Pages vii-xxix

Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 15, 1696-1697. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1904.

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Burke's description of the genesis of the Board of Trade.

"THIS board, Sir, has had both its original formation and "its regeneration in a job. In a job it was conceived and "in a job its mother brought it forth . . . It was "projected in the year 1668, and it continued in a tottering "and rickety childhood for about three or four years, for it "died in 1673 . . . It was buried with little ceremony; "and never more thought of until the reign of King William, "when in the strange vicissitude of neglect and vigour, of "good and ill success that attended his wars, in the year "1695, the trade was distressed beyond all example of "former sufferings by the piracies of the French cruisers. "This suffering incensed and, as it should seem, very justly "incensed the House of Commons. . . . They attempted "to form in Parliament a board for the protection of trade; "which, as they planned it, was to draw to itself a part, if "not the whole, of the functions and powers both of the "Admiralty and of the Treasury. . . . As the Executive "Government was in a manner convicted of a dereliction of "its functions, it was with infinite difficulty that this blow "was warded off in the session. There was a threat to "renew the same in the next. To prevent the effect of this "manœuvre the Court opposed another manœuvre to it; and "in the year 1696 called into life this Board of Trade which "had slept since 1673."

Its evident inaccuracy.

Such, in his speech on Economical Reform, is the account given by Edmund Burke of the genesis of the Board of Trade, the first commission of which stands at the opening of the present volume. It is difficult to understand how he contrived to reconcile the statement with the fact that, as this Calendar proves, the Committee, or as it was called the Board, of the Privy Council for Trade and Plantations fulfilled its functions continuously from 1673 to May, 1696. The Board was indeed reconstituted, and being no longer of the Privy Council became as other Boards. In other words it could no longer address the Admiralty, the Treasury and the Customs as a superior, but could only approach them as an equal if not an inferior; but though endowed with smaller powers, it was charged with precisely the same functions as its predecessor, and carried on its work continuously without the slightest interruption. Whether, therefore, Burke be correct or incorrect in his assertion that the new Board was formed to prevent Parliament from encroaching on the province of the executive, it seems a hard criticism to speak of its creation as a job. So long as the Colonies existed and the Acts of Trade and Navigation remained in force, the business of administration concerning them was of quite sufficient volume to demand the attention of a complete department.

The formation of the new Board.

The list of the new Commissioners (1) contains but one name, that of John Locke, which is remembered in English history; but it is significant that William Blathwayt, the Secretary of the old Committee of Trade and Plantations, was one of the members. But for his knowledge and experience the new Board would have taken long to learn its work. It will be observed that it did not meet for despatch of business until six weeks after its appointment, when it selected William Popple for its Secretary. It does not appear by whose recommendation this gentleman was selected; but it is certain that in the matter of order and method he introduced great improvements into the office. The documents, after his advent, are well-arranged and well preserved; the entry-books are well and intelligently kept; and undated papers, often a source of great trouble and perplexity to an editor, are rarely, if ever, to be found. The Secretary having been appointed, the Board agreed to sit at least thrice a week; and Sir Christopher Wren was called in, as though he had been a mere clerk of the works instead of the architect of St. Paul's, to superintend the fitting of the rooms at Whitehall, which had still some eighteen months of life before they should be finally destroyed by fire (54, 60, 64). William Churchill and Jacob Tonson were then appointed stationers; and there-with the staff of the office, with its door-keepers and messengers, was complete (71). The method of transacting business was simple. The members of the Board met, agreed upon their recommendations for each item of business, and embodied them in a representation to the King; when an Order in Council empowered them to put their recommendations into execution. By a second Commission of 6 July, 1697 (1160), which added the business of fisheries and of the poor to the duties of the Board, it was ordained that every representation should be signed by at least four members.

State of trade in May, 1696.

Increase of piracy.

