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A History of William Paterson and the Darien Company
Chapter IV. The company's preparations for the first expedition to Darien


When the London subscribers reluctantly cancelled their subscriptions, owing to the threatened impeachment and other hostile acts of the English Government, five of their number held out, resolving to stand to their guns. Three of these gentlemen—viz., Paterson, James Smyth, and Daniel Lodge—visited Edinburgh for the purpose of giving their best help to the Scottish Directors in floating the Company in Scotland.1 Mr John Holland, the London merchant, in his 'Short Discourse,' states—

"When I came down to Scotland, which was on the 18th of March [1696], I found Mr Paterson very popular, and in some proportion Mr Smyth and Mr Lodge; and I found the whole nation universally in favour of the Indian and African trade."

After a short stay Smyth returned to London, but Paterson and Lodge remained in Edinburgh and attended several committee meetings of the Company. As Paterson was the only Director intimately conversant with the methods of foreign trade, he figures as the chief spokesman and counsellor at these meetings; and as his services were no longer required in England, he now placed all his information and valuable experience at the disposal of the Scottish Directors.

At an important meeting of the Committee of Foreign Trade, held on 23rd July 1696, Paterson submitted several memoirs, journals, reckonings, illuminated maps, and other papers of discovery, in connection with which he proposed sundry designs and schemes of trade. The meeting also came to some resolutions as to " ships, cargoes, stores, and equipages needful for Africa and the East and West Indies." The members of the committee appear to have been impressed with the feasibility and advantage to the Company of the designs proposed by Paterson. They unanimously requested him to commit his designs to writing, and deliver them in a sealed packet, together with the relative journals, maps, &c., to the Secretary for the Company's use. The packet was to be further sealed with the respective seals of my Lord Ruthven and three other Directors, and was not to be opened but by special order of the Court of Directors.

At this meeting the project of the great Darien scheme appears to have been unfolded and discussed for the first time, and Paterson was "encouraged freely to bestow all his pains and time henceforward in prosecuting the undertaking." The design was communicated to a select few of the Directors, upon whom strict secrecy was enjoined. [The destiny of the Company was thus changed. If the English subscribers had been permitted to retain their connection with the Company, it is probable that their plan of operations would have been directed, as it was originally intended, towards a safe and profitable East Indian trade.]

The scheme as propounded by Paterson was a magnificent one, and one which has fascinated other projectors since his day, who have emulated his project at enormous cost,—also without success. [When De Lesseps' Panama Canal Company went into liquidation in January 1889, its bond and share indebtedness and interest charges were roughly estimated at 74,000,000, with perhaps a fifth of the real work done.—'Chambers's Encyclopaedia ': article " Panama."] For many years it had been Paterson's dream, and had much engaged his thoughts, that a certain part of the Isthmus of Darien, in Central America, should be made an entrepot for the exchange of Western and Eastern commodities. At commodious ports on each side of the Isthmus he proposed to establish emporiums, and to conduct the trade of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, collected at these points, across the Isthmus by an overland route. By reason of its geographical position, it was anticipated that over this highway two-thirds at least of the commerce between Europe and Asia would be diverted from the route round the Cape, and Scotland might thus supplant Holland as the great mart for the wealth of the East. Paterson himself described the advantages of the proposed new route in the following words :—

"The time and expense of navigation to China, Japan, the Spice Islands, and the far greatest part of the East Indies will be lessened more than half, and the consumption of European commodities and manufactories will soon be more than doubled. Trade will increase trade, and money will beget money, and the trading world shall need no more to want work for their hands, but will rather want hands for their work. Thus, this door of the seas, and the key of the universe, with anything of a sort of reasonable management, will of course enable its proprietors to give laws to both oceans, and to become arbitrators of the commercial world, without being liable to the fatigues, expenses, and dangers, or contracting the guilt and blood, of Alexander and Csesar."

The inauguration of universal free trade and the concentration of the commerce of the globe on the Isthmus of Darien were the dominant ideas of Paterson's scheme; but when he lost influence with the Company, as will be afterwards explained, the free trade idea was departed from, and, instead, it was resolved to settle a plantation or colony on the north side of the Isthmus, to be called by the name of " Caledonia."

