How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Rebellion

Note: The following is the ninth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Rebellion

By the 1760’s, the American colonies were no longer backwater settlements, but were populated by sophisticated intellectuals who had the space and ability to imagine a nation separate from Great Britain. In an act of protest against the Tea Act of 1773 and the Intolerable Acts of 1774, the people of Westborough and other American colonists began to boycott the purchase of teas and other goods imported by the East India Company. A flood of print produced in New England also began to appear and overwhelmed any ability by the British to counter colonists’ perspective that their rights were being infringed. Revolutionary pamphlets and broadsides, such as Thomas Paine’s incendiary Common Sense (1776), which sold over 150,000 copies, was key in motivating colonists to take action against the British government.

“Mr. Bradshaw having given me one of the Books entitled Common sense, I begin to read it — bold Strokes!”

–Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, Thursday, February 29, 1776

Under the Intolerable Acts, the people of Massachusetts no longer had a say in who could serve on the courts, which at the time held tremendous power in making decisions that affected individuals. So when the newly constituted courts were set to convene in Worcester on September 6, 1774, Westborough and other towns throughout Worcester County decided to send their militias to prevent the courts from meeting. Exactly 4,622 men from 37 towns marched to Worcester and forced the British court officials to resign their positions. We know this number because Westborough resident Breck Parkman cataloged the number of people who attended the event from each town, and his father, Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, wrote down these numbers in his diary. After shutting down the courts in Worcester, colonists proceeded to shut down the courts in every county seat in Massachusetts outside of Boston. From this point forward, the British never regained control of these areas of Masssachusetts, and the march to Worcester by Westborough and other towns is considered by many historians to be the true start of the American Revolution.

Rebellion came much later in India than in the American colonies, with the Great Rebellion of 1857 being the first major challenge to British rule. The rebellion started when 85 sepoys (Indian mercenary soldiers) refused to take part in firing practice over feared rumors that the grease used in the gun cartridges that the men had to bite off with their teeth was made from the fat of cows and pigs, which would have offended Hindus and Muslims, respectively. Insurrection quickly spread throughout the army, with 70,000 soldiers mutinying and 30,000 more deserting their units. Quelling the insurrection required Britain to rush 90,000 men from Europe to India and resulted in the British government seizing control of India from the East India Company in 1858.

Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, September 5-7, 1774
(American Antiquarian Society)

This page from Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary shows the number of men who marched to Worcester to prevent the British courts from meeting on September 6, 1774. (Parkman’s addition is off by 100.)

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Tea

Note: The following is the second in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Tea

“What misery this right of taxation is capable of producing in a provincial government. We need only recollect that our countrymen in India, have in the space of five or six years, in virtue of this right, destroyed, starved and driven away more inhabitants from Bengal, than are to be found at present in all our American Colonies.”

–Jonathan Shipley, from a speech intended for the House of Lords during debate over altering the Massachusetts charter in 1774 and subsequently published and distributed in the American colonies by Benjamin Franklin.

In 1771, the East India Company bought shiploads of tea on credit in the hope that it could reverse deficits created by the drop in tax collections due to the famine in Bengal. Over twenty ships carrying 90,000 chests of tea arrived in London that summer, more than twice as much tea as the British could consume in a year—and Great Britain had not even finished consuming the tea that had been shipped the year before! With its tea sitting in the harbor, its coffers empty, and with creditors demanding payment, the East India Company was nearly broke. The British government deemed the company too big and too important to fail, so Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, which gave license to the East India Company to corner the market on tea in the American colonies and tax it at the same time, moves that that would ultimately prove to be disastrous in England’s ability to maintain control over the American colonies.

The Tea Act of 1773 was passed around the same time that American newspapers were carrying reports about the high rates of taxation imposed by the British on Bengal, the ruthless measures put in place to maximize those tax collections, and the famine that resulted from these policies. American colonists naturally wondered whether the British government intended to impose similar imperial administrative rule on their part of the world, and if so, what would prevent America from experiencing a similar fate?

