Cromwell's "Western Design": Redefining Seventeenth-Century Caribbean Empire and Identity

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 8:50 AM
Manchester Ballroom H (Hyatt)
Amanda Joyce Snyder , Florida International University, Miami, FL
My project will re-evaluate the foundations of early modern piracy and the influence of piracy legislation on Caribbean settlement and the creation of an English Atlantic in the seventeenth century. I examine how exile and rover communities formed by English seamen shaped empire and identity in seventeenth-century Jamaica. Oliver Cromwell recruited men from known rover communities in the Caribbean, utilizing these men’s anti-Spanish sentiment to win their favor. By appropriating and expanding sixteenth-century maritime policies, Cromwell's "Western Design" (1655) transformed rogues and outlaws into settlers, thereby redefining Caribbean colonization with significant ramifications for colony-metropole relations through the following century.

Caribbean settlement shared European poetics of nationality. A number of scholars have cast Cromwell’s Western Design as a failure, but this study will reevaluate this endeavor to show its long-lasting impact on the formation of the British Empire. Empire under Cromwell was an extension of the domestic sphere more so than under any of his predecessors. The plantation schemes he devised for Jamaica remained the general practice through the Restoration (1660). In rehabilitating the image of Cromwell’s Western Design, I will work against the prevailing orthodoxy to show the centrality of the Caribbean, and especially Jamaica, to the formation of colony-metropole relations in the seventeenth century. This, in turn, anticipates the work of scholars of the modern period who have shown how colonial engagements shaped social life and government reform in nineteenth-century England. I argue that this methodology can be applied to the seventeenth century with the changing nature of colonization under Cromwell and the problems of identity in the Caribbean empire that forced re-examinations of "Englishness" and "Britishness" during this period.