Sunday, November 11, 2012

England Eyes the New World

Continuing this historical diversion . . .

England, like Spain, sponsored efforts to reach the East by sailing West. They, too, recognized that their explorers had ventured upon the Northernmost reaches of a "New World." And like Spain, they began to consider plans to settle Englishmen.

The most outstanding spokesman for foreign adventures was Anglican clergyman Richard Hakluyt. He wrote a treatise entitled A Discourse on Western Planting (1584) and presented it to Queen Elizabeth. As a clergyman, he emphasized the evangelizing of the Amerinds  as the chief motivation for English settlements in the New World:

"It remains to be thoroughly weighed and considered by what means and by who this most godly and Christian work may be performed of enlarging the glorious gospel of Chris,and reducing of infinite multitudes of these simple people that are in error into the right and perfect way of their salvation."

"No the Kings and Queens of England have the name of Defenders of the faith. By which title I think they are not only charged to maintain and patronize the faith of Christ, but also to enlarge and advance the same."

(Hakluyt's half brothers, Humphrey Gilbert and Walter Raleigh, both eventually participated in unsuccessful settlement efforts in Newfoundland and on Roanoke Island respectively.)

Evangelization sought not only to introduce the natives to the Christian religion, but also to advance the cause of the Protestant faith. The Catholic-Protestant religious rivalry partly moved colonization efforts. English promoters contrasted their religion and civilization favorably to that of the Spanish. As one promoter put it, the native peoples would not suffer from the "storms of raging cruelty" that they endured from the Spaniards. Spanish deprivations in the New World had become well known after a Spanish priest named Bartolome de las Casas published a book called A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552). Instead, the Amerinds would prosper under the "fair and loving means suiting to our English natures." Unfortunately, most Europeans believed that civilization had to precede evangelization. And that meant the destruction of native cultures.

More worldly ambitions also moved the English. Between 1585 and 1604, they fought an undeclared war with Spain. One cause of the war was the privateering missions of English sailors Francis Drake and John Hawkins. They brought treasure into England's coffers (as well as their own) by attacking Spanish treasure ships bringing gold and silver from Spain's New World settlements back to Europe. Settlement in America would provide more secure bases from which Drake, Hawkins, and other less well-known privateers could prey upon Spanish vessels.

Finally, settlements in the New World would help England deal with its ever growing numbers of the poor. For some reason that escapes demographers, England experienced an explosion in population. The English government grew alarmed by the increasing numbers of citizens roving from town to town or aggregating in London searching for work. Settling these people in the New World would not only removed a potential source of social disorder, but also provided an opportunity for a new start in life.

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