November 2 – The Darien Scheme

The Darien Scheme was the brainchild of William Peterson, a Scot who had founded the Bank of England.  As an avid international trader in the Americans and West Indies, Peterson sought to create an even greater fortune for himself by establishing a connection between the East and the West.  He began a company that promoted the interests of Darien as being a gateway to trade and a place for Scottish to settle.  Due to pressure from the East India Company, English parliament withdrew support leaving the company to the Scottish.  Amazingly, the scheme was quite prosperous.  Peterson raised around 500,ooo pounds, which was almost half of the nation’s capital at the time.  Unfortunately, the scheme was also fraught with problems.  Some of the money was lost in a fraud, and the company overpaid for the ships it used.  Finally, on July 23, 1698, five ships with 1,2o0 Scottish colonists sailed off to the famed Darien colony, which is located in Panama.  The plan seemed too good to be true, and many Scottish people bought into the colony or even set sail for the colony themselves.  Because of Darien’s location, it would be a prime gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, thus, essentially controlling trade in both oceans.  Unfortunately, if something seems too good to be true, it often is.  The colonists, many of whom did not know where they were going, were plagued by disease.  Varying reports show that the ships arrived in Darien between October 30 and November 3, but one thing is unified: fever and dysentery quickly took over the new colony.  Of the 1,200 settlers in the first wave of colonization, 70 did not survive the journey, but the death toll would soar over the next months.  By March of 1699, just four months after the first ships had arrived at Darien, over 2oo colonists had died and the death rate was nearly 1o people a day.  Due to trade restrictions placed on the new colony by the English, the colony was also not able to establish itself as a trading capital.  Ultimately, Patterson, who watched his wife and son die in the new colony, was unable to fulfill his dream, and the colony suddenly disperse after hearing news of a potential Spanish attack.  The colonists got back on the boats and sailed away, abandoning the colony.   Only one of the four ships that fled the colony made it back to Scotland, and that ship only had 3oo people on board.  The promising and glamorous plan failed miserably, and the evidence of the colony was largely lost to history.

Sources:

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Darien-Scheme/

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-panama-scotland-idUSBREA3K0JV20140421

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/founding-darien-colony

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/scotland_darien_01.shtml

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