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Significant Scots
William Paterson


PATERSON, WILLIAM, the original projector of the bank of England and of Scotland, and of the celebrated settlement of Darien, was born, it is supposed, in the year 1655, at Skipmyre, in the parish of Tinwald, Dumfries-shire., It is deeply to be regretted that no satisfactory memorials have been preserved of this remarkable man. Of his education nothing is known, but it is stated in one memoir that he was bred to the church. That Mr Paterson was either a churchman or a buccaneer at any period of his life appears a gratuitous assumption, unsupported by any direct evidence, and at variance with the known course of his after life. It is certain that he was in the West Indies, but it is much more likely that his pursuits there were commercial than either clerical or piratical. In whatever capacity he may have acquired his commercial and geographical knowledge, he returned to Europe with a scheme of trade which he was desirous of establishing under the protection and patronage of some European power. Paterson, himself a merchant, formed an intimate connection with other merchants of London, and with them concerted the plan of the bank of England, which he originated and planned. He was admitted one of the original directors, but jealousies arose, and he voluntarily withdrew, by selling out his qualification of 2000 stock. Under these circumstances, having already, before the revolution of 1688, become acquainted in Holland with some of his countrymen, particularly with Fletcher of Saltoun, who had penetration enough to see and to appreciate the simple splendour of his project with regard to Darien, he accordingly came to Scotland along with Fletcher, who introduced him to the various members of the Scottish administration. The earl of Stair, in particular, gave the project of Mr Paterson the support of his powerful eloquence.

The result of all this was, that an act was passed by the Scottish parliament on the 26th of June, 1695, "constituting John, lord Belhaven, WILLIAM PATERSON, Esq., and others in Scotland and in London, a free incorporation, by the name of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, providing that of the fund or capital half should be allowed to Scotland." The company was invested with full powers to hold parliaments, and make laws, and administer justice, &c., in any colonies they might plant in Asia, Africa, and America. This act was drawn up under the eye of Mr Paterson, and was certainly highly favourable for his purposes. The isthmus of Darien, where there was a large tract of land bordering on both seas, the Indian and the Atlantic, was the spot he had fixed upon for the scene of his operations, and the advantages of which he thus graphically pointed out: "The time and expense of navigation to China, Japan, the Spice Islands, and the far greater part of the East Indies, will be lessened more than half, and the consumption of European commodities and manufactures will soon be more than doubled. Trade will increase trade, and money will beget money, and the trading world shall need no more want work for their hands, but will rather want hands for their work. Thus, this door of the seas, and key of the universe, with anything of a reasonable management, will, of course, enable its proprietors to give laws to both oceans, without being liable to the fatigues, expenses, and dangers, or contracting the guilt and blood, of Alexander and Caesar. In all our empires that have been anything universal, the conquerors have been obliged to seek out and court their conquests from afar, but the universal force and influence of this attractive magnet is such as can much more effectually bring empire home to the proprietors’ doors. But from what hath been said, you may easily perceive that the nature of these discoveries are such as not to be engrossed by any one nation or people with exclusion to others; nor can it be thus attempted without evident hazard and ruin, as we may see in the case of Spain and Portugal, who, by their prohibiting any other people to trade, or so much as to go to or dwell in the Indies, have not only lost that trade they were not able to maintain, but have depopulated and ruined their countries therewith, so that the Indies have rather conquered Spain and Portugal than they have conquered the Indies; for by their permitting all to go out, and none to come in, they have not only lost the people which are gone to the remote and luxuriant regions, but such as remain are become wholly unprofitable, and good for nothing. Thus, not unlike the case of the dog in the fable, they have lost their own countries, and not gotten the Indies. People, and their industry, are the true riches of a prince or nation, and in respect to them all other things are but imaginary. This was well understood by the people of Rome, who, contrary to the maxims of Sparta and Spain, by general naturalizations, liberty of conscience, and immunities of government, far more effectually and advantageously conquered and kept the world than ever they did or possibly could have done by the sword." Seeing clearly his way, Mr Paterson seems not to have had the smallest suspicion but that others would see it also, and "he makes no doubt, but that the affection we owe to our sister nation will incline the company to be zealous in using all becoming endeavours for bringing our fellow-subjects to be jointly concerned in this great, extensive, and advantageous undertaking. That a proposal of this kind from the company will be other than acceptable ought not to be supposed, since by this means the consumption and demand of English manufactures, and consequently the employment of their people, will soon be more than doubled. England will be hereby enabled to become the long-desired seaport, and yet its public revenues, instead of being diminished, will thereby be greatly increased. By this their nation will at once be eased of its laws of restraint and prohibitions, which, instead of being encouragements, always have, and still continue to be, the greatest lets to its trade and happiness." These liberal views seem to have made a greater impression on the public mind than at that time could have been anticipated. In the month of October, 1695, lord Belhaven, Mr. Robert Blackwood, and Mr. James Balfour, went on a deputation to London, accompanied by Mr. Paterson, where the subscription books were first opened, and in the course of nine days three hundred thousand pounds were subscribed; one-fourth of all subscriptions being paid in cash. This promising state of things, however was, by the jealousy of the English monopolists, suddenly reversed. The East India company were the first to take the alarm, and they communicated their terrors to the house of commons. The latter requested a conference with the lords on the alarming circumstance, and a committee was appointed to inquire by what methods such an act had been obtained, who were the promoters, and who had become subscribers to the company. This was followed by an address to the king from both houses of parliament, stating, "That by reason of the superior advantages granted to the Scottish East India company, and the duties imposed upon the Indian trade in England, a great part of the stock and shipping of this nation would be carried thither, by which means Scotland would be rendered a free port, and Europe from thence supplied with the products of the East much cheaper than through them, and thus a great article in the balance of foreign commerce would be lost to England, to the prejudice of the national navigation and the royal revenue." The address went on to state, "that when the Scots should have established themselves in plantations in America, the western branch of traffic would also be lost. The privileges granted their company would render their country the general storehouse for tobacco, sugar, cotton, hides, and timber; the low rates at which they would be enabled to carry on their manufactures, would render it impossible for the English to compete with them, while, in addition, his majesty stood engaged to protect, by the naval strength of England, a company whose success was incompatible with its existence." This address his majesty received graciously, observing "that he had been ill-served in Scotland, but he hoped some remedy, might yet be found to prevent the inconvenience that might arise from the act." To satisfy his English parliament that he was in earnest, William dismissed his Scottish ministers, and among the rest the earl of Stair.

