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.

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.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Charters and Private Enterprise

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

Charters and Private Enterprise

In the sixteenth century, the English watched as the Spanish filled their coffers with gold and silver after conquering South America. They also saw the Portuguese become fabulously rich after discovering shipping routes around the south of Africa to India, which provided them with easy access to pepper and other valuable spices that could be traded back in Europe.

No longer wanting to sit on the sidelines as other European powers developed new trade relations and created colonies to enrich themselves, the British government issued charters at the beginning of the seventeenth century to two groups of English businessmen to explore and exploit new lands and trade routes. These two charters—one for exploring North America in the hope of finding raw materials similar to what the Spanish found in South America and one for initiating trade in Asia—set the stage for British rule in both Westborough and India.

The Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1629, Issued by King Charles I of England
(Commonwealth Museum, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, https://www.sec.state.ma.us/mus/treasures-gallery.html)

In 1629, King Charles I issued this charter to a “Councell established at Plymouth.” The charter authorized them to take possession of lands and all that they offered (“Firme Landes, Soyles, Groundes, Havens, Portes, Rivers, Waters, Fishing, Mynes, and Minerals”) that were “not then actuallie possessed or inhabited, by any other Christian Prince or State.” The result was the creation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Note how conquest underlies the purpose of the charter. A complete transcription of the Charter can be found here: https://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/mass03.asp.

Coat of arms of the First East India Company, incorporated by Queen Elizabeth I, 31st of December 1600
(National Arms and Emblems, http://www.hubert-herald.nl/BhaHEIC.htm)

A royal charter issued by Queen Elizabeth I gave permission to a group of entrepreneurs to create the East India Company for “the Increase of our Navigation, and Advancement of Trade of Merchandize” with countries east of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. The Company’s first trip to India was in 1608. A complete transcription of the Charter can be found here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Charter_Granted_by_Queen_Elizabeth_to_the_East_India_Company.

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Read the next post in the series: Global Trade.

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?: Introduction

Note: The following is the first in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?”

If you would like to subscribe to the series, you can enter your e-mail in the “Subscribe to Westborough Center Blog Posts” box on the right-side of this website.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886
(Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, call number: G5730 1886.C6, http://maps.bpl.org)

Introduction: Empire

Throughout history the world has been created and shaped by empires, and the British Empire was the most powerful and most significant in the modern era. From the beginning of the seventeenth to the middle of the twentieth century, the British Empire wielded both its powerful navy and its command of commercial shipping to create and control colonies across the globe. These efforts ultimately resulted in the creation of the largest empire in world history. At its height in 1921, the British Empire ruled over twenty-three percent of the world’s landmass on all seven continents and governed over twenty percent of the world’s population.

Both Westborough (as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America) and India (which during colonial rule included the contemporary states of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma) fell under British control at one point in their history. This common legacy created similarities in the way we think about and experience the world, even though the methods the British used to conquer each area and the ensuing life under their control were quite different. And because Great Britain ruled over both colonies at the same time, decisions it made about one colony on one side of the world often affected the other. What follows is one way to tell the story of how two places—one, a small town in North America, and the other, a very big country in Central Asia—are connected by history.

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Read the next post in the series: Charters and Private Enterprise.

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There are many ways to answer the question “How does history connect Westborough and India?,” but I chose to focus on the fact that both Westborough and India were once part of the British Empire. I encourage you to find others for yourself, and you can start your exploration by reading one or more of the books that appear at the bottom of this web page or in the full bibliography of the works I consulted during my research that appear at the bottom of this post. All of the works listed are available at the Westborough Public Library.

I also encourage you to engage with the issues raised by these series of posts by commenting at the bottom of them, emailing me, or by stopping in the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library to chat.

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.

Reminder: Introduction to the Game of Cricket, Sat. May 11 (Rain date: May 18)

Learn about the history, worldwide appeal, and rules of cricket from members of the Westborough Cricket Club on Saturday, May 11 at 10:00 a.m. (with a rain date of May 18) at Hennessy Field on 1 Upton Road.

The event will begin with an overview of cricket and the skills needed to play it. Members of the audience will then be asked to play in a game, while others are encouraged to stay and watch the action. Food trucks will also be on hand to provide refreshment. Anyone interested in playing in a cricket game can pre-register at http://westbororec.com/info/activities/program_details.aspx?ProgramID=30096.

This program is part of the Westborough History Connections series at the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library.

Information: Jennifer Kirkland, Westborough Recreation, jkirkland@town.westborough.ma.us, 1-508-366-3066; or Anthony Vaver, Westborough Public Library, avaver@town.westborough.ma.us, 1-508-366-3050 (ext. 5284).