Trouble for Royalists

by eobermanns

As the end of the semester (along with tens of pages of research papers to write) looms closer, I find myself entrenched in the study of Henry Morgan.  I’m very much so looking forward to having the opportunity to present my research again this Saturday, April 12th, at Loyola’s Undergraduate Research & Engagement Symposium as part of the 2014 Weekend of Excellence.  Entitled, “The 17th Century Enigma of Captain Henry Morgan and the Atlantic World,” this presentation delves into the ambiguous background of Morgan’s youth as detailed in the competing accounts of Alexandre Exquemelin and Philip Ayres.  I had a wonderful experience presenting my research in poster form at the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium last Saturday, and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest that was shown in my research.  As a student of history, I stood alone at the symposium amongst those studying biology, chemistry, and the like; I find those subjects to be a bit over my head, so perhaps its best that I stick to the humanities.

I’m also looking forward to continuing to work as Dr. Donoghue’s research assistant for my senior year; the extra time for research is a blessing in disguise, as there are always new discoveries to be made in the world of history.  I spent a bit of time this past week digging further into an idea I explored a few weeks ago, referring to the debts owed by Royalist men like Sir Nicholas Crispe.  I came across an article by historian Joan Thirsk entitled, “The Sales of Royalist Land During the Interregnum”.  During the Interregnum period, Royalist estates had been sequestered by the victorious Parliamentarians seeking to punish those who had supported, or continued to support, Charles II.  A committee had been created to deal with the Royalists who agreed to pay their debts to Cromwell’s government, known as the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents.  This committee gave Royalists an opportunity to regain their sequestered lands through further payments to the government.  The price of regaining these sequestered holdings was based upon the estate’s worth and the extent to which the individual had supported the Royalist cause.  The first sale of Royalist land occurred in 1651 under the directive of the Sequestration Committee of Oliver Cromwell’s government. The Royalists whose lands were sold were those who refused to pay composition; composition was an agreement between the debtor and creditor to accept less than was actually owed on a debt.  The Sequestration Committee authorized the sale of land belonging to those Royalists that continued to oppose Parliamentary rule.  Sales of these estates, however, were recorded in relative secrecy in the Chancery.  This act of secrecy reflected the uncertain nature of the future of these deals; there was a lingering sentiment within the English that the Royalists could rise up at any time and instate Charles II as the rightful ruler of England.


(Royalists entrenched in the English Civil War)

The ever cunning Royalists, however, found a way to circumvent the system in the event that they were considered irreparable delinquents by Cromwell’s government.  Royalists utilized agents as trustees to buy back their land and hold it in trust until they could rightfully return to their estates (in the impending event that Charles II would return to his throne).  Interestingly, London merchants purchased most of this confiscated Royalist land; they had the liquid assets necessary to buy the estates.  This factor emphasized the rise of the merchant class, where a majority of the money was held in society.  London creditors were more apt to sell the confiscated estates than their counterparts in the countryside, perhaps reacting to the greater concentration of wealth within the burgeoning metropolis.

One of these wealthy merchants, Sir Henry Johnson, utilized this newfound opportunity to purchase the lease on the Blackwall Yard in 1656.  Blackwall, located along the Thames River, was an incredibly important center of shipbuilding in England for almost four centuries.  Once owned by the East India Company, Blackwall played an important role in 17th naval warfare; as the Anglo-Dutch Wars continued to rage throughout the latter half of the 17th centuries, more and more ships needed to be commissioned to supply the growing demand.  Samuel Pepys commissioned Royal Navy ships to be built at Blackwall, as the royal dockyards could not supply the need of the government.


(18th Century depiction of the Blackwall Yard)

In an interesting twist of fate, Johnson’s son, also named Henry Johnson, became a governor of Cape Coast Castle in the early 18th century.  Cape Coast Castle was used as a stronghold in West Africa for the Royal African Company at the height of trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Hundreds of slaves were held in these “slave castles” as a last stop on their journey to the American and Caribbean colonies.  It’s more than certain that Henry Morgan would have encountered slaves journeying from Cape Coast Castle throughout his time in the Jamaica colony, a sad truth of imperial expansion into the Atlantic World, in which racial hierarchy served as the grossly ambiguous and immoral foundations for the slave trade controlled by the Royal African Company.


(1682 depiction of the layout of Cape Coast Castle)