On the 22nd August the Company, at a meeting, at which Paterson and Lodge were both present, instructed John Munro, Doctor of Medicine, along with other four "Chirurgeon-Apothecaries" in Edinburgh, to prepare sufficient medicaments for the use of 1500 men for two years. On 30th September the doctor was further ordered to proceed to Dundee, Montrose, Aberdeen, and other northern towns, to ascertain the cheapest price of beef, and also dry and barrelled cod-fish, for the Company's use. He was also instructed to employ gunsmiths "wherever he can find them," and set them to work to make as many pistols "as they'll undertake " at 17s. or 18s. per pair.

Right on to 1697 the Company continued to purchase and amass a vast quantity of provisions and articles of trade, which they stored in their warehouse in Miln Square, Edinburgh. Large purchases were made of arms and ammunition and general ironmongery, also smiths', coopers', and carpenters' tools.

The following list gives an indication of the various stores which were collected :—

The Company also closed with the widow of Andrew Anderson, printer, for "a bargain of Bibles and Catechisms," for which 50 sterling was paid in advance. A contract was also entered into with Jeromie Robertson, periwig-maker, for "Campaign Wigs and Bobb Wigs"; and three Edinburgh hatters delivered into the Company's warehouse 1440 hats, at 2s. each, as the first instalment of their contract. [Herries describes the cargo in his ' Tract,' and refers to these purchases in the following sarcastic terms : ' Scotch Hats, a great quantity; English Bibles, 1500; Periwigs, 4000, some long, some short; Campaigns, Spanish bobs and natural ones. And truly they were all natural, for being made of Highlanders' hair, which is blanched with the rain and sun, when they came to be opened in the West Indies they looked like so many of Samson's fireships that he sent among the Philistines, and could be of no use to the Colony if it were not to mix with their lime when they plastered the walls of their houses."]

The Directors had appointed two agents to go "beyond the seas" (Alexander Stevenson to Hamburg, and Thomas Gibson to Amsterdam) to get the necessary ships built for the Company's use. Shortly after this, towards the end of September 1696, Paterson and other two Directors were deputed to visit these places to secure additional marine stores, and pay for the ships and arrange for their transference to Scotland. At that time such stores could be obtained much cheaper in Holland than in Scotland. There were also no dockyards in Scotland where ships could be built, and England was forbidden to give the Company any help in regard to seamen or shipping.

Owing to his familiarity with the home and foreign Exchanges, Paterson was selected as the Director fittest to handle the funds required to defray the cost of shipbuilding and other charges abroad. The sum of 25,000 was therefore entrusted to him, and of this amount, in anticipation of a rise in the rate of exchange, he remitted about 17,000 to his friend James Smyth, merchant in London. Smyth was to act as the Company's correspondent to retire bills drawn upon him from the Continent for the purchases made abroad, and in this connection an incident occurred which unfortunately marred Paterson's whole after-career. According to arrangement, Paterson and Colonel Erskine travelled direct to Holland. The other foreign deputy, Mr Haldane of Glen-eagles, was instructed to pass through London and take Smyth by the way, and examine the state of the Company's cash in his hands. To Gleneagles' surprise, he found that Smyth had been unfaithful to his trust, and had decamped with a large part of the funds. An immediate pursuit led to the recovery of a portion of the money, but a balance remained unaccounted for of over 8000.Paterson got much blame in the affair, and his credit was injured. A committee, consisting of Mr William Dunlop, Principal of the College of Glasgow, and Mr Robert Blackwood, two of the leading Directors, was appointed to examine into the business. After an exhaustive inquiry, these gentlemen gave in a report completely exonerating Paterson, and stating that it was entirely a case of misplaced confidence. On being pressed by the committee to say how he proposed to repay the balance, Paterson stated that, by leaving his own business in London abruptly to advance the interests of the Company both in Scotland and abroad, he had lost more than the balance due to them, especially referring to 4000 which he had in the Orphans' Fund and 2000 in the Hampstead Waterworks. He was, therefore, now devoid of funds to pay off the debt. He proposed that the Company should either dismiss him from their service, so that he could return to mercantile pursuits in London, hoping thereby to make good the balance, or that he should be allowed to go abroad in the service of the Directors, they appropriating a large part of his salary for the Company's benefit. The committee recommended the second alternative—viz., that Paterson's services should be retained, and that he should accompany the intended expedition in an official capacity. The Court of Directors, however, disregarded their committee's recommendation and made Paterson stand aside. He might go with the expedition if he chose, but only as a supernumerary.