The English parliament, with a spirit worthy of the darkest ages, and the most barbarous nations, proceeded to declare lord Belhaven, William Paterson, and twenty-two other members of the company guilty of a high misdemeanour. Those of their own people who had become partners in the company were compelled to withdraw their subscriptions. Upwards of two hundred thousand pounds sterling were afterwards subscribed to the scheme by the merchants of Holland and Hamburg, and the English resident at the latter city, Sir Paul Rycault, was instructed to present a remonstrance, on the part of the king, to the magistrates, complaining of the countenance they had given to the commissioners of the Darien company. The answer of the city was worthy of itself in its best days. "They considered it strange that the king of England should dictate to them, a free people, how, or with whom they were to engage in the arrangements of commerce, and still more so, that they should be blamed for offering to connect themselves in this way with a body of his own subjects incorporated under a special act of parliament." From this interference, however, the Hamburgers, aware that the company was to be thwarted in all its proceedings by the superior power of England, lost confidence in the scheme, and finally withdrew their subscriptions. The Dutch, too, equally jealous of commercial rivalry with the English, and influenced perhaps by the same motives with the Hamburgers, withdrew their subscriptions also, and the company was left to the unassisted resources of their own poor and depressed country. Nothing could exceed the eagerness with which all classes of the Scottish people hastened to enrol themselves in the magnificent copartnery now forming. Every burgh, every city, and almost every family of any consequence became shareholders. Four hundred thousand pounds were subscribed; an astonishing sum when it is known that at that time the circulating capital of the kingdom did not exceed eight hundred thousand pounds sterling. To this enthusiasm a variety of causes contributed. The scheme of Paterson was politically good. It was drawn up with great ability, and promised important results in a moral and religious, as well as in a commercial point of view. Many of the subscribers, indeed, were influenced solely by religious motives, as they considered the setting up of a church, regularly constituted, on that continent, the most likely means for spreading the gospel among the natives, and as affording facilities for that purpose which could not in any other way be obtained. But it must also be admitted that the scheme, having become a national mania, was not left to work its way by its own intrinsic merits. The scene of the intended operations became the subject of numberless pamphlets, wherein fancy was much more largely employed than fact. The soil was represented as rich, and teeming with the most luxuriant fertility; the rivers as full of fish, and their sands sparkling with gold; the woods smiling in perpetual verdure, at all times ringing with the melody of spring, and loading every breeze that swept over them with the most delightful odours.

