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Providence Island Company

Providence Island Company

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The Providence Company or Providence Island Company was an English chartered company
Chartered company
A chartered company is an association formed by investors or shareholders for the purpose of trade, exploration and colonization.- History :...

 founded in 1629 by a group of Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

s including Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick
Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick
Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick was an English colonial administrator, admiral, and puritan.Rich was the eldest son of Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick and his wife Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, and succeeded to his father's title in 1619...

 in order to settle Providence Island
Providencia Island
Isla de Providencia or Old Providence is a mountainous Caribbean island. Though it is closer to Nicaragua, it is part of the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina, a department of Colombia, lying midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica...

, off the Spanish Mosquito Coast
Mosquito Coast
The Caribbean Mosquito Coast historically consisted of an area along the Atlantic coast of present-day Nicaragua and Honduras, and part of the Western Caribbean Zone. It was named after the local Miskito Indians and long dominated by British interests...

 of what became Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...


Besides Lord Warwick, among the twenty shareholders in the Company were William Fiennes, Lord Saye and Sele
William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele
William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele was born at the family home of Broughton Castle near Banbury, in Oxfordshire. He was the only son of Richard Fiennes, seventh Baron Saye and Sele...

, and Robert Greville, Lord Brooke
Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke
Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke was an English Civil War Roundhead General.Greville was the cousin and adopted son of Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, and thus became 2nd Lord Brooke, and owner of Warwick Castle. He was born in 1607, and entered parliament for Warwickshire in 1628...

. Oliver St John
Oliver St John
Sir Oliver St John , was an English judge and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1640 to 1653. He supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War.- Early life :...

, a Puritan barrister, represented the Providence Company's interests, and the treasurer was John Pym
John Pym
John Pym was an English parliamentarian, leader of the Long Parliament and a prominent critic of James I and then Charles I.- Early life and education :...

, a squire from the West Country, of great business acumen. Notably, William Jessop
William Jessop
William Jessop was an English civil engineer, best known for his work on canals, harbours and early railways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.-Early life:...

 was commissioned as the Company's Secretary. A decade later, the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 would make these names famous. John Hampden
John Hampden
John Hampden was an English politician, the eldest son of William Hampden, of Hampden House, Great Hampden in Buckinghamshire, John Hampden (ca. 15951643) was an English politician, the eldest son of William Hampden, of Hampden House, Great Hampden in Buckinghamshire, John Hampden (ca. 15951643)...

, also a prominent figure in the events leading up to the English Civil War, was not a shareholder personally but was a cousin of one and did arbitrate between the shareholders and their agents on the island.

A close kinship group linked several charter members of the Company: Lord Warwick's younger brother Henry
Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland
Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland was an English aristocrat, courtier and soldier.-Life:He was the son of Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick and of Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, and the younger brother of Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick...

, recently made Earl of Holland
Earl of Holland
Earl of Holland was a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1624 for Henry Rich, 1st Baron Kensington. He was the younger son of Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick. and had already been created Baron Kensington in 1623, also in the Peerage of England. His eldest son, the second Earl,...

 and a favourite of Queen Henrietta Maria; their half-brother, their mother's natural son, Mountjoy Blount
Mountjoy Blount
Mountjoy Blount may refer to:* Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport * Mountjoy Blount, 2nd Earl of Newport...

, recently made Earl of Newport, and like Holland a figure at court; their cousin the Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex was an English Parliamentarian and soldier during the first half of the seventeenth century. With the start of the English Civil War in 1642 he became the first Captain-General and Chief Commander of the Parliamentarian army, also known as the Roundheads...

 and his brother-in-law the Earl of Hertford
William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset
Sir William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, KG was an English nobleman and Royalist commander in the English Civil War....

; At the end of the 1630s, around this nucleus and their friends in both Houses of Parliament, meeting in Gray's Inn Lane or Brook House, Holborn, or in the country, ostensibly for Company business, coalesced the first opposition party
Opposition (parliamentary)
Parliamentary opposition is a form of political opposition to a designated government, particularly in a Westminster-based parliamentary system. Note that this article uses the term government as it is used in Parliamentary systems, i.e. meaning the administration or the cabinet rather than the state...

 in English history, formed in resistance to the imposition of Ship Money
Ship money
Ship money refers to a tax that Charles I of England tried to levy without the consent of Parliament. This tax, which was only applied to coastal towns during a time of war, was intended to offset the cost of defending that part of the coast, and could be paid in actual ships or the equivalent value...


At the start, the company had a twofold interest, to establish in an ideal commonwealth a God-fearing population, who were to support themselves with growing tobacco and cotton, and to harry Spanish shipping in the Spanish Main
Spanish Main
In the days of the Spanish New World Empire, the mainland of the American continent enclosing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was referred to as the Spanish Main. It included present-day Florida, the east shore of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Mexico, Central America and the north coast of...

. The Company's regulations for the three islands, of Providence, Henrietta and Association, forbade card-playing and gaming, whoring, drunkenness and profanity. "A carefully chosen minister— a German Calvinist refugee from the Palatinate— was brought home in disgrace for singing catches on a Sunday," C.V. Wedgwood notes. "The Earl of Warwick and his friends were sincerely trying to create three nests of pirates with the behaviour and morals of a Calvinist theological seminary." The plantation system required African slaves, which involved the Company in the slave trade, but cotton and tobacco failed to be profitable and were replaced by sugar cane. The islands remained a base for privateering, however, under a tacit agreement from the King, whose foreign policy remained officially neutral with regard to Spain, but who agreed, provided that the Company foot any expenses. Prospects for Providence Island brightened at this, sufficiently for the projectors to capitalise the venture with an addition £100,000 in 1637.

The Providence Company provided support to the Parliamentarians
"Roundhead" was the nickname given to the supporters of the Parliament during the English Civil War. Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I and his supporters, the Cavaliers , who claimed absolute power and the divine right of kings...

 in the build-up to the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...


From 1631 to 1635, the Company also planted an English colony on Tortuga (also called Association Island
Association Island
Association Island is a island located at the northern tip of Stony Point, a peninsula into the eastern end of Lake Ontario. A part of the Town of Henderson, New York in Jefferson County, the island is about southwest of Watertown at...

), off the coast of San Domingo. In 1635 the Spanish raided the settlement on Association Island and destroyed it. In March 1638 several members of the Company were prepared to emigrate to Providence Island: the Earl of Warwick, Lords Saye and Brooke Henry Darley, but nothing came of their petition for leave. In May of 1641 Providence Island was overrun by the Spanish treasure fleet
Spanish treasure fleet
The Spanish treasure fleets was a convoy system adopted by the Spanish Empire from 1566 to 1790...

, commanded by Adm. Don Francisco Díaz Pimienta.

Sources and references

  • WorldStatesman - Haiti
  • Karen Kupperman, Providence Island 1630 - 1641: The Other Puritan Colony, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • The Penguin Dictionary of British and Irish History, ed. Juliet Gardiner