Up to this time Paterson had been the chief counsellor in all the Company's proceedings and the projector of their plans, but through this unfortunate incident he now lost influence, and as an adviser was quite ignored—a strange turn in affairs, which naturally wounded him to the quick.

It was not until near the close of 1697 that three of the ships, built at Hamburg and Amsterdam, were ready to sail for Scotland, although they had been lying idly at these ports with their complement of men for several months. They arrived in Leith Roads on 20th November, to the no small joy of the proprietors of the Company's stock, many of whom had become dubious of their very existence, and were afterwards taken up the Firth to winter there.

In about four months after the arrival of the ships the following advertisement was issued. It is printed on a folio sheet, with the Company's arms at top :—

Edinburgh, 12th March 1698.

The Court of Directors of the Indian and African Company of Scotland, having now in readiness Ships and Tenders in very good order, with Provisions and all manner of Things needful for their intended Expedition to settle a Colony in the Indies; give Notice, that for the general encouragement of all such as are willing to go upon the said Expedition—

Everyone who goes on the first Equipage shall Receive and Possess Fifty Acres of Plantable Land and 50 Foot Square of ground at least in the Chief City or Town, and an ordinary House built thereupon by the Colony at the end of 3 years;

Every Councillor shall have double. If anyone shall die, the profit shall descend to his Wife and nearest relations. The family and blood relations shall be transported at the expense of the Company;

The Government shall bestow rewards for special services.

By Order of the Court,

Rod. Mackenzie, Secy.

Shortly before the expedition sailed, these arrangements were slightly altered. Each planter was to be indentured for three years, and maintained during the period at the Company's expense, and at the expiry of the three years he was to receive his allotment of land, &c. The officers were to be allowed 100 acres in all, with a house in the capital city proportionable ; and the councillors were to have three portions, or 150 acres. The maximum holding was fixed at 150 acres, "to the end that what is taken up may be the better cultivated, and may not be engrossed by a few to the discouragement of other industrious people."

In response to the Company's advertisement for volunteers for their intended expedition " to settle a Colony in the Indies," they had the offer of many more men than they could employ. Owing to the continuance of a severe famine in Scotland, large numbers of the population had been driven to Ireland for subsistence, and Paterson's new enterprise, in addition to its novelty, opened up a fine field for intending emigrants. Out of the numbers offering, 1200 were accepted by the Company, 300 of whom were young men of the best Scottish families, —"Gentlemen-Volunteers," in search of fortune in the far-off settlement. There were also 60 militaiy officers, with many of the rank and file who had served under them in Flanders, and who had been thrown out of employment by the Peace of Ryswick lately concluded. The officers were enrolled under the denomination of "Overseers" and "Sub-Overseers," and the soldiers under that of "Planters," the Company's Act forbidding the enlistment of soldiers as such without the formal sanction of the Lords of the Privy Council, which the Directors did not deem it prudent to ask.

The expedition (its destination being still kept secret) was meant to start in spring, but various delays arising, it was ultimately timed to sail in the month of July 1698. In anticipation of this, the Directors on 8th July elected a Council consisting of seven,1 some of them in the double capacity of captains of the ships as well as councillors, in whom they vested the supreme direction of their intended Colony, with power to the survivors to fill up vacancies in case of death or other removal. No provision, however, was made for the appointment of a permanent President of the Council.

Regulations were next framed defining the financial relations of the Council of the Colony to the Directors at home, wherein, among other matters, it was provided that, in return for the fleet of five ships and relative stores, &c., which would be tedious; wherefore I desire you may accept of this in short—

I. James Cunningham led the Van; he had been a Major in the Scotch forces, and disbanded on the peace; a Pillar of the Kirk, and never out of Scotland before.