To protest the passage of the Tea Act, a group of rebels threw the excess tea that the East India Company had shipped to America into Boston Harbor, and the British government responded by passing the Intolerable Acts in 1774, which closed the ports in Boston, fundamentally changed the charter of Massachusetts, and consequentially led to rebellion with Westborough and Worcester leading the charge.

The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor, 1846
by N. Currier (Firm)
(Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91795889/)

This 1846 picture fancifully depicts the destruction of East India Company tea in Boston Harbor to protest its taxation in 1773.

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Read the next post in the series: Rebellion.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Taxes

Note: The following is the seventh in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Taxes

The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) was expensive and created massive government debt for Great Britain. The fact that the war was mostly fought in North America and that victory led to a new need to increase the number of soldiers in the colonies more than tenfold in order to prevent revolt in Quebec caused Britain to rethink their taxing strategy in the American colonies. In 1765, the British enacted the Stamp Act, which taxed legal papers and other documents in America. The colonies reacted swiftly against these new taxes—protests were especially intense in Boston, New York, and Rhode Island—so the British had little choice but to repeal them.

Following British victory at Plassey in Bengal during the Seven Years’ War, the East India Company acquired the diwani of Bengal, i.e., the right to collect taxes in exchange for regular payments to the Mughal emperor in Delhi. In 1769, after the British had pushed the limits of taxing Bengal to such a degree that its economy began to teeter, a drought hit. Because the British had already stockpiled food for themselves, food prices began to soar until famine broke out and up to ten million people died as a result. The severe loss of population resulted in dwindling tax revenues for the East India Company, so after the rains returned it wasn’t long before yet another financial crisis hit.

The British basically inherited the administrative tax system from previous Mughal rulers, but as they expanded their rule and taxing powers into other Indian regions, they sought out inconsistencies and put in place ruthless efficiencies to maximize tax collection. In addition to utilizing accounting and administrative tools, they instituted a census (in order to tax people, you have to know who they are and where they live). A British obsession over collecting information about the population for tax purposes grew. These censuses ended up changing the very nature of the Indian population, because it forced Indian society to start placing its people in categories that before were not perceived as important or even existed as concepts, such as caste and race.

The British never “measured” the American colonies in the way they did in India. They had no idea how many people lived in America, how fast the colonies were growing, or how large the militias in each colony were. This lack of data meant that the British had no way to gauge the seriousness of the move towards independence that was beginning to brew in the colonies.

The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive
by Benjamin West
(The British Library, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shah_%27Alam_conveying_the_grant_of_the_Diwani_to_Lord_Clive.jpg)

This painting depicts Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor, transferring tax collection rights, or diwani, for Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to Robert Clive and the East India Company in 1765. The moment was a turning point for the East India Company as it became less a trading company and more an administrative and military organization focused on tax collection.

List of Westborough Males Over 16 Years Old, 1777
(Westborough Public Library, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/z316sd686)

This list of Westborough males over the age of sixteen years old was used to determine who was eligible to serve in the American Revolution.

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Read the next post in the series: Tea.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

First Meeting of the Westborough History Working Group

First Meeting of the Westborough History Working Group. Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 2:00 p.m. at the Westborough Public Library. Do you want to help the Westborough Center with its historical documents and records? Come to this inaugural meeting, where we will start adding dates to historical photographs that lack them and then plan how we want to go forward in the future. If you plan to attend, please e-mail Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, at avaver@town.westborough.ma.us, so that we can adequately plan space for us to work.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Imperial Administration and Rule

Note: The following is the sixth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Imperial Administration and Rule

After near complete British victory in the Seven Years’ War, England was now responsible for administering two colonial empires on opposite sides of the globe with differing governing needs. The fact that America was populated with British subjects did not exactly play to England’s advantage, because these citizens automatically assumed that they had a right to direct participation in their government and could not be ruled with an authoritative hand. But for the most part, the British government tended to interfere in the American colonies only in matters of trade and commerce, because they were more concerned with European foreign policy due to fear of falling back into war with France at any given time. The Americans, on the other hand, were obsessed with following news about the overseas affairs of England in order to discover clues about British intentions for ruling its colonies.

