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.
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.
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.