The affairs of Trade and Plantations were in no pleasing condition in May, 1696. As Burke truly said, British trade had suffered beyond example from the depredations of French cruisers, as also from piracy which, as shall presently be seen, was not wholly confined to the French. Diminished trade of course brought with it diminished revenue, which was doubly serious in view of the disorder of British finance, aggravated by the pressure of seven years of war. A succession of expeditions had been despatched to root out the French from their naval bases in the West Indies at Martinique and Guadeloupe to windward, and at Hispaniola to leeward, and to sweep the French fleet off the seas. One and all of them had failed, with disgrace and disaster; and after huge expenditure of lives and of treasure, the peril of the French fleet remained as formidable as ever. Nor were its ravages confined to the Caribbean Archipelago. French cruisers and privateers never ceased to harry the coast of New England; and the tobacco of Virginia and Maryland, like the sugar of Jamaica and Barbados, remained idle in the Colonies for want of shipping, and of convoys to escort the shipping to the only lawful market in England. For seven years this state of things had continued, growing worse rather than better with each year; and the inevitable result had been that the Colonial merchants had sought to indemnify themselves by finding markets other than those prescribed by the Acts of Trade, and by participating in the large profits which lay open to all by the simple process of robbery on the high seas. Where the merchants embarked their capital, the population on the sea-board cheerfully embarked its labour; and piracy, thriving on the commerce of all nations, developed a commerce of its own, which bade fair to extinguish all other. Even the King's ships were drawn insensibly into the vortex. Their crews, collected by the press-gang and subjected often to brutal officers, deserted as soon as they reached a Colonial port, and were easily persuaded to take part in some piratical venture which, at comparatively small risk, might bring them a dividend of one hundred pounds or more apiece. The present volume brings us face to face with a fact that is absolutely unknown to the vast majority of Englishmen, namely that towards the close of the war which ended at the peace of Ryswick British pirates, fitted out from British Colonies, practically swept British trade with the East Indies off the seas. The subject is of the greater interest, since it shows what curious results the stress of war may extract from an Imperial Commercial Code.

New Act to regulate Colonial trade.

The Proprietary Colonies held responsible for the failure of the old Acts of Trade.

The British Parliament, acutely sensitive to the increasing financial distress, had in the Session of 1695–1696 sought to amend it by passing a stringent Act to prevent frauds and regulate abuses in the Plantation Trade. It is singular to note this recourse, at a time of financial pressure, to an attempt at rigid enforcement of the Commercial Code. George Grenville, at the close of the Seven Years' War, also considered that strong administration of the Acts of Trade would gather in sufficient revenue to lighten appreciably the burden of the National Debt; but both he and his predecessors went astray through a blind confidence that Acts of Parliament will enforce themselves. The old Commercial Code rested largely upon oaths, which, it need hardly be said, were multiplied to an incredible extent by the New Act of 1695–6, with appalling penalties for violation of the same; but the difficulty, which never was faced, was the means by which these penalties should be exacted. When, however, enactments, such as the old Acts of Trade, are thoroughly vicious in principle, it is easy to ascribe their failure to the misconduct of some one particular man or group of men, whose perversity alone has prevented them from working smoothly and well. Such a scape-goat was now discovered in the Proprietary Colonies (100), that is to say of the Bahamas, Carolina, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, which were either in the hands of an individual proprietor, such as William Penn, or of Corporate proprietary bodies. In these Colonies the Governors did not bear the King's Commission nor correspond directly with the Board of Trade and Plantations. Where the King's Governors were supreme, it was thought, though quite erroneously, that remiss administration and connivance with breaches of the Acts of Trade were unknown or could be readily corrected. The remedy for the shortcomings of the Proprietary Colonies, as prescribed by the Commissioners of Customs, was the establishment by the Crown of Admiralty Courts for the trial of offences under these Acts (100, 107). This proposal raised the constitutional question whether the Crown had the right to establish Admiralty Courts and officers for the same in Proprietary Colonies; and it may be mentioned that the exact status of a Proprietary Colony in relation to the Crown is a question which still troubles the Supreme Court of the United States. However, the Attorney General in this instance decided that the Crown did possess this right (409, 466); and the matter was so far settled. The question, however, was likely to lead to controversy, for the King's Admiralty Courts would try cases without a jury; and it was upon the sympathy of juries that one and all of the Colonies reckoned for relief from the trammels of the Acts of Trade.

The Crown resolves to erect Admiralty Courts in the Colonies.