Over in Asia, granting Indians the right to a representative government was out of the question, since doing so would undermine Britain’s economic goals. Instead, the British developed an administrative system whereby officials from the East India Company—many of them former military generals, including the Earl of Cornwallis, who surrendered to Washington at Yorktown to end the American Revolution—ruled India and collected taxes both to pay for their rule and to profit from the arrangement. The East India Company now transformed itself into being less of a trading company and more of a military and administrative power headed by a group of oligarchs who sought to expand British control into other areas of India beyond Bengal. And because the wealth generated in India was so much greater in comparison with the American colonies, the British were much more attuned to the political situation in the East than they were in the West.

“The Reception of the Mysorean Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis,” 26 February 1792
by Robert Home
(National Army Museum, https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1976-11-86-1)

This painting shows General Lord Cornwallis—who had surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown to end the American Revolution and was now serving as Governor-General of India—receiving two of Tipu Sultan’s sons as hostages after the 3rd Mysore War (1790-1792). Cornwallis led British troops in capturing large sections of Mysore in southern India, demanded a hefty financial settlement, and took the sons hostage to ensure that Tipu carried out the treaty to end the war. The sons were returned in 1794. In a show of propaganda, the artist, who appears in the far left-side of the painting, depicts Cornwallis as a paternalistic ruler.

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Read the next post in the series: Taxes.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: War and Globalism

Note: The following is the fifth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

War and Globalism

In 1754, when the French and Indian War broke out and pitted the British-held American colonies against New France for control of North America, Westborough sent at least six soldiers to support the British effort (records of who fought in the war and exactly how many from Westborough have since disappeared). This armed conflict soon became part of the global Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), which involved every major European power and spanned five continents.

While the British and French fought in North America, the French also threatened English positions in India. When the British finally gained decisive victory on both sides of the globe, the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the war granted Britain all of North America east of the Mississippi and forced the French both to abandon any claims to South India and to withdraw its military presence from Bengal. The British suddenly controlled vast parts of the world, but their victory also overextended their ability to administer them, so any action or crisis in one area of the world had the potential to expose a weakness in another.

Victory in the Seven Year’s War handed the British East India Company near monopolistic control over Indian trade, along with the prospect of acquiring more and more influence in the region as the reign of the Mughal Empire deteriorated. With expanded market possibilities for Indian goods, England now aimed to sit at the hub of global trade in the way that India did in Asia under the Mughal Empire before British arrival. This “Indianization” of British trade had a broad effect on the type of goods that were both produced and consumed, and in short time, the British targeted the American colonies as a major market for these worldly goods. Various forms of cotton cloth, shawls, cane and lacquered furniture, aprons, and umbrellas became widely available and fashionable, while tea, curry, pepper, and other spices expanded food palettes throughout the British Empire.

A love letter from Westborough resident Joseph Woods to his wife while serving in the French and Indian War, 1757
(Westborough Public Library, http://www.westboroughcenter.org/exhibits/reed-collection-discoveries/)

The letter reads:

Kenterhook May ye 14th 1757

Loving wife these Lines are to Inform you that I am got to Kenterhook and am In good helth and I Can give No account when or where I Shall march Next there is a [T reant[?] story that we are to go to the Lake But nothing sartain and I would acquaint you that all that Came from Westborough are in helth give my love to the children No more at present So I Remain Effectionate Husband hopeing that we Shall Live So whilst apart that if we Never meet here on Earth that at Last we Shall meet In heaven

Joseph Woods

Brother Tuller these may give you account of my Afairs So I give my Love to you and my Sister and Remain your Loving friend

Joseph was killed in action shortly after writing this letter during the Battle of Lake George in the French and Indian War.

