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Darien venture

Darien venture. Previous Scottish attempts to establish colonies had been small scale, but the Company of Scotland, established in 1695, had grand ideas. It aimed at raising £400,000—perhaps half the capital in Scotland. ‘They came in shoals,’ wrote an eye-witness: £50,000 was raised on the first day, the remainder in five months. Five ships were equipped, 1,200 men enrolled, and the expedition sailed in July 1698. The destination was a secret even from the captains until they opened their orders on the voyage. The directors had chosen Darien, on the isthmus of Panama, to be called Caledonia. After a difficult voyage of three months, the ships reached Darien, found some friendly Indians, and began building New Edinburgh. But what appeared at first sight an earthly paradise was in reality a fever-ridden swamp. Nor was there much demand for the cargo of wigs and woollen goods which they had brought. On 22 June 1699 the colonists evacuated. A second expedition left the Clyde in August 1699, reached Caledonia, and found deserted huts and hundreds of graves. After four months they surrendered to a Spanish force and were allowed to depart; very few saw Scotland again. The disaster for a small country was shattering. William III, anxious not to be embroiled with Spain at a difficult moment, had warned his subjects not to assist the enterprise. The Scots could therefore blame the English for their misfortunes. In 1705 when an English captain, Thomas Green of the Worcester, put in at Leith, he was arrested, falsely accused of piracy, and hanged at the instigation of a howling mob. Paradoxically, the worsening relations between the two countries hastened the Union of 1707.

J. A. Cannon

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