In another respect the new Act itself had already provided that the Governors nominated by the Proprietors of Colonies should be approved by the Crown, and should take the same oaths as were required from the King's own Governors for the due execution of the Acts of Trade. The question now arose as to the enforcement of this clause. Edward Randolph had submitted a report upon the Proprietary Colonies (1491) which set forth clearly, and withal truthfully, that all of them were centres of illegal trade and many of them of piracy also, Rhode Island being as great a sinner in this respect as either the Bahamas or Carolina. A second report from the same hand (396 I.) amplified these accusations; but it was admitted at the same time that in the matter of illegal trade Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts were as blameworthy as any Proprietary Colony. These two reports of course brought indignant disclaimers from sundry Proprietors (451); and the whole of the Chartered and Proprietary Colonies leagued themselves together to resist the erection of Admiralty Courts by the Crown, and to claim their right to establish such Courts for themselves (506, 511). Immediately afterwards the Board received from the East India Company a series of documents complaining of the havoc wrought in the East Indian seas by pirates fitted out in the American Colonies (517). With the exception of Maryland and Virginia hardly a province was exempted from the charge of piracy. The godly city of Boston was painted as black as the ungodly city of Charles-town; but most significant was the allegation that New York was the worst offender of all the American ports and the King's Governor, Colonel Fletcher, the worst offender in New York. Fresh evidence to the same effect came from other sources; but for the moment the question of piracy was not stirred, though it was soon to assume larger dimensions than had yet been dreamed of. The eyes of Parliament were still fixed exclusively upon the Proprietary Colonies; and in March, 1697, the House of Lords in an address to the King prayed that security should be taken from Proprietors for the due execution by their Governors of the Acts of Trade (820). Upon this the Proprietary Colonies set their backs against the wall, and resolved to fight against this restriction to the utmost. The Bahamas, probably the most lawless and disreputable of all the Colonies, were the first to turn. In spite of all protests the Crown shewed every sign of establishing its own Admiralty Courts (774 I.); a very severe circular had been issued by the King for the proper enforcement of the Acts of Trade (958–961); and now although Parliament had given the Crown the right to veto the appointment of the Governors chosen by the Proprietors, yet security was to be required of those same Proprietors for the good behaviour of the very Governors that had been approved by the Crown. The whole history of the struggle is not included in the present volume; for the weight of the new regulations fell at first wholly on the Bahamas, in which the Governorship happened at the time to be vacant. Long and searching were the enquiries as to the fitness of Nicholas Webb, the nominee of the Proprietors (433, 542, 588, 602, 644, 668, 687) before his appointment was confirmed (709, 710); and the sulky recalcitrance of the Proprietors (1065, 1077) shows how bitterly this encroachment of the Crown was resisted. Before long William Penn was to enter the lists and fight by their side; but for the present he contented himself with submitting a scheme of his own for preventing illegal trade (987), which may be compared with the instructions issued by the Board for the guidance of Governors in executing the new Act (1007). Of the objections to these same instructions we shall learn more in the next volume, but meanwhile they are valuable as giving in a succinct form the intent of the Acts of Trade and Navigation—those famous but forgotten enactments upon which turns the whole history of our Colonial Empire for one hundred years.

Successes of the French Arms in America.

But it was not only in respect of the Commercial Code that the Proprietary and Chartered Colonies threw a stumbling block in the way of Imperial organisation. The war with France was still in full vigour, though approaching its end; the French were still active in aggression from the side of Canada; and the Colonies were still, as always, disunited. New York was of course ever the principal object of French ambition, but New England also was not spared. In August, 1696, the French attacked Pemaquid with a considerable force and received its surrender after a discreditably feeble resistance (257). The authorities at Boston were energetic and spirited enough to reply to this attack by an offensive counter-movement against the enemy in the Bay of Fundy (185, 243); but even their patience was well-nigh exhausted; and in December, 1696, by an address to the Crown which is famous in history, they for the first time invoked the assistance of the Mother Country for the reduction of Canada, "the unhappy fountain from which issue all our "miseries" (483 I.). The charge of the war, so they complained, had lain heavy on the province; Connecticut had contributed little to it, and Rhode Island and New Hampshire nothing at all. These three were all of them Proprietary or Chartered Colonies, though the Lieutenant-Governor of New Hampshire held the King's Commission. Nothing could persuade them to join together for common defence; and this disunion was due less to reluctance to fight than to bitter jealousy and to a preference for piracy as the most profitable outlet for their combative energy (554).

They are favoured by general disunion of the American Colonies.

