1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 40

1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 40

Van Walbeeck nodded enthusiastically. “Most prudent. And speaking of guards, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t set up some special detachments of them here, too.”

Tromp folded his arms. “You mean, here in Oranjestad? We already have greatly over-sized guard complements on all our warehouses, on the batteries, the outposts, the –“

“We need them on the women, Martin. Particularly the visiting English ladies.”

“The ladies –?” And then Tromp understood. “Oh.”

“Yes. ‘Oh.’ Martin, there are less than four hundred women on Saint Eustatia, out of almost three thousand persons, more if you count our shipboard crews. Most of the four hundred women are already married. And you have seen the effects, surely.”

Tromp surely had. Brawls, drunken or otherwise, had been steadily increasing for six months. And however the causes and particulars varied, there was usually a common thread: it had started over a woman. It may have been that the woman in question had never spoken to, perhaps never even looked at, any of the combatants, but that hardly mattered. Like a bunch of young bucks in rutting season, any incident that could in any way be construed as a dispute over mating dominance resulted in locked horns. “What do you suggest?” he asked van Walbeeck.

“Cuthbert Pudsey.”

“The English mercenary who’s been in our ranks from Recife onward? A one man guard-detachment?”

“Martin, do not be willfully obtuse. Of course not. Pudsey is to be the leader of, let us call it a ‘flying squad’ of escorts who will accompany any English ladies who come to call at Oranjestad. And given that it will be a merit-earned duty –“

“Yes. Perfect comportment and recommendations will be the prerequisite for being posted to that duty. With any brawling resulting in a six month disqualification from subsequent consideration. But really, Jan, you do not think our men would actually go so far as –?”

“Martin, I will not balance the safety of the English ladies who visit — or perhaps, in the future, seek shelter with — us on my projections or hopes. We will assume the worst. And in the bargain, some lucky guards will come near enough to recall that ladies do, indeed, sweat — excuse me, perspire — in this weather. That they are not such perfect creatures, after all.” Van Walbeeck squinted as the light rose sharply on the table before them. The sun had finally peeked around the steep slope of the volcanic cone that was known simply as The Quill, St. Eustatia’s most prominent feature

“Hmm. It is still the scent of a woman, Jan. And in circumstances such as ours, that will only quicken their starved ardor.”

“No doubt, and no helping it. But charged with protecting the fairer sex, I feel fairly certain that our guards would more willingly die defending them than protecting me.”

“Far more willing,” drawled Tromp,

“While you are around,” smiled Walbeeck, “I shall never lose my soul to the sin of Pride. You are my guardian angel.”

“A more improbable guardian angel there has never been,” Tromp grunted as he felt the sunlight grow quick and warm on the side of his face.

“And yet here you sit, wearing a halo!” Walbeeck grinned, gesturing to the sun behind Tromp. “Now, have you decided to stop serving coffee on this sorry hull of yours?”

“Not yet,” said Tromp, who almost smiled.

*     *     *

Two hours later, the coronet pealed again. Tromp frowned at Walbeeck’s sudden and serious glance at the rum.

“Just one swallow. For perseverance in the face of immovable objects and irremediable ignorance.”

“Jan, don’t reinforce our enemies’ characterization of us.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean. Our resolve in battle is too often linked to our bolting shots of gin just before. ‘Dutch courage,’ they call it.”

“Well, I could use a little of that courage right about now…”

The dreaded knock on the door was gentle enough but felt like a death knell to Tromp. “Enter,” he said, trying to keep the sigh out of his voice. He flattered himself to imagine that he had succeeded.

The group that entered was not quite as ominously monolithic as he had feared. There were friendly faces among those crowding into the Aemelia‘s suddenly claustrophobic great cabin. Servatius Carpentier and “Phipps” Serooskereken had been part of the Politieke Raad at Recife, and early converts to the exigency-driven agricultural changes that they had brought to St. Eustatia. But Jehan De Bruyne, also a member of that body, had been diametrically opposed from the start, and remained so, now drawing support from original Oranjestad settlers such as Jan Haet and Hans Musen, whose expectations of quick wealth had been dashed by the arrival of Tromp’s ships and slavery injunctions.