Having completed their preparations, and the public authorities having assured them of protection and encouragement, the colony, in presence of the whole city of Edinburgh, which poured out its inhabitants to witness the scene, embarked at Leith, from the roads of which they sailed on the 26th of July, 1698. The fleet consisted of five ships, purchased at Hamburg or Holland—for they were refused even the trifling accommodation of a ship of war which was laid up at Burntisland—and were named the Caledonia, St Andrew, Unicorn, Dolphin, and Endeavour; the two last being yachts laden with provisions and military stores. The colony consisted of twelve hundred men; three hundred of them being young men of the best Scottish families. Among them were also sixty officers who had been thrown out of employment by the peace which had just been concluded, and who carried along with them the troops they had commanded; all of whom were men who had been raised on their own estates, or on those of their relations. Many soldiers and sailors, whose services had been refused—for many more than could be employed had offered themselves—were found hid in the ships, and when ordered ashore, clung to the ropes, imploring to be allowed to go with their countrymen without fee or reward. The whole sailed amidst the praises, the prayers, and the tears of relations, friends, and countrymen; "and neighbouring nations," says Dalrymple, "saw with a mixture of surprise and respect the poorest nation of Europe sending forth the most gallant colony which had ever gone from the old to the new world." The parliament of Scotland met in the same week that the expedition for Darien sailed, and on the 5th of August they presented a unanimous address to the king, requesting that he would be pleased to support the company. The lord president, Sir Hugh Dalrymple, and Sir James Stuart, lord advocate, also drew out memorials to the king in behalf of the company, in which they proved their rights to be irrefragable, on the principles both of constitutional and public law. All this, however, did not prevent orders being sent out by the English ministry to all the English governors in America and the West Indies, to withhold all supplies from the Scottish colony at Darien, and to have no manner of communication with it, either in one shape or another. Meanwhile, the colony proceeded on its voyage without anything remarkable occurring, and on the 3d of November landed between Portobella and Carthagena, at a place called Acta, where there was an excellent harbour, about four miles from Golden Island. Having obtained the sanction of the natives to settle among them, they proceeded to cut through a peninsula, by which they obtained what they conceived to be a favourable site for a city, and they accordingly began to build one, under the name of New Edinburgh. They also constructed a fort in a commanding situation, for the protection of the town and the harbour, which they named St Andrew; and on the country itself they imposed the name of Caledonia. The first care of the council which had been appointed by the company, but of which Mr Paterson was unfortunately not a member, was to establish a friendly correspondence with the native chiefs, which they found no difficulty in doing. To the Spanish authorities at Carthagena and Panama they also sent friendly deputations, stating their desire to live with them upon terms of amity and reciprocal intercourse. On the 28th of December, 1698, the council issued a proclamation, dated at New Edinburgh, to the following effect:— "We do hereby publish and declare, That all manner of persons, of what nation or people soever, are and shall from henceforward be equally free, and alike capable of the said properties, privileges, protections, immunities, and rights of government, granted unto us; and the merchants and merchant ships of all nations may freely come to and trade with us without being liable in their in their persons or goods to any manner of capture, confiscation, seizure, forfeiture, attachment, arrest, restraint, or prohibition for, or by reason of any embargo, breach of the peace, letters of marque, or reprisals, declaration of war with any foreign prince, potentate, or state, or upon any other account or pretence whatsoever. And we do hereby not only grant, concede, and declare a general and equal freedom of government and trade to those of all nations who shall hereafter be of or concerned with us, but also a full and free liberty of conscience in matters of religion, so as the same be not understood to allow, connive at, or indulge the blaspheming of God’s holy name, or any of his divine attributes, or of the unhallowing or profaning the Sabbath day; and, finally, as the best and surest means to render any government successful, durable, and happy, it shall, by the help of Almighty God, be ever our constant and chiefest care, that all our further constitutions, laws, and ordinances be consonant and agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, right reason, and the examples of the wisest and justest nations; that from the righteousness thereof we may reasonably hope for and expect the blessings of prosperity and increase." So far all was well, but the want of a leading spirit, of one who could overawe the refractory, and of summary laws for their punishment, soon began to be felt; Mr Paterson, before sailing, had been refused a position, and the event showed the grossness of that error. In the original articles of the company, it had been agreed that he should be allowed two per cent on the stock, and three per cent on the profits, but he had given up both these claims long before leaving Scotland. "It was not," he said, "suspicion of the justice or gratitude of the company, nor a consciousness that his services could ever become useless to them, but the ingratitude of some individuals experienced in life, which made it a matter of common prudence in him to ask a retribution for six years of his time, and ten thousand pounds spent in promoting the establishment of the company. But now," he continues, "that I see it standing upon the authority of parliament, and supported by so many great, and good men, I release all claim to that retribution; happy in the noble concession made to me, but happier in the return which I now make for it." The whole management was vested in a council of seven, under regulations, the fifth of which ran thus—"That after their landing and settlement as aforesaid, they, the council, shall class and divide the whole freemen inhabitants of the said colony into districts, each district to contain at least fifty, and not exceeding sixty freemen inhabitants, who shall elect yearly any one freeman inhabitant whom they shall think fit to represent them in a parliament or council general of the said colony, which parliament shall be called or adjourned by the said council as they see cause; and being so constitute, may, with consent of the said council, make and enact such rules, ordinances, and constitutions, and impose such taxes as they think fit and needful for the good of the establishment, improvement, and support of the said colony; providing alway, that they lay no further duties or impositions of trade than what is after stated." One of the councillors, writing at this time to the directors at home, says, "We found the inconvenience of calling a parliament, and of telling the inhabitants that they were freemen so soon. They had not the true notion of liberty. The thoughts of it made them insolent, and ruined command. You know that it’s expressly in the ‘Encouragements,’ that they are to serve for three years, and at the three years’ end to have a division of land." It was the opinion of this director, that no parliament should have been called till at least the three years of servitude had expired. Even then, from the characters of the settlers, who had not been selected with that care which an experiment of such vast consequence demanded, there might have existed causes for delaying the escape. Among the better class, there were too many young men of birth. These were inexperienced and wholly unfit for exercising authority, and equally ill adapted for submitting to it. Among the lower class were many who had been opposed to the Revolution, and who had resorted to the colony purely from dissatisfaction with the government at home. These, instead of submitting with patience to the privations and labour necessary in that state of society in which they were now placed, would gladly have laid aside the mattock and the axe, and have employed themselves in plundering incursions upon the Indians or the Spaniards. The subscribers to the scheme were so numerous, that the idle, the unprincipled, and profligate had found but too little difficulty in attaching themselves to the infant colony. Those who were nominated to the council, too, had been selected without judgment. "There was not," Paterson writes in a letter to Mr Shields, "one of the old council fitted for government, and things were gone too far before the new took place."