If this were the case with the four provinces of New England, much more was it true of the whole group of provinces from New Hampshire to Carolina. At the end of July, 1696, intelligence that Count Frontenac was moving out from Montreal to attack the friendly Five Nations called Governor Fletcher hastily from New York to the frontier at Albany. The invasion was not pressed; but three of the Five tribes came flying into Albany in panic, dreading the enemy which had wrought such havoc among them since 1689. Fletcher wrote to Connecticut and New Jersey for their quotas of troops in this alarm, but without the slightest effect (135, 159). A month later he, as usual, paid his annual visit to the Five Nations and found them staunch to the British alliance in consequence of a recent victory, but weary of the war; as well they might be, for they had suffered almost to annihilation from it (371). If they changed sides, it was practically certain that New York, and with it the whole of the British Colonies, must succumb to the French. A new invasion being threatened at the end of 1696, Fletcher decided to take up his quarters at Albany for the winter; and meanwhile the Council of New York pressed earnestly for the King's orders to the neighbouring Colonies to share the duty and expense of the war (412). It is noteworthy that in Virginia and Maryland, where the Governors, Andros and Nicholson, were both of them men who had held the government of New York, some effort was made at any rate to give pecuniary assistance (6, 379), but Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut would send not a man nor a penny (14). "The Indians, though monsters, want not "sense," wrote Fletcher, "but plainly see we are not united, "and it is apparent that the stronger these Colonies grow "in parts, the weaker we are on the whole, every little "Government setting up for despotic power and allowing "no appeal to the Crown, but valuing themselves on their "own strength and on a little juggling in defeating all "commands and injunctions of the King." Nor was this criticism altogether unjust, as a perusal of the correspondence (27 IV.–XI.) will shew. But meanwhile the decay of trade had so impoverished Maryland and Virginia that even they became reluctant to contribute further sums for defence, and Maryland actually begged the Crown for exemption (67, 75, 87). In New Jersey on the contrary the labouring class was so well off that the militia refused to march for less than two shillings a day; and though this sum in Colonial currency can hardly have exceeded 60 per cent. of the same sum in sterling money, it must none the less be reckoned enormous. But the reason was not far to seek. The young men had embarked in numbers on piratical voyages, thus giving to those that remained behind the opportunity of demanding higher wages, which the settlers, by withdrawing to some safe district where they could work in peace, were well content to pay (174).

Efforts to combine the Colonies for defence.

In despair Fletcher sent in May, 1696, two members of his Council to England to represent the hardship suffered by New York in being compelled, as the frontier-province, to bear the whole burden of protecting the rest against French aggression. The Agent for Connecticut was careful to forestal them by an elaborate explanation of the reasons which prevented Connecticut from giving her assistance (203), but his representations seem to have carried little weight with the Board. "Considering how ill the regulation "of the quotas has been complied with by several of the "provinces," the members wrote, "we think that a letter "should be written to the Governors ordering them to make "good their respective proportions" (401). A circular was accordingly despatched to all the Proprietary Colonies to that effect (696–701), with a significant hint against the harbouring of pirates added to it, as if to threaten penalties unless the order were obeyed. Thereupon William Penn at once suggested the insertion of a proviso that provinces immediately threatened by the enemy should be exempt from furnishing their quota (717); the reason for this being that a party of hostile Indians had lately moved in the direction of the Susquehannah, whereupon (though Penn did not mention it) the Quaker settlement, which so far had professed itself unable to afford any help, had suddenly taken the alarm and sent £200 as a present to the Five Nations, or in other words to hire them to defend the province (503). Whatever the shortcomings of the British Government, it must be admitted that the American Colonies were little short of maddening in their blindness, selfishness, jealousy and cupidity. They wished to take everything and give nothing, thwarting the Crown on every possible occasion and yet expecting the Crown to defend them from an enemy which, with a little exertion and public spirit, they could easily have crushed for themselves without the help of a single British soldier.

Bad state of the King's troops at New York.

Due in part to the Colonies.

Unfortunately the doubling of the Companies, paid by the King at New York for its defence, from two to four, had led the Colonies to lean far too much upon what was actually a broken reed. In the desperate straits of the British Treasury the authorities at Whitehall had sought to practise economy by taking advantage of the difference in exchange between Britain and New York. This exchange amounted on an average to a difference of 30 per cent. in favour of Britain; and accordingly it had been ordered that 30 per cent. should be deducted from the pay of all ranks and devoted to the salaries of officers not on the ordinary establishment of a company, such as a chaplain, an armourer and the like. It seems never to have occurred to the wiseacres in London that the cost of all the necessaries of life in New York exceeded that in England by an average of 100 to 150 per cent., and that therefore the soldiers needed all the advantage of the exchange, if not more, to enable them to subsist. Yet the fact had been represented to them fifty times; but indeed two centuries have failed to eradicate this particular form of imbecility from our War Department, so that it is unjust to be unduly severe upon our ancestors. However, the deduction was ordered, and the inevitable result was at once seen in wholesale desertion. Here again piracy and the cupidity of the settlers intervened to produce infinite mischief. The high rate of wages caused by the dearth of labourers was in itself a sufficient inducement to desertion, and this was increased by the deliberate protection of deserters not only by individuals but by the provincial Governments. Fletcher was unable to obtain restitution of deserters from Connecticut except by promising to pardon them. On one occasion fifteen men of an advanced post deserted in a body and, being followed up, turned and fought until five of them had been killed and two more wounded (27 I.). Another difficulty in the way was the quality of the officers in these Companies. Lieutenant Bickford, who quelled the mutinous deserters above referred to, seems to have been an excellent soldier; and he was not an Englishman, but a native of New York. Fletcher, it may be observed, had sought to solve the difficulty of recruiting by enlisting Colonists for one year only—the first instance, and a very successful one, of short service in our military history (12, 14)—and on that account alone, therefore, he was wise in giving commissions to Colonial officers. But apart from this it should seem that the young men sent out from England by the favour of the great Whig magnates were of the very worst type. Three of them, named Shanke, Sydenham and Wright, deserted according to Fletcher's account, resigned their commissions according to their own, but at any rate went home without leave, and seem to have been an excellent riddance. Their names continually crop up in this volume (422, 429, 536, 625) at the head of voluminous accusations against their Captains, Wemyss and Hide, and their Colonel, Fletcher himself, of defrauding them and their men of their pay, making false musters and so forth. All of these offences were the rule rather than the exception in the Army in those days, and it is difficult to decide, upon the evidence, whether these officers were guilty of them or not. But on the other hand the account given of Lieutenants Sydenham and Wright by their Captains, together with a letter from Wright himself, leave little doubt that these three lieutenants, though they enjoyed the patronage of such great men as William Blathwayt and the Duke of Bolton, were absolutely unfit to hold a commission. The whole of the documents concerned with this controversy, and particularly Nos. 536 I.–XV. give an insight which is most valuable into the military methods of the time. Officers of the present day will find them to be most amusing reading. The main point, however, is that the root of all these troubles lay in the insufficiency of the pay granted to the garrison by the British Government and the irregularity in the discharge of it, whereby both officers and men were left naked and starving (1185, 1283, 1297).

