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Colony of Willoughbyland

Coat of arms of Willoughbyland
Coat of arms
StatusColony ( Kingdom of England)
CapitalFort Willoughby
Common languagesOfficial
GovernmentConstitutional Monarchy
• 1650-1667
Anthony Rowse
LegislatureHouse of Burgesses
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Indigenous peoples in Suriname
Surinam (Dutch colony)
Today part of  Suriname

Willoughbyland was a short-lived early English colony in South America in what is now Suriname. It was founded in 1650 by Lord Willoughby when he was the Royalist Governor of Barbados. [1]


Lord Francis Willoughby, a Parliamentarian turned Royalist, had been appointed Governor of Barbados by the exiled King Charles II and in view of his precarious position planned to settle an alternative colony in Suriname, beyond the reach of the Parliamentarians. He therefore at his own personal cost equipped a ship of 20 guns, and two smaller vessels, with the things necessary for the support of a new plantation. [2] Although Major Anthony Rowse actually established the colony in Willoughby's name, Willoughby himself went there in person two years later and further furnished it with things requisite for defence and trade.

'Willoughbyland', as it was called, consisted of around 30,000 acres (120 km2) and a fort originally built by the French, Fort Willoughby. In 1663 there were some 50 sugar plantations on which most of the work was done by indigenous Indians and 3,000 African slaves. [3] There were around 1,000 white settlers, who had been joined by Brazilian Jews attracted by the religious freedom granted to all settlers by the English. The Jews were granted freedom of conscience, the right to erect a synagogue (the first of which was built in 1654), eligibility for election as burgesses and from seven to 12 years’ exemption from taxation.

The colony was run on democratic lines, described by one settler as "a peculiar form of government, elective in the people", with the annual election of a governor from among the planters. The colony was administered by an assembly of twenty-one men chosen by and from the colony's wealthier male landowners, and a six-man council appointed by the governor. The governor and council administered justice and proposed measures – such as raising money for defence or building a prison – which would then be voted on by the assembly, who would meet every few months, usually in one of the larger plantation houses. [4]

By the end of the 1650s there were some 4,000 settlers and this number grew weekly from incomers and from natural growth "for the women are very prolifical and have lusty children." By this time, located alongside the rivers that constituted the sole method of travel and transport, lay around 200 plantations, of which 50 were growing what was considered the finest sugar in the world. A government inspector reported it to be "England’s most hopeful colony anywhere in the world". [4]

But the colony had already passed its high point. The 1660 Restoration of the Monarchy in England was the cause of a number of disasters in Willoughbyland. Aphra Behn, who spent some time there, described the colony's elected governor, William Byam, as ‘the most fawning fair-tongu’d fellow in the world ... not fit to be mentioned with the worst of slaves’. Byam used the return of the king to declare himself permanent governor. As he later explained: "Here democracy fell, by the loyal concessions to monarchy." