Siol nan Gaidheal


History of the Scottish Space Programme

What might have been - the history of a parallel Scotland

Arguably the great turning point in early modern Scottish history was the success of the Darien Scheme in late 17th century. Darien - or "Panama", as some English geographers insist on calling it - was Scotland's first successful trading colony. Inaugurated in 1693 by the financial genius William Patterson (who also set up both the Bank of Scotland AND the Bank of England), the 'Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indes' was a patriotic venture which sought to secure a trading colony for Scots merchants who were fed up with being excluded from England's markets.

From the start, the Darien scheme was fiercely attacked by rival English trading companies, who manipulated William of Orange, their shared King with Scotland, into banning his English and Dutch subjects from investing in the Scottish enterprise. This characteristically perfidious move by the English served only to inflame Scottish patriotic pride, and 'Darien' soon became a national rallying cry. 400,000 was soon invested by poor little Scotland, much of the money coming from common folk who clubbed together so that they could afford to buy a single share. Precisely HALF the money in Scotland was sunk into this single investment - the economic and political stakes couldn't have been much higher.

In 1698 the first small fleet sailed from Leith and made the epic voyage across the Atlantic. It was a terrible journey for the 1,200 Scots colonists - many of whom had been driven off their land by the Clearances. Sickness raged aboard the vessels, and the first task which the colonists faced when they finally landed in the newly proclaimed colony of Caledonia was to bury their dead.

The colonists had greatly underestimated the difficulties involved in building a new colony on Darien. The dense, rotting jungle was home to clouds of malaria infected mosquitoes. The Spanish in nearby Colombia threatened military action to quash this new-born competitor. And the English in Jamaica were ordered to give no help to the Scots whatsoever by King William, who cared nothing for his Scots subjects. Despite being tortured by the humidity, monsoons, mosquitoes, fever, and brutal infighting, the Scots managed to build a capital for their colony - New Edinburgh - and erected a fort - Fort St. Andrews - to protect it.

The eccentric trade goods which the Scots had naively packed - clay pipes, powdered wigs, and Presbyterian Bibles amongst them - were of no use to man nor beast. The Spanish soon closed in, and although they were beaten back by fever-wracked Scotsmen in a jungle skirmish, the colony was on its knees. Thankfully, a colonist named James Lanark - a former advocate turned gentleman adventurer - was able to send word back to Edinburgh via his connections in New York. Lanark's detailed account of the conditions which the colonists endured were hand-delivered to his distant relative Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun - Scotland's most respected Parliamentarian.

The Lanark Letter, as it is now known (wonderfully preserved in the Scots National Museum in Stirling) was a damning indictment of the incompetence and mismanagement of the Company of Scotland. In the skilful hands of Fletcher, it caused a public outcry, as nearly every Scot who could afford it (and many who couldn't) had invested in the scheme. The Church of Scotland in particular suffered a sudden loss of prestige and respect when the tyrannical behavior of its ministers on the expedition was revealed - Lanark noted that ministers sent by the General Assembly violently abused the sick and dying for their 'atheistical cursing and swearing, brutish drunkenness and detestable mockery'.

A furious mob assembled in Edinburgh on March 4th, 1689 and stoned the offices of the Company of Scotland and the General Assembly. Gallows were erected and there were even threats to hang the Company Directors and the Moderator of the General Assembly. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and loss of life was avoided, but throughout the land the Kirk was never again feared as it once had been.

Andrew Fletcher's impassioned oratory won him national fame unprecedented in the 17th century, and a tide of public support caused the Scots Parliament to elect him Chancellor. New Directors were also installed in the Company, and Fletcher himself was put in overall charge of the project. A new fleet was hastily assembled, but the Scots had learned - thanks to the Lanark Letter - of the mistakes of the first expedition, and acted on them.

The new fleet was three times as large - 15 ships in all - and carried nearly 3,000 people. More doctors and engineers were provided, as well as a full battallion of the newly-raised 'Scottish Marines', along with the finest weaponry Switzerland could offer. The General Assembly was reduced to providing only three ministers, and their role in the scheme was to be strictly limited to matters spiritual. The first expedition had soaked up half the money in Scotland - this second expedition soaked up most of the other half, and then some. It was do or die.

