Early English Trade and Settlement in Asia, 1602–1690

  • D. K. Bassett


THE English colonies of the seventeenth century were founded by a variety of agencies and assumed many forms. There was, however, a basic distinction between the plantation colonies of the North American seaboard and those of the West Indies, on the one hand, whether deriving from proprietary grants to noblemen or from company charters, and on the other hand, the system of forts and factories adopted by the London merchant companies which enjoyed the national monopoly of trade with West Africa and Asia. The scale of settlement was totally different, and so was the economic function. The white population of Barbados, for example, was about 37,000 by 1643, although it fell to 20,000 later in the century as land came to be concentrated in the hands of a planter oligarchy.’ The Royal African Company’s merchants and soldiers in West Africa did not exceed 330 at any time during the century,2 while the East India Company’s establishment in Asia was probably about one thousand men in 1668–90. The difference was not only numerical. The presence of Englishmen in Barbados, Maryland or Virginia was proof per se of local English sovereignty and colonisation. The opening of simple factories or trading posts in Asia did not confer local sovereignty upon the East India Company, nor were the factors who resided there colonists.


Seventeenth Century English Company East India Company Asian Government Naval Blockade 
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Further Reading

1. Collections of Documents

  1. Letters received by the East India Company from its Servants in the East, ed. F. C. Danvsrs and W. Foster, 6 vols (1896–1902), brings together the extant letters from the various Asian factories in 1602–17, drawn primarily from the Original Correspondence series at the India Office Library, London.Google Scholar
  2. The Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, East Indies, 1513–1634, ed. W. Noel Sainsbury, 6 vols (1862–92), summarises the Court Minutes of the Company, the letters of the factors in Asia, and diplomatic papers relating to the Company until 1634.Google Scholar
  3. A Calendar of the Court Minutes etc. of the East India Company, 1635–1679, ed. E. B. Sainsbury, II vols (Oxford, 1907–38) [CCM], carries the publication of the Court Minutes to its present limit. They include occasional policy decisions, as well as routine sales, price lists, the dispatch of ships and goods, the raising of capital and the election of officers. Vol I of the Court Minutes has been publishedGoogle Scholar
  4. verbatim as The Dawn of British Trade to the East Indies, 1599–1603, ed. H. Stevens (1886) and vol IAGoogle Scholar
  5. as The First Letter Book of the East India Company, 1600–1619, ed. Sir G. Birdwood and W. Foster (1893; reprint 1965).Google Scholar
  6. The English Factories in India, 1618–1669, ed. W. Foster, 13 vols (Oxford, 1906–27)Google Scholar
  7. The English Factories in India (New Series), 1670–1684, ed. Sir C. Fawcett, 4 vols (Oxford, 1936–54) [EFI], are a magnificent collection of almost all the documentary material originating in the Indian factories in this period. Considerable attention is also paid to Persia, although this declines after c. 1660. All references to Indonesia and the Far East after 1623 have been omitted unless the Indian factories are directly involved. Each volume has a masterly introduction and commentary.Google Scholar
  8. Records of the Relations between Siam and Foreign Countries in the 17th Century (1607–1700), published by the Council of the Vajiranana National Library, 5 vols (Bangkok, 1915–21). These volumes have no introduction or commentary, but the documents of the second half of the century are particularly valuable. A better source for English activities in Siam in 1612–23 is Letters Received by the East India Company [above, p. 1071 or W. H. Moreland, Peter Floris, his Voyage to the East Indies, 1611–1615(1934.Google Scholar
  9. The British in West Sumatra, 1685–1825, ed. J. Bastin (Kuala Lumpur, 1965) includes documents describing early English settlement at Benkulen. There is an excellent general introduction. A more extensive collection can be foundGoogle Scholar
  10. P. Wink, ‘Eenige Archiefstukken betreffende de Vestiging van de Engelsche factorij te Benkoelen in 1685’, Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land-. en Volkenkunde, LXIV (1924) 461–520.Google Scholar

2. Secondary Works

  1. Alexandrowicz, C. H.: An Introduction to the History of the Law of Nations in the East Indies — 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries (Oxford, 1967). A scholarly survey of the interaction of Asian and European concepts of diplomatic and political relations before the assertion of complete European dominance in Asia.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J.: English Intercourse with Siam in the Seventeenth Century (1890). Extensive quotations from documents but inclined to misinterpret them, especially in 1660–88.Google Scholar
  3. Bal Krishna: Commercial Relations between India and England, 1601 to 1757 (1924).Google Scholar
  4. Chaudhuri, K. N.: The English East India Company: the Study of an Early Joint-Stock Company 1600–1640 (1965). An excellent description of the Company’s internal financing, imports, exports and sales, with consequent repercussions on policy.Google Scholar
  5. Collis, M.: Siamese White (1936). An impartial and perceptive study of Samuel White’s career in Siamese government service.Google Scholar
  6. Foster, Sir W.: England’s Quest of Eastern Trade (1933). Still the best account of early English travellers and merchants in Asia by the greatest historian of the East India Company. The book is devoted mainly to events before 1623.Google Scholar
  7. Glamann, K.: Dutch-Asiatic Trade, 1620–1740 (Copenhagen-The Hague, 1958). Some useful analogies between the Dutch and English East India Companies’ difficulties in buying and selling particular commodities.Google Scholar
  8. Hutchinson, E. W.: Adventurers in Siam in the Seventeenth Century (1940). Very knowledgeable about the French connection with Siam until 1688, but has misunderstood the English company’s attitude to some extent.Google Scholar
  9. Khan, S. A.: ‘The East India Company’s War with Aurangzeb’, Journal of Indian History, I (1921–2) 70–91.Google Scholar
  10. A series of extracts from the Company’s letters to India in 1685–9 which casts indirect light on Sir Josiah Child’s policy. Khan also discusses Child’s role in The East India Trade in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1923), but there seems to be no adequate study of the development of policy in London at this time.Google Scholar
  11. Morse, H. B.: The Chronicles of the East India Company trading to China, 1635–1834. 5 vols (Oxford, 1926–9). Vol. I has the best account of Anglo-Chinese negotiations and trade in Portuguese Macao and the Chinese ports, but is less concerned with the Company’s general policy.Google Scholar
  12. Pritchard, E. H.: Anglo-Chinese Relations during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Urbana, Ill., 1929) discusses the general circumstances which hindered the development of the Company’s China trade, but some of his conclusions are debatable.Google Scholar
  13. Wilson, C. R.: The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, I (1895) contains a detailed account of the development of the Company’s trade in Bengal in the seventeenth century and of the Anglo-Mogul War there in 1686–90. Some of Wilson’s value-judgements are debatable today, but he used his sources well.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. K. Bassett
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HullUK

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