An Introduction to the Online Edition
The Darien Company
The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies was established by Act of the Scots Parliament on 26 June 1695. Although, by the late 17th century when King William II of Scotland (William III of England) granted his royal assent, almost a hundred years had elapsed since the 'Union of the crowns', constitutionally the two countries remained distinct. The motivation in setting up the Company of Scotland was therefore in large measure to avoid dependence on the monopoly that had been granted to the Honourable East India Company in England in 1600 by Elizabeth I, though national pride too played a role, as did the need to draw an ailing Scottish economy out of apparent recession.
Taken at face value, the scheme made good sense; however, from the start were evident a number of problems. First, the English traders were not keen to see their monopoly challenged. Second, the Scots seeking to open up foreign trade lacked the century of international experience and connexions of the English to the south. And finally, in order to raise sufficient capital for the scheme to succeed, the Company was dependent on securing investments through financiers in London. The original plan envisaged the sale of £600,000 in shares, with fifty per cent to be sold in England. However, although those shares reserved for English investors were quickly oversubscribed, the threat of impeachment proceedings meant that the £300,000 thus raised were withheld. To compensate for this disappointment, the Scottish target was increased to £400,000, and the original strategic plan was tailored to fit this swingeing thirty-three per cent cut in budget.
From the grandiose, global ambitions captured in the name given at its birth, the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies scaled down its plans, deciding to focus it initial efforts on establishing a single colony at Darien, by isthmus of present-day Panama. So, while the full official name was retained, it became known as either the 'Darien Company' or scheme.
The Company's objective was to benefit not only from transatlantic trade but also from the emerging opportunities in the South Sea of the Pacific region. However, following the Company's blighted market floatation three years earlier, its first wave of colonists in 1698 soon began to fall victim to disease. This situation was made worse by the King who, bending to pressure from his English subjects, issued proclamations prohibiting merchants in the American colonies from providing the Scots with supplies (e.g.Darien Papers 1, 1695-1699 (img.313). In less than a year, the settlement lay deserted.
When the first accounts of the disaster finally reached Scotland via London in September 1699, they were dismissed as rumours put about by envious English, keen to talk down the colony's success. During the two and a half weeks it took for confirmation to arrive, the second expedition set sail. On arriving at their destination, the new settlers were soon involved in fighting with the Spanish, who laid claim to Darien by authority from the Pope but had not settled there owing to its inhospitable climate.
By the spring of 1700, the few surviving Scots surrendered to the Spanish and abandoned Darien for good. Only two of the Company's sixteen ships returned to Scotland. Yet despite this, William Paterson, a Scottish merchant based in London, but with some experience of the West Indies, continued even after two failed attempts to seek backing to realise his vision for the place (Darien Papers 3, 1704-1706).
Thereafter attempts were made to open up routes to Africa and the East but, with English merchants using their greater commercial weight to influence their agents in European ports, the Company met with little success.
Provenance of the papers
The documents contained in this publication are all from the National Library of Scotland (NLS), and they complement the earlier collection of documents held in the archives of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were published in 1981 also within the series, British Records Relating to America, in microform (see Appendix).
Precisely how the Darien Company's papers came to be divided between these two organisations, and on what basis, remains unclear, given the apparent arbitrary nature of the division. What is known is that the Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707 entailed the dissolving of the Company, but with an agreement that England should pay its shareholders the 'Equivalent' of £398,085 and 10 shillings in compensation. In 1724 the Equivalent Company was set up to handle the Government's liabilities vis à vis those creditors who remained; and, three years later, in 1727, a charter was granted to the Equivalent Company to set up the Royal Bank of Scotland. It is possible that, already by 1727, the archive had been split, with some passing to the possession of the Bank whilst the majority ended up in the Advocate's Library, before being transferred in 1925 to the NLS.
Brief description of the papers
As with the collection held by the Royal Bank of Scotland, these papers include copies of the general journals for the Company from 1696 through to 1707. Where they appear much fuller is in the quality and variety of financial documents and in the amount of correspondence, the bulk from the initial period (1696-1700) culminating in the return of survivors from the second disastrous expedition to Darien. Among the former category are numerous subscription books, dating from 1696, including two relating specifically to Glaswegian subscribers (Rough draft of Subscription book, Glasgow lists, 1696' and Subscription book, Glasgow lists, 1696').In addition there are account books, detailed cash books and receipts, trading ledgers and promissory notes (at the National Library of Scotland there is also the engraved plate for printing promissory notes that has not been reproduced in this collection). In terms of goods, there is the book of the Company's storekeeper at the port in Leith, together with lists of goods shipped (see The Committee of Equipping Ships' minute book and related documents). The minute books and journals of the principal of the Company's committees also survive: the committee for improvements, for equipping ships, the board of directors in Glasgow. A further significant difference compared with the previously published collection is the fact that, included among the miscellaneous papers, there are documents (Miscellaneous papers, 1694-1696) which antedate by two years the legal incorporation of the Company in 1696, and others (Miscellaneous papers, 1701-1709) which, by extending into 1709, span the period of its dissolution.
