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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

William Douglass

WILLIAM DOUGLASS was a Scotchman who came to America in 1716 when he was about twenty-five years of age. Two years later he settled in Boston, where he attained great reputation as a physician and savant. His influence was lessened, however, by the free way in which he expressed rather unorthodox religious views, and conducted political and scientific controversies. He was really a partisan journalist, and it is because he showed great ability in his fulminations against persons and things he did not like, that his Summary, or Historical Account of the British Settlements (1747–1753) is interesting, especially for its juicy footnotes, to the general reader, and valuable, in spite of its prejudices and inaccuracies, to the historical student. His medical writings do not concern us; but it is worth noting that he printed a good almanac, and that through his benefactions he was accorded the honor of having a town in Worcester County named after him. He died in his adopted home, October 21, 1752, and in him the New World lost a most picturesque and useful citizen who, if he did oppose inoculation for small-pox, nevertheless anathematized the craze for paper money in a most effective style.

The Buccaneers.
[From “A Summary, Historical and Political,” etc, 1747. Footnote, Vol. I. p. 40, Section II. Article II. Ed. of 1755.]

THE BUCCANEERS originally were a vagrant, vicious, seafaring, piratical people, chiefly English and French. They were used to kill wild bulls and cows with long fusees, called Buccanier-pieces, for their hides and tallow; at first they committed depredations only upon the Spaniards and Spanish settlements (Morgan took Porto-Bello and Panama, anno 1671), and although a notorious pirate was knighted by that prince of pleasure and whim, King Charles ii, but afterwards was a disgrace. They carried on this Bellum Piraticum against the Spaniards in the West-Indies from anno 1666 to anno 1688, mad-man like, for small booty, and that soon consumed; they suffered the greatest fatigues, hunger and risk of life. They first formed themselves upon a small island called Tortugas, north of Hispaniola (all islands where tortoise or turtle frequent, are by the Spaniards called Tortugas; that island near the Margaritas upon the coast of New-Spain, from whence by a Spanish treaty at Madrid, anno 1716, New-England brings salt for their fishery, is called Salt-Tortugas) as also upon the N.W. parts of Hispaniola; the court of France sent them over a governor, and colonized them; this is the original of the French rich settlements there; it is true, when the French had the Spanish Assiento contract for negroes, Spain consented to their having a lodge and place of refreshment there; by their usual way of encroaching upon their neighbors, they are now become superior to the Spanish of Hispaniola.

A Spicy Footnote on Bishop Berkeley.
[From the Same, Footnote, Vol. I. p. 149.]

THIS notion of a healthful climate, gave occasion to a late scheme projected by a whimsical man, dean B———ly, since bishop of Cl[oy]ne in Ireland, of founding in Bermudas an university college or seminary for the education of the British American youth. Projectors are generally inconsiderate, rash, and run too fast. He did not consider that places for health are accommodated for valetudinarians and old people; whereas young people, where the stamina vitæ are good, seldom want health (at Harvard-college in Cambridge near Boston in New-England, not exceeding one or two per cent. per ann. die) this place is of very difficult access or navigation; does not produce a sufficiency for the present parsimonious inhabitants. This abstracted notion seems only adequate to the conceptions of a common school-master, to keep his boys together (as a shepherd does by folding of his sheep) while they learn to read English, and labor at the rudiments of the Latin language; whereas young gentlemen, students of the belles-lettres, civil history, natural history, or any of the three learned professions, require a larger field than that of a small island divulsed (if we may so express it) from the world or continents of the earth. He hired a ship, put on board a good library (some part of it he bountifully bestowed upon the colleges of Massachusetts-bay and Connecticut in New-England) and in company with some gentlemen of great worth, after a tedious winter passage, put in at Rhode-Island, a small colony of New-England; built a kind of a cell, lived there a recluse life for some time, until this fit of enthusiasm did defervesce, and was convinced of the idleness of his whim, did not proceed, but returned to England.