When the second expedition reached Caledonia in 1699, the Scots found only a 'vast, howling wilderness'. The original colonists had finally abandoned what had become a nightmare of flies, filth, and fighting. The new colonists set to work immediately. The town of New Edinburgh was re-occupied, and the ramparts of Fort St. Andrews were rebuilt stronger than they had been before. One of the engineers, a Mr Archibald Wilson, recorded in his diary that Fort St. Andrews was now "the strongest foart this syde of Edinburgh Castle".

His boast would soon be thoroughly tested by the Spaniards. Meanwhile, the engineers - in fact, every male colonists who wasn't engaged on other essential business - were engaged in a frantic effort to beat back the jungle, in order to mitigate the mosquitoes and fever and provide wood for the colony. In the absence of chainsaws, these men used every technique they could think of to cut down trees, including the use of gunpower on particularly large and stubborn growths - much to the disapproval of Colonel Alexander Campbell of Fonab, Commandant of the Scottish Marines. In fact, the Scots had acquired plenty of gunpowder - one of the ships had been so full of gunpowder and munitions that no colonist would set foot on her, and the crew had been gotten drunk and Shanghaied from the pubs and inns of Leith.

This massive effort was not in vain - soon, a "cordon sanitaire" had been cleared around the colony, the clouds of mosquitoes abated significantly, and the new found space helped cooling sea breezes circulate to the immense gratitude of the Scots. The fearsome amount of timber which had been felled helped turn Fort St. Andrews into a formidable defensive shield.

A large Spanish force attacked the colony on January 16th, 1700. The Scottish Marines made mincemeat of them. In the opressive heat of jungle warfare, the Highland contingent of soldiers was glad of its kilts: many of the Lowlanders, drenched in sweat, stripped naked and fought with only their boots on. It is hard to say which terrified the Spaniards more: the sight of kilted "ladies from Hell" or hairy, naked Scots charging them with bayonets and hatchets.

A panicked Spanish governor in Cartagena sent every soldier he could spare in a massive second attack on the Scots colony. Unfortunately for them, the Scots were lying in wait. Spanish passion and bravery were no match for Scottish tactics. The numerically smaller Scottish force was better equipped, and had its Swiss-made guns dug in place, well maintained against the rain and mist. When the Spaniards blundered into the trap that awaited them, they were instantly engulfed in a hail of musketfire and artillery, before Colonel Campbell personally led a bayonet charge against the bewildered survivors. The Spanish fled in terror, chased by small, mobile "hunting parties" of Marines well across the border into Colombia.

The Battle of Fort St. Andrews quickly became an international sensation. The Scottish Parliament had a new medal - The Bannockburn Medal - struck, and awarded to the colonists of Caledonia. Pamphlets were sold on the streets of Paris, detailing the courageous defence of New Edinburgh, while the Louis XIV made overtures to the Scots Parliament about an "Alliance Noveau". The South Carolina assembly cheered the Scottish victory against their common enemy, the Spanish. In Ireland, Catholics and Dissenters who were being stripped of their rights and property, took up 'Darien' as a cry for what might be achieved against adversity (and more somberly, of what might be achieved through emigration to the New World). In Spain, Carlos II lost his appetite for fighting the Scots, and sent word to his governor in Cartegena to sign a peace treaty with the colony of Caledonia. England was horrified.

The Battle of Fort St. Andrews proved to be the turning point in the history of the colony, and of Scotland. A resurgent confidence flowed through the Scottish nation.

But you know the rest of the story. A treaty was worked out between the Company of Scotland and the nearby Spanish colonies, ensuring peace and trade between them. A similar deal soon included the French. Investment from the continent flowed in, offsetting some of the huge capital investment made by the people of Scotland. Another fleet of colonists left Scotland in early 1701, which was followed by yet another expedition in 1702. The Scottish colony was quickly turning into a permanent fixture in the Central Americas.

King William died in 1702, and brought to the throne Queen Anne, who assured her subjects that "I know my heart to be entirely English" and had little sympathy for the Scots - that "strange and unreasonable" people. Despite her dislike for Scots, she was a determined Unionist, and sought to bring Scotland to heel. By 1704, relations between Scotland and England deteriorated to the point where the Scots Parliament declared the nation's independence "for evermore". A furious Anne sent an army from Newcastle to Edinburgh to punish the Scots.