Evil influence of Governor Fletcher.

But perhaps the most disquieting feature in the situation at New York was the character of the Commander-in-Chief, Governor Fletcher himself. So far as the military part of his duties was concerned he seemed to be active enough; but unpleasant charges of fraud, of influencing elections and of connivance with piracy began to multiply against him (217, 262, 543, 544), and the Board, growing suspicious, announced its willingness to receive further evidence upon the subject (495). The man was always clamouring for recruits, arms, ammunition and presents for the Indians, but the Board might well hesitate to supply these if they were only to be embezzled by a rogue. The Five Nations, in spite of all blandishments, seemed inclined to make peace with the French in June, 1697, and were only with difficulty recalled to their old allegiance (1144). It was again difficult to say how far the unwillingness of the neighbouring provinces to furnish help to the Governor of New York might arise from distrust of his personal character. Taking all these difficulties into consideration the Board, though not yet fully apprised of Fletcher's proceedings, resolved if possible to make sweeping reforms. We shall see enough and too much of Fletcher in the next volume: for the present it must suffice to point out that in the old days, when salaries were irregularly paid or not paid at all, the temptation to swell by illicit gain the small emolument arising from legitimate fees must have been difficult to withstand; and that no better method of making them irresistible could have been devised than the old Commercial Code. Fruitful in demoralisation at all times, in time of war it was at its very worst, involving whole communities, from the highest to the lowest, in a huge conspiracy of subterfuge, deceit and fraud.

New attempt to unite the Governments of America for purposes of defence.

The first step towards reform in the administration of the North American Colonies obviously lay in unification, supposing it to be humanly possible, at any rate for military purposes. To this end the subjection of all Chartered and Proprietary Colonies immediately to the Crown was obviously the plainest means; but this plan, though broached at the beginning of the war, was not now put forward, and the Chartered Colonies survived until the Revolution, when they taught the other provinces the art of self-government. None the less, the law-officers had opined that the Crown had the right to appoint a Commander-in-Chief for the forces of the Proprietary Colonies, and the Board early seized upon this opinion as a solution of the problem of defence (286). There was, moreover, a consensus of intelligent opinion in the Colonies themselves as to the expediency of this measure (358, 651, 653); and one gentleman went so far as to urge that New York should be united for purposes of civil as well as military government with New England and placed under the same Governor.

