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It was a natural thought to regret that these qualifications should be absolutely removed into foreign countries instead of serving Scotland. If Scotland had not room for the energies of her sons, let her enlarge herself by a due share of that boundless territory open to all comers on the other side of the Atlantic. The effort struggled against a difficulty unseen and unmeasured, like the difficulties that come in nightmare dreams. The capital to give it effective existence was wanting; and it could only make a beginning, and indicate what might gradually come into existence, when the inhabitants of Scotland, having accumulated riches at home, could afford to make use of the fresh and fruitful soil awaiting the plough.
In the maps of the day, all the territory north and north-east of New England, to the St Lawrence and its gulf, is “New Scotland,” with rivers and estuaries bearing such old beloved names of home as Clyde, Tweed, Solway, and Forth. It is observable that this project received welcome and help from England, instead of encountering the jealousy and hostility that afterwards crushed the hapless Darien scheme. Possibly, owing to the lingering influence of feudalism, the supreme tyranny generated by the jealous assertion of trading privileges and monopolies had not yet settled down, with all its sordid and cruel influences, on the English mind.
The French had gone before in the project of American colonisation; and we see in his notices of some of their failures how shrewdly Alexander foresaw the leading moral difficulty infesting emigration from its beginning and onward to the present day. He saw in the French settlement men “who had not gone thither intending, what they pretended, out of a clear resolution to inhabit that bounds, but did only flee from some inconveniences that had vexed them at home. Such men, as hating labour they could not industriously serve by their endeavours in a mechanic trade,—so were they not capable of generous inspirations that provoke magnanimity, but, habitually bred to vice, were natural enemies to virtue.” 1
1 “The Map and Description of New England, together with a
This was a hint from the experience of the great French colonial projector Champlain; and from what he had seen, Alexander was enabled to lay before his countrymen a vision of a mysterious, but for that all the more attractive, field open to the efforts of the bold adventurer. It will be seen how little is made of that wonder of the world the Cataract of Niagara, in these misty glimpses into a territory now as well known to mankind at large as the most fruitful districts of France and England :
Champlain had discovered “The River of Canada,” or the St Lawrence, and had ascended “above twelve hundred miles, finding in it sometimes such falls as, to escape the same, he must carry his boat a little way by land; and then he did many times come to great lakes, at the end whereof he did always find a river again ; and the last lake where he came was a very long one, judged to be three hundred miles in length, by the report of some savages; who did affirm unto him that at the further end thereof they did find salt water, and that they had seen great vessels, which made Champlain believe that a passage might be there to the Bay of California, or to some part of the South Sea, which would prove an inestimable benefit for the inhabitants of those parts, opening a near way to China, which hath been so many sundry ways with so great charges so long sought for.” 1
At that time Scotland had a hardy and adventurous seafaring population. They chiefly inhabited the small towns that fringe the coast of Fife, where may yet be seen the houses of the skippers and traders of the day, proving the wealth and comfort in which they lived. The method of the trade pursued by these men would not justify them on a close scrutiny according to the law and morals of the high seas in the present day. There was little smuggling or contraband among them—that was a pursuit scarcely
Discourse of Plantations and Colonies,' by Sir William Alexander,
1 Laing's Royal Letters, &c., 23, 24.
worth their while; but few of them were free of the stain of piracy. They frequented chiefly the Spanish main ; but they also haunted the new territories in the north, where they did business in furs and fish. These were not the men to settle down as quiet permanent colonists; and among the upland folk of Scotland there were strong prejudices against all attempts to settle in distant wilds, and under conditions of practical life unknown not only to themselves, but to the human race at large. “The very people,” says the projector, “specially artisans, of whom I stood in need, were at first loath to embark for so remote a part as they imagined this to be, some scarce believing that there could be any such bounds at all ; and no wonder, since never any in that part had ever travelled thither, and all novelties being distrusted or disvalued, few of good sort would go, and ordinary persons were not capable of such a purpose.” 1
A small body went out in 1622, in advance of the founder—they were the pioneers of the colony. They found themselves too isolated and feeble to attempt actual settlement, and supported themselves until succour came by the ever-profitable occupation of fishing on the bank of Newfoundland. Among other casualties when they were joined by their chief, “ their minister and smith -both for spiritual and temporal respects the two most necessary members—were both dead." Alexander, arriving with the second part of the expedition, gathered up these stragglers, and all doubling Cape Breton, sailed southwards, and landed on the great peninsula now known as Nova Scotia. The result of some explorations was successful, and when skilfully described, as in the passage following, even alluring :
“ They found, a great way up, a very pleasant river, being three fathom deep at a low water at the entry thereof; and on every side of the same they did see very delicate meadows, having roses white and red growing thereon, with a kind of wild lily, which had a dainty smell. The next day they resolved (coasting along the
Laing's Royal Letters, &c., 33.