Significance of the papers
The significance of this second group of Darien Company records held at the NLS is therefore in providing exhaustive materials for research into the planning and finances of European colonial ventures in the late 17th century. Of course, it might seem perverse to study an enterprise such as the Darien scheme, of which the failure is so well known. However, at the time the Company was first mooted, and most certainly for its investors, both large and small, the objective was very much to succeed. So the preparations would have been conducted accordingly, taking into account the best available experience of Scottish merchants trading with Europe and beyond, and of financiers, including those active in markets and exchanges of the City of London. These records from the NLS therefore, combined with those from the Royal Bank of Scotland's archives, offer a comprehensive, yet manageable insight into the birth, rise, fall and death of a venture in the space of little over a decade, but whose repercussions were not merely commercial, felt in the pockets of its shareholders, but political, in that its collapse perhaps precipitated the end of Scottish independence. For some, no doubt, the ultimate irony of seeing the economy of the would-be colonisers itself 'colonised' in 1707 in the wake of the Act of Union.
Of particular significance also, given the Company's enforced focus on but one major enterprise at Darien, is the relevance of this collection to an understanding of the European colonisation of the Americas, and especially of Central America. The existence of a relationship between the Darien Company and the Church of Scotland has been explored in the past, and the expectation that missionaries would work to convert the indigenous people of that place to Christianity. However, in choosing Darien for their colony, the Scots were aware of the Spanish claim, dating back to 1493 and the Bull issued by Pope Alexander VI, which defined the so-called 'Line of Demarcation' as amended a year later by the Treaty of Tordesillas. This begs the question, which these papers should do much to explain as to the extent to which the Protestant Scots anticipated, or even invited, the inevitable conflict with the Roman Catholics of Spain. And, given the result, was this confrontation with the long-established Spanish might the result of naivety or miscalculated bravado on their part? A patriotic belief that, if the English could take the Spaniards on and win, then why not the Scots also?
a) Primary Sources
Scotland. Laws, statutes, etc., 1694-1702 (William III). Act for a company trading to Africa and the Indies. Edinburgh: printed by the heirs and successors of A. Anderson, 1696. (see also Darien Papers 1, 1695-1699 (img.1))
Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. Constitutions of the Company of Scotland, trading to Africa and the Indies. [Edinburgh? : s.n., 1696?].(see also Darien Papers 1, 1695-1699 (img.101))
Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. A full and exact collection of all the considerable addresses. [Edinburgh? : s.n.], printed in the year 1700
Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. Scotland's right to Caledonia (formerly called Darien) and the legality of its settlement, asserted in three several memorials presented to His Majesty in May 1699. [Edinburgh? : s.n.], printed in the year 1700
Belhaven, John Hamilton. A speech in Parliament on the 10th. day of January 1701, by the Lord Belhaven, on the affair of the Indian and African Company, and its colony of Caledonia [?]. Edinburgh : [s.n.], 1701
Bingham, Hiram, jr. Virginia letters on the Scots Darien colony, 1699. [New York : s.n., 1905]
Blackwell, Isaac (supposed author). A description of the province and bay of Darian. Edinburgh : printed by the heirs and successors of A. Anderson, 1699
Burton, John Hill. The Darien papers; being a selection of original letters and official documents relating to the establishment of a colony at Darien by the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, 1695-1700. Edinburgh : Bannatyne club, 1849
Ferguson, Robert. A just and modest vindication of the Scots design, for the having established a colony at Darien : with a brief display, how much it is their interest, to apply themselves to trade, and particularly to that which is foreign... [Edinburgh? : s.n.], printed 1699
Fletcher, Andrew (supposed author). A short and impartial view of the manner and occasion of the Scots colony's coming away from Darien : in a letter to a person of quality ... [Edinburgh] : printed by J. Watson, 1696
Foyer, Archibald (supposed author). Scotland's present duty: or, A call to the nobility, gentry, ministry, and commonality of this land, to be duely affected with, and vigorously to act for, our common concern in Caledonia, as a mean to enlarge Christ's kingdom, to benefit our selves, and do good to all Protestant churches. [Edinburgh? : s.n.], printed 1700
Foyer, Archibald; George Ridpath; & Andrew Fletcher (supposed authors). A defence of the Scots settlement at Darien : with an answer to the Spanish memorial against it ; and arguments to prove, that it is the interest of England to join with the Scots, and protect it; to which is added, a description of the country and a particular account of the Scots colony. [S.l. : s.n.], 1699
Great Britain. Parliament, House of Commons. Committee on the petition of William Paterson. [Report] upon the petition of William Paterson, esq. [May 23, 1715]. [London? : s.n., 1715?]
