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The Marchant of London and the Treacherous Don

ISSUE:  Spring 1936

The latter part of the seventeenth century was a

piping time for a business man in the Old World.

Enough of the romance of exploration was left over from Queen Elizabeth’s day to lend glamor to the enterprises of investors, and men saw the earth appareled with rich forests, seas of magnificent breadth and beauty, mountains as full of jewels as a cake is of plums. Not only was the esthetic contemplation of these riches satisfying to the imagination, but the thought that they could, and properly should, be made to reward the brave and astute, warmed the cockles of forward-looking fur barons and mining kings in various countries. There was no nonsense about eliminating the profit motive to trouble their golden dreams.

In England the Restoration added impetus to a notion conspicuous in Cromwell’s time—an uncomfortable sense that her sons were lagging in the contemporary game of world-girdling. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spaniards had cashed in on their voyages in a fashion that a Britisher could but envy. The Spaniard in particular was a thorn in his flesh. The end of the previous century had seen the finish of the Invincible Armada, which in turn had spelt the end of the Catholic-Hapsburg hope of dominating Europe, yet the merchants of London and Chester and York were dissatisfied. Their clamor for wider markets was answered not only by the opening of virgin ground on the American continent through such enterprises as the Plymouth and London Companies, but by the deliberate detaching from Spain of her West Indian islands and by continuous efforts to divert the flow of gold and spices toward the colder waters of the English Channel. Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, Jamaica—one by one stout English patriots wrested these treasures i’rom the rascally Spaniard. The violent religious issues of the time provided the moral justification without which the Anglo-Saxon would no more go into battle than without his sword. By 1655 there was a small war on with Spain which lasted for about five years and accelerated the prevailing zeal for acquiring Spanish-American territory.

Naturally speculations in real estate, furs, and other foreign commodities looked very attractive. Persons of wealth and enterprise concocted schemes for plantations here and there, and put out unblushing propaganda in pamphlets describing the glories of their several developments. Numbers of Englishmen left their own island for “Barbados, Queen of the Caribbees,” “Jamaica, Pearl of the Antilles,” or some of the other sugar-islands, as they were called by the middle of the century, when that commodity was drawing men like flies. By the ‘sixties, however, the young men who went out found themselves in the predicament of the fly that sips treacle. Overproduction of sugar was such that almost everybody was lost in the sweets; taxes levied by the Crown increased costs; planters, laborers, factors, and distillers suffered as the depression hit a new low.

At home the promoters continued their schemes, turning their eyes toward the southeastern mainland of the American continent. Among the glittering noblemen who thus occupied themselves, Anthony Ashley Cooper (afterwards the first Earl of Shaftesbury) was one of the shrewdest and most active. A group to which he belonged was already interested in the Hudson Bay Company, and they now took up an unused patent to a territory called Carolana, which lay between Virginia and Spain’s northernmost settlement. They wisely clinched this claim by a second patent, and so it was that Charles II in a charter of great benevolence and affability granted them all that land lying between thirtysix and thirty-one degrees north latitude and so west to the South seas. Later he stretched this grant three degrees further south, and if this casual gift included seventy leagues of country that had belonged to Spain these hundred years and more, nobody but felt that it was England’s due. “The discovery of the Indian Ocean does now neerly approach,” exclaimed an enthusiast, and among the possible products of the new colony—wine, olives, the fountain of youth, pelts, rum, silk—a west-running river providing a through passage to the East was not the least alluring. In this tempting picture the rights of Spain had little place.

Looking for some one near at hand to spy out this country, the Lords Proprietors found some strong hearts in the island of Barbados, and sent out two successive expeditions. The explorers were no less sold on the development than the promoters, and wrote back enthusiastic letters about their travels, describing the scenery in glowing terms. They were indignant at certain slanderous New Englanders who had come down to examine the Charles River (near Cape Fear) and had gone away, they complained, without so much as sitting down upon it. Their eloquence was such that in the fall of 1669 three ships sailed out from the Downs and stood for Barbados, carrying a complement of English settlers. They arrived there after a voyage of about six weeks, recruited a few others from that island, and set off for Carolina, as the prospective settlement was now called.