There are enthusiasts in all affairs of life; this man of himself was an enthusiast in many affairs of life; not confined to religion and the education of youth; he invaded another of the learned professions, Medicine, which in a peculiar manner is called the learned profession; he published a book called Siris (the ratio nominis I cannot investigate) or tar-water, an universal medicine or panacea; he never knew it fail, if copiously administered, of curing any fever; whereas many fevers, viz. that of the plague, of the small-pox, with symptoms of purples and general hæmorrhages, &c. in their own nature, to most constitutions from first seizure are mortal, by an universal necrosis or sudden blast of the constitution. It cures the murrain, rot, and all other malignant distempers amongst cattle, sheep &c. The continued or long use of it does violence to the constitution; in asthmas, and rheumatic disorder, a short use of it has been beneficial, but our materia medica affords more efficacious and safe medicines; it is at present almost worn out of fashion. Tar is only turpentine by fire rendered of a caustic quality; whereas turpentine (and consequently its water or decoction) by the experience of many ages, has been found a most beneficent, medicinal, natural balsam.

He ought to have checked this officious genius (unless in his own profession way he had acquired this nostrum by inspiration) from intruding into the affairs of a distinct profession. Should a doctor in medicine practice public praying and preaching (though only in a quack or Whitefield vagrant manner) with pious, private, ghostly advice and exhortations to his patients alias penitents, the clergy would immediately take the alarm, and use their Bruta Fulmina against this other profession. This seems to be well expressed in a London News-paper by way of banter or ridicule

  • The bishop’s book annoys the learned tribe;
  • They threaten hard, “We’ll preach, if you prescribe.”
  • As this Bermudas college projection, and his residence in New-England, have rendered him famous in North-America, perhaps it may not be impertinent to give some further history of MR. B———ly, in his proper character as a divine: I shall take it from his Minute Philosopher, a book composed in New-England, and confine it to his wild notions of mysteries in religion. He says that from a certain enthusiasm in human nature all religions do sprout: from the faith which children have in the directions of their parents: from the great share that faith has in the policy of nations (he means the Arcana Imperii) and in common commerce or trade, we are led to faith in religious revelations. Since we cannot explain many obvious things in nature, why should we be obliged to do so in religion? In a very loose expression, he compares mysteries in religion to the enthusiastic, and to demonstration non-entities of the philosopher’s stone in chemistry, and of perpetual motion in mechanics. The abstracted idea of a triangle is as difficult as that of the Trinity; that of the communication of motion, as difficult as that of the communication of grace. We ought to have the same reason for trusting the priest in religion, that we have for trusting the lawyer or physician with our fortune or life; thus every man ought to have a liberty of choosing his own priest and religion; this is too general a toleration, and puts an end to all social religion.

    To conclude, the right reverend the bishop of Cl———ne, notwithstanding of his peculiarities, is a most generous, beneficent, and benevolent gentleman, as appears by his donations in New-England.

    Concerning the General Nature and Constitution of British North-American Colonies
    [Section IV. Article II.]

    ALL our American Settlements are properly Colonies, not Provinces as they are generally called: Province respects a conquered people (the Spaniards in Mexico and Peru may perhaps in propriety bear this appellation) under a jurisdiction imposed upon them by the conqueror; Colonies are formed of national people v.g. British in the British Colonies, transported to form a settlement in a foreign or remote country.

    The first settlers of our colonies, were formed from various sorts of people. 1. Laudably ambitious adventurers. 2. The malecontents, the unfortunate, the necessitous from home. 3. Transported criminals. The present proportion of these ingredients in the several Plantations varies much, for reasons which shall be mentioned in the particular sections of Colonies, and does depend much upon the condition of the first settlers: Some were peopled by Rebel Tories, some by Rebel Whigs (that principle which at one time is called royalty, at another time is called rebellion) some by Church of England-Men, some by Congregationalists or Independents, some by Quakers, some by Papists (Maryland and Monserrat) the most unfit People to incorporate with our constitution.

    Colonies have an incidental good effect, they drain from the mother-country the disaffected and the vicious (in this same manner, subsequent colonies purge the more ancient colonies); Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, drained from Massachusetts-Bay, the Antinomians, Quakers, and other wild sectaries. Perhaps in after times (as it is at times with the Lord Lieutenants and other high officers in Ireland) some malecontents of figure, capable of being troublesome to the administration at home, may be sent in some great offices to the Plantations.

