< 1 of 1 > Back

Pathfinder Pack on The Darien Scheme



The Expansion of English Colonies in the New World (the Americas) in the 17th century led to a rapid increase in its wealth. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 brought the two countries closer together but the English Trading Companies jealously guarded their markets and refused to let the Scots trade on equal terms. Meanwhile, Scotland's economy was stalling, with few ships involved in trade. The failure of a succession of Scottish harvests left people to starve. The enthusiasm of the Scottish people for their own trading company got in the way of clear thinking and the conditions were laid for the disastrous Darien Scheme. The Darien Scheme was the brainchild of William Paterson, who was also the founder of the Bank of England. It proposed an expedition to the Darien Isthmus, part of Panama in Central America, in the 1690s. The scheme was an attempt to establish a trading presence in the New World so that Scotland could benefit economically independently of their English rivals. The Scottish Parliament passed an act in 1683 to encourage the growth of Scottish trade. The English had already established successful trading companies and the Scots had strong economic reasons for wanting to imitate them. An act, dated 1695, established what became popularly known as the Darien Company, and gave the Scots a 31 year monopoly on trade with the colonies. Support for the Darien Company was widespread in Scotland at the time. It planned to set up independent colonies in Africa and the New World. The Darien Isthmus was already claimed by the Spanish as part of their colonies, a fact which was not lost on the English traders who were happy to see the Scots embroiled with their old enemy. Unfortunately, there was little reason could do to dampen the enthusiasm of the Scots and it is believed that nearly half the population of lowland Scotland invested in the scheme. There were plenty of reasons why the Darien Scheme ended in disaster. The range of goods the Scots took with them to the New World hampered their success. These included woollen bonnets and bibles, which there wasn't a huge demand for in Central America. The Darien Colonies were abandoned on 24th June 1699 due to illness and starvation. Spanish settlers attacked the colony, claiming the land as theirs, and English settlers nearby were instructed not to help. Survivors made their way to New York. The scheme cost the lives of 2,000 Scots and the company lost over £400,000, a sizeable proportion of the Scottish national wealth. The Scottish Parliament petitioned King William to recognise their grievances in regard to the fate of the Darien colonies and asked him to recognise the colony as a legal settlement. Although his reply acknowledges the tragic loss of the settlers, he refused to recognise the legality of the settlement and the only help he offered was in freeing Scottish prisoners held by the Spanish. The Scottish people were devastated by the failure of the Darien Scheme and many blamed the English for their refusal to help the unfortunate settlers. This led to a wave of anti-English sentiment. One victim of this sentiment was Captain Thomas Green, who was executed along with two of his crew on dubious charges of piracy after being seized at Leith Docks by a mob led by directors of the Darien Company. The captain worked for the East India Company, responsible for seizing one of the Darien Company's ships, the Annandale, for being in breach of its charter. Although the Darien Company is best remembered for the disastrous Darien Scheme, the company did enjoy success in trading with African colonies. ‘The African Merchant’, one of three ships commissioned by the company in 1698, traded successfully along the West African coast in 1699 and returned to Scotland in 1700 with over 70lbs of Gold.

Scran ID: 000-000-001-451-L
  © Scran 2016