The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview
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“Planting & Peopling Your Colony”
Building a Company-State

If the English East India Company began in 1600 as essentially a body of London commercial investors and trading ships on the move, it did not remain that way for very long. Commerce from the very start required diplomacy. The Company’s very first fleet was sent with royal and Company letters to negotiate for the foundations for its first “factory” (warehouse and trading post) in the Javanese sultanate of Banten. Other such outposts soon followed: at the western Mughal port of Surat, the southern Indian trading entrepot of Masulipatam, and short-lived efforts at Japan and China. Within decades, however, both in competition with and emulation of its European and Asian rivals, the East India Company would define stability in the East Indies as maintaining independent and thus fortified settlements of its own. By the end of the century, it had conceived, planted, and begun to govern a relatively scattered but coherent network of towns and islands that stretched from the south Atlantic to southeast Asia. Even if initially responding to the need to preserve a commercial network, Company leadership almost immediately came to imagine these garrisoned enclaves, like those of their contemporaries, not simply as trading posts secured by arms but as “forts places and Colonies,” the foundations for sovereign settler plantations governed by sound civic institutions.1

Like most colonial efforts, the Company’s early ambitious projects frequently failed to meet their high expectations. Its first attempted fortification was in 1626 at Armagon, just north of the southeastern Indian Dutch settlement of Pulicat; poorly constructed, costly, and both commercially and martially untenable, the project was soon abandoned, proving, in the words of its factors, to be “better lost then found.” Company officials next contemplated purchasing the nearby Danish settlement of Tranquebar, also to no avail. Finally, in 1634, the head of the Armagon factory, Francis Day, initiated negotiations with Darmala

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