Friday, September 14, 2007

Now Silent, Upon a Peak in Darien

On May 1st I reported on the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, whereby Scotland formally surrendered its independence to England and became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. I implied that English anti-Catholicism and English bribes had much to do with the end of Scotland's sovereignty. However, in a new article in the Guardian, Rory Carroll attributes the end of Scottish independence to the kingdom's disastrous attempt to colonize Panama in the late 1690s. The now-obscure Scottish colony of New Caledonia cost Scotland hundreds of lives and one-fifth of its national wealth, and its collapse both bankrupted and demoralized the Scottish government. According to archaeologist Mark Horton, however, the failure of New Caledonia was not due to Scottish incompetence - the site was well-chosen and the death rate no higher than in 17th-century Virginia - but rather to Spanish military opposition and English indifference. The story reminds us, at any rate, that the margin of survival in Europe's 17th-century colonies was quite thin, and the consequences of failed colonies could be quite severe for the mother country.

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