Saturday, October 16, 2010

War and Empire (3)

Europe overseas
By the 18th century the powers of Western Europe were also imperial powers.

The oldest Empire, the Spanish Empire, was an Empire of settlement and by the middle of the seventeenth century 650,000 Spaniards were living in Spanish America.

The Dutch and Portuguese Empires had begun as trading empires, but the growing demand for sugar led to the populating of Brazil and the West Indian islands by white settlers and black slaves. Between 1700 and 1760 200,000 Portuguese emigrated but five times as many black slaves were transplanted in the same period. Europeans were also establishing themselves along the eastern seaboard of North America.

The most spectacular region of colonization was the British colonies. By 1776 the population of British North America had risen to a quarter of a million, most of them American born and over a third of non-English origin (from Scotland, Ulster, Germany or Africa).

The British colonies were self-governing and largely free of the interference of home governments. This contrasted with the Spaniards who governed the whole of their Empire from a Council of the Indies sitting in Madrid. The colonial viceroys had little freedom of action. Most British colonies had been endowed from their foundation with representative institutions and each colony had a governor appointed by the Crown or the proprietor, but also colonial assemblies who paid the militias. The most distinctive of their diverse privileges before 1765 was freedom from taxation.

The British Empire in America was most directly challenged by ‘New France’, a huge territory stretching from Quebec to the Mississippi basin. Louisiana was never the economic miracle the French government hoped for and it was peopled mainly be transported criminals rather than voluntary settlers. After the collapse of the Mississippi Company in 1719 it stagnated.

By the middle of the eighteenth century French Canada had 70,000 inhabitants (far fewer than British North America).

Louisbourg (Louisburg) was founded on Cape Breton Island in 1713 to guard the Atlantic approaches to New France. It was a staggeringly ostentatious stronghold covering a hundred acres and encircled by ten-metre-high stone walls. It took so long to build and was so expensive that Louis XV said he was expecting its towers to rise over the Paris horizon. From its strategic position at the mouth of the St Lawrence, the inhabitants victualled their Newfoundland fishing fleets and potentially threatened Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. (However the fort was wildly ill-conceived: the humid weather stopped the mortar from drying, the fort was overlooked by a score of hillocks, and developments in gunnery had already made high stone walls an ineffective means of defence.)