God here decided to toughen their souls in the waters of adversity. He afflicted them with one shipwreck after another, beginning rather unfairly in the harbor at Barbados before the game had started, so to speak. They replaced the lost ship and started up the long arc of the Antilles, putting in at one island after another as the hurricanes smote them, patiently fishing out their half-drowned fellows, reassembling precious supplies, hunting about for each other as the winds constantly drove the three vessels apart. Those who were cast away on inhospitable shores built boats with their own hands, and by a painful hopping from island to island, managed to rejoin the expedition in Bermuda. On the passage from there to Carolina, storms were again their lot; the three vessels separated, and reached the coast at different points; a landing party from one was captured by the Spaniards; the others at length made their destination in April of 1670, and prepared to enjoy those benefits promised to men of courage and initiative.

One valuable possession the settlers had managed to keep safe and dry throughout their vicissitudes, the Fundamental Constitutions with which the Proprietors had thoughtfully provided them. In justice to those gentlemen, it must be remarked that the profit-motive was not their exclusive preoccupation in planning for the new colony. Lord Ashley was a partisan of parliamentary government, the others were all embroiled to a greater or less degree in the hot politics of the time, and they had the luxury accorded to few of planning their own Utopia and actually seeing it work. In frequent meetings, they argued the issues up and down, They explicitly stated in the preamble their desire to “avoid erecting a numerous democracy,” but they provided for parliamentary representation and a measure of religious tolerance, and on the whole the Constitutions were liberal compared to most European governments of that day. In this task the experimenters had the assistance of John Locke, though it is doubtful if they fully appreciated this advantage, since we seldom foresee by twenty or so years the achievements of celebrities. Thus he was known to them only as Lord Ashley’s secretary and not as the author of the Essay on Human Understanding. How much he had to do with the Fundamental Constitutions is a moot question; the orders of Palatines, Landgraves, and Cassiques are more readily attributable to Albemarle and Ashley (though Locke later accepted the rank of Landgrave of Carolina); and the doctrine that all men are free and equal by nature must have seemed a bit thick to those belted and coroneted patrons. Still the articles on representation were doubtless shaped by the hand that was to shape the thoughts of not a few in the years to come.

In spite of this magnificent instrument the colonists were hungry and sick and in constant danger from Indians. Freedom and equality didn’t grow crops and even Landgraves found their noble bellies empty. While the fate that had wiped out many a hopeful colony threatened, a young English surgeon whom the settlers had brought with them almost adventitiously, applied to the common good his not inconsiderable talents for survival. His name was Henry Woodward, and his exceptional knowledge of the language and character of the Indians enabled him to make friends with the neighboring tribes and get supplies for the colony during the precarious first years. It was said the Indians of that main were greatly affected toward him, perhaps because he set his face against the element that wanted, for quick profit, to capture savages and sell them as slaves in the West Indies, for he contended that the ultimate benefits of keeping the tribes friendly were greater—motives of humanity and policy that ever went hand in hand with this astute Briton.


It has not been established whether Woodward was born of an English family in Barbados, or whether he went there from England. In either case, he was one of the many young men who found no place in the over-sold sugar-islands and went westward to seek his fortunes. His rather spectacular entry into history occurs in 1665, when he was about twenty years old, on one of the previously mentioned expeditions sent out by the Lords Proprietors, to report on the possibilities of Carolina.

The veteran explorer, Robert Sanford, sailed with a party from Barbados for Charles Town, an abortive colony near Cape Fear, which, lacking a Woodward’s offices, failed after the briefest of existences. From there Sanford sailed down the coast and picked for future settlement an island which the Indians called Santa Elena. Evidences of Spanish ownership—a large wooden cross, an abandoned presidio, natives tonsured in imitation of the friars—did not hinder their taking formal possession for King Charles, after which San-ford prepared to return to Barbados and work up a colony. It had already occurred to the practical Dr. Woodward that since the attitude of the natives was important to the settlers, a knowledge of their tongues would be a useful accomplishment, so he now offered to stay with the Indians until Sanford should come again. Sanford accordingly arranged to take the Indian Cassique’s nephew as a hostage, and sailed away with a promise to return in about a year.