The colony was first established at the beginning of winter, the best season for Europeans first encountering the climate of Darien; and the first letter from the council to the directors thus expresses the satisfaction of the colonists with their new destination:—"As to the country, we find it very healthful; for though we arrived here in the rainy season, from which we had little or no shelter for several weeks together, and many sick among us, yet we are so far recovered, and in so good a state of health, as could hardly anywhere be expected among such a number of men together. In fruitfulness this country seems not to give place to any in the world; for we have seen several of the fruits, as cocoa-nuts, barillas, sugar-canes, maize, oranges, &c., &c., all of them, in their kinds, the best anywhere to be found. Nay, there is hardly a foot of ground but may be cultivated; for even upon the very tops and sides of the hills, there is commonly three or four feet deep of rich earth, without so much as a stone to be found therein. Here is good hunting and fowling, and excellent fishing in the bays and creeks of the coast; so that, could we improve the season of the year just now begun, we should soon be able to subsist of ourselves; but building and fortifying will lose us a whole year’s planting." This was, however, no more than all of them must have foreseen; and they never doubted of obtaining more provisions than they could want, from the West India islands, or from the American colonies. Orders, however, as has already been noticed, were sent out after them to all the English governors, prohibiting all communication with them. These proclamations were rigidly adhered to, and the unfortunate Scottish colonists were denied those supplies which had seldom been withheld from lawless smugglers, buccaneers, and pirates. In addition to this, which was the principal source of all their misfortunes, those who superintended the equipment of the expedition had, through carelessness or design, furnished them with provisions, part of which were uneatable; the consequence of which was, that the colony had to be put on short allowance, when the sickly season was thinning their numbers, and bringing additional duty on those who were in health. In this emergency, their Indian friends exerted themselves on their behalf; putting to shame their Christian brethren, who, from a mean jealousy, were attempting to starve them; and they might still have done better, had not insubordination broken out among themselves, and a conspiracy been formed, in which some of the council were implicated, to seize one of the vessels, and to make their escape from the colony After matters had come this length, Paterson and others became councillors; a measure which had the effect of checking the turbulence of the discontented. The new council also despatched one of their own number to Britain, with an address to the king, and a pressing request to send them out supplies of provisions, ammunition, and men. On receiving this despatch, the directors lost no time in sending out the requisite supplies. They had already sent despatches and provisions by a brig, which sailed from the Clyde in the end of February, 1699, but which unhappily never reached her destination. On the arrival in Britain of another of their number, Mr Hamilton, who was accountant-general to the colony, and whose absence was highly detrimental to its interests, the Olive Branch, captain Jamieson, and another vessel, with three hundred recruits and store of provisions, arms, and ammunition, were despatched from Leith roads on the 12th of May, 1699. Matters in the colony were in the meantime getting worse; and on the 22nd of June, they came to the resolution of abandoning the place within eight months of the time they had taken possession of it. The projector himself resisted this measure manfully. He, however, fell ill, in mind and body, but recovered the full powers of his mind at New York, whence he returned to Scotland, to make his report to the company, and give them his best advice regarding the further prosecution of their undertaking. Two of their captains, Samuel Veitch and Thomas Drummond, remained at New York. The Olive Branch, the vessel alluded to as having gone out to the colony with recruits and provisions, was followed by a fleet of four ships, the Rising Sun, Hope, Duke Hamilton, and Hope of Borrowstonness, with thirteen hundred men. These ships all sailed from the Kyle of Bute, on the 24th of September, 1699, and reached Caledonia Bay on the 30th of November following. With this fleet went out William Veitch, son of the reverend William Veitch of Dumfries, and brother to Samuel already mentioned. Individuals were also sent out by various conveyances, with bills of credit for the use of the colony. Everything now, however, went against them. The Olive Branch and her consort having arrived in the harbour of New Edinburgh, the recruits determined to land, and repossess themselves of the place, the huts of which they found burnt down, and totally deserted. One of their ships, however, took fire, and was burnt in the harbour, on which the others set sail for Jamaica. When the fleet which followed arrived in November, and, instead of a colony ready to receive them, found the huts burnt down, the fort dismantled, and the ground which had been cleared overgrown with shrubs and weeds, with all the tools and implements of husbandry taken away, they were at a loss what to do. A general cry was raised in the ships to be conducted home, which was encouraged by Mr James Byers, one of the new councillors, who seems to have been himself deeply impressed with that dejection of spirit which, as a councillor, it was his duty to suppress. Veitch, however, assisted by captain Thomas Drummond, who had come out in the Olive Branch, and had taken up his residence among the natives till the fleet which he expected should arrive, succeeded in persuading the men to land. As the Spaniards had already shown their hostility, and, having been defeated by a detachment of the colonists in the preceding February, were preparing for another attack—encouraged, no doubt, by the treatment which the colony had met with from the English government—Drummond proposed an immediate attack on Portobella, which they could easily have reduced, and