Harris, Walter. A new Darien artifice laid open; in a notable instance of Captain Maclean's name being used (in the Flying post, February 11. and 13. 1700-1701.) to vouch for the Caledonian company, after that gentleman hath been persecuted by them these thirteen months past for vouching against them. London : sold by the booksellers of London and Westminster, 1701
Harris, Walter. An enquiry into the Caledonian project. London : [s.n.], 1701
Harris, Walter (supposed author). The defence of the Scots settlement at Darien. London : Printed by the booksellers of London and Westminster, 1699
Harris, Walter (supposed author). A short vindication of Phil. Scot's Defence of the Scots abdicating Darien; being in answer to the challenge of the author of the defence of that settlement, to prove the Spanish title to Darien. London : [s.n.], printed 1700
Hart, Francis Russell. Spanish documents relating to the Scots settlement of Darien. Boston, Mass. : [s.n.], 1931
The history of Caledonia: or, The Scots colony in Darien, in the West Indies : with an account of the manners of the inhabitants, and riches of the countrey / by a gentleman lately arriv'd. London : printed and sold by J. Nutt, 1699
Hodges, James. A defence of the Scots abdicating Darien : including an answer to the defence of the Scots settlement there. [Edinburgh? : s.n.], printed 1700
Ienefer, Capt.; & Herman Moll. A draft of the Golden & adjacent islands with part ye Isthmus of Darien as it was taken by Capt. Ienefer where ye Scots West-India Company were setteled. [S.l. : s.n., 1721?]
Information concernant l'affaire de Darien. [Paris? : s.n. 1699?]
Insh, George Pratt (ed.). Papers relating to the ships and voyages of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, 1696-1707. Edinburgh : Scottish History Society, 1924
A letter, giving a description of the Isthmus of Darian (where the Scot's colonie is settled;) from a gentleman who lives there at present : with an account of the fertilness of the soil, the quality of the air, the manners of the inhabitants, and the nature of the plants, and animals. &c. and a particular mapp of the isthmus, and entrance to the River of Darian. Edinburgh : printed for J. Mackie [etc.] 1699
Parlane, James. Notes on the Scots' Darien expedition : taken from books and contemporary pamphlets in my possession, June 1888. Manchester : Palmer and Howe, 1888
Ridpath, George. Scotland's grievances, relating to Darien, &c. Humbly offered to the consideration of the Parliament... [Edinburgh?: s.n.], printed 1700
Ridpath, George (supposed author). An enquiry into the causes of the miscarriage of the Scots colony at Darien, or, An answer to a libel entituled A defence of the Scots abdicating Darien : submitted to the consideration of the good people of England. Glasgow : [s.n.], 1700
Simpson, John (ed.). The papers of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies (the Darien Company), 1696-1707, in the possession of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Wakefield : Microform Academic Publishers (formerly EP Microform), 1981
In addition to the present collection from the National Library of Scotland and those mentioned above, other significant collections of Darien material, both manuscript and printed, exist at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh; the National Archives, Kew; the Darien Company papers, 1696-1707 (MS 67) at the University of London Library, Senate House; and also the Spencer Collection (Sp Coll Spencer & MS Gen 1685) at Glasgow University Library. Because of the economic and political significance of the Company and its collapse, smaller collections and individual documents which relate to the Darien scheme can be found scattered throughout most surviving British archives of the time.
