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Dec. 11 Meeting of the Westborough History Working Group

Next Meeting of the Westborough History Working Group: Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 2:00 p.m. on the 3rd floor of the Westborough Public Library.

Are you interested in working with historical documents and records held at the Westborough Center for History and Culture? Come to this meeting to help out. If you plan to attend, please e-mail Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, at avaver@town.westborough.ma.us.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Separation

Note: The following is the eleventh and final post in a series that presents 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

Separation

The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India ultimately failed due to a lack of organization and institutional structures to sustain it. But the American colonies were well positioned to carry out rebellion against the British government and rule themselves once they separated from England. Westborough and other towns in Massachusetts had their own sets of laws, self-rule in the form of town meetings, elected representatives to the House of Representatives, and their own militias. During the American Revolution, more than a hundred Committees of Correspondence were set up, including one in Westborough, which served as an informal shadow government to carry out rebellion and ultimately revolution. After both the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Americans on July 4, 1776 and British defeat in the resulting war, England turned its attention to defending its colonial interests in India and other colonies throughout the world.

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was formed to advocate for Indian home rule, and when Mahatma Gandhi became its leader in 1920 he began to mobilize it into a body of resistance under a doctrine of “non-cooperation.” Gandhi and other Indian nationalists studied the tactics and read the treatises that led to the American Revolution for inspiration when they organized boycotts, shutdowns, demonstrations, and tax protests.  Mahatma Gandhi’s famous “salt march” to the sea to collect salt in protest over its taxation by the British was one such protest. Gandhi also used the symbolism and economic significance of cotton to galvanize nationalist and anti-colonial sentiment by both writing a history of cotton in India and practicing the spinning of cotton on a wheel as a means of publicizing India’s potential to reclaim its dominant position in the global economy from its British oppressors.

In the end, the strains of World War II on Great Britain ultimately led to India’s separation from the British Empire and its independence. During negotiations over the future of Indian rule in 1947, the two dominant political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, could not agree on a common future. The League insisted on carving out part of India to create a separate Muslim nation, which ultimately became Pakistan. The inability to keep India together as one nation resulted in mass displacement, plunder, and revenge killings with over 1 million people dying and more than 12 million being forced from their homes before it was all over.

The Declaration of Independence copied into Westborough’s Town Records, 1776
(Westborough Town Clerk, http://repository.westborougharchive.org/files/original/700d82def53c4ac7be6098193541cdf0.jpg)

The Boston printing of the Declaration of Independence was circulated to towns across Massachusetts and included an order at the bottom for town clerks to copy the content of the document into their town records. Above is Westborough’s hand-written copy.

Gandhi during the Salt March, 1930
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_during_the_Salt_March.jpg)

In an act of civil disobedience against the heavy taxation of salt by the British, Gandhi organized a widespread protest march to the sea to collect salt through evaporation in violation of the salt laws.

Gandhi Spinning Cotton, 1940’s
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_spinning.jpg)

As a reminder of India’s history of once being the dominant producer of cotton cloth throughout the world, Gandhi held cotton spinning demonstrations and encouraged others throughout India to take up the practice.

* * *

Social and political tensions created during British rule in both India and the United States continue to be felt today. In India, violent conflict played out almost immediately during the partitioning of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947, and struggle between the two countries over control of Kashmir continues to this day. In the United States, tensions over slavery lingered for decades until they finally came to a head with the outbreak of the American Civil War. But the social, political, and cultural differences that initially led to this conflict in many ways remain unresolved. Westborough and India no longer fall under British rule, but the common history we experienced under that rule continues to reverberate and connect us, even though geographically we sit at opposite sides of the globe.

This concludes the series of posts on “How Does History Connect Westborough and India?”

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?: Cotton

Note: The following is the tenth 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

Cotton

The leading cotton manufacturers from the beginning of history up until the early nineteenth century were from India, and the quality of their cotton fabrics was known throughout the world. Weavers in Bengal produced fine muslins, the southeastern coast of India was known for its chintzes and calicoes, and Surat in the western coast of India made strong but inexpensive fabrics. India was also at the forefront of innovation in cotton production. Indians invented the roller gin to remove seeds from raw cotton, the bow to clean and disentangle ginned cotton, the spinning wheel to produce thread, and a variety of looms, including the treadle loom, which allowed weavers to use their feet and free up their hands to move the horizontal weft across the vertical warp threads more economically. India’s skill in cloth production and its central location in global trade routes meant that it had the greatest impact in spreading cotton throughout the world and into Europe, where people mainly dressed in fur, wool, and linen before cotton came to its shores.

Europeans began the process of inserting themselves into the global cotton trade as soon as they landed by ship in India in the seventeenth century. With control of India, the British eventually wove a complex web of trade in cotton textiles across four continents: Indian weavers produced cloth that was used to pay for slaves in Africa; the slaves worked on plantations in the Americas to produce cotton that was used to make yarn in England; and that yarn was then shipped to India to be woven into cloth.

Before this trade loop was put in place, England first had to find vast quantities of raw cotton to keep its efficient industrial factories running full time. The American South ultimately fulfilled this need with its ideal climate for cultivating cotton, but the strand of cotton that grew best in the South was “upland cotton.” This strand had a shorter staple length than Indian cotton and the fibers tightly attached to the seeds so that Indian methods for removing the seeds were ineffective. But when Westborough native Eli Whitney invented a new kind of cotton gin in 1793, the machine led to a phenomenal increase in cotton production in the United States, rapidly expanded cotton land use, supplied British textile mills with practically unlimited supplies of raw cotton, and spread slavery across the South.

Indian Woman Ginning Cotton, 1815-1920
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indian_woman_gining_cotton.jpg)

Here, an Indian woman turns rollers to separate seeds from the fibers in Indian cotton.

Eli Whitney, 1822
by Samuel Morse
(Yale University Art Gallery, https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/31)
Eli Whitney s Cotton Gin Patent Drawing, 03/14/1794
(National Archives and Records Administration Records of the Patent and Trademark Office Record Group 241, Identifier: 305886, https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent)

After Westborough’s Eli Whitney patented an invention for a cotton gin that worked on the particular cotton strain grown in North America, cotton production soared and spread slavery throughout the South.

* * *
Read the next post in the series: Separation.

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.

New: Online Self-Directed Walking Tour of Downtown Westborough

Brand New: The Early Development of Westborough through Church and State: A Walking Tour

Looking for a fun activity to do with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday? Click on the link to this tour on your smart phone and use it to learn about the separation of church and state and how it affected Westborough, MA in this self-directed online walking tour of Westborough’s downtown. The tour starts at the Westborough Rotary and was created by Emily Bartee and Kayla Niece of Girl Scout Troop 30551 as a Silver Award project.

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.)

* * *
Read the next post in the series: Cotton.

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.