where they might have been supplied with such things as they were most in want of. In this he was cordially seconded by Veitch, but was prevented by the timidity of his colleagues, and the intrigues of Byers, who at length succeeded in ejecting him from the council. Two ministers, Messrs James and Scott, went out with the first expedition, but the one died on the passage, and the other shortly after landing in New Caledonia. The council having written home to the directors, regretting the death of their ministers, and begging that others might be sent to supply their place, the commission of the General Assembly of the church of Scotland, at the particular desire of the board of directors, sent out the reverend Messrs Alexander Shields, (the well-known author of the "Hind let Loose," "Life of Renwick," &c.,) Borland, Stobo, and Dalgleish. These persons sailed in the last fleet. They were instructed, on their arrival, with the advice and concurrence of the government, to set apart a day for solemn thanksgiving, to form themselves into a presbytery, to ordain elders and deacons, and to divide the colony into parishes, that thus each minister might have a particular charge. After which it was recommended to them, "so soon as they should find the colony in case for it, to assemble the whole Christian inhabitants, and keep a day together for solemn prayer and fasting, and with the greatest solemnity and seriousness to avouch the Lord to be their God, and dedicate themselves and the land to the Lord." The church of Scotland took so deep an interest in the colony of Darien, that the commission sent a particular admonition by the ministers, of which the following may be taken as a specimen:—"We shall, in the next place, particularly address ourselves to you that are in military charge, and have command over the soldiery, whether by land or sea. It is on you, honoured and worthy gentlemen, that a great share of the burden of the public safety lies. You are, in some respects, both the hands and the eyes of this infant colony. Many of you have lately been engaged in a just and glorious war, for retrieving and defending the protestant religion, the liberties and rights of your country, under the conduct of a matchless prince. And now when, through the blessing of the Lord of hosts, his and your arms have procured an honourable peace at home, you, and others with you, have, with much bravery, embarked yourselves in a great, generous, and just undertaking, in the remote parts of the earth, for advancing the honour and interest of your native country. If in this you acquit yourselves like men and Christians, your fame will be renowned both abroad and at home." The ministers found the colony in circumstances very different from what the address of the commission naturally supposed; and it was but few of their instructions they were able to carry into effect. Two of them, however, preached on land, and one on board the Rising Sun, every Sabbath day. But, in addition to the unfavourable aspect of their affairs, the irreligion and licentiousness of the colonists oppressed their spirits and paralyzed their efforts. With the view of forming an acquaintance with the natives, they undertook a journey into the interior, accompanied by a lieutenant Turnbull, who had some slight knowledge of the Indian language. They spent several nights in the cabins of the natives, by whom they were received with great kindness; and on their return, brought back to the colonists the first notice of the approach of the Spaniards. When apprised of all the circumstances, the directors felt highly indignant at the conduct of those who, upon such slight grounds, had left the settlement desolate; and whose glory, they said, it ought to have been to have perished there, rather than to have abandoned it so shamefully. In their letters to their new councillors and officers, they implored them to keep the example of their predecessors before their eyes as a beacon, and to avoid those ruinous dissensions and shameful vices, on which they had wrecked so hopeful an enterprise. "It is a lasting disgrace," they add, "to the memories of those officers who went in the first expedition, that even the meanest planters were scandalized at the licentiousness of their lives, many of them living very intemperately and viciously for many months at the public charge, whilst the sober and industrious among them were vigilant in doing their duty. Nor can we, upon serious reflection, wonder if an enterprise of this nature has misgiven in the hands of such as, we have too much reason to believe, neither feared God nor regarded man." They also blamed the old council heavily for deserting the place without ever calling a parliament, or general meeting of the colony, or in any way consulting their inclinations, but commanding them to a blind and implicit obedience, which is more than they ever can be answerable for. "Wherefore," they continue, "we desire you would constitute a parliament, whose advice you are to take in all important matters. And in the meantime you are to acquaint the officers and planters with the constitutions, and the few additional ones sent with Mr Mackay, that all and every person in the colony may know their duty, advantages, and privileges." Alarmed by the accounts which they soon after received from Darien, the council-general of the company despatched a proclamation, declaring "that it shall be lawful to any person, of whatever degree, inhabiting the colony, not only to protest against, but to disobey and oppose any resolution to desert the colony;" and, "that it shall be death; either publicly or privately, to move, deliberate, or reason upon any such desertion or surrender, without special order from the council-general for that effect. And they order and require the council of Caledonia to proclaim this solemnly, as they shall be answerable." Before this act was passed in Edinburgh, however, New Caledonia was once more evacuated. The men had set busily to the rebuilding the huts, and repairing the fort; but strenuous efforts were still made in the council to discourage them, by those who wished to evacuate the settlement. Veitch was with difficulty allowed to protest against some of their resolutions; and for opposing them with warmth, captain Drummond was laid under arrest.

