Front Page Titles (by Subject) POSSESSIONS OF THE ENGLISH AND DUTCH IN AMERICA. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters)
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POSSESSIONS OF THE ENGLISH AND DUTCH IN AMERICA. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XIX.
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POSSESSIONS OF THE ENGLISH AND DUTCH IN AMERICA.
The English, who, being islanders, are necessarily more practised in sea affairs than the French, have acquired more advantageous settlements in North America than the latter. They are in possession of about six hundred leagues of coast from Carolina to Hudson’s Bay, by which they have long but vainly endeavored to find a passage into the South Seas, and so to Japan. The English settlements in America were not nearly so valuable as those of the Spaniards; the former having produced, at least hitherto, neither gold, silver, indigo, cochineal, precious stones, nor woods for dyeing; and yet they have proved very advantageous to the possessors. The English territories begin about ten degrees from our tropic, in a most delightful country called Carolina. Here the French have never been able to effect any settlement; and the English did not take possession of it till they had secured the coast to the northward.
You have seen the Spaniards and Portuguese masters of almost all the New World, from the Straits of Magellan to Florida: next to Florida is Carolina, to which the English have of late years added another part to the southward, called Georgia, from the name of their king, George I. They have been in possession of Carolina ever since 1664. That which bestows the greatest lustre on this province is its having received its laws from the admirable Locke: a perfect liberty of conscience, and a universal toleration in point of religion, form the basis of these laws. Here the Episcopals live in brotherly union with the Puritans; they even permit the Catholics, their natural enemies, to exercise their religion undisturbed, as also the Indians, who are called idolaters; but the laws require that there shall be seven heads of families to establish any particular sect or religion within that government. Locke wisely considered that seven families, with their slaves, might amount to about six hundred souls, and that it would be an act of injustice to deprive such a number of persons from serving God in their own way; and that under such a restraint they might be tempted to quit the colony.
Marriages in one–half of this country are performed only in the presence of a magistrate; but those who have an inclination to add the benediction of the priest to this civil contract, may have that satisfaction.
These laws were received with admiration, after the torrents of blood that had been shed throughout all Europe, by the spirit of enthusiasm and persecution. But they were laws that would never have entered into the imagination of either the Greeks or Romans, as they could never have conceived that there would be a time in which men would force one another to embrace a particular faith, sword in hand. By this humane code it is ordered, that the negroes shall be treated with the same humanity as domestic servants. In the year 1657, there were in the province of Carolina forty thousand blacks, and twenty thousand whites.
Beyond Carolina is Virginia, a colony so named in honor of the virgin queen Elizabeth, and first peopled by the famous Raleigh, who afterward met with so cruel a return for all his public–spirited labor, from James I. It cost immense pains to settle this colony; for the savage natives, who were a more warlike people than the Mexicans, and who saw themselves as unjustly attacked, almost totally destroyed it at its first establishment.
It has been said, that since the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which impolitic step added thousands of subjects to both worlds, at the expense of France, the number of inhabitants in Virginia have amounted to one hundred and forty thousand, without reckoning the negroes. In this province and in Maryland they apply themselves chiefly to the culture of tobacco, which forms an immense branch of trade, and is another of our new artificial wants, which did not crop up till lately, and which has now grown powerful by example; as you may perceive, when I tell you that it was looked on as the greatest impoliteness at the court of Louis XIV., for any one to thrust this dirty, stimulating dust up his nose. The first tobacco farm in France, which did not bring in to the proprietors above three hundred thousand livres a year, at present is worth sixteen millions. The French lay out very nearly four millions a year in this weed, with the English colonies, when they themselves might plant it in Louisiana: and here I cannot forbear remarking that France and England at present consume, in commodities unknown to their forefathers, more than the whole revenues of both crowns were formerly worth.
To the northward of Virginia is the province of Maryland, containing forty thousand white people and about sixty thousand blacks. Beyond this lies Pennsylvania, a country differing from all the rest of the world by the singular manners of its inhabitants. This country received its name and laws, in 1680, from one William Penn, the head of a new sect, which have very improperly been called Quakers. This was not an usurped power, as were most of those invasions which we have seen both in the old and new world. Penn purchased these lands of the real natives, and became a lawful proprietor in the most rigid sense of the word. The Christian doctrine, which he carried along with him there, differs as much from that acknowledged in every other part of Europe, as his colony does from every other colony. He and his companions professed the same simplicity and equality which prevailed among the primitive disciples of Christ. They knew no other religious tenet but those which proceeded extempore from the lips, and which were all confined to the love of God and their fellow–creatures. They did not admit baptism, because Christ baptized no one. They had no priest, because Christ Himself was the only teacher and pastor of His first disciples. Here I perform only the duty of a faithful historian, and shall further add, that if Penn and his followers erred in their theology—that inexhaustible source of misfortunes and disputes—they at least excelled all other people in the strictness of their morals. Though situated in the midst of twelve small nations, whom we term savages, they have never had the least dispute with any of them; on the contrary, these have always looked on them in the light of fathers and arbitrators. Penn and his primitive followers, who are called Quakers, but to whom we ought to give no other title than that of “the upright,” made it a maxim never to go to war with any one, nor to law with each other. They had no judges among them, but only arbitrators, who settled all differences in law in an amicable manner, and without expense. They had no physicians, for they were a sober people, and consequently did not stand in need of them.
