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

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 follow on this web page.

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.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Westborough-India Series – Works Consulted

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.

 

Westborough-India Connection Reading List

The following books are all available through the Westborough Public Library.

Global Trade and the British Empire

  • The Silk Roads : a new history of the world / Peter Frankopan (909-FRANKOPAN)
  • The decline and fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 / Piers Brendon (909.097-BRENDON)
  • The rule of empires : those who built them, those who endured them, and why they always fall / Timothy H. Parsons (325.3-PARSONS)
  • Behemoth : a history of the factory and the making of the modern world / Joshua B. Freeman (338.64409 FREEMAN)
  • Empire of things : how we became a world of consumers, from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first / Frank Trentmann (339.4709 TRENTMANN)
  • Empire of cotton : a global history / Sven Beckert (338.47 BECKERT)
  • Selling empire : India in the making of Britain and America, 1600-1830 / Jonathan Eacott (382.609 EACOTT)
  • Captives : Britain, Empire and the world, 1600-1850 / Linda Colley (325.36 COLLEY)
  • Cities of empire : the British colonies and the creation of the urban world / Tristram Hunt (941 HUNT)
  • The rise and fall of the British Empire / Lawrence James (909.0971 JAMES)
  • The taste of empire: how Britain’s quest for food shaped the modern world / Lizzie Collingham (338.1941 COLLING)
  • A thirst for empire: how tea shaped the modern world / Erika Rappaport (641.3372 RAPPAPORT)
  • A social history of tea: tea’s influence on commerce, culture, & community / Jane Pettigrew (On order as of 11/19/18)

British Indian History

  • Gandhi : the man, his people, and the empire / Rajmohan Gandhi. (B-GANDHI-GAN)
  • Gandhi & Churchill : the epic rivalry that destroyed an empire and forged our age / Arthur Herman (325.54-HERMAN)
  • Gandhi and the unspeakable : his final experiment with truth / James W. Douglass (B-GANDHI-DOU)
  • Indira : the life of Indira Nehru Gandhi / Katherine Frank (B-GANDHI-FRA)
  • Great soul : Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India / Joseph Lelyveld (B-GANDHI-LEL)
  • Daughter of empire : my life as a Mountbatten / Lady Pamela Hicks (B-HICKS-HIC)
  • Indian summer : the secret history of the end of an empire / Alex von Tunzelmann (954.03-VON TUNZELMANN)
  • A traveller’s history of India / SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda (954-TAMMITA)
  • Ants among elephants : an untouchable family and the making of modern India / Sujatha Gidla (305.568-GIDLA)
  • India conquered : Britain’s Raj and the chaos of empire / Jon Wilson (382 WILSON)
  • Inglorious empire : What the British did to India / Shashi Tharoor (943.03 THAROOR)
  • The chaos of empire : the British Raj and the conquest of India / Jon Wilson (954.03 WILSON)
  • Women of the Raj : the mothers, wives, and daughters of the British Empire in India / Margaret MacMillan (954 MACMILLAN)
  • Raj : the making and unmaking of British India / Lawrence James (954.03 JAMES)
  • An era of darkness : the British empire In India / Shashi Tharoor (954.03 THAROOR)

British American History

  • An empire on the edge : how Britain came to fight America / Nick Bunker (973.3-BUNKER)
  • The rebellion begins : Westborough and the start of the American Revolution / by Anthony Vaver (973.2 VAVER)
  • Independence lost : lives on the edge of the American Revolution / Kathleen DuVal (973.3-DUVAL)
  • The dawn of innovation : the first American Industrial Revolution / Charles R. Morris ; illustrations by J.E. Morris (338.0973-MORRIS)
  • The first American revolution : before Lexington and Concord / Ray Raphael (973.3-RAPHAEL)
  • The spirit of 74 : how the American Revolution began / Ray Raphael and Marie Raphael (973.31-RAPHAEL)
  • American tempest : how the Boston Tea Party sparked a revolution / Harlow Giles Unger (973.3-UNGER)
  • Paul Revere’s ride / David Hackett Fischer (973.3-FISCHER)
  • The shoemaker and the tea party : memory and the American Revolution / Alfred F. Young (973.3-YOUNG)
  • Rebecca Dickinson : independence for a New England woman / Marla R. Miller (B-DICKINSON-MIL)
  • The unknown American Revolution : the unruly birth of democracy and the struggle to create America / Gary B. Nash (973.3-NASH)
  • American creation : triumphs and tragedies at the founding of the republic / Joseph J. Ellis (973.3-ELLIS)
  • The idea of America : reflections on the birth of the United States / Gordon S. Wood (973.3-WOOD)
  • A struggle for power : the American revolution / Theodore Draper (973.3-DRAPER)
  • Revolutionary summer : the birth of American independence / by Joseph J. Ellis (973.3-ELLIS)
  • 1776 / David McCullough (973.3-MCCULLOUGH)
  • Founding myths : stories that hide our patriotic past / Ray Raphael (973.3-RAPHAEL)
  • A people’s history of the American Revolution : how common people shaped the fight for independence / Ray Raphael (973.3092-RAPHAEL)
  • Revolutionary mothers : women in the struggle for America’s independence / Carol Berkin (973.3-BERKIN)
  • American heroes : profiles of men and women who shaped early America / Edmund S. Morgan (973.2-MORGAN)
  • Independence : the tangled roots of the American Revolution / Thomas P. Slaughter (973.311-SLAUGHTER)
  • Revolutionary characters : what made the founders different / Gordon S. Wood (973.3-WOOD)
  • The marketplace of revolution : how consumer politics shaped American independence (973.31-BREEN)
  • Revolutionary founders : rebels, radicals, and reformers in the making of the nation / edited by Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael (973.3-REVOLUTIONARY)
  • Revolutionaries : a new history of the invention of America / by Jack Rakove (973.3-RAKOVE)
  • Slave nation : how slavery united the colonies and sparked the American Revolution / Alfred W. Blumrosen and Ruth G. Blumrosen (973.31-BLUMROSEN)
  • Founding mothers : the women who raised our nation / Cokie Roberts (973.3-ROBERTS)
  • The founders and finance : how Hamilton, Gallatin, and other immigrants forged a new economy / Thomas K. McCraw (330.973-MCCRAW)
  • Portrait of a woman in silk : hidden histories of the British Atlantic world / Zara Anishanslin (970.03 ANISHANSLIN)

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

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).