21 December 2013

Godly Pirates

Clarence Henry Haring, The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVII Century (1910) lacks the reticence of today's historical scholarship. Haring's criticism of Spanish mercantilism and Spanish national character fills the text with the sort of judgement that historians eschew today. The book was an Oxford University thesis for the Bachelor of Letters degree in 1909. Haring earned his B.A. at Harvard in 1907 and then attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. The book marked the beginning of a long and distinguished career in the study of Latin America.

His discussion of the religious motivation of English privateers is typical.
The Spaniards, ever since the days of the Dominican monk and bishop, Las Casas, had been reprobated as the heartless oppressors and murderers of the native Indians. The original owners of the soil had been dispossessed and reduced to slavery. In the West Indies, the great islands, Cuba and Hispaniola, were rendered desolate for want of inhabitants. Two great empires, Mexico and Peru, had been subdued by treachery, their kings murdered, and their people made to suffer a living death in the mines of Potosi and New Spain. Such was the Protestant Englishman's conception, in the sixteenth century, of the results of Spanish colonial policy. To avenge the blood of these innocent victims, and teach the true religion to the survivors, was to glorify the Church militant and strike a blow at Antichrist. Spain, moreover, in the eyes of the Puritans, was the lieutenant of Rome, the Scarlet Woman of the Apocalypse, who harried and burnt their Protestant brethren whenever she could lay hands upon them. That she was eager to repeat her ill-starred attempt of 1588 and introduce into the British Isles the accursed Inquisition was patent to everyone. Protestant England, therefore, filled with the enthusiasm and intolerance of a new faith, made no bones of despoiling the Spaniards, especially as the service of God was likely to be repaid with plunder.
Haring, Buccaneers, 33.
The religious conflicts of the Reformation entwine with national rivalries. Privateers were outfitted by their governments and sent out to make war upon sworn enemies. But, if they attacked and plundered ships of the wrong nation, the penalties could be severe.

The briganteen, Charles, was outfitted in Boston in 1703, "to War, Fight, Take, Kill, Suppress and Destroy, any Pirates, Privateers, or other Subjects and Vassals of France, or Spain, the Declared Enemies of the Crown of England" (The arraignment, tryal, and condemnation, of Capt. John Quelch ... [London, 1705], 20).

These orders were issued to Captain Daniel Plowman, but there was a mutiny on board the ship shortly after leaving port. The Charles was not specifically named as a privateer ship in its commission and orders, although it was to "take, seize, sink, or destroy any of the Ships, Vessels or Goods belonging to France or Spain" (Quelch, 21). After the mutiny, however, and the actions under the leadership of Captain John Quelch, it became a pirate ship.

Plowman's instructions included moral and religious leadership. Swearing, drunkenness, and profanity were to be punished.
First, You are to keep such good Orders among your said Briganteen's Company, that Swearing, Drunkenness and Prophaneness be avoided, or duly Punished; and that GOD be duly Worshipped.
Quelch, 20.
In the trial of John Quelch, the Charles is termed a "Private Man of War" (Quelch, 2), hence a privateer vessel. Quelch neglected Plowman's orders after the commissioned captain had died aboard ship, orders that required the ship to return to Boston. Moreover, he led the crew, some against their will, to attack and plunder Portuguese ships--a crime against an ally of the queen.
You neglected his Orders, and those of your Owners, to return with the said Private Man of War to Boston, would not set on Shore Matthew Pymer and John Clifford, Two of your Company (who dreading your Pyratical Intention) ernestly desired the same; but bore up the Helm to Sea, directing your Course for Ferdinando Island, and the Coast of Brasil, whereby it is open, manifest, you intended Murders; Piracy, and Robberies; which afterwards you perpetrated.
Quelch, 2.
In the charges against John Quelch detailing each of nine ships plundered over the course of two months, certain phrases are repeated.
[B]y Force and Arms upon the High Sea, (within the Jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England,) Piratically and Feloniously did Surprize, Seize, and Take a small Fishing Vessel, (having Portuguise Men on Board) and belonging to the Subjects of the King of Portugal, (Her Majesty's good Allie) and out of her then and there, within the Jurisdiction aforesaid, Feloniosly and Piratically, did by Force and Arms take and carry away ...
Quelch, 2.
The second charge replaces "a small Fishing Vessel" with "a small Brigantine of the Berthen of about fifteen Tons" (Quelch, 3), and so on.

Under the leadership of Captain Plowman, had he lived, the Charles could have plundered French and Spanish vessels for the glory of England and to God. Doing so would have brought profits to the merchants who owned and financed the ship. The crew would have been godly pirates, thus not pirates in the language of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Under the leadership of Captain Quelch, however, they plundered the ships of an ally, and hence were criminal pirates. For these crimes they were executed.