Respectful nods notwithstanding, Musen was quick to confirm both the purpose and tenor of this visit by the determinative civil bodies of the St. Eustatia colony. “Admiral Tromp, we are sorry to disturb you on this busy day –“

— not half as sorry as I am —

“– but we have just learned that you will be setting sail soon. Today, it is rumored.”

Tromp shrugged. “There are always rumors. Please continue.”

Musen looked annoyed. “Very well. Since no one seems to know, or is willing to say, when you might return, we must make an appeal now, relevant to upcoming matters of commercial importance.”

Tromp had had cannon aimed at him with less certainty of fell purpose. “Yes?”

“Admiral, you have forbidden the acquisition of new slaves with which to work the plantations here on St. Eustatia –“

“– which we still protest!” Jan Haet put in archly.

“– but we presume that this would not apply to any farms established on land that is not Dutch-owned.”

Tromp resisted the urge to grind his molars. And damn me for a fool that I did not see this coming. “Mr. Musen, allow me to prevent you from spending time here profitlessly. The rules that apply here on Saint Eustatia apply equally to any plantations you may put in place on Saint Christopher’s.”

“But that is English land!” shouted Jan Haet.

“But under our dominion while we lease it!” retorted Phipps Serooskereken.

“Immaterial,” countered Musen coolly. “The terms of use permitted on the tracts around Sandy Point were made quite explicitly by Lord Warner: use of slaves is expressly permitted.”

Jan van Walbeeck smiled broadly, and perhaps a bit wickedly. “Then perhaps you are preparing to swear loyalty to Thomas Warner?”

The various combatants started at him.

“Because, logically, that is what you must intend.”

Jan Haet, as ardent a Dutch nationalist as he was a slaveholder, rose up to his full height of 5′ 5″. “I intend no such thing, and you know it, Jan van Walbeeck!”

“Do I? Here is what I know. Fact: Lord Warner may no longer be a Lord at all. England has renounced claim to the land he holds and upon which his title is based. Fact: your actions are not constrained by what he permits, but by what this regional authority allows you to do, as a Dutchman, in this place and time. And you have been forbidden from acquiring more slaves. So unless you wish to renounce your citizenship in the United Provinces, what Thomas Warner permits you to do is secondary to what your government permits. And fact: swearing allegiance to Warner makes you men without a country and therefore invalidates you from working the leased land at Sandy Point, since that agreement exists solely between the representatives of the United Provinces and Thomas Warner.” Jan Walbeeck smiled. “But of course, you can always become citizens of Thomas Warner’s nation. If he ever declares one, that is.”

Jehan de Bruyne had been frowning slightly at the deck throughout the exchange. “I will ask you to reconsider your ruling on slavery one last time, Martin. I am not sure you understand the degree of dissatisfaction it is causing among our people.”

Oh, I understand Jehan. I even understand the veiled threat in your calm tone. Tromp folded his hands. “Mijn Heer de Bruyne, your own council, the Politieke Raad, voted in support of this measure. And I remain unclear how you can conclude that a slave population poses no credible threat to our security here. You have only to look at Thomas Warner’s experience. In the last seven years, he has had to struggle to maintain control over his colony. And why? Not threat from the Caribs: they are no longer appear willing to try cases with him. No, his problems arise from resentment and rebelliousness among his slave population.”

Musen sniffed. “That is because the French keep stirring the pot.”

“That may even be true, Hans, but would we be immune to such trouble? Will the French see us as any less interlopers than the English? Indeed, given the presence of our forces on the island, will they not consider us an even greater problem? Because once we arrive and provide both plantation and border security for Thomas Warner, they will have even less chance to displace him — and us. Unless, that is, we bring our own slaves, whom they would no doubt attempt to suborn as well.”


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10 Responses to 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 40

  1. sensei says:

    These stubborn slave owners and would-be slave owners are whistling in the wind. Regardless of how they might feel personally (and they may well be against slavery themselves), neither Henrik of Orange, nor the former Cardinal-Infante would be willing to lock horns with the USE, and the up-timers over this issue.