What the young Englishman’s feelings were as he stood on a savage shore and watched his companions depart is unfortunately not recorded. From later evidence it appears that he fitted himself to the indicated way of life, hunting and fishing with the natives, studying the country and mastering the art of adaptation that was to serve him so well in his subsequent adventures. It may be supposed that he gleaned all he could about the Spaniards; it is certain that they gleaned something about him, for before the year was up a Spanish periauger appeared at Santa Elena and summarily carried him off to St. Augustine.

So, at least, the English account runs, adding that he was held a prisoner there until he was rescued by Captain Robert Searle during his sack of the Spanish town. History, however, chooses to be ambiguous on this point. The opening to students, in late years, of the Archives of the Indies at Seville, has revealed a treasure trove equal to that the fabled islands themselves were supposed to contain. Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, the authority on Spanish-American history, came across in that collection some contemporary letters from St. Augustine, saying that Woodward went willingly from Santa Elena with his supposed captors, that while there he went to live with the parish priest and showed such a lively interest in the Roman faith that he was received into the Church, and became chief surgeon of the town. The implication is that he was carried off forcefully by the English buccaneer—for such Searle undoubtedly was. However that may be, Woodward was in Searle’s vessel when it left St. Augustine smoking behind it and set a course for the Leeward Islands. On one of these Searle set him down to turn over in his mind some means of getting to England to inform the Lords Proprietors of all he had done and seen, especially the strength and condition of the Spaniards in Florida, with which he had had ample time to familiarize himself while at their capital.

But a passage to England required money, and of this his enterprises had so far netted him none. Being of a turn of mind, however, that takes what comes to hand, he found a job as saw-bones on a privateer and spent some months sailing the Spanish main in that capacity. (It took a subtle mind to distinguish the shadings between a buccaneer, a privateer, and an officer of the line, and Woodward was no hair-splitter.) This was the year in which Morgan sacked Porto Bello, so the doctor’s Caribbean interlude occurred when the piratical season was at its height, and his adventures must have been interesting. He would undoubtedly have succeeded in his determination to get to England if he had not been unfortunately cast away in a hurricane in the Leeward Islands, and all the booty which was to be his pay sunk in Neptune’s green coffers.

A less sanguine spirit might have taken this last stroke as a reprimand from Heaven, for he was now back at scratch. He was not far from the place from which he had shipped in the privateer and he was as penniless as when he was born. There were no boats from Nevis to England, and had there been, he would still have had no way of earning his passage, since trading there was in pounds of sugar instead of pounds sterling. He had had no word of Sanford and his company since their departure from Santa Elena, and as he paced his island prison with melancholy step, he may have wondered how the settlement was faring, for it was by now the fall of 1669 and Sanford was to have settled Santa Elena two and a half years earlier. He could hardly have known that because of vexatious delays the settlers had just reached Barbados many miles to the south of him, so he must have been surprised when some weeks afterwards their ships put into Nevis during one of the storms that battered that much-afflicted company. The expenses of the Carolina expedition were borne by the Lords Proprietors, so with one of his characteristic turn-rounds, Woodward took up the opportunity of a free passage with them, and thus fulfilled his first intention of being one of those to settle Carolina.

He did not forget, however, his intention of going to England and recommending himself to the noble lords, for a letter to those gentlemen from the Council at Ashley River— named in honor of their patron—mentions Woodward’s desire and says they have been unable to let him leave the colony because of his vital importance to them as interpreter and emissary to the Indians, and they suggest that he be suitably provided for. He received money and a grant of land, and was subsequently made Lord Ashley’s deputy— an achievement that must have given him satisfaction. He eventually got to England, but under some sort of cloud, for it is recorded that he returned to Carolina pardoned and reinstated.