Speaking of Drummond, Mr Shields says, "Under God, it is owing to him, and the prudence of captain Veitch, that we have staid here so long, which was no small difficulty to accomplish." And again, "If we had not met with Drummond at our arrival, we had never settled in this place, Byers and Lindsay being averse from it, and designing to discourage it from the very first; Gibson being indifferent, if he got his pipe and dram; only Veitch remained resolved to promote it, who was all along Drummond’s friend, and concurred with his proposal to send men against the Spaniards at first, and took the patronizing as long as he could conveniently, but with such caution and prudence, as to avoid and prevent animosity and faction, which he saw were unavoidable, threatening the speedier dissolution of this interest, if he should insist on the prosecution of that plea, and in opposition to that spate that was running against Drummond. But now Finch coming, who was Drummond’s comrade and fellow-officer in Lorn’s regiment in Flanders, he is set at liberty." This was the son of colonel Campbell of Finch, who, with three hundred of his own men, had come out and joined this last party about two months after their arrival. The Spanish troops meantime, from Panama and Santa Maria, conducted through the woods by negroes, were approaching them. They had advanced, to the number of sixteen hundred men, as far as Tubucantee, in the immediate neighbourhood of the colony, when Finch marched against them with two hundred men, and defeated them in a slight skirmish, in which he was wounded. The victory, which at one time would have been of signal service to the colony, was now unavailing; a fleet of eleven ships, under the command of the governor of Carthagena, Don Juan Pimienta, having blocked up the harbour, and landed a number of troops, who, advancing along with the party which had found their way through the woods, invested the fort. Cut off from water, reduced by sickness, and otherwise dispirited, the garrison was loud in its demands for a capitulation, and the council had no other alternative but to comply with it. Finch being laid up at the time with a fever, Veitch conducted the treaty, and was allowed honourable terms. The inhabitants of the colony having gone on shipboard with all that belonged to them, they weighed anchor on the 11th of April, 1700, and sailed for Jamaica, after having occupied New Caledonia somewhat more than four months. The Hope, on board of which was captain Veitch, and the greater part of the property, was wrecked on the rocks of Colorades, on the western coast of Cuba. Veitch, however, was dead before this accident happened. The Rising Sun was wrecked on the bar of Carolina, and the captain and crew, with the exception of sixteen persons who had previously landed, were lost. Of the few survivors, some remained in the English settlements, some died in Spanish prisons; and of the three thousand men that at different periods went out to the settlement, perhaps not above twenty ever regained their native land.