East India Company: List of Bengal textiles, 1730
(British Library, http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/large126697.html)

This document lists textiles purchased in Bengal in 1730 by the East India Company, which then exported them to England and other parts of the world, including colonial America.

Chintz textile fragment, 1710-1730
(Colonial Williamsburg, Acc. No. 2007-96, https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org)

Indian cottons could only be brought into England for re-export, even though the British had gained control of cotton production and distribution. This fragment of painted white chintz cotton was imported to the American colonies from India. The American colonies served as an important market for Indian cottons because their sale on the open market in England was illegal, so as to protect British textile manufacturers from foreign competition.

Mention of “calico” (Indian cotton) in Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary:

1740 May 2 (Friday).  Rainy.  Ensign Maynard here who had been to Boston and brought 6 3/4 Yards Callico for Judith and [illegible] from Mr. Jenison for me.

1770 June 7 (Thursday).  Messrs. Stone and Smith (I hear by Sophy, who rode to Mr. Stones to get a Callico Gown made).

1772 July 1 (Wednesday).  Breck is White-Washing the House.  My Wife makes me a dark-figured Callico Gown, which is a present of Brecks to me.

1772 July 9 (Thursday).  Several Persons assist my Daughters in Quilting an handsome Callico Bed-Quilt, viz. Mrs. Hawes, Zilpah Bruce.

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Read the next post in the series: Imperial Administration and Rule.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Settlement and Colonization

Note: The following is the fourth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Settlement and Colonization

Whether the indigenous people of North America realized it at the time or not, contact with the English in the seventeenth century forced them into competing in the global trade market. At first, Native Americans traded deerskins and furs for iron tools, guns, and ceremonial objects. But when new settlers lost interest in the deerskins and furs, all that the native peoples had left to trade was land. Farmers quickly bought up their land, cleared it, and grew as many crops on it as possible in order to maximize profits.

These English settlers never intended to adopt, or even adapt to, the indigenous lifestyle they encountered and instead sought to preserve their European culture and way of life as much as they could. In 1704, tensions between British settlers and Native Americans played out to tragic consequences in Westborough. Five boys from the Rice family were working out in the field close to where the High School now stands when a group of ten members of the Mohawk tribe who had traveled south from Canada killed one of the boys and seized the other four. They carried the four boys back to Canada in order to replenish the dwindling number of males in their tribe due to plague and a consequent low birth rate. Two of the boys ended up adopting the indigenous way of life and staying with the tribe for the rest of their lives, and one of them even became a chief of the Iroquois nation.

In contrast to their experience in North America, when the British first landed in India they encountered the Mughal Empire, the most developed civilization in the world at the time. India’s wealth came from its incredible production of rice, cloth, and other goods, in addition to its advantageous geographical position in south-central Asia, which allowed it to control much of the trade in luxury goods carried out among China, Japan, Persia, and other Asian countries.

The monarchs and ministers in India saw British traders as “rude hairy barbarians” who dressed in smelly woolens and linens. In order to demonstrate goodwill with the Mughal emperor, British merchants began dressing in the same clothing as his courtiers and adopting other Indian customs, such as smoking hookas, in an attempt to cultivate more advantageous trade relations. This adoption of local Indian customs in turn set fashion trends back in England and in colonial America, where Indian-inspired dress and decorative arts became all the rage.

Massachusetts Bay Seal, 1629 (Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Massachusetts_Bay_Colony_Seal,_1629.jpg)

The charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony granted by Charles I included the authority to make and use a seal. The final design featured a Native American holding a downward pointing arrow as a sign of peace and saying, “Come over and help us.” The seal clearly displays a sense of cultural superiority to the indigenous people that English colonists brought with them to North America.

