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Western Europe and North American, to the 1740s


By the beginning of the 1700s an explosive growth in maritime commerce was underway: bigger sailing ships devoted to trade, although the industrial manufacturing had not yet arrived. For more than 2000 years the Mediterranean Sea had been the focus of European trade with other parts of the world, but by now the focus had focus shifted to the Atlantic, first for journeys around the south of Africa and then the trans-Atlantic trade. Navigation was transformed following the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia in 1687. Sailors could predict the motion of the moon and other celestial objects using Newton's theories of motion.

The rise in trade had been accompanied by the prosperity that an improved agriculture had produced and by an associated rise in population, the great sea power England having has a population of 4 million in the year 1600 and an estimated 8.2 million in 1700. An improvement in agricultural production was also a part of the rise in commerce. With experimentation, farmers were learning how to better rotate crops, different patterns of rotation suitable for different kinds of soil. With more fodder for their animals in the winter months they could build larger herds, more meat for people and more fertilizer. This kind of progress came first with the more densely populated Dutch, followed by the English — the two leading maritime traders.

They would be unable to stick to peaceful trading and peaceful competition. The horrors of the wars in the 1600s were not holding back news wars. In Britain in response to the passions of war and religious conflict there was the attitude that the mark of a gentleman was restraint. Good manners had become valued as a barrier against conflict. Passionate preaching was seen by many as vulgar, and there was a decline in demand for religious uniformity – a step away from the belief prevalent in the Middle Ages that those with views different from one's own are evil. But conflicts that were normal continued, and the new attitudes were not enough to deter new wars.

War of Spanish Succession

The War of Spanish Succession followed the death of Spain's Habsburg king, Charles II in November 1700. Charles had a been physically and mentally disabled, and infertile, possibly due royal inbreeding. (He is said to have not learned to speak until age four or walk until eight.) Attempts to solve the problem by peacefully partitioning Spain's empire among the eligible candidates from the royal houses of France (Bourbon), Austria (Habsburg), and Bavaria (Wittelsbach) ultimately failed. With the French monarch Louis XIV of the Bourbon family on the throne in France, his grandson on the throne in Spain evoked fear of an upset balance of power. A Grand Alliance formed against France, with war declared in May 1702.

England's reigning monarch was Queen Anne, and in America what was happening was called Queen Anne's War. British forces from South Carolina sacked and burned Spain's Fort Augustine in Florida. Spanish missions were destroyed and the Indian population reduced. The English engaged the French based at Mobile in what was essentially a proxy war involving American Indians. New England colonies fought against French and Indian forces based in Acadia and Canada. Quebec City was repeatedly targeted but never successfully reached by British forces, but the French executed raids against targets in Massachusetts, including Deerfield in February 1704. A force of about 300 French and Indians attacked the English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Men, women, and children of Deerfield, numbering 124, forced to march 300 miles to Canada in harsh winter conditions. Some of the captives were later redeemed and returned to Deerfield, but one-third chose to remain among their French and Native captors.

France and Britain saw themselves as competing for control of the Americas. Until 1713, fighting took place in Spain, the Netherlands, Northern France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Italy. The war ended with a peace treaty at the Dutch city of Utrecht. Louis XIVs grandson, Philip V, was recognized as Spain's monarch, with Philip and his descendants compelled to renounce any right to the French throne, and French princes and their descendants were compelled to renounce any future claim to the Spanish throne. The Spanish Netherlands went to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI (who was also an Austrian Archduke and the ruler of Naples, Sardina and the bulk of the Duchy of Milan. (For this, between 400,000 and 700,000 Europeans had died, which compares to eleven times that number if you consider that populations then were something like one-eleventh what they are today.) For Britain, however, there was more. The settlement at Utrecht gave Britain parts of Canada that had been French, and it gave to the British the shipping of African slaves that had been conducted by the Spanish.


With the end of the War of Spanish Succession, thousands of seamen, including Britain's paramilitary privateers, were removed from military duty, and merchant shippers used the surplus of seaman labor to drive down wages and maximize profits. Many sailors preferred the better conditions with the pirates. Pirate captains had a steady pool of recruits. There was a surge in pirating that accompanied the rise in maritime trade that came after the war.

Ordinary sailors might have little to eat while out on the sea. They might end up sick, starving, and dying. They were treated like worthless creatures readily replaced, and it resulted in some sailors deserting the king and becoming pirates instead. Unlike pop-culture depictions, pirate captains did not have dictatorial control over their crews. There was no monarchical government to punish rebellion by the crew. Captains who were not popular and did not respect their crews might end with a severed head or food for sharks.

The maritime powers were losing their tolerance for piracy. The kingdoms bolstered their navies to offer greater protection for their sea-going merchants and they increased their recruitment of sailors. It has been claimed that if the pirates had banded together and resisted the initial assault by the world powers they would have been able to establish an economically independent power in the Caribbean, but the anarchism of the pirates intervened. Infighting and betrayal got in their way. By 1730 the Golden Age of European and American piracy was in decline. England had executed the Scottish pirate Captain Kidd back in 1701. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was one of those pirate captains said to have commanded his vessel with the consent of his crew, and it is said that there "is no known account of his ever having harmed or murdered those whom he held captive." He died off the coast of North Carolina in a battle with the British Royal Navy in November 1718.

Francisco Menendez, former slave, and the Fort Mose Community

Menendez had been a slave in South Carolina. Said to have been born in Mandingo Africa, he was among the many from the slave ports in Africa with Iberian fathers and African mothers. He was among the many in Britain's American colonies who escaped southward to Florida. (In 1693, King Charles II of Spain issued an edict stating that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom provided he joined a militia and became a Catholic.)

In 1727 Menendez served in the defense of St. Augustine against the British, and he established a reputation for leadership. The Spanish recognized him as a subject of the King of Spain, and he was baptized in the Catholic Church. In March 1738, he was granted unconditional freedom. He became a leader at Fort Mose. Fort Mose became a haven for more than a hundred freed or fugitive slaves from the British colonies. Located about two miles from St. Augustine, it was set up in 1738 as a fortified town to protect the Spanish from attack from attack. It was an integrated and self-governing community that included women and children, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. From this base, Menendez led several raids against the colony of South Carolina and inspired further rebellion among slaves there.

Hostilities between the English and Spanish continued with the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739. In 1740, Britain's governor of Georgia (the 13th colony, founded in 1732) supported by a British naval blockade, led an overland attack on Florida. In Florida, Fort San Diego, Fort Picolotta and Fort Mose were overrun, with many having escaped to the Spanish controlled island of Cuba where they found hardship, twenty percent of them to die. The British besieged St. Augustine, but the Spanish managed to send supply ships through the Royal Navy's blockade. On 26 June 1740, the Spanish, Francisco Menendez and freed blacks counterattacked and drove the Brits out of Fort Mose. The fort was destroyed. The Brits returned to Georgia without their artillery.

Menendez continued his war against the British, taking to the seas on a Spanish ship. He was captured by the English, tortured and sold back into slavery. He was ransomed by the Spanish and returned to Florida and after his return he helped rebuild Fort Mose. (Dramatized in the PBS series "Secrets of the Dead," a documentary titled "Secrets of Spanish Florida.")

In 1759, 67 people lived at Fort Mose. Most households were married couples and children. With more war, 1756 to 1763, known as the Seven Years' War (known also by the British as the French and Indian War) Spain ceded Florida to the British. East Florida and West Florida became the 14th and 15th colonies. Menendez is thought to have died in Havana.

CONTINUE READING: Growth in Britain's American Colonies

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