Global Encounters and the Archives: Britain’s Empire in the Age of Horace Walpole

Featured Items

Alured Clarke, "Letter to Charlotte" (August 3, 1734)

Alured Clarke, chaplain-in-ordinary to Kings George I and II, became a prebendary of Westminster Cathedral in 1731. His letter to Charlotte Clayton, a woman of the bedchamber to Caroline, Princess of Wales, details a 1734 visit by members of the Yamacraw Nation to King George II. A Creek tribe, the Yamacraw lived along the Savannah River in what had become the British colony of Georgia two years earlier. James Oglethorpe, its founder, orchestrated the visit. Clarke describes the Yamacraw’s clothes (including English garments) and body paint. He relates that Chief Tomochichi presented George II with “sticks with Feathers on ’em which are Emblems of Peace […], as a Token of his Entering into a firm Alliance with us.” Most likely, these “sticks” were peace pipes.

What else is in this collection? 

This extensive and diverse collection of bound manuscripts both supplements the other manuscript collections highlighted in this exhibition, but also stands as a largely untapped and robust resource for any scholar studying eighteenth-century Britain and her Empire.  It includes several diaries and commonplace books of prominent political and religious figures, travel journals, account books, autograph books, engravings and religious writings.  In addition, the bound manuscripts collection contains more ephemeral items such as recipe books, newspaper clippings, broadsides, songbooks, tickets and much more that offer a glimpse into daily and domestic life.  This vast collection is an incredibly rich trove of material that mirrors eighteenth-century society in full, offering insight into anything from high philosophical and political debates to concerns and daily life of the family.  Whether consulted in tandem with other collections or on its own, this collection promises to be invaluable for any scholar of the eighteenth-century British world.

George Townshend, Sawney Discover'd, or, The Scotch Intruders 1760 (1761)
George Townshend, Sawney Discover'd, or, The Scotch Intruders 1760 (1761)

Though Scots after 1760 achieved an unprecedented degree of integration into the British Empire—as colonial administrators, military leaders, even politicians—their rising influence met with skepticism and resentment from many Britons. This print by George Townshend captures those sentiments. In the first image, only the Englishmen are visible.  However, when help up against the light (as in the second image), Scottish men and women can be seen standing before a screen yearning for commissions across Britain and its empire. Surrounding them are references to their cultural differences from the English—evidenced in their wearing of Highland plaids— and allusions to their contrary interests to those of the British Empire. The screen, for example, reads “Scotch Interest against English Merit.” One seeks a noble title so that she “may be Gratefull to the French”—a clear reference to perceptions of Scottish treachery in the French-supported 1745 Highland rebellion. Instructions below invite the viewer to hold the print to the light in order to “see further of the subject,” revealing yet more portrayals of Scots using English positions to further their own ambitions. Together these characters frame Scots as treacherous outsiders seeking places in order to pursue ends antithetical to the British Crown—a view underscored by use of the word “Sawney,” a vulgar eighteenth-century epithet for Scot.

Anonymous, Considerations on the Agreement of the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury with the Honourable Thomas Walpole and the Association for Lands upon the River Ohio, in North America

By the early 1770s, Britain’s policies toward South Asian and North American indigenous peoples had changed significantly. Robert Clive’s acquisition of diwan from Mughal Emperor Shah Alam had transformed the British company into territorial sovereigns of Bengal, while the ejection of the French from North America catalyzed an insatiable demand by settlers for expansion into the Ohio Valley. This document, together with Robert Clive's Speech in the House of Commons, shows that South Asian and North American indigenous peoples both faced new imperial policies that relegated their status within the Empire in entangled ways. Robert Clive used his Speech to Parliament to frame Bengalis as “servile,” “effeminate,” and “cruel.” Thomas Walpole’s agreement also downplays indigenous peoples’ status by casting the Iroquois not as North American powerbrokers, but as agents for the transaction of territory to white settlers. Thomas Walpole’s papers help to explain this overlap; before leading his group of investors to seek the Iroquois land grant in North America, he had also served as an East India Company director.

What else is in this collection?

The Thomas Walpole Papers provide insight into the American and French Revolutions through correspondence of participants and diplomatic officials.  Thomas Walpole (1727-1803), MP and banker, was the nephew of Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and cousin of Horace Walpole.  Thomas Walpole was involved in ventures across the Empire, from America to India, and his correspondence features prominent historical figures including Benjamin Franklin, Lord North, Lord Shelburne and Jacques Necker.  Much of the material in this extensive collection dates from the 1770s and 1780s and concerns Walpole’s diplomatic efforts with America during the Revolution and France in the early 1780s.  Walpole, then, was a witness to and actor in the politics surrounding both the American and French Revolutions.  In addition, he also corresponded frequently with William Pitt the Elder as well as the Duke of Newcastle.  Outside of the realm of politics and diplomacy, this collection also contains private correspondence relating to Walpole’s own financial exploits and failures.  These papers provide insight into the political world of Britain and her position in the international political sphere during the revolutionary period of the late-eighteenth century.

William Elmes, Capt. Keith & Family Betrayed & Made Prisoners by the American Indians (October 22, 1808)
Anonymous, The Dance of the Calumet of the Sun, or, Pipe of Peace, Performed on the Most Solemn Occasions by the Indian Nations in North America (January 21, 1809)

The first print, which depicts an Englishman and his family being attacked by indigenous people on the Ohio River, served as a foldout frontispiece to the fictionalized captivity narrative Struggles of Capt. Thomas Keith in America, including the manner in which he, his wife and child were decoyed by the Indians (London: T. Tegg, 1808). The narrative reveals that, despite his distaste for plantation slavery’s violence, the Captain owns both black men pictured. One is killed and, in a romantic twist, the latter eventually escapes and brings about the English family’s rescue. In the second print, the performer on the left holds the calumet or “peace pipe,” decorated with feathers. Practiced by many indigenous nations, calumet ceremonies—which might accompany both war and peace alliances— became more common with increased European colonial presence in North America.

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, "Copy of a letter to the Duke of Newcastle" (April 1746)

By the mid-eighteenth century, the renewal of war against France placed a tremendous strain on Britain’s global indigenous alliances.  Cumberland’s ruthless defeat of “wild” Highland rebels in the 1745 Battle of Culloden, detailed in this letter, earned him the name “the Butcher” and preempted a brutal attrition campaign by the Earl of Albemarle to starve rebellious Highland clans. This letter conveys the two-sided nature of alliance with European powers. Though alliance with Britain held the potential to benefit indigenous communities, efforts by indigenous peoples to reassert control over those alliances also met, at times, with violent suppression by the British.

What else is in this collection?

The Edward Weston Papers contain twenty-five volumes of vital and confidential information regarding the Jacobite Rebellions, the Seven Years’ War and British affairs in Europe, North America and the West Indies in the mid-eighteenth century.  These offer insights into the thoughts of Edward Weston (1702/03-1770) and his contemporaries on key political moments that were not otherwise disclosed and certainly not printed.  In addition to these more candid political papers, this collection also contains drafts of formal letters and treatises, personal correspondence and several volumes of Jacobite materials.  Larger than the Weston collection at the British Library, this archive sheds new light on the diplomatic history of the reign of George II and the early years of George III.