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.

* * *

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: