British Committees, Commissions, and Councils of Trade and Plantations , 1622-1675 Part 3

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Martin Noell was probably the most conspicuous London merchant of his time. Of his early life nothing seems to be known. He first appears as a merchant in 1650 trading with Nevis and Montserrat, and in the next few years he extended his operations to New England, Virginia, the other West India islands, and the Mediterranean. His s.h.i.+ps trafficked in a great variety of commodities--iron, hemp, pitch, tar, flax, potashes, cables, fish, cocoa, tobacco, etc., and he became a power in London, his place of business in Old Jewry being the resort of merchants, s.h.i.+p captains, and persons desiring to cooperate in his ventures.

He was an alderman as early as 1651, was placed a little later on the commission for securing the peace of the city, and held other offices by appointment of the city or of the Commonwealth. He was also a member of the East India Company and influential in its councils.

In addition to his mercantile interests he became a farmer, first of the inland and foreign post-office,--one writer speaking of him as "the postmaster,"--and later, on a large scale, of customs and excise.

At one time or another he held the farm of the customs in general and of the excise of salt, linen, silk mercery, and wines in particular. In these capacities he acted as a banker of the government, paying salaries and expenses of official appointees, advancing loans, and issuing bills of exchange and letters of credit. His vessels carried letters of marque during the Dutch war and the war with Spain, and he himself traded in prizes and became one of the commissioners of prize goods. The Jamaican expeditions of 1654 and afterward gave him an opportunity to become a contractor and he organized a committee in London for the purpose of financiering the expedition, himself advancing 16,000, and in company with Capts. Alderne, Watts, and others contracted for the supplies of the s.h.i.+ps and soldiers, furnis.h.i.+ng utensils, clothing, bedding, and provisions for this and other expeditions, notably that to Flanders.

He was Gen. Venables' personal agent in London and agent for the army in general in Jamaica. He also became a contractor for transporting vagrants, prisoners, and others to various American plantations. These acc.u.mulating ventures increased his interest in the colonies, and after the capture of Jamaica in 1655 he obtained a grant of 20,000 acres in that island, from which he created several plantations. In his new capacity as planter he was constantly engaged in s.h.i.+pping servants, supplies, and horses. The firm of Martin Noell & Company became exceedingly prosperous, and Noell himself one of the mainstays of the government. He became a member of the Trade Committee in 1655, of the committee for Jamaica in 1656, and was frequently called in by the Council of State to offer advice or to give information. He was on terms of intimacy with Cromwell, and because of the Protector's friends.h.i.+p for him and confidence in his judgment, his recommendations for office, both in England and the colonies had great weight. Povey speaks of the "extraordinary favor allowed him (Noell) by his Highness." He had a brother, Thomas Noell, who was prominent in Barbadoes and Surinam and in charge of his interests there. He was also represented in other islands by agents and factors, of whom Edward Bradbourne was the most conspicuous, while Major Richard Povey in Jamaica, and William Povey in Barbadoes, brothers of Thomas Povey, had for a time charge of his plantations in those islands. Noell indirectly played no small part in politics, particularly of Barbadoes, where Governor Searle held office largely through his influence. Besides his Jamaica holdings he had estates at Wexford in Ireland, and in April, 1658, wrote to Henry Cromwell that he had "transplanted much of his interest and affairs and relations" to that country, seeming to indicate thereby that his colonial ventures were not prospering satisfactorily. Noell was a politic man, shrewd and diplomatic, a.s.serting his loyalty to the house of Cromwell, yet becoming a trusty subject of King Charles, from whom he afterward received knighthood.[1]



Thomas Povey was born probably about 1615, son of Justinian Povey, auditor of the exchequer and one of the commissioners of the Caribbee Islands in 1637. He was one of a large family of children, nine at least, Justinian, John, Francis, William, Richard, Thomas, Mrs.

Blathwayt (afterward Mrs. Thomas Vivian), Mrs. Barrow, and Sarah Povey, and he spent his early years at the family home in Hounslow. In 1633 he entered Gray's Inn and in 1647 became a member of the Long Parliament.

"Purged" with the other Presbyterian members in 1648, he did not return to Parliament until the restoration of those members in 1659. He was evidently inclined at first to go into law and politics, but for reasons unnamed, possibly the slenderness of his fortune, which he says was hardly sufficient to support him, he turned, about 1654, to trade, and was thus brought into close relations with Martin Noell. Of his activities until 1657 we hear very little, though it is evident that from 1654 to 1657 he lived in Gray's Inn, engaging in many trading ventures in the West Indies and elsewhere, was on terms of intimacy with Noell and frequently at his house, and showed himself fertile of suggestions, as always, regarding the improvement of trade and the care and supply of men, provisions, and intelligence. In 1657 he lost by death his brothers John and Francis, and his mother, who died at Hounslow. As two of his brothers had gone to the West Indies with the expedition of 1654 and the remainer of the family was scattered, he decided to marry, and settled down in a house in Lincoln's Inn Fields next the Earl of Northampton, with a widow without children, but possessed "of a fortune capable of giving a reasonable a.s.sistance to mine." In October of that year, possibly through Noell's influence, he became a member of the committee for America, and from that time was a conspicuous leader among those interested in plantation affairs.

As chairman and secretary of the committee, he took a prominent part in all correspondence, and was familiar with the chief men in all the colonies. He exchanged letters with Searle, of Barbadoes, D'Oyley, of Jamaica, Temple, of Nova Scotia, Digges, at one time governor of Virginia, Russell, of Nevis, Major Byam, of Surinam, Col. Osborn, of Montserrat, General Brayne, in command of one of the expeditions to Jamaica, and particularly with Lord Willoughby of Parham, with whom he stood on terms of intimate friends.h.i.+p and over whose policy he exercised considerable control. He was proposed at this time as agent in London for Virginia, but the suggestion does not appear to have been acted on.

His brother Richard was commissary of musters and major of militia in Jamaica, and his brother William, the black sheep of the family, who had married a wife far too good for him, as Povey once wrote her, was provost marshal in Barbadoes and in charge of Noell's interests there, bringing that merchant nothing but "discontent and damage," and causing Thomas Povey a great deal of trouble and expense. The colonial appointments of these brothers were obtained entirely through the influence of Noell and Povey in England. The disordered and uncertain political situation in England in 1659 and the unsettled state of affairs in both Jamaica and Barbadoes at the same time cost Povey great anxiety and a part of his own and his wife's fortune, and he echoed the complaint, widespread at the time, of the decay of trade and the insecurity of all commercial ventures. We may not doubt that Povey, as well as Noell, was ready to welcome the return of the King.[2]

Though Noell and Povey were intimate friends and had been engaged in common trading enterprises for a number of years, we have no definite knowledge of their earlier undertakings, beyond the fact that with Capt.

Watts and Capt. Aldherne, whom Povey met by accident at Noell's house, they were particularly concerned in developing the Barbadoes and Jamaica trade. In the years 1657 and 1658, when Noell was "swol'n into a much greater person by being a farmer of the customs and excise," we meet with two enterprises, one for a West India Company, promoted by Lord Willoughby, Noell, Povey, and Watts, as partners and princ.i.p.als, with Watts as sea captain in charge of the vessel; the other for a Nova Scotia Company, composed of Lord William Fiennes, Sir Charles Wolseley, Noell, Povey, and others, with Watts and Collier as managers and Capt.

Middleton as sailing master. The latter company was organized for settling a trade in furs and skins in Nova Scotia, and to that end engaged the cooperation of Wolseley's cousin, Col. Thomas Temple, lieutenant general of Nova Scotia since 1655, and of Capt. Breedon, a prominent merchant of New England. It sent out a s.h.i.+p freighted with goods under Capt. Middleton, but despite an auspicious beginning, does not appear to have prospered. The t.i.tle to Nova Scotia was disputed not only by the French, but also by the Kirkes, whom Cromwell had dispossessed in 1655, when he appointed Temple as governor; hostilities broke out in Nova Scotia, and the company was called upon for a larger stock and incorporation at a time when its promoters seemed unwilling to risk more money. Though Povey was encouraged by the specimens of copper which Temple sent over, the enterprise made no progress until after the Restoration. It is probable that both Noell and Povey lost money by the venture.