The Governments of New England and New York united under Lord Bellomont

The Governorship of Massachusetts being vacant and that of New York easily to be vacated by the recall of Fletcher, this idea commended itself to the Board, though it was of course strenuously opposed both by Connecticut and by New York, which city was furiously jealous of being outstripped in importance by Boston (690, 691). The Agents of Massachusetts on the other hand supported the proposal with the greatest zeal, for the precise reason which made it distasteful to New York (704). Finally the Board sided with New England and recommended the appointment of a single Governor for Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, who should also be Captain-General of all the forces in Connecticut, Rhode Island and the Jerseys; the said functionary to reside chiefly at New York in time of war, and to have a Lieutenant-Governor both there and at Boston (762). The next business was to choose a man for this important post, and the choice fell upon an Irish peer, Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont (551, 804). After some correspondence as to the powers to be granted to him by his commission (891, 909) and as to his salary (932, 939); he proposed Captain John Nanfan to be his Lieutenant-Governor at New York (1004), who was duly appointed. Advantage was also taken of the occasion to secure recruits and pay for the troops, together with the remission of the 30 per cent. deducted from their wages, ordnance stores and presents for the Indians, all of which had long been entreated by Fletcher (1004, 1008, 1033, 1073, 1075). It is worth noting that his commission included the province of Nova Scotia or Acadia, together with the land lying between it and Maine, besides the Narragansett Country or King's Province, the true ownership of which was once again called into controversy at this period, in spite of all previous attempts to determine it (636, 689, 962, 1027, 1202, 1234). For the rest, there was imposed upon him by his instructions the duty of settling not only the new method of administration for the provinces committed to his care, but every question which had troubled the late Committee and the present Board during the past two years (1286–1288).

Troubles in New Hampshire

Of these, though comparatively little was said about it, the Government of New Hampshire of itself promised a sufficiency of work to supply him for several months. That troublesome province still continued to ignore John Usher, the King's Lieutenant-Governor, refusing to vote supplies even for defence, and actually attempting to seize the fort. The people were in fact republicans, and that of a vindictive type, for they did not stick at shooting Usher's horses while at grass in order to show their contempt for his authority. The situation was so serious that Usher at last sent home a special messenger to report it, giving also credentials to another citizen to add confirmatory evidence (282–285). The man was in fact at the end of his patience. For four years he had tried to do his duty, whether his conception of it were mistaken or not, and had been met by stubborn and defiant disobedience in the Colony and by absolute indifference at Whitehall. At last he sent home a loyal emissary to lay the state of the case before the Board, and added his own opinion to that of other leading men in the Colonies as to the expediency of uniting the Colonies under a Governor-General (294). This gentleman duly reported his arrival to the Board (570), whereupon the Agents for Massachusetts at once put forward their old claim for the annexation of New Hampshire to that province (652), to which Samuel Allen, the Proprietor of New Hampshire, promptly answered with representations directly to the contrary (672). Meanwhile the rebellious party in New Hampshire, no doubt under the influence of Massachusetts, took the reins of government by force into their own hands; and Usher, having sent a second emissary to report the matter, retired from the province and gave up the government (730, 742). The Agents for Massachusetts took upon themselves to urge the case of the rebels against that of Usher's envoys (1060, 1061, 1096); but the Board after hearing both parties decided that the King's authority had been defied in the person of Usher, and decided to uphold him until Lord Bellomont should settle the whole affair on the spot (1196, 1221–1223). This of course was an evasion rather than a solution of the real difficulty, which was less to reconcile the New England Colonists with any individual Governor than to uphold the royal authority in any shape or form. The republican spirit was strong in those provinces; and while willing to take from the Crown any help that it would furnish, they were resolute in refusing to it the slightest concession in return. "The Boston representatives, "wrote Usher (341), "though they send to the King for ships "and men, yet address him for their old Charter." Great and manifold though were the mistakes and faults of the British Government, the chief difficulty with the New England provinces was that they would not deal straightforwardly with it. They would accept a Charter on one day and pass Act after Act in contradiction to it on the next. The Board, fully alive to these wiles, kept a sharp eye on the enactments of the Boston Assembly and disallowed many of them, but always in a tone of the mildest correction, as if calling attention to an error unwittingly committed rather than discovering a subterfuge deliberately contrived (604). The reader will find in No. 1281 the exposure of a cunning method for evading the King's disallowance of laws, by enacting them for short periods and re-enacting them just before expiration, so that as fast as they were disallowed they required fresh disallowance, and being valid until such disallowance was notified, remained practically always in force. This was the essential character of these provinces; their ideal of conduct was to over-reach their neighbours. Much has been written of the causes which led to the ultimate rupture between Mother Country and Colonies; but not the least of them was that the Colonies would respect no agreement. If the English had driven the French from Canada in 1697, as they ultimately did in 1760, it can hardly be doubted that New England would then, as it did later, have declared forthwith its independence.

French successes in Hudson's Bay and Newfoundland.

