Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 8 >> Dance Of Death to Dean >> Darien Scheme

Darien Scheme

scotland, isthmus, settlement, nation, english and scotch

DARIEN SCHEME, a celebrated financial project, conceived and set afloat by William Paterson (q.v.), a Scotchman, toward the close of the 17th century. On his original and osten sible design of establishing an East India trade in Scotland he ingrafted the secret and magnifi cent plan of forming an emporium on each side of the Isthmus of Darien or Panama for the trade of the opposite continents. According to his idea the manufactures of Europe were to be sent to the Gulf of Darien and thence conveyed by land across the ridge of mountains that intersect the isthmus, where they were to be exchanged for the produce of South America and of Asia; and thus, to use his own emphatic language, he would wrest the keys of the world from Spain. In order to attract encouragement and support he proposed to render his settle ment a free port and to banish all distinction of party, religion or nation. Now Scotland was at this time very poor and Paterson went to Lon don to procure subscriptions, which soon ran up to the amount of $1,500,000. But alarm, first excited by the East India Company and the West India merchants, soon spread over the whole English nation and the English subscrip tions were withdrawn. Yet Paterson himself was not to be easily intimidated; and Scotland, indignant at the opposition which the plan had met with in England, avowedly because it would be beneficial to the Scotch, immediately subscribed $2,000,000, although at that time there wal not above $4,000,000 of cash in the kingdom. Only a little more than half of the subscriptions, however, were ever paid up. Be sides this sum, $1,500,000 was subscribed at Hamburg, which, however, was withdrawn in consequence of the threatening memorial pre sented by the English resident to the senate of that city. The Scotch, nevertheless, persisted in their scheme; five large vessels, laden with merchandise, military stores and provisions, with a colony of 1,200 persons, sailed for the Isthmus of Darien, which they reached after a voyage of about four months.

The settlement was very judiciously formed at Acta, a place at an equal distance between Porto Bello and Cartagena. Here is a secure and capacious harbor, formed by a peninsula which the colonists fortified and named Fort Saint Andrew. To the settlement they gave the name of New Caledonia. For eight months the colony bore up against accumulated mis fortunes and persecutions, but at the end of this period those who survived were compelled by disease and famine to abandon their settlement and return to Europe.

Before this circumstance was known two other expeditions sailed from Scotland and the information of the abandonment of the first colony only served to arouse the Scotch nation to more determined perseverance in the plan. When the second expedition arrived they found the huts burned and the forts demolished; famine and disease assailed them; they were attacked by the Spaniards from Panama— these they repulsed, but a larger force coming from Cartagena obliged them to capitulate, on condition that they could embark with their effects for Europe; few, however, of these survived to return to Scotland.

In order to pave the way for a better under standing between the two countries the lords commissioners for England agreed in 1706 to purchase the shares of the particular members of the Darien Company. A full account of the Darien expedition is to be found in the second volume of Sir John Dalrymple's