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.

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