    In our Colonies we have four sorts of people. 1. Masters, that is planters and merchants. 2. White Servants. 3. Indian Servants. 4. Slaves for life, mostly Negroes. White servants are of two sorts, viz. poor people from Great Britain, and Ireland mostly, these are bound or sold, as some express it, for a certain number of years, to reimburse the transporting charges, with some additional profit; the others are criminals judicially transported, and their time of exile and servitude sold by certain undertakers and their agents.

    In our American settlements, generally the designations are, Province, where the King appoints a Governor; Colony, where the freemen elect their own Governor: This customary acceptation is not universal; Virginia is called a Colony, perhaps because formerly a Colony, and the most ancient.

    We have some Settlements with a Governor only; others with Governor and Council, such are Newfoundland, Nova-Scotia, Hudson’s Bay, and Georgia, without any house or negative deputed by the planters, according to the essence of a British Constitution: These, may be said, not colonized.

    There are various sorts of Royal Grants of Colonies. 1. To one or more personal proprietors, their heirs and assigns; such are Maryland and Pennsylvania; both property and government. 2. The property to personal Proprietors; the government and jurisdiction in the Crown: this is the state of Carolinas and Jersies. 3. Property and government in the Crown, viz. Virginia, New York, and New-Hampshire, commonly called Piscataqua. 4. Property in the people and their Representatives; the government in the Crown; as is Massachusetts-Bay. 5. Property and government in the Governor and Company, called the Freemen of the Colony, such are Connecticut and Rhode-Island.

    This last seems to be the most effectual method of the first settling and peopling of a Colony; Mankind are naturally desirous of parity and leveling, without any fixed superiority, but when a society is come to maturity, a more distinct fixed subordination is found to be requisite. Connecticut, Rhode-Island, and some of the Proprietary Governments, are of opinion, that they are not obliged to attend to, or follow any instructions or orders from their Mother-Country or Court of Great-Britain; they do not send their laws home to the Plantation-Offices to be presented to the King in Council for approbation or disallowance: They assume the command of the militia, which by the British Constitution is a prerogative of the Crown: Some time ago, they refused not only a preventive custom-house office, but likewise a Court of Vice-Admiralty’s officers appointed from home; but these points they have given up, especially considering that the Royal Charter grants them only the privilege of trying causes, intra corpus comitatus, but not a-float or super altum mare.

    Extracts from Dr. Douglass’s
    Numerous Animadversations and Digressions upon Paper Currencies.

    FROM time to time, anticipating the affair of currencies referred to the appendix, may be excused: this pernicious desolating torrent, becoming more and more violent, requires a more speedy resistance.

    The colony of Massachusetts-Bay was the leader of paper currencies in the British Plantations, and have now at length carried this fraud to the utmost (even beyond North Carolina management) if carried further the staple must break, and the fraud of the wicked projectors (in all affairs there are limits which in the nature of things cannot be exceeded) cease.—[Summary, Vol. I. p. 359, note.]

    In this article we shall have frequent occasion to mention money-affairs, viz. emissions of public provincial bills of credit called paper-money; supplies of the treasury; annual taxes, salaries, and other government charges; all which at various times have been expressed in various tenors; viz. Old tenor, middle tenor, new tenor first, new tenor second, which in the face of the bill is about twelve per cent. worse than new tenor first, but from the inaccuracy of our people, and an abandoned neglect of a proper credit, pass indifferently at the same value.—[Vol. I. p. 493.]

    The fallacious plantation paper-money currencies are a most disagreeable topic, and fall too often in my way: here I cannot avoid observing, that the habitual practice of this paper-money cheat has had a bad influence not only upon profligate private persons, but upon the administration of some of our New England governments: for instance, one of the legislature, a singer of the Rhode-Island colony bills, was not long since convicted of signing counterfeit bills.—[Vol. II. p. 87, note.]