The project for a West India Company was more ambitious and must have been formulated some time in 1656 or 1657. Various propositions were drawn up with care, probably by Povey or by Noell and Povey together, for the better serving the interests of the Commonwealth by the erection of a company which had as its object the advancing of trade and the prosecution of the war with Spain. The two ideas seem, however, to have been kept separate. Trade was to be promoted by despatching a vessel to "Florida" under Capt. Watts which, in case it was unable to open trade there, was to take on a lading of pipe staves in New England, sail to the West Indies, and return thence with a cargo of sugar and other West Indian commodities. For the purpose of attacking Spanish towns, of "interrupting the Spanish fleet in their going from Spain to the Indies and in their return thence for Spain, and of ousting the Spaniards from their control in the West Indies and South America"--a subject regarding which Capt. Limbrey had drawn up a paper of information,--the company proposed that the state should furnish and equip twenty frigates which were to be fully provisioned, manned and officered by itself. The company desired to be incorporated by act of Parliament,[3] rather than by a patent under the great seal, because the former would confer "diverse privileges and a.s.sistances, and an immunity and sole trade in any place they shall conquer or beget a trade with the Spaniard's dominion," all of which a patent could not convey. The proposals were presented to the Council of State in 1659 and were referred to a special committee. They were debated in Council on August 7, and on October 20 Povey wrote to Governor Searle that they had received encouragement and hoped to have a charter from Parliament, and because "they have so much favor from the state they will have an influence upon most of the English plantations."[4] Either Parliament refused to incorporate the company or in the distractions of the winter of 1659-1660 the proposals were lost sight of.

The group of merchants, among whom Noell and Povey were so conspicuous, seemed to desire, as far as possible, a monopoly of the trade in America and the West Indies, and to that end controlled to no inconsiderable extent political appointments there. Governor Searle, of Barbadoes, was their appointee, and Governors Russell, of Nevis, and Osborn, of Montserrat, were in close touch with them and looked to them for support. In 1657, acting through the committee for America, they recommended that Edward Digges be made governor of Virginia, and about the same time Martin Noell and eighteen others pet.i.tioned that Capt.

Watts be made governor of Jamaica. Lord Willoughby was practically one of them, and Gen. Brayne and Lieut. Gen. D'Oyley were on intimate terms with them. It is not surprising, in view of the importance of the colonial trade and the disturbed condition of the plantations, that such a man as Povey, who was always ready with plans and proposals, should have endeavored to solve the problem of colonial control. He was in frequent consultation with Noell concerning matters relating to the West Indies, and in consequence, many schemes were discussed and carefully worked out by them. The various drafts touching the West India Company are elaborated in minute detail, and Povey showed clearly that he possessed admirable qualities as a committee-man and an organizer.

The first "overture" or plan seems to have been written in 1654 at the time when the expedition of Penn and Venables was on its way to the West Indies, and does not refer specifically to Jamaica. Its authors recommended that a competent number of persons, not less than seven, of good repute and well skilled in their professions and qualifications, be selected to form a council. A greater number would be undesirable, they said, because "in such an affair where there are many, the chief things are done and ofttimes huddled up by a few; and there is neither that secrecy, steadiness, nor particular care, nor so good an account given of the trust, where more are employed than are necessary and proportionable to the business."[5] The qualifications of the seven are interesting: "(1) One to be a Merchant that hath been in those Indias and trading that waie. (2) One also to bee a Merchant but not related to that trade, and who rather retires from than pursues in profession.

(3) One well experienced Seaman, not or but little trading att present.