At that time, however, the impotence of England both afloat and ashore was deplorable, and no experience of past errors seemed to teach her wisdom. She was willing to put forth her strength on behalf of the Colonies, but she was utterly ignorant how to turn it to the best account. In the last volume of this Calendar was told the melancholy story of the abortive expedition to Hispaniola, of which a new and interesting, though not quite honest, account by the engineer Lilly appears in the present volume (384). Since the wreck of that expedition had returned home, the French had taken the offensive with far more telling effect than their adversaries, and the British had responded only by the recapture of their settlements in Hudson's Bay, which had been taken by the French in 1694. This latter event is brought before us in the present volume by a series of documents dealing with a wrangle that arose out of the terms of the capitulation (471, 524, 560, 568, 569, 592, 593, 760). Next to the great West Indian merchants there were probably few stronger trading bodies in England than the Company of West Country Adventurers which controlled the destinies of Newfoundland; and in November there came up a succession of petitions to the King setting forth the lamentable fact that on the 11th of September, 1696, the French had invaded Newfoundland in force, carried off all that was worth taking, destroyed the rest, and in fact ruined the British settlements (392, 393). This was not the first French attack in this quarter, for they had made an attempt in Newfoundland in 1694, but had been driven off by the efforts of William Holman, a very gallant merchant skipper (417, 1038, 1105, 1106); but their success in their last enterprise had been complete. The lamentations of the ports of Devon were loud, and their demands and representations for convoy, and reconquest incessant (see index, West Country Merchants). Accordingly early in January, 1697, the King resolved to send an expedition to retake Newfoundland. Preparations were made for the despatch of a squadron with 750 soldiers (906), and after many difficulties and incredible confusion the expedition sailed on the 11th of April. The merchants did their best to second the efforts of the King, but the lawlessness of the King's officers, who insisted on pressing their men for the King's ships (622, 739, 755, 756), retarded their preparations; and the incompetence of the Admiralty in the arrangement of convoys caused enormous delay (888, 893, 948, 949). The first letter of the Commander, Colonel Gibsone, descriptive of what he found at Newfoundland (1115), shows that even immediately upon his arrival he was seized with apprehensions lest his force should be starved. We shall see more of Gibsone's difficulties in the next volume, and it is sufficient to note at present that the authorities at Whitehall had at any rate the wisdom to exhort Massachusetts to give him all possible help in the matter both of men and of stores (823).

The French fleet in the leeward West Indies.

This was one Colonial expedition, but not the only one recorded in this volume. Since the failure of the attack on Hispaniola, Jamaica, weakened by the disasters of earthquake, epidemic, yellow fever and invasion, remained trembling for the fate that might be in store for her; and her apprehensions were increased in June, 1696, by the news that a fleet had reached Hispaniola a month earlier and sailed to leeward, apparently for attack on the Spanish Colonies (72, 73). The Council set forth the helpless condition of the island in strong terms (97), and the Governor backed their representations by bitter complaints of the neglect of the island, and of the harm wrought by the British men-of-war, which by unscrupulous impressment of the inhabitants frightened all able-bodied men away, and were thus an injury rather than a protection to Jamaica (101–103). All through the summer and autumn the alarm continued, and the Governor became more importunate for help and more active in his reproaches to the King's Government (130, 163, 222, 232–234), until at last in October he was relieved by hearing that the French fleet, after heavy losses from sickness, had sailed back to France (325). Meanwhile the Board had taken his representations in good part (287) and had made recommendations to remedy the mismanagement which rendered the King's ships so useless to the West Indies. The Jamaica Agents kept the members up to the mark; and when in November there came intelligence of another fleet fitting out in France against the West Indies (374), the Board at once recommended the despatch of an engineer and of fire-ships for its protection (391), warned Jamaica, Barbados and the Leeward Islands to stand on their guard (413–415), and finally begged the King to send out a squadron to combat that of France (453). A squadron was accordingly despatched under Admiral Nevill which, as usual after much delay, arrived at Barbados towards the end of April, passed thence to the Leeward Islands (990) and finally sailed to Jamaica, where it arrived just ten days too late. The French fleet indeed had no design upon the English Islands, but had sacked Carthagena; and Nevill just missed intercepting it with the whole of its booty (1080). He then made an attempt upon Petit Guavos, which failed owing to the drunkenness of his men (1201), and after an unpleasant wrangle with the Governor of Jamaica (1184) he sailed to Virginia, where he died. The squadron having touched at Maryland then sailed home, having accomplished little beyond the capture of many French privateers which had long been the terror of Jamaica (1237–1289).

Bad state of the Royal Navy.