Title page to Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s account of the capture of the Rice boys
(Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/storyofriceboysc00park/page/n21)
Painting, portrait of East India Company official, ca. 1760-1764
by Dip Chand
(Victoria and Albert Museum, https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O16731/painting-portrait-of-east-india-company/)

Company paintings were made by Indian artists for British subjects, and this one is probably of William Fullerton of Rosemont who served in the East India Company starting in 1744. Note he is shown lounging on a carpet while enjoying a hookah.

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Read the next post in the series: War and Globalism.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Global Trade

Note: The following is the third in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Global Trade

British intention to exploit the resources of North America in the early seventeenth century did not go as originally planned. Discovery of gold and silver never panned out, since there was little to find or take from the native population, and the natural resources available in New England turned out to be similar to those back in Britain.

The British lack of success in America was mirrored on the other side of the globe when their goods failed to generate much trade interest in India and other parts of Asia. The manufacturing skill of the British fell far below that of Eastern artisans, and the woolens and linens produced in England paled next to the luxurious cottons and silks made in India. Still, Britain’s advantageous geography off the western shore of continental Europe put them at the crossroads of major sea-going trade routes, and so the country was well positioned to serve as a geographic connector between the Old and New Worlds.

Once the British used their naval superiority to gain command of the seas, they turned their attention to becoming players in the booming global commodities trade. In the West, they took the raw materials they acquired in the Americas—such as tobacco from Virginia and sugar from the Caribbean—manufactured them into processed goods back in England, and then exported the goods to continental Europe and other countries around the world. In the East, the East India Company inserted itself into trade between India and China by acquiring cotton in the former and selling it to the latter for tea, which was then shipped to England and colonial America.

By the nineteenth century, British domination in world trade and shipping allowed more and more local manufacturers to tap into global markets. When the National Straw Hat Factory in Westborough became an international company by distributing its hats throughout the world beginning in the late nineteenth century, it could do so only because the British first created a global trade network that connected India with North America beginning in the seventeenth century.

Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings from the St. Petersburg Album,
by Bichitr (active between ca. 1615 – 1640)
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bichitr_-_Jahangir_Preferring_a_Sufi_Shaikh_to_Kings,_from_the_St._Petersburg_album_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg)

In this image of Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor, King James I sits below the emperor as third in the hierarchy, with both Shaikh Salim, an Islamic mystic, and the Ottoman Emperor above him. Bichitr, the artist of the work, sits at the bottom in a self-portrait.

National Straw Works, ca. 1880s
(Westborough Center for History and Culture, Westborough Public Library)

The National Straw Works (1871-1917) located on East Main Street in Westborough, MA, near where the Bay State Commons sits today, exported straw hats and other straw goods throughout the world. Such markets were first created by the British and other European powers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

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Read the next post in the series: Settlement and Colonization.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

Architecture Tour Booklet

If you plan to attend the architecture tour on Sunday, make sure you download the booklet that will be used during the tour. Hope to see you there!

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British Influences on Westborough’s Architecture Walking Tour, Sunday, October 6, 2019, 1:00 p.m. at the Library steps.  Join R. Christopher Noonan and Luanne  Crosby as they talk (and sing!) about the interplay and influences of the British Empire’s architectural traditions on Westborough’s buildings, neighborhoods, and even cemetery design. This program is part of the Westborough History Connections series on Westborough and India under the British Empire.

Upcoming Westborough Center Program Reminders

Tonight (Weds., 10/2):

Introduction to Indian Classical Music, Its Overlaps and Differences with Western Music, Wednesday, October 2, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. in the Library Meeting Room. Learn and engage in a 90-minute interactive workshop on Indian classical music. This program is part of the Westborough History Connections series on Westborough and India under the British Empire.

Sunday (10/6):

British Influences on Westborough’s Architecture Walking Tour, Sunday, October 6, 2019, 1:00 p.m. at the Library steps.  Join R. Christopher Noonan and Luanne  Crosby as they talk (and sing!) about the interplay and influences of the British Empire’s architectural traditions on Westborough’s buildings, neighborhoods, and even cemetery design. This program is part of the Westborough History Connections series on Westborough and India under the British Empire.