II. Daniel Maekay, a Scrivener's or Writer's Clerk, newly come out of his Apprenticeship, but a youth of good parts.

III. Wm. Veitch, a man of no trade, but advanced to this post on the account his father was a godly Minister and a Glorifier of God, I think in the Grassmarket."

(Note.—Herries is in error here. The Rev. William Veitch, the father, died, after long illness, in May 1722, having completed his eighty-second year.)

"IV. Robert Jollie, a jolly Scotch overgrown Hamburger, who was formerly a Skipper, and used to the Shetland trade, but had for some dozen years been set up at Hamburg in quality of Merchant, and after that a Broker, and now a Councellor.

V. Robert PennycooJc, formerly a Surgeon in the English Navy, then a Lieutenant, and afterwards Commander of a Bomb ; this gentleman having gained experience by being the Directors were to hand over, the Council were to pay annually to the Company the sum of 7000. This yearly payment could be made void at any time by a payment down of 70,000, the capital value which was placed on the ships, &c.

Herries, in his ' Tract,' roughly estimates that, at this time, the Company had spent or otherwise parted with the whole call-money paid in, nearly 100,000, thus :—

years from Scotland in several trades or occupations, he was, by a stratagem of an acquaintance of mine, called home to take this post upon him about 6 or 7 weeks before we sailed, and was advanced by the interest of the Kirk party, the better to balance that of the Church, and to keep out Dr M-, a reputed Atheist, who would certainly have debauched both. Mr Pennycook was not only Councellor, but likewise Captain, Commodore, and the very Orford of our Navy.

VI. James Montgomerie, whose designation I cannot well tell, but you may know him by the story of the bloody fight he had with the Spaniard, where so many hundred were killed and taken prisoners, though at the same time there was never a Spaniard hurt. This gentleman was formerly an Ensign in the Scots Guards, but not liking that office, left it and carried a brown musket in another regiment. The reasons of his preferment to this post was his grandfather's being Earl of Eglington, and his own Father by the Mother's side being Major-General Montgomerie. VII. Robert Pincarton, a good, downright, rough - spun Tar, never known before by any designation or State Office, save that of Boatswain to Sir William Phipps, when he was on the wreck, and now, poor fellow, a Diver in the Spanish Mines at Carthagena."

The Directors next prepared and delivered to the councillors sealed sailing orders. In a separate paper the councillors were instructed, after arriving at the place of settlement named in the sealed orders, to debark the people, provisions, and merchandise, &c., and take possession of the place in the Company's name; there to build, plant, and fortify ; dispose and employ the ships and men in the best manner for serving and promoting the Colony, and for the most advantage to the Company. After landing, they were with all possible speed to despatch home an exact journal of the voyage, with an account of their landing, proceedings, and also a description of the place of settlement. They were further to name their various places of settlement after well-known places in Scotland, as they should think fit.

At Leith, on 12th July 1698, the newly appointed councillors signed the following oath of fealty:—

"The Oath appointed by the Council-General of the Indian and African Company of Scotland, to be taken by the Councillors appointed, or to be appointed, for the Government of their intended Colony in the Indies—

"We do solemnly promise and swear, in presence of Almighty God, that we shall be faithful and just to the trust reposed in us by the said Company, and shall to the best of our knowledge and skill endeavour to promote the benefit of the said Company and interest of the said Colony, as we shall answer to God.

It will be observed that Paterson's name does not appear among the signatory councillors. In virtue of his past services, and his capacity for strong and prudent government, he ought to have been appointed to the position of presiding member of the Council. The Directors found out afterwards that the man whom they had banished from their counsels was the one who alone, if such had been possible, could have saved the ill-starred scheme from failure. In a letter to the Rev. Alexander Shields, written after the first abandonment of the Colony, dated Edinburgh, 6th February 1700, Paterson says :—

"In short, our Tarpolian Councillors and raw heads and undigested thoughts ruined us, and the difficulties I had met with in Scotland were turned to brow-beatings in Caledonia. . . . There was not one of the old Councillors fit for government, and things were gone too far before the new [election] took place."


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