The province of Pennsylvania was for a long time without soldiers, till the government of late years, while at war with France, sent some regiments over from England for the defence of this country. Take away the name of Quakers, and that barbarous and disagreeable habit of throwing their bodies into a variety of ridiculous convulsions in their religious assemblies, and it must be confessed that there is not a more venerable society of men in the world. Their colony is as flourishing as their manners are pure. Philadelphia, or the City of the Brethren, which is their capital, is one of the most beautiful cities in the universe; and in 1740 contained eighty thousand souls. But the inhabitants are not all Quakers, half of them consisting of Germans, Swedes, and other nations, which altogether form seventeen different religions; and yet the Quakers, who have the chief government, treat them all as brethren.
Beyond this singular spot of the globe, where affrighted peace has sheltered herself, when chased from every other part, we come to New England, whose capital is Boston, the richest city on all that coast.
This city was at first peopled and governed by Puritans, who had fled from the persecution raised against them in England by the famous Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, whose head afterward paid for his persecutions, and whose fate was a prelude to that of his weak and unfortunate master, Charles I. These Puritans, who were a kind of Calvinists, took refuge in this country, afterward called New England, in 1620; and it might be said of them and the Episcopal party who persecuted them in England, that they were tigers who made war upon bears; for these latter brought over with them to America their gloomy and morose disposition, by which they miserably harassed the pacific Pennsylvanians when they came first to settle near them. But in 1692 these Puritans proved a heavy scourge to themselves, by the most unaccountable epidemic madness that ever possessed the human race.
At the time when Europe was beginning to emerge from the abyss of horrible superstition and ignorance in which it had been plunged for such a number of ages; and witchcraft and the power of evil spirits was no longer regarded in England and other civilized nations except as ancient prejudices and follies at which all reasonable men blushed; the Puritans revived them in America. A young woman happened to be seized with convulsions in 1692, a public speaker accused an old maid–servant in the family of having bewitched her, and the poor old woman was obliged to confess herself a witch. Upon this half of the inhabitants believed themselves bewitched, and accused the other half of the black art; the populace rose and threatened to hang the judges if they did not order the accused persons to be hanged. Thus for two years nothing was talked of but witchcraft, witches, and hanging; and they were countrymen of the great Locke and Newton who were seized with this madness. At length the malady abated, and the people of New England, having come to their senses, were amazed and ashamed at their outrageous folly. They now applied themselves to trade and husbandry, and their colony soon became the most flourishing of any; insomuch that in 1750 it contained nearly one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, which is ten times the number that the French have in their settlements.
From New England we come to New York, or Acadia, which has been the subject of so much discord and bloodshed; and Newfoundland, where the great codfishery is carried on; and then, after having sailed some way to the eastward, we arrive at Hudson’s Bay, by which it has been vainly hoped to find out a shorter passage to the extremities of the eastern and western hemispheres.
The islands which the English possess in America have proved almost as profitable to them as their continent. Jamaica, Barbados, and some others, where they grow sugar, have turned out exceedingly profitable, not only on account of their own manufactures, but of the trade carried on from them with New Spain, which is so much the more advantageous, as it is prohibited.
The Dutch, who are so powerful in the East Indies, are hardly known in America; the little colony of Surinam, in the neighborhood of the Brazils, being the only territory of any consequence that they are possessed of in that part of the world. Thither they have carried the genius of their country, which is to cut their lands into canals. They have made a New Amsterdam at Surinam, as well as at Batavia, and the island of Curaçoa yields them a considerable profit. Lastly, the Danes have of late been possessed of three small islands, and have opened a very beneficial trade, through the encouragement their king has given them.
This is all that the Europeans have done of any consequence, at present, in this fourth part of the globe.
There yet remains a fifth, which is that of the Terra Australis, or Antarctic land, of which only a small part of the seacoast and some few islands have, as yet, been discovered. If we comprehend under the name of this new southern world Papua or New Guinea, which begins even under the equator, it is evident that this part of the world is by far the most extensive of any.
Magellan discovered the Antarctic land, in 1520, lying in fifty–one degrees south declination; but these frozen climes proved no temptation to the masters of Peru. Since that time several immense countries have been discovered to the southward of the Indies, and in particular New Holland, which stretches from the tenth to the thirtieth degree. The Dutch Batavia company are said to be in possession of several prosperous settlements in this country; but it is not very easy to carry on a trade, and be masters of whole provinces unknown to the rest of the world. It is not unlikely that this fifth portion of the globe may yet be visited by some new adventurers, from whom we may learn that nature has not neglected these climes; that she exhibits her usual variety and profusion in them, as well as throughout the rest of the world.
But hitherto we know little or nothing of these immense countries, except that they are some wild and uncultivated coasts where Pelsart and his companions, in 1630, found black men who walked on their hands as upon feet; a bay where Tasman, in 1642, was attacked by a people with yellow complexions, armed with clubs and arrows; and another where Dampier, in 1649, had an engagement with a race of negroes who had no fore teeth in their upper jaws. We have not yet penetrated into this segment of the globe; and it must be confessed, that it is better to improve and cultivate our own countries than to go in search of the frozen regions and motley–colored animals of the southern pole.