Meantime, Lord Godolphin’s treaty with Spain soon after the arrival of the colonists confirmed England’s right to Charles Town, which had been planted on Ashley River instead of at Santa Elena seventy miles to the south. Spain agreed not to molest existing settlements, in spite of which the Indians of Santa Elena soon reported the presence of a large Spanish fleet in the neighborhood. The colonists feared equally an attack or a blockade of their much-needed supplies from Barbados, but the subjects of Don Carlos withdrew without effecting either. The following year the Governor of St. Augustine wrote the Regent Queen of Spain acknowledging her instructions to observe the treaty, but suggesting that it be kept a secret so in case of trouble he could say that her letter had been lost in the mail. In justice to the Spanish colonials, it must be said that the conduct of this border warfare was not helped by the fantastic bureaucracy which hobbled their slightest move, nor by the state of affairs at home. The pathetic little king, with his weak mind and great Hapsburg jaw, was now about nine years old; he had only recently been weaned, but was still being fed on milk and had not yet learned to talk. When Don John of Austria gained control of the government, he made the mettlesome suggestion that the king’s hair could be combed without too great a tax on his brain. What little brain Carlos had was almost destroyed by the wrangling of Queen Mariana and the Austrian party on one hand, and Don John (not the Last Knight of Europe, but a younger Don John, bastard brother of Carlos) and the French faction on the other. Louis XIV was working toward the War of the Spanish Succession.

During the first years Woodward made several “voyages” into the interior, mostly alone and on foot. He visited the Cufitachiqui, the tribe of De Soto’s Indian princess, doubtless lured by the story of her ropes of pearls. He found no pearls, but discovered, so he said, “a Country so delitious, pleasant & fruitful, yt were it cultivated doutless it would proue a second Paradize,” and he contracted a league with “ye Emperour and all those petty Cassekas betwixt us and them” without which, he admitted, it would have gone very hard with the colony when provisions failed a few weeks later. Hearing that the reputedly man-eating Westoes had come down to the Seignory of St. Giles, Shaftesbury’s plantation a few miles outside of Charles Town, he went there to see what they were up to, and at their suggestion set off with them to their village, a “voyage” of four weeks to go and return. In spite of the omnious decoration of scalps on their roof-poles, they treated him with the utmost courtesy— “having oyled my eyes and joynts with beare’s oyl, they presented mee dyvers d-sare skins”—and agreed to come to Charles Town in the spring to trade with the English.

But the voyage that he really wanted to make was to the country of the Apalachicolas in what is now western Georgia. While in St. Augustine he had heard that this branch of the Creek Confederacy was rich in pelts, to say nothing of precious metals, for it was a minching traveler in those days who did not bring back a report of at least a silver mine; and Shaftesbury had written him a long letter instructing him to look for mines, and he was to hold his tongue as to what he found and report by code to the Earl personally.

Accordingly he set off with a few companions and made his way inland by compass to the falls of the Chattahoochee, where he found a group of Indian villages and entered into lively negotiations. The news of his activities there was received in Florida with pardonable annoyance, and a small army of Spaniards and Indians went after him. Hearing of their approach, Woodward wrote them a note saying he was sorry he could not wait for their arrival but he hoped to meet them later—when he had a larger following. Pinning this pleasantry to a tree with his knife, he skipped into the woods.

After beating the bushes unavailingly, the Spaniards returned to the south and Woodward emerged from hiding and continued to trade with the Apalachicolas. The Spaniards sent an even larger army after him, but that mountainous region provided a vast hiding-place and they could do nothing with such a limber gentleman. Fate, however, decided now to sit in on the game—for the moment, on Spain’s side. Woodward went down with some prolonged illness from which he perhaps never recovered, for he died soon after in his early forties. His last “voyage” back to Charles Town had an appropriate touch of drama, for he had to be carried on a litter, while behind him trailed a hundred and fifty Creek warriors laden with skins—at once his cortege and his final service to the British merchant.


