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The subject of the Scottish settlement in Darien, in Panama, came up on the Sinclair discussion list. I wrote up the following information about it. See also another writeup. —John Sinclair Quarterman (jsq)
At a used bookstore several years ago, I came across a copy of a book that is relevant to the Darien expeditions:
The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, by George Pratt Insh, D.Litt., F.E.I.S. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932. 333pp. plus index, front matter, and maps.

From the Preface: ``This volume records the leading activities of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies from the tentative beginnings of 1693 to the formal dissolution of 1707.''

The purpose of this Company was overseas trade and colonization for Scotland. Even though Scotland and England had had the same monarch since 1603, when James VI of Scotland became also James I of England, and styled himself King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Scots overseas were treated in English colonies and trading posts as foreigners until the Union of Scotland and England of 1707. This led Scotland to want its own equivalent of the East India Company and its own colonies. (Even though there were certain advantages in foreign status; the first Virginia tobacco lords were Glasgow merchants.)

On first looking into Chapman's Homer.

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats, 1884.

Competing directly with the English efforts being impossible for economic and political reasons, the Scottish company needed to go elsewhere, and especially Scottish settlements needed to be elsewhere. There were Scottish settlements in North America, and Scots in English colonies such New York, New England, and the Carolinas. But for a new settlement they chose Darien on the isthmus of Panama. You know, the place where Cortez first saw the Pacific. (Actually, it was Balboa who first sighted the Pacific, but he did it from Darien.)

Why did the Scots choose Darien? Well, it was out of the geographic domains of the various English efforts. It was in the domains claimed by the Spanish. But the Spanish had never actually settled there, and the Spanish were at the time more or less enemies of the British crown. Also, the location of the isthmus gave good opportunties for both trade and the occasional seizure of a Spanish treasure galleon.

The first settlers landed in October 1698, named their town and fort New Edinburgh, and ran into numerous problems, including disease (there was a good reason the Spanish never settled that malarial location), poor organization, armed Spanish opposition, proclamations against them by the English governors of Jamaica and New York, failure to have established factors in those other two places to facilitate supplies, and the eventual active opposition of William I, their king they had counted on to back them. It seems he was more worried about antagonizing the Spanish than about a few colonists.
Or was it the end? Some of the refugees stayed in Jamaica or New York afterwards. And the name lives on in numerous places, such as Darien Lakes in western New York. My grandfather was born in Darien, Georgia, which was founded in 1736 as the southernmost bastion of the British colonies against the Spanish and named after the older Darien.

There are no Sinclairs mentioned in the above book.

There were plenty of Sinclairs in Darien, Georgia, but they (my ancestors) immigrated directly from Thurso a century later.

I've never heard of any connection of Sinclairs with New Edinburgh in Darien on the isthmus of Panama. But probably some were, somehow, since it was a major event in Scottish history.

It's a fascinating story, involving multiple expeditions, and indirectly involving everybody from John Locke to Peter the Great of Russia. The settlers built forts and made alliances with the local Indians. The Scots also fought a major battle against the Spanish at Toubacanti on the isthmus in Panama.

The Company and the attempts to settle Darien were very big deals in their time, similar to a country the size of Scotland funding its own space program in our day. People all over Scotland (and foreigners) invested money in them; often everything they had. The eventual failure of both was a blow to Scotland. The end of it all was caused by the Union of 1707.

The Darien expeditions left from Leith near Edinburgh and from the Clyde near Glasgow; there were also outfitting stops in places like Amsterdam (which is how Peter the Great gets mentioned). Some of the refugees returned directly to the Mull of Kintyre. Campbells were deeply involved in the expeditions, which may help explain why Sinclairs weren't prominent in them.

The Darien expeditions were not major migrations, although it was expected that they would be if they were successful. Later emigrants went elsewhere.

Last changed: 00/03/11 16:10:35 [Clan Sinclair]