The Scots Parliament fled to Stirling in panic as Edinburgh burned and English troops occupied the castle. On the prompting of Scotland's Ambassador to Versailles, France's Louis XIV sent gold, weapons and troops to aid the Scots. (It is said that the gold and guns were gratefully received, while the French cavalry were merely politely tolerated) Andrew Fletcher's wise policy since becoming Chancellor of organising all "fencible men" into citizens militias proved the saviour of Scotland. While an armed citizenry harassed the English to the extent that they became virtual prisoners in Edinburgh Castle, Scots forces from the rest of the country mobilised and converged on Stirling.

Despite sending huge reinforcements, England's second expeditionary force suffered terrible losses at the hands of flying columns of Borders militiamen, fought its way to Edinburgh, only to find itself trapped in the Castle with their fellow countrymen. When 200,000 Scots soldiers marched within sight of Edinburgh, the English commanders fled the country via the Forth. Fletcher recorded this "second Bannockburn" as "the finest battle Scotland never fought". No English army ever entered Scotland again - although one tried in April 1705, and was massacred within sight of Carlisle.

Andrew Fletcher was now offered the Scottish Crown, but refused. Against the will of the General Assembly, and many of his own class, he negotiated for the return of what he saw as a more legitimate ruler, James VIII. Such a suggestion would have provoked violent outrage only a few months previously, but the experience of the Second War of Independence had strenghtened Fletcher's hand immeasurably. He was the de facto commander in chief of the national army, hailed by the common folk as the greatest Scottish leader since The Bruce, and his considerable skills of politics and diplomacy eased the fears landed classes.

Thus, by agreeing to protect and defend the Protestant faith, (more importantly) that the former Catholic Church lands which had been seized during the Reformation and divided between the nobles would not be reclaimed, and that he would not seek any Union with England whatsoever, James VIII was crowned King of Scots at Scone on his 17th birthday, June 10th, 1705. The new King's relationship with his subjects was somewhat shaky to begin with, but was immeasurably improved when he gave royal assent to a new Scottish constitution which limited his own powers and strengthened the Scottish Parliament.

England found herself forced to make peace with Scotland, since both France and Spain were backing James VIII, and the Scottish militiamen had bloodily demonstrated that, while England might invade Scotland, she could never rule a country with an armed citizenry. This peace was made possible by the fact that James VIII, by agreeing to maintain Scottish independence, effectively renounced any claim to the English throne. The Treaty of Peace and Separation, 1707, made this condition explicit.

And James VIII was as good as his word. While some of his new subjects - the Church of Scotland especially - muttered at his "popery", the nation as a whole had lost its taste for religious discord. The landed classes were happy with his guarantees of their lands and the new constitution, the nation as a whole was happy with the continued leadership of Chancellor Fletcher, and the young King happily settled into a life of hunting, banqueting, and wenching. Edinburgh blossomed in this new era of Scottish freedom, and soon became "The Athens of the North", while Glasgow became one of the world's pre-eminent trading cities.

Fletcher had managed to secure Scottish independence, make possible a lasting peace between Scotland and England (he was well aware of French and Spanish dissapointment that James would not be used to serve their purposes by invading England), and laid the foundations for a free, happy, and prosperous Scotland. He died a happy man in 1716, at the age of 63.

Back in Darien, the Scots colony had established a revolutionary concept in an age of mercantilist protectionism: a Freeport. Darien became the hub of trade between the Orient and the West, and also helped open up the Western side of North America to explorers, settlers, and traders. Soon, they built the Darien Canal, which is one of the busiest trade routes in the world to this day. The Company of Scotland still runs the colony, although most of the shares are now owned by the people who live there. Because Darien never used slaves, the colony remains uncompromisingly Scottish, and New Edinburgh is said to be the warmest city in Scotland.

Perhaps in future we will discuss Scotland's role in brokering the Aberdeen Agreement, which brought the World War to a halt in 1916 and has kept Europe free from wars ever since. Or we could describe the role which Scotland played in supporting the 1776 American Revolution.

For now, as we see the start of Scotland's first commercial space programme - putting satellites into orbit from SNASA's base in Darien - we can only ponder... what if the Darien scheme had failed?

(Humbly submitted by AN Onymous for your edu-tainment)

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In researching some of the history for this piece, I tried to find some information on America in the early 1700's on the internet. I was very surprised to find out how difficult it is to find a succinct overview of this period! Some of the top search results were:
Jewish American History
Timeline of African American History
Chinese American History Timeline
Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement
African American Timeline
Gay and Lesbian History
Italian-American History


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