For other settlers kept the trail open, and the Apala-chicola trade, diverted from St. Augustine, enriched the English and enabled them to conduct the war with Spain on the western front. In 1683 the French went down the Mississippi—a feat that made the English settlers exceedingly nervous. From the moment of landing at Ashley River there had been marching and countermarching against the Spaniards with no more observance of treaties on one side than on the other. Lord Cardross planted a Scotch colony at Woodward’s old stopping-place, Santa Elena, well within Spanish territory. Spanish frigates sailed up from Florida and destroyed it. The Carolinians marched against St. Augustine, but did not succeed in taking the fort. The pirates Hinckley and Agramont raided the coast of Guale, as the Spaniards called the disputed area, and the missions gradually fell back to consolidate their defences. Ex-Governor Moore of Carolina, his English soldiers reinforced by a thousand Indians, struck across country and went almost to the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the missions in that region. Several prisoners were burned at the stake just to teach the treacherous dons a lesson. Meantime there were Indian massacres, as first one side and then the other gained control of the bewildered savages.

The War of the Spanish Succession was now well over, but the ensuing peace went in warlike guise. The final treaty gave England the coveted right to the Spanish-American slave trade—a lucrative business that incidentally did much to inflate the South Sea Bubble which was soon to burst in the faces of the British middle class. Nevertheless the doubloons and pieces of eight poured into London and the merchants in their fur-lined cloaks had never more cause to bless their fathers’ foresight. The trade was not pursued without abuses by both parties. Spain’s treasure ships were inevitably the prey of both her enemies and her friends, and in the eighteenth century the Caribbean still rang with captures and reprisals. That Spain should give British ships a taste of their own medicine struck the owners of cargoes as indefensible conduct, and they demanded that something be done about it.

What was done about it was the War of Jenkins’ Ear. The immediate cause of this cataclysm was the appearance in Parliament of Robert Jenkins, an English master mariner, whose ear had been cut off some years before in the Caribbean by a sneaking guarda-costa. Jenkins had tenaciously preserved the severed member in a bottle which he now shook under the refined noses of the lawmakers. Uncharitable folk said he had lost the ear in the pillory, but it was as good a cause as most for war, and war it was. Oglethorpe marched up and down the Georgia territory and laid siege unsuccessfully to St. Augustine. Spain, on the agres-sive, attacked the English settlements along the coast, and the ships of both nations harried each other without quarter. Vice-Admiral Vernon with a force of English and Americans sailed about the Caribbean with much fanfaronade but accomplished little for his cause. The permanent results of his activities were to damage irreparably the beauty of Cartagena and other ancient towns of the Spanish Main, and to give his name to one of America’s treasured monuments; for Lawrence Washington, half-brother of George, was on the Cartagena expedition, and, for reasons that do not appear, so admired the Admiral that he named his plantation on the Potomac after him.

In the string of wars between England and Spain from the defeat of the Armada to the Napoleonic Wars, it is hard to tell where one began and the other left off—if they could be said to leave off. In every pause in the fighting the diplomats could be heard bethumping each other with words. The War of Jenkins’ Ear lasted for about four years; then Spain took a hand in the English-French quarrels and the sparring went on. But when the English captured Havana they were ready to talk business with Spain, and the latter was at last obliged to relinquish Florida in order to regain the island capital. This was in 1763, exactly a hundred years from the time of King Charles’ first patent of lands in the American Southeast.

Lippety lappety poppety pet, The marchants of London they wear scarlet Silk on the collar and gold on the hem, So merrily march the marchantmen.

Popular balladry of the time summarizes with characteristic economy the waxing influence of the British merchant class, whose bulging chests were fed to no small degree from the American colonies. History, however, is a writer of less taste, and instead of making a clean end at the right place she drags the tale on with anticlimaxes and inconclusions. Thus she couldn’t leave the merchants enjoying the fruits of their enterprise, but goes on to relate that Spain recovered Florida by treaty in 1783, only to yield it to a new character belatedly introduced—the Government of the United States. So both the English merchant and the Spanish don lost their speculations about which there had been so much heated to-ing and fro-ing, such braveries and optimisms, such Utopian schemes and dark machinations. It spoils the story.


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