  2. Chris says:

    The likely early end of plantation slavery in this world is going to have a lot of interesting potential consequences. If you want to grow anything on the sugar islands, you need a non-European labour force, because the disease environment is too hostile for large numbers of Europeans to survive (unless the USE can provide attenuated virus vaccines). Therefore, the islands are essentially valueless to any nation not prepared to deal with the USE’s objections. Perhaps the islands will be colonised by the Ottomans, who already have chattel slavery.

    • Tweeky says:

      Highly doubt the Ottomans would get involved simply due to logistical issues the Carribean is simply to far from their empire and they do have to pass a choke point known as the straights of Gibraltar. Plus if they did appear in significant numbers they’d a) attract the hostile attention of the european powers and b) this would be diverting vital naval units from the Eastern Medditeranean (sic) which outfits like Venice would ruthlessly exploit.

    • Randomiser says:

      Here’s a radical idea, set up sugar plantations in partnership with non- Europeans. Or even just pay them to work there.

    • Mark L says:

      Actually the non-European labor force died in large numbers because of disease, too. The natives died from European and African diseases brought over to the New World. The Africans died from American diseases (as well as European ones). The Europeans died from African and American diseases.

      The differences is Europeans cared when Europeans died (they noticed that), but no European cared about whether African or Americans died, as long as there was enough labor for the plantations. The plantation workers, whether Amerindian, African, Scots, or Irish (yes, there were white European slaves, too).

      However, those that survived the new diseases gained immunity. The younger and healthier you were when exposed (assuming you were post-adolescent) the more likely you were to survive. So middle-aged administrators died like flies. But the black African slaves that survived the middle passage were likely to be young and healthy in order to have remained alive during the crossing. (The sickly and old died en route.) So a black on the auction block in the Sugar Islands was a better bet for survival due to pre-selection.

      I really believe that is where the belief that blacks could better survive in the West Indies came from. European troops and sailors that survived their first year or two in the Indies were “seasoned” and tended to survive over the long term.

      • Terranovan says:

        This was one of Dr. Nichols’ motives for helping establish cinchona roja plantations in Africa – quinine can be made from it to treat a fever. With a reduced chance of death by disease, you can send people to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Southern US (OTL) who aren’t as expendable.

  3. allforall says:

    Hey Sharecropping worked as an exploitative measure to cheaply produce both cotton and sugar cane until technology reduced labor costs enough. It was sure cruel enough that generations of my ancestors complained and still complain to this day about it. And it might even be cheap enough to work for half a century or so.

    • Johnny says:

      Well sharecropping requires enough labor to support it. I suppose you could raid the debt prisons of Europe for your workers…

  4. Fred Pearce says:

    Maybe the point will become moot. Given the high capital cost of establishing and maintaining a sugar colony, there were initially relatively few of them, and they represented such a high concentration of resources (wealth) that they were fought over and thus required significant governmental resources to protect them, while sugar beets, despite being initially not as productive as sugar cane, has such a low capital cost that there could and I suggest will have many producers, which will facilitate technological advancement, and a lower of production costs such that cane sugar might take decades to become viable, and only when it can be mechanized. Another good reason for the Europeans to focus on beet sugar is it primarily requires land, water, and local farmers, plus a little technology, such that the Hard Cash that a local large land owner would need to spend likely would be much less to get the same amount of sugar they otherwise would need to buy imported cane sugar.

    • Chris says:

      Sugar beets are only commercially effective now (with high tech farming – which sugar cane uses less) because of import tariffs in the USA and Europe to protect domestic sugar beet farmers. I doubt that either sugar beet or sugar cane will catch on quicker than the USE can provide really effective treatment for tropical diseases (or safe vaccines). You need a disposable labour-force and the USE will disrupt the slave trade as much as it can – which I suspect will be a lot less than Mike Stearns thinks (the 19th Century Royal Navy couldn’t do more than make slaving difficult) but enough to make sugar farming uneconomic (burn the crop?). I can’t see up-timers being interested in seeing the difference between indentured labour and slavery, either.

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