land) to discover the next harbour, which was but two leagues distant from the other, where they found a more pleasant river than the first, being four fathom deep at a low water, with meadows on both sides thereof, having roses and lilies growing thereon as the other had. They found within this river a very fit place for a plantation, both in regard that it was naturally apt to be fortified, and that all the ground between the two rivers was without wood, and very good fat earth, having several sorts of berries growing thereon-as gooseberries, strawberries, hindberries, raspberries, and a kind of red wineberrymas also some sorts of grain, as peas, some ears of wheat, barley, and rye, growing there wild. The peas grow in abundance along the coast, very big and good to eat, but did taste of the fitch. This river is called Port Jolly, from whence they coasted along to Port Negro, being twelve leagues distant, where all the way as they sailed along they spied a very pleasant country, having growing everywhere such things as were observed in the two harbours where they had been before. They found likewise in every river abundance of lobsters, cockles, and other shell-fishes; and also, not only in the rivers but all the coast along, numbers of several sorts of wild-fowl-as wild-goose, black duck, woodcock, crane, heron, pigeon, and many other sorts of fowl which they knew not. They did kill, as they sailed along the coast, great store of cod, with several other sorts of great fishes. The country is full of woods, not very thick, and the most part oak; the rest are fir, spruce, birch, with some sycamores and ashes, and many other sorts of wood which they had not seen before.” 1
Alexander, in claiming Scotland's share in the partition of the new world, took high ground as representing what was still an independent European State, though its king was also King of England. He said, addressing the “ undertakers for New England," that his countrymen would not adventure in the enterprise “unless it were as there was a New France, a New Spain, and a New England, that they might likewise have a New Scotland, and
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· Laing's Royal Letters, &c., 35, 36.
that for that effect they might have bounds with a correspondencie in proportion (as others had) with the country whereof it should bear the name, which they might hold of their own Crown, and where they might be governed by their own laws; they wisely considering that either Virginia or New England hath more bounds than all his majesty's subjects are able to plant, and that this purpose of mine, by breeding a virtuous emulation amongst us, would tend much to the advancement of so brave a work,—did yield to my desire, designing the bounds for me in that part, which hath been questioned by the French, and leaving the limits thereof to be appointed by his majesty's pleasure, which are expressed in the patent granted unto me under his great seal of his kingdom of Scotland, marching upon the west towards the river of St Croix, now Tweed (where the Frenchmen did design their first habitation), with New England, and on all other parts it is compassed by the great ocean and the great river of Canada ; so that, though sundry other preceding patents are imaginarily limited by the degrees of the heaven, I think that mine be the first national patent that ever was clearly bounded within America by particular limits upon the earth.” 1
The available character of the district was of course one great consideration ; but there was another of no less importance-how far the Scots were a people fitted to avail themselves of the opportunities afforded to them. Colonisation-enterprise not among the old-established communities of Europe, but on barren lands which were to smile into fruitfulness under their beneficent industry, was new work to his countrymen ; and yet the experience of later times shows that his estimate of their capacity for the work was not far wrong:
“When I do consider with myself what things are necessary for a plantation, I cannot but be confident that my own countrymen are as fit for such a purpose as any men in the world, having daring minds that upon any probable appearances do despise danger, and bodies able to endure
1 Laing's Royal Letters, &c., 32.