after Latin America's revolutions began, by the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (1811).
The changed geopolitical situation after the Seven Years War, and the British response to it, caused tensions to rise between London and the North American colonies, which eventually led to the American Revolution (1775-83). The first three years of that war were strictly a North American affair, because the American Patriots were fighting alone with just a few ships, so most of the land and sea battles were within a few hundred miles of North America's Atlantic coast. The exception was the first US marine action, at Fort Montagu, a small fort guarding Nassau in the Bahamas. In 1776 the Continental Congress heard that the British had stored two hundred barrels of gunpowder at Fort Montagu, so it sent eight ships and 234 marines to capture this supply. They took the fort without a fight (the Bahamian militia had retreated to Nassau itself), but the gunpowder had been removed a day earlier, so the marines hauled off what the fort did have: forty-six cannon and thousands of cannonballs.
The situation changed again when the French realized that the Patriots could win, and made a formal alliance with them in early 1778; Spain did the same in 1779. This meant that Britain's Caribbean islands could come under attack, and the City of London, which rated the islands more highly than the colonies on the mainland, persuaded the rest of the government to make defense of those islands the top priority. This meant transferring 5,000 men from the mainland to the Caribbean, and abandoning Philadelphia, the most important conquest made in 1777.
Because the British were now overstretched, Spain began the reconquest of Florida, and France took Britain's Caribbean islands one by one: Dominica, Grenada, St. Eustatius, Demerary, St. Kitts, Montserrat, and Nevis. The high water mark of the anti-British offensive was reached when Spain captured Nassau in 1782. However, by this time the war on the mainland had ended with a Franco-American victory at Yorktown (1781), meaning that the British no longer had any responsibility there besides getting out, so they now had enough men and ships to go on the offensive elsewhere. In April 1782, thirty-six British ships of the line met thirty-three French ships of the line at the Saintes, a small group of islands between Dominica and Guadeloupe. This resulted in a four-day battle, now called the battle of the Saintes. Admiral George Rodney, whose faulty decisions were one of the reasons why the British lost at Yorktown, restored his reputation and Britain's fortunes by disrupting the French line of battle, forcing the French flagship to strike its colors, and capturing the French admiral who had won at Yorktown, the Comte de Grasse. As for Nassau, it was recaptured by a company of Americans loyal to the British Crown in 1783. To do this the Americans placed straw-stuffed uniforms on their boats, which fooled the Spaniards into thinking they were outnumbered. After the war several American loyalists fleeing the new United States settled in the Bahamas with their slaves.
A second Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution in 1783. Because the British had won the battles after Yorktown, the treaty gave Florida to Spain and Tobago to France, but otherwise restored all pre-war positions in the Caribbean. Britain even found a way to diversify from growing sugar, after hurricanes and other natural disasters cut into that crop. In 1782, Sir Joseph Banks, the botanical adviser to King George III, introduced nutmeg to Grenada,. The soil of Grenada was ideal for growing nutmeg, and because Grenada was a lot closer to Europe than Indonesia, it became the island for both sugar and spice. Altogether the British felt that beating the French mattered more than beating their former American subjects, so they weren't as sad about the war's outcome as you might expect.
1. R. B. Cunninghame Graham, A Vanished Arcadia, London, Heinemann, copyright 1901, pp. 178-9.
If you want to see a movie about the Jesuits in eighteenth-century Latin America and the struggle to keep their parishioners out of the hands of Portuguese slavers, check out The Mission (1986).
2. If anyone, Indian or European, lived on the Cayman Islands before the seventeenth century, they left no evidence of their presence. By the 1650s, the islands were home to a small community of people from many different backgrounds: pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Cromwell's army in Jamaica. This prompted the English to take them under wing, as soon as they were done staking a claim to Jamaica.
3. Around the same time, a slave ship was wrecked on the Mosquito Coast. The surviving Africans went native, joining the nearest Indian tribe and intermarrying with the Indians. Thus the tribe became a zambo community, called the Miskito Sambu. For most of the eighteenth century, the Miskito Sambu was the dominant tribe in the area.
4. Even when they didn't have sugar to bring back, the Dutch found a way to earn a profit in the Caribbean. Salt was a vital commodity for preserving meat and fish, and northern European countries like the Netherlands were too cold and wet to make it worth the effort to get salt by evaporating sea water. The Dutch used to buy salt from Portugal, but after the Dutch revolted against Spanish rule in the sixteenth century, that was no longer an option. Then they discovered that Venezuela has great salt deposits near the town of Araya, so Dutch ships would go there and stay for weeks, while their crewmen broke up the rock salt into pieces small enough to bring into their cargo holds. More salt was obtained from salt pans on the islands the Dutch colonized, especially Curacao.