(4) One Gentleman that hath travailed; that hath language and something of the civill Lawe. (5) One Citizen of a general capacitie and conversation. (6) One that understands well our munic.i.p.all Lawes and the general Const.i.tutions of England. (7) One to be a Secretarie to his Highness in all Affaires in the West Indias, and relating thereunto, who is solely to give himself up to this Employm^{t}." This council was to be subordinated only to Cromwell and the Council and its powers were to be fairly extensive. It was

"to have power to advise w^{th} all other Committees or Persons, Officers, or others as occasion shall require;

"to consider (by what they shall observe here and what shalbee represented from the Commission^{rs} now in the expedition) how and what forreigne Plantations may be improved, transplanted, and ordered;

"to reduce all Colonies and Plantations to a more certaine, civill, and uniforme way of government and distribution of publick justice;

"to keep a constant correspondence with the Commission^{rs} now in the expedition, and w^{th} all the Chiefe Ports both at home and abroad;

"to be able to give up once in a year unto his Highness a perfect Intelligence and Account of the Government of every place, of their complaints, their wants, their abundance of every s.h.i.+p trading thither and its lading and whither consigned, and to know what the proceeds of the place have been that yeare, whereby the intrinsick value and the certaine condition of each port will be thoroughly understood. And by this conduct and method those many rich places and severall Governments and Adventures will have all due and continuall care and Inspection taken of them, w^{th}out divertion to the nearest Affairs of this Nation, w^{ch} being of so much of a greater and a closer consequence, the Superior Council can seldome bee at leisure to descend any further than to breife and imperfect considerations and provisions, w^{ch} is the sad Estate of fforeigne Dominions, and distant Colonies and Expeditions from whence usually the most strict, or servile duty and obedience is exacted, but very seldome any Indulgencie or paternall care is allowed to them.

"These therefore are to indeavour and contrive all possible Encouragem^{ts} and Advantages for the Adventurer, Planter, and English Merchants, in order also to the shutting out all Straingers from that Trade, by making them not necessary to it, and by drawing it wholly and with satisfaction to all parties into our Ports here, that it may bee afterward instead of Bullion to trade with other Nations, it being the Traffick of our own proper and native Commodities. That our s.h.i.+pping may be increased, our poore here employed, and our Manufactures encouraged: And by the generall consequencies hereof, a considerable Revenue may be raised to his Highness.

"to debate among themselves, and satisfy themselves from others; and to present their Results to his Highness in all matters reserved and proper for his Highness Judgment and last Impressions.

"to bee a readie and perfect Register both to his Highness and all other persons, as far as they may be concerned, of all particulars relating to those Affaires.

"The Secretarie may be the person to represent things from time to time between his Highness and this Councill. To make and receive dispatches. To make readie papers for his Highness signature.

And generally his Office wilbee to render the Supreame Management & comp^{r}hension of this Affaire less c.u.mbersome and difficult to his Highness, hee being allwaies ready to give his Highness a full and a digested consideration, if any particular relating to those Affaires and w^{th}in the cognizance of that Council."[6]

That these recommendations had any influence in determining the character of the Trade Committee of 1655 is doubtful, but the next effort of the merchants was probably more successful. Some time in 1656 Povey drew up a series of queries "concerning his Highness Interest in the West Indias" in which occur the following suggesive paragraphs:

"Whether a Councell busyed and filled with a mult.i.tude of Affaires, w^{ch} concerne the imediat Safety and preservation of the State at home, can bee thought capable of giving a proper conduct to such various and distant Interests.

"Whether an Affaire of such a nature and consequence may be transacted in diverse peices and by diverse Councells, and how a proper Result cann be instantly arise out of such a kind of management.

"Whether a Councill const.i.tuted of fitt Persons Solely sett apart to the busyness of America be not the likeliest means of advancing his Highness Interest there and of bringing them continually to a certain account and readiness whensoever his Highness or his Privie Councill shall have occasion to looke into any particular thereof.

"Whether it be not a prudentiall thing to draw all the Islands, Colonies, and Dominions of America under one and the same management here."[7]

That the men who drafted these queries were mainly responsible for the creation of the select council of 1656, at first known as the Committee for Jamaica and afterwards as the Committee for his Highness Affairs in America, we can hardly doubt, for the const.i.tution and work of that committee represents very nearly the ideas that Povey and Noell had expressed up to this time. It is not to be wondered at that Povey should have been the chairman, secretary, and most active member of this committee after his appointment in 1657.

