Sunday, August 1, 2010

New Scotland and Sir William Alexander

Apologies for the two-week absence. I had a great time visiting with my sister's children and spent so much time with them, I had no time for blogging and barely had time to teach summer school. I have since caught up with summer school prep and am ready to blog again. In the back of my mind during July has been emigration in the seventeenth century, a time period about which I know little. Tonight, is the first of several posts I have in mind on movement during this century.

While my ancestor Eric Anderson Kirby was fighting for Gustavus Adolphus, other Scots were turning tentative eyes towards North America. The first Scot to envision a colony of his countrymen was Sir William Alexander, the first Earl of Stirling. He knew that there was a New England, a New Netherlands, and a New France, so why not a New Scotland? He was well-placed at court, being a well-regarded and published poet as well as holding several positions within the Stuart household. The Stuart monarchs, James VI and I and Charles I, both were in favor of colonization schemes, both in Britain and the New World.

He received a charter for New Scotland in 1621. It included most of the modern Maritimes and the Gaspe Peninsula. The only catch was, not only the Native Americans who already lived there, but that the French also claimed this same territory as Acadia. Sir Alexander, like many who promoted colonization schemes in the early seventeenth century, faced many hardships. Raising capital, purchasing supplies, outfitting supply ships, and most importantly, finding colonists. However, he persevered because he thought that colonization would be good for Scotland - the colony would provide markets for Scottish goods and it would provide opportunity for "surplus" Scots who would not have to enlist in foreign armies.

Ultimately, Alexander's New Scotland was a failure. Very few colonists went in the first place. The most successful colonists arrived in New Scotland in 1629 (most of whom were probably English, not Scots) and they thrived for three years in the New World. Then geo-politics intervened in the form of a war between France and England. The Treaty of St-Germain-en-Laye of 1632 ceded the New Scotland to France. Now, you might wonder why Charles I, who had been born in Scotland and was King of Scots as well as King of England, would permit this. Stuart monarchs, once they also held the throne of England, routinely preferred and promoted the interests of the wealthier country, England.

Alexander maintained an interest in the New World until his death in 1640, when it is said there were more creditors than mourners at his funeral. New Scotland, better known as Nova Scotia, was contested territory for decades. In fact the English used the term Nova Scotia to stress imperial claims to the territory, especially after the Union of 1707. However, Nova Scotia and eastern Canada would not see significant Scottish settlement until the second half of the eighteenth-century.

Several accounts of the oft maligned William Alexander, Earl of Stirling have been written in the 370 years since his death. A recent one, and the one from which I drew this account, is by John G. Reid, entitled “Sir William Alexander and North American Colonization” in Essays on Northeastern North America, 17th & 18th Centuries.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...