5. In 1667 the Dutch conquered Surinam, a British outpost on the South American coast, near the one they already had at Berbice. They were allowed to keep it the next time they signed a treaty with England. Because geographers now called the area between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers “Guiana,” these outposts, along with Demerara and Essequibo, became the colony of Dutch Guiana, or modern Suriname. To the east, the Dutch also captured Cayenne twice (1660-64 and 1676-77), but they could not stop the French from taking it back.
6. The French enthusiastically promoted sugar production on St. Domingue, now that they had ample room for the plantations, and they imported plenty of slaves to do the work. Consequently, by 1750 the colony was the biggest sugar producer in the Caribbean; it also had a population of 200,000, which was 90 percent black. This meant that St. Domingue was the largest black community in the New World, in terms of both numbers and percentages.
7. In Chapter 2 we saw how mercantilism drove up the price of a handkerchief; now here's another example. When the merchants of Cadiz complained that they weren't selling as much wine from northern Spain as they used to, vineyards in Colombia were uprooted to prevent cheap local wines from undercutting the expensive imported product. Mercantilism also meant that the Spanish colonies could not buy black slaves legally; Spain did not have any colonies or outposts in Black Africa, so the slaves came to the colonies on ships belonging to other Europeans.
8. Evidently jerk pork was a pirate recipe before it became a Jamaican one. I suppose that if the first Caribbean pirates had been English, we would call them baconeers!
9. Another buccaneer, Lionel Wafer, sailed around Cape Horn and raided Arica, Chile in 1687. He did it not only because the Pacific coast was still poorly defended, but also because in the Pacific he was out of the English navy's reach. For a century and a half after that, Chileans had bad memories of the English. When Charles Darwin visited Chile in 1835, he wrote this in his diary: “To this day they hand down the atrocious actions of the Buccaneers. I hear Mr. Caldcleugh [a British businessman] say, that sitting by an old lady at dinner in Coquimbo, she remarked how wonderfully strange it was that she should live to dine in the same room with an Englishman. Twice as a girl, at the cry of 'Los Ingleses' every soul, carrying what valuables they could, had taken to the mountains.” Source: Nora Barlow, Charles Darwin's Diary, Cambridge, copyright 1934, pg. 311.
10. For a while the colonial government of Jamaica had two political factions: one (led by Morgan) that was on the side of the buccaneers, and one that promoted trade with Spain.
11. The wreckage of the Quedah Merchant/Adventure Prize was discovered by divers in 2007.
12. Instead of a proper pirate flag, LaFitte flew the flag of Cartagena, which was red, yellow and green with a sunburst in the middle.
13. Typically, the ship quartermaster was in charge of watching and dividing the loot. That duty made him the second most important member of a pirate crew.
14. The two mainland territories that England held were Gibraltar, which helped to secure trade routes in the Mediterranean, and the German state of Hanover, which from 1714 onward was the ancestral home of England's kings.
15. Most of the men who took part in these campaigns came from England's North American colonies. Among them was Lawrence Washington, the elder half-brother of George Washington. He served as a marine officer on Admiral Vernon's flagship during the Cartagena campaign, and was one of the few Americans who came back alive. The war made such an impression on the Washingtons that when Lawrence acquired an estate for the family, he named it Mount Vernon in honor of his commanding officer; this is the same Mount Vernon that became George Washington's home later on.
16. In North America, most Indians preferred the French, so seven tribes based in Canada sided with France, while their rivals, the Iroquois, went with Britain. That is where we get the name used for the North American theater, the French and Indian War.
17. Spain also had to recognize Brtain's right to harvest timber at Belize in Central America. The British could not build fortifications or farms, though, showing that Spain had not completely renounced her claim to the area.
18. "The first French effort to colonize Guiana, in 1763, failed utterly when tropical diseases and climate killed all but 2,000 of the initial 12,000 settlers...During its existence, France transported approximately 56,000 prisoners to Devil's Island. Fewer than 10 percent survived their sentence." From Bill Marshall, France and the Americas: culture, politics, and history : a multidisciplinary encyclopedia, ISBN 1851094113, Copyright 2005, Volume 2, pp. 372-373. You can order it from Google eBooks.
19. After the French Revolution's Reign of Terror ended in 1794, the government that replaced the Jacobins, the Directory, exiled 193 Jacobins to French Guiana. When another group of exiles arrived in 1797, they found that only 54 of the previous exiles were still there; eleven had escaped and the rest had died of jungle diseases. The Directory may have thought it was acting mercifully by sending its enemies to French Guiana, instead of sending them to the guillotine, but in practice the result was almost the same.
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