In truth, the glimpses afforded by these papers of the state of the Navy do not give flattering views of that service. The abuses by the Captains of their power of impressment were not confined to Jamaica. Everywhere there was the same story of brutality and oppression, often no doubt combined with blackmail, for the King's Captains were greedy for money, probably with some excuse, for their wages must certainly have been in arrear, looking to the depletion of the English Treasury. Some of their methods of making money may be studied in No. 377; some of their most shameful shortcomings in No. 461; and examples of their intolerable presumption and indiscipline appear in Nos. 768 and 1788. Their powers of impressment were abridged (1455); and it is only necessary to study their proceedings to understand how it came about that for long they were left much under the control of the Governors in the Colonies. The only step of progress taken in the Navy was the elaboration of a scheme of reliefs for the King's ships in the North American and West Indian Stations, which indeed was very urgently required (317). The shortcomings of both branches of the military service were, however, saved from further exposure by the Peace of Ryswick, which was signed on the 10/20 September, 1697, but not reported to the Colonies until some weeks later. Throughout the volume there are indications that there was a general expectation of peace, and indeed the military operations after February, 1697, bear the semblance of being half-hearted. The efforts of private individuals to retain Nova Scotia at the peace may be seen in Nos. 250 and 921, with a restatement of the old proprietary claims of Englishmen to the same (920, 947). There is also a curious correspondence, shewing the unwillingness of the Colonies to accept shiploads of convicted criminals, even when their populations had suffered much from the war (657, 1134, 1140, 1156, 1157, 1166, 1172, 1190, 1194, 1205, 1216). There is also the opening of a still more remarkable discussion as to the feasibility of settling disbanded soldiers in the Colonies (1379, 1384), an idea which was afterwards realised in the foundation of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Events in individual Colonies.

For the rest there is little more that demands attention in the various Colonies. New York did indeed engage in a furious controversy with New Jersey when the latter tried to set up a rival port in Perth Amboy, but the controversy was decided in her favour and she was content (1308, 1342, 1358, 1359, 1367, 473). Pennsylvania also embarked in a quarrel with Maryland, which had laid a duty of ten per cent. on all English goods which passed through her territory into Pennsylvania and on the beer imported from Pennsylvania into Maryland. Such restrictions were of course unneighbourly, and greatly roused the ire of Penn (478, 716). Maryland on the contrary complained that Pennsylvania harboured all her runaway mariners and servants, took a mean advantage by violating the Acts of Trade (which she herself observed) and equipped and encouraged pirates (1178), all of which statements were probably if not certainly true (1331, 1338, 1383). The Maryland papers contain little of interest beyond a lengthy and valuable report on the existing and former administration of the province, an account of the working of the Acts of the Trade therein, and many curious statistics (862, 1054). Virginia continued her usual sleepy existence, the Assembly bullying the Clergy, and the Council enriching themselves by the engrossment of all places of trust and by their claim of immunity from all process of law (53, 93). These abuses, however, and the evil and corrupt system of administering the land (176), attracted the attention of the Board of Trade, which began to ask unpleasant questions (300) and to obtain damaging answers (354). Finally to an official report by the Governor on what are now called the Statistics of the Colony (956, 1131) there was added an unofficial report by a leading Virginian, Henry Hartwell, and a very long and exceedingly able account of the whole administrative and economic system, which was the joint production of himself, Dr. Blair and Edward Chilton (1396). This is, on the whole, the most interesting document that has passed through the hands of the present editor; and it possesses the further peculiarity of being so admirably written that it has hardly been possible for him to abridge a single word of it. The documents concerning Carolina at this period are so meagre as to be unworthy of mention.

In Bermuda there is nothing more important than the persecution of the late Governor, Isaac Richier, by his rascally successor, John Goddard, who, however, was before long to be called to account. There is, none the less, an interesting paper in which the Board of Trade calls attention to the strategic value of Bermuda (487). The Barbados papers consist for the most part of long dissertations upon the importance of the island and of its particular claims to special attention (104, 125); but there are fewer of them than usual owing to the death of the Governor, Francis Russell, and the devolution of his functions upon the President of the Council, "an aged and crazy man" (193). The Leeward Islands continued apparently to prosper under the reign of Christopher Codrington, but anonymous complaints against him were made to Admiral Nevill on his arrival with the fleet, and in September, 1697, a malcontent preferred definite charges against him (1317), which will be followed in the next volume. There are several papers relating to the cession of Tortola to the Elector of Brandenburg (382, 490, 1347); and a strong plea for the retention of the whole of St. Kitts at the expected peace (200). In truth in all these possessions the signs of exhaustion by long war are unmistakable; and the loss of a rich convoy outward bound from England was a crowning disaster which made them very eager for peace.

Indeed, the contents of this volume at large may be not untruly described as a study of exhaustion. But in the midst of it the new Board of Trade stands out conspicuous, striving with energy to solve high problems of administration, and working, for the present at any rate, with industry amid untold difficulties to reduce chaos to order.