b) Secondary Sources
A plan of the harbour and parts adjacent where the Scots Company were settled upon the Isthmus of Darien : reduced from plan in the "Darien papers". [S.l. : s.n., 18--?].(see also Bound volume of papers concerning the Darien Expedition (img.83))
Barbour, James Samuel. A history of William Paterson and the Darien company. Edinburgh : W. Blackwood and sons, 1907
Bingham, Hiram. The early history of the Scots Darien company. [Glasgow : s.n., 1906]
Borland, Francis. Memoirs of Darien, giving a short description of that countrey, with an account of the attempts of the Company of Scotland, to settle a colonie in that place. With a relation of some of the many tragical disasters, which did attend that design. With some practical reflections upon the whole. Written mostly in the year 1700, while the author was in American regions [?]. Glasgow : printed by H. Brown, 1715
Chambers, Robert. Edinburgh papers, part 2. Edinburgh merchants and merchandise in old times. Edinburgh : [s.n.], 1861
Cullen, Edward. Isthmus of Darien ship canal; with a full history of the Scotch colony of Darien, several maps, views of the country, and original documents. London : Wilson, 1853
Cundall, Frank. The Darien venture. New York : Hispanic Society of America, 1926
Donaldson, Gordon. The Scots overseas. Hale, 1861
Ferguson, William. Scotland 1689 to the present. Edinburgh : Oliver & Boyd, 1968
Ferguson, William. Scotland's relations with England : a survey to 1707. Edinburgh : John Donald, 1977
Hamilton, Alexander. A new account of the East indies. Argonaut Press, 1861
Hart, Francis Russell. The disaster of Darien: the story of the Scots settlement and the causes of its failure, 1699-1701. Boston and New York : Houghton Mifflin company, 1929
Howarth, David. The golden isthmus. Collins, 1861
Insh, George Pratt. 'The founders of the Company of Scotland' in Scottish historical review, v. 25 (1928) pp 241-254
Insh, George Pratt. Historian's Odyssey; the romance of the quest for the records of the Darien Company. Edinburgh, London : the Moray Press, 
Insh, George Pratt. The Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. London : C. Scribner's sons, 1932
Insh, George Pratt. The Darien scheme. [London] : Historical Association, 1947
Keith, Theodore. Commercial relations of England and Scotland, 1603-1707. Cambridge : C.U.P., 1910
Munro, Neil. The history of the Royal Bank of Scotland, 1727-1927. Edinburgh : [privately printed], 1928
Prebble, John. The Darien disaster. London : Secker & Warburg, 1968
Ramsey, Jack C. The Darien scheme and the Church of Scotland (PhD thesis, Edinburgh, 1942). Wakefield : Microform Academic Publishers (formerly EP Microform), 1981
Riley, Patrick W.J. King William and the Scottish politicians. Edinburgh : John Donald, 1979
Scott, John; & Johnston, George P. A bibliography of printed documents and books relating to the Darien company. Edinburgh : Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 1906
Smout, Thomas Christopher. Scottish trade on the eve of the Union, 1660-1707 Edinburgh : Oliver & Boyd, 1963
Temple, Richard Carnac. New light on the mysterious tragedy of the 'Worcester', 1704-1705. Benn, 1930
Thiers, Adolphe. The Mississippi bubble : a memoir of John Law : to which are added authentic accounts of the Darien expedition, and the South sea scheme. New York : Greenwood Press 
Vaughan, G. E. The story of the Scottish settlement in the Darien (1698-1700) and its importance in British history. Panama : [s.n.], 1962
Watson, J. (Justly). A plan of the harbour and parts adjacent on the Isthmus of Darien where the Scotch Company was settled. [S.l. : s.n., 1743]
1. Journals of the Company's Court of Directors, 1696-1707 (three volumes) filmed in the following order:
a) 14 February 1696 - 15 July 1698
b) 14 February 1701 - 18 August 1707
c) 20 July 1698 - 11 February 1701
Scope: The Journals in the RBS Collection differ from the 'General Journals' included in this online collection from the National Library of Scotland. Vol.1 of the Journals from the RBS archives is entitled The Several Journals of the Court of Directors of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies; Together with that of the nominees of the Act of Parliament for establishing the said Company commencing the 14th day of February 1996 and ending the 15th day of July 1698 and includes minutes from the Court of Directors meetings.
2. Acts of the Company's General Council, 10 Jun 1696-5 Feb 1707
3. List of debts due by the Company (4 folios)
4. Two lists of subscribers to the Company (printed) with ms marginalia by the Company relating to calls on stock (25 pages each)
5. Account book, mainly of wages to staff and crew (70 folios)
6. Documents relating to payments made in 1707 to the crews of the following ships: a) Hope (James Miller): bought by the Company; sailed on the 1699 expedition to Darien. Wrecked off Cuba, Aug 1700. b) St Andrew (Robert Pennecuik): built at Hamburg for the Company and originally called Instauration. Sailed on the 1698 expedition to Darien and on the return voyage, abandoned at Port Royal, Jamaica. c) Dolphin (Thomas Fullarton): originally a French ship, the Royal Louis, purchased for the Company by Captain James Gibson at Amsterdam. Sailed on 1698 expedition to Darien. On a voyage from Darien to Barbados, she was beached near Cartagena in Colombia; the crew were imprisoned, taken to Seville and condemned to death as pirates but released on the intercession of King William. d) Rising Sun (James Gibson): built at Amsterdam for the Company (and Peter the Great entertained on board there). Sailed on the 1699 expedition to Darien. On the return voyage she was lost in a hurricane off Charleston, South Carolina, with all hands, Aug 1700. e) Endeavour (John Malloch): bought at Newcastle for the Company by Dr John Munro. Sailed on the 1698 expedition to Darien. Abandoned by her crew and sank in the Caribbean, Jul 1699.
To cite this resource:
Papers of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1694-1709 : An Introduction to the British Online Archives Edition, https://boa.microform.digital/collections/7/view. Last updated: 3 July 2009.