13 December 2013

Atlantic History: Web Resources

Work in Progress

Instead of a European discovery of a new world, we might better consider it as a sudden and harsh encounter between two old worlds that transformed both and integrated them into a single New World.
D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History (1988)
Atlantic history concerns four continents--Europe, Africa, North America, and South America--and the islands between from the fifteenth century to the end slavery in the Americas in the nineteenth century. Its principal theme concerns the movement of peoples, flora and fauna, and ideas. The Atlantic world shaped the foundations of the modern world.

National histories have proven inadequate for understanding such transnational phenomena as slavery, colonialism, disease, the economic expansion of Europe, and environmental transformation.

Oxford Bibiographies asserts the field is "determinedly polycentric rather than monocentric." That is, Europeans are not actors to whom colonized peoples react. Rather, the Atlantic World was one in which diverse peoples interacted in complex and ever-changing ways.

This post lists websites that have value to students and faculty in college courses in Atlantic History (a course that I will teach for the first time in fall 2014). It will be updated. Suggestions are particularly welcome.

General Sites

"Atlantic History," Oxford Bibliographies

H-Atlantic Discussion Group,

International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, 1500-1825, Harvard University,

European Exploration

The European Voyages of Exploration, University of Calgary,

1492: An Ongoing Voyage, Library of Congress,

Columbian Exchange

The Columbian Exchange, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,


The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia,

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database, Emory University et al.,

The African Slave Trade and the Middle Passage (part of Africans in America), PBS,

The Abolition Project, East of England Broadband Network,

African History

African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore,

"I Speak of Africa," King's College, London. Online Exhibit,

Kingdom of Ghana, African Studies Center, Boston University,

The Ouidah Museum of History, Department of Cultural Patrimony, Benin,

Timbuktu: World Heritage Site, National Geographic,

European History

Internet Modern History Sourcebook, Fordham University,

British History Online, Institute of Historical Research and History of Parliament Trust,

North America

American Memory, Library of Congress,

The Plymouth Colony Archive Project,

Latin America and Caribbean

Digital Library of the Caribbean, Florida International University,


Piracy Trials, Library of Congress Law Library,

"Sir Francis Drake: A Pictoral Biography by Hans P. Kraus," Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room, Library of Congress,


Sugar in the Atlantic World, University of Michigan,

11 December 2013

Sugar and Tea

History is what has happened, in act and thought; it is also what historians make of it.
Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concepts and Contours (2005)
I am reading a book that I bought three years ago on a discount table in London: John Griffiths, Tea: The Drink that Changed the World (2007). At the time that I bought it, I thought of it as connected to a spate of recent topical books concerned with basic foods. Tea, of course, is very British, and an appropriate book to buy in London. The appeal of the book was partly in its resonance with Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (2003); Bennett Alan Weinburg and Bonnie K. Bieler, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug (2000); Iain Gately, Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization (2001). I quoted from the last of these in "Death in Jamestown".

I started this book in London, or shortly after I returned home, but then set it aside as other priorities displaced it. Last week, after finishing the remodeling of our living room, we moved upstairs a bookcase that had been in our guest bedroom. This bookcase contains the books that I bought in London, including several concerned with Jack the Ripper and Griffiths's Tea. It seemed time to read one or more of those books. Then, I was asked it I could teach a new course at the university where I teach occasional courses. This course, The Atlantic World, is at the margins of my areas of expertise, and so requires quite a bit of preparation (thankfully I have several months).

I started anew on Tea: The Drink that Changed the World in full knowledge that it would do more to trace connections between Great Britain and Asia than the colonial worlds of the Atlantic. On the other hand, I considered also that tea and the taxes placed upon it in the eighteenth century were a central element in the long history of separation of colonies from their European founders. This process began in the Atlantic and later spread to other parts of the world. The Boston Tea Party is the subject of chapter four in Griffiths text.

Aside from a single program at Johns Hopkins University established in the 1960s, the institutionalization of Atlantic history as a distinct subject has been limited to less than the past two decades. Harvard's International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, spearheaded by Bernard Bailyn, began in the mid-1990s. Among the criticisms of this emerging field are that by highlighting connections across the Atlantic, it risks minimizing connections outside.

I was thinking about the relationship between trans-Atlantic connections and global ones when I fell upon this passage concerning tea and sugar in Griffiths's Tea.
During the eighteenth century the population of Britain nearly doubled from just under seven million to well over 13 million. During that time annual consumption of sugar from the West Indian colonies rose from 4lb a head in the 1690s to 24lb in the 1790s. Slavery provided the free labour that fuelled this growth, most of it on the back of tea drinking. Tea was taken without milk. so usually sugar was added to offset the bitter taste from leaves that had been processed many months before and were often ill-packed for their long sea voyage from China. (18)
Although sugar originated in the Pacific and spread across Asia and the Mediterranean before it became a staple in Europe, the history of sugar consumption in Britain is intimately connected to British colonies in the Atlantic, especially Barbados. Indeed, sugar may well serve as a topic around which I might build part of my course on The Atlantic World. But, where sugar and the English are concerned, there will often be a cup of tea.

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