In this melancholy manner terminated the greatest attempt at colonization ever made by Scotland. The conception was splendid, the promise great and every way worthy of the experiment; and but for the jealousy of the English and the Dutch, more particularly the former, it must have succeeded. The settlers, indeed, were not all well selected; the measures actually pursued fatal to success; and, above all, the council were men of feeble minds, utterly unqualified to act in a situation of such difficulty as that in which they came to be placed. Had the wants of the Scottish settlers been supplied by the English colonies, which they could very well have been, even with advantage to the colonies, the first and most fatal disunion, and abandonment of their station, could not have happened; and had they been acknowledged by their sovereign, the attack made upon them by the Spaniards, which put an end to the colony, would never have been made. Time would have smoothed down the asperities among the settlers themselves; experience would have corrected their errors in legistion; and New Caledonia, which remains to this day a wilderness, might have become the emporium of half the commerce of the world.

Mr Paterson, not disheartened by the failure of his Darien project, instead of repining, revived the scheme in a form to induce England, whose hostility had hitherto thwarted all his measures, to share in the undertaking, and he succeeded; when the sudden death of king William stopped the design; and queen Anne’s ministers, who approved of it, had no vigour to carry it out.

Mr Paterson died at an advanced age, in poor circumstances. After the Union, he claimed upon the Equivalent Money for the losses he had sustained at Darien, and in 1715 obtained his indemnity. Had Paterson’s scheme succeeded, and it was no fault of his that it did not, his name had unquestionably been enrolled among the most illustrious benefactors of his species; and if we examine his character in the light of true philosophy, we shall find it greatly heightened by his failure. We never hear from him a single murmur. When disappointed or defeated, he did not give way to despair, but set himself coolly and calmly to another and still greater undertaking. When this failed, through the injustice of those who ought to have been his protectors, and the imbecility of those whom he ought to have commanded, he only sought to improve his plan. There is one part of his character which, in a man of so much genius, ought not to pass unnoticed: "He was void of passion; and he was one of the very few of his countrymen who never drank wine."

Other Accounts of William Paterson

Born: 1658 (there is, apparently no baptismal register for the parish in which he was born)
Died: January 1719 Director: 1694 - 5

Born at Trailflat, Dumfriesshire the son of John Paterson, ‘a small laird’ and his wife Bertha who were tenants of a farm known as ‘Skipmyre’.

Married (1) Elizabeth Turner, widow of Thomas Bridge, a minister of Boston, New England. She died before his return to England.   (2) Hannah Kemp, widow of Samuel South, by whom he had one son. Wife and son died at Darien (near the present Panama Canal).