Two other propositions or overtures appear among Povey's papers that belong to the period of the Protectorate, and were written probably the one in 1656, known as the "Propositions concerning the West India Councill," and the other, known as "Overtures touching the West Indies,"

before August, 1657.[8] In the first of these the number of the council was to be ten, in the second it was not to exceed six. The "Propositions" repeat in the main the points already quoted, including the recommendation that it should be the business of the council "to consider of the reducing all Colonies and Plantations to a more certaine, civill, and uniform waie of Governm^{t} and distribution of publick justice." The "Overtures" are much more elaborate, though frequently containing the identical phrases of the first "Overture,"

with many new paragraphs which seem to show the same spirit of hostility for Spain that is exhibited in the formation of the West India Company.

Indeed this doc.u.ment is an outcome of the same movement which led to the formation of that company. Some of the more important sections are as follows:

"To render what we already possess, and all that depends upon it, to be a foundation and Inducem^{t} for future undertakings; by gathering reasonable a.s.sistances from thence, and by mingling and interweaving of Interest, and letting it appear that such Persons and Collonies shall have the more of the Indulgencie of the State as shall merit most in what they shall in any way be readier to do, or contribut to the service of the whole; for hereafter they may be considered as one embodied Commonwealth whose head and centre is here.

"That every Governour shall have his Commission reviewed, and that all be reviewed in one form, w^{th} such clauses and provisions as shalbee held necessary for the promotion of his Highness other public affairs, and that as soone as order can be conveniently taken therein the several Governours to be paid their allowances from hence (though upon their own accounts), that their dependencie bee immediately and altogether from his Highness....

"That all prudentiall means be applyed to for the rendering these Dominions useful to England, and England helpful to them; and that the severall Peices and Colonies bee drawn and disposed into a more certaine, civill, and uniforme waie of Government and distribution of Publick Justice. And that such Collonies as are the Proprietie of particular Persons or of Corporations may be reduced as neare as cann bee to the same method and proportion w^{th} the rest w^{th} as little dissatisfaction or injurie to the persons concerned as may bee.

"That a continual correspondence bee so settled and ordered ...

that so each place w^{th}in itself and all of them being as it were made up into one Commonwealth may be regulated accordingly upon comon and equal Principles."

These proposals are followed by a series of propositions designed to further the enterprise of the merchants and to aid in the defeat of the Spaniards, whereby "those oppressed People (who are w^{th}held from Trade though to their extreme suffering and disadvantage)" may be released "from the Tyranny [of Spain] now upon them."

Taken as a whole, these doc.u.ments form a remarkable series of unofficial papers which formulate foundation principles of colonial empire that England never applied. That these principles met the approval of those who were to shape the colonial policy of the Restoration a further examination will show.

[Footnote 1: Cal. State Papers, Col., 1574-1660; Dom., vols. for years 1650-1660, Indexes; Brit. Mus. Egerton, 2395, Add. MSS., 11410, 11411, 15858, f. 97, 22920, f. 22; Lansdowne, 822, f. 164, 823, f. 33.]

[Footnote 2: Cal. State Papers, Col. and Dom. Indexes; Egerton, 2395, which contains Povey's collection of papers; Add. MSS., 11411, which contains his correspondence. See also Dictionary of National Biography.]

[Footnote 3: A draft of such an act is to be found in Egerton, 2395, f.

202.]

[Footnote 4: Brit. Mus. Egerton, 2395, pp. 87-113, 176 (there is a duplicate of Povey's letter in Add. MSS., 11410); Cal. State Papers, Col., 1574-1660, pp. 475, 477.]

[Footnote 5: That all these proposals were drafted by Povey is evident from similar terms and phrases used in his letters.]

[Footnote 6: Brit. Mus., Add. MSS., 11411, ff. 11^{b}-12^{b}.]

[Footnote 7: Brit. Mus., Egerton, 2395, f. 86.]

[Footnote 8: Brit. Mus., Egerton, 2395, f. 99; Add. MSS., 11411, ff.

3-3^{b}. In a letter of August, 1657, Povey refers to these "Overtures,"

which he says were designed "for the better setting and carrying on of the general affairs of the West Indies, enforcing the authority and powers of the several governors there, and the establishment of a certain course," etc.]

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