Paterson, William (1658–1719)

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Paterson, William (1658–1719)

William Paterson (b. April 1658; d. 2 January 1719), the central figure behind an unsuccessful attempt to establish a Scottish colony at Darién (now Panama) at the end of the seventeenth century.

William Paterson was the key person in an ill-fated effort to establish a great international trading center for future generations, New Caledonia, at Darién from 1698 to 1700. Paterson, the Scot who was the founder of the Bank of England in 1694–1695, and the director of the African Company, was a believer in Scottish unification with England and an advocate of open trade with the Indies. Paterson's leadership of the African Company ensured that by 1696 the Darién project represented the focal point of the company's efforts. The company made two attempts at settlement, both of which failed.

The first settlers landed in New Caledonia in November 1698. These colonists faced poor trading conditions, a lack of leadership, a shortage of supplies, and periodic attacks by the Spanish, who considered them pirates. In June 1699, the first attempt at settlement was abandoned. Paterson protested the colonists' decision but was too ill to prevent their departure. The settlers then went to Belize, New York, and New England, hoping to find temporary refuge.

In November 1699, they returned to Darién in another attempt to establish a colony and found that the Spanish had pillaged their first settlement. Some left for Scotland but many stayed to try and rebuild the colony. They encountered ongoing health problems and a persistent lack of supplies, however. Moreover, Spanish attacks, from 23 February to 17 March 1700, eventually forced the total capitulation of the settlers, who abandoned the colony on 11 April 1700.

Spain never in fact accepted the colonizing group's claims to their small piece of land on the isthmus. And England failed to support the venture because the king wished to forestall the company's settlement of land and instructed colonial governors not to trade with or assist the Darién colony. Paterson thus underestimated the importance of Spain's claims to the territory, and with the forced dissolution of the colony, he lost a substantial sum of his own money. He was later indemnified by the British Parliament.

See alsoCaledonia; Darién.


J. S. Barbour, A History of William Paterson and the Darién Company (1907).

Frances Russell Hart, The Disaster of Darién: The Story of the Scots Settlement and the Causes of Its Failure, 1699–1701 (1929).

Additional Bibliography

Withers, Charles W. J. Geography, Science, and National Identity: Scotland since 1520. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

                                    Blake D. Patridge