He came to England as a young man and subsequently travelled in America and the West Indies and visited Holland. In 1681 he was admitted by redemption (paying for it) to the Merchant Taylors Company ("a pedlar turned merchant" in Clapham's phrase). He was concerned in the promotion of several companies such as the Hampstead Water Works (1690) in which he acquired founders shares gratis and suggested the scheme upon which the Bank of England was founded in 1694. He became one of the first Directors of the Bank but resigned early in 1695 and turned his attention to the Darien Scheme. He also assisted with the financial arrangements for the Union with Scotland in 1707. His later years, however, seem to have been clouded in financial difficulties. His resignation from the Bank was due to a difference with his fellow Directors over the question of his interest in a scheme for consolidation of the Orphan's Fund - a fund accumulated by the Corporation of London through the administration of the estates of children of deceased freemen. Large sums from this source had been borrowed by the Crown in the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, and an Act having been passed for relief of the orphans in 1694, Paterson proposed a scheme to facilitate the settlement of the Orphans' claims on the City. Also interested in this scheme were some who were known opponents of the Bank, and at a Court of Directors held on the 16 February 1695 Paterson was accused of a breach of trust and his proposals denounced as "not becoming a Director of this Court". A statement produced by Paterson and submitted to the Court on the 20 February did not satisfy the Directors, who requested him to absent himself until he had explained his conduct more satisfactorily. On the 27 February, however, he declined further service as a Director and took his leave of the Court. On the 19 March he disqualified himself from further office by selling his holding of Bank Stock.

Clapham has suggested that Paterson was "an over-rated person" and that "the ease with which he was removed from the directorate after less than seven months' service suggests that in real influence he may have been far below second place". In any case Paterson was an inventor rather than an administrator. He was temperamentally better suited to devising new schemes than to devoting himself to the day-to-day workings of existing ones. Viewed in that light, Paterson's sudden departure from the Bank seems less surprising.

He was buried in the churchyard of the now ruined Sweetheart Abbey Dumfriesshire. A plaque was unveiled at New Abbey in 1974.

The only known portrait is a pen and ink drawing in the British Museum which was done in 1708.

There is a bronze bust of Paterson by Charles Wheeler in the Ground Floor Parlours. Inscribed on the frieze below is Paterson's motto:- SIC VOS NON VOBIS "thus you labour but not for yourself". There is also a (smaller) copy in the museum. This motto was used as the edge inscription on the 2 coin issued by the Royal Mint in 1994 to celebrate the Bank of England's Tercentenary.

His numerous writings were collected and edited by Mr Saxe Bannister in 1859.

  • "William Paterson: His Life and Trials" by S Bannister (Judd & Glass, 1859)
  • "History of William Paterson and the Darien Company" by J S Barbour (W Blackwood 1907)*
  • "The Darien Disaster" by J S Prebble (Penguin 1970)*
  • * Source: a letter from a member of the public.

References:

  • W.M.Marston
    The Bank of England from within 1694-1800
    1931 Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Sir John Clapham
    The Bank of England - Volume 1 1694-1958
    1988 Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • John Giuseppi
    The Bank of England: A history from its foundation in 1694
    1966 Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Our thanks to Lorraine Painter, for the Curator, Bank of England Museum for providing this information.


In 1694 William III was involved in a war with France. He needed money and he needed it in large quantities. The British coffers were empty so he asked for vast loans of money from a super-rich Scotsman named William Paterson and some of his wealthy friends. Paterson and his friends were perfectly agreeable to the loan providing they were allowed to do two things:

1. Set up a privately-owned bank to be called the Bank of England.
2. Receive authority from the king to issue their own bank notes or certificates as the official legal tender of England.

Since the Paterson bank notes were what the king would be loaned to build and equip his armies, he readily agreed. This gave legal sanction to a private bank being authorized to print bank notes as the legal tender for the whole nation. Each bill promised to pay in gold "on demand," but the bankers actually had only a small fraction of the gold needed to cover the vast quantity of bank notes being printed. By this means the bankers brought the king in as a patron and beneficiary of a system of "fractionalized banking" or making money out of nothing.

Nevertheless, it gave the king what he needed, and it gave the bankers what they wanted. What did it matter if the bankers were making money out of nothing? At least William would have the needed bank notes which merchants accepted as "money" and so he could buy the mercenaries and needed a rmaments to carry on his war with France! Governments take precisely the same attitude today.

The king even went so far as to eliminate any possible competition for the so-called "Bank of England" by giving Paterson and his friends an official charter from the Crown and commanding the goldsmiths of London to immediately discontinue issuing receipts as depositories for precious metals. This drove most of the merchants to store their gold with the Bank of England.

So this was the means by which a privately-owned bank became the official depository of the Crown, printed its own bank notes as the king's legal tender, and "legalized" its magic formula for "making money out of nothing." By any standard, William Paterson considered this fantastic achievement pure genius.

It was Paterson who established the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies or the Darien Scheme as it was also known. The Company was set up to establish a trading colony in Darien but was a failure. Compensation was given in cash and debentures and the debenture holders set up the Equivalent Company which eventually applied for banking powers and became The Royal Bank of Scotland. The Royal Bank was founded by royal charter on 31 May 1727.


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