In the meantime Francis 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham (1614–1666) was one of the best connected Englishmen in the House of Lords. He inherited the title from his father and older brother, but he was also the grandson of John Manners 4th Earl of Rutland on his mother’s side. And in 1628 Willoughby married Elizabeth Cecil, the daughter of Edward Cecil, 1st Viscount Wimbledon.
The Civil War was a terrible time for everyone, but at least Baron Willoughby did well. Once he declared himself for the Royalist cause in early 1648, Willoughby was promoted to Vice Admiral under the Duke of York. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, and seeing that life at home would be miserable, Willoughby set sail for Barbados, which had declared itself Royalist.
Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony
by Matthew Parker,
published by Windmill Books in 2015
Was Willoughbyland meant to be a Utopian settlement, where the settlers would be bound by a single political or religious vision? The New Australia Colony in Paraguay, for example, was based on a shared belief in their socialist brotherhood of Anglophones; no divorce tolerated, no alcohol tolerated and no blacks allowed. Fruitlands was a Utopian agrarian commune established in Harvard Mass that did not recognise the purchase of land. The land would be redeemed only when the members yielded their individual rights to the Supreme Owner.
Willoughbyland aka Suriname is marked in red
Initially I had thought Willoughbyland was a utopia. With England in ruins from the Civil War, people had started to look abroad for space and freedom. But no, it was just another European colonisation plan, complete with slavery, a land grab and an exclusive focus on growing crops that would be useful to Britain. But the air was clean, the beaches gorgeous, the fruits exotic and the soil fertile
The most common ailments were the French Pox, malaria and alcohol poisoning. And some colonists were chewed to death by tigers, snakes or poisonous eels. But for most of the planters, their enormous profits made up for an occasional dead relative. Willoughbyland grew good quality sugar and exported products that Europeans really needed eg tobacco, honey, wax, drugs and cotton. The colony was looking like Paradise.
The Dutch fleet arriving off the Suriname coast
After Willoughby poured a lot of money into the settlement, he returned to Europe to attract new settlers and to raise money for the colony. He remained away from Suriname for another ten years. So we have to explain why the settlement thrived, even though the driving force behind its original settlement was thousands of ks away.
Plantations had covered both banks of the Suriname River, attracting more colonists who eagerly arrived on ships; the numbers grew from 600 in 1654 to 4,000 eight years later. Everyone was welcome wherever they came from, and society became accidentally democratic. Brasilian Jews arrived, attracted by religious freedom which was granted to all the settlers by the English. [Jodensavanne Community acquired internal autonomy and built a wooden synagogue for itself in 1665, towards the end of Willoughby's life].
Willoughby survived the Cromwell years, and after the restoration of his beloved King Charles II in 1660, he was appointed to a directorship in the Caribbean - Governor of Barbados, administering the colonies at St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua and Montserrat.
By the time Willoughby returned to the islands, in 1664, his original colony was rich, but immoral and on the downward slide. Most of the workforce had been English, supported by Amerindians. But once slavery received royal sanction on Suriname, the number of slaves outnumbered the settlers. Willoughbyland was changing into a place of cruelty. Matthew Parker suggests that the replacement governor, William Byam (1623-70), had used the restoration of King Charles II to bolster his own power base. Democracy was no longer be tolerated, the scheduled elections were cancelled and Byam started locking up anyone who opposed him.
Willoughby’s death at sea in August further depressed morale. So when a Dutch fleet from Zeeland arrived at the Suriname River in February 1667, the English defenders of Fort Willoughby quickly surrendered. Willoughby’s brother tried to capture Suriname’s fort back. And although he succeeded, it was by then too late. The Treaty of Breda had been signed. Carrying off whatever they could, the English used a scorched earth policy to destroy their own estates as they left. In the chaos, many slaves escaped.
This was the end of Willoughbyland’s brief existence (16 years), given to the Dutch in exchange for their colony New Amsterdam, later called New York. (Suriname or New York? Tough choice). In the end the author acknowledged that Willoughbyland made little impact back home, and was soon forgotten. Unfortunately for the colony's slaves, slavery in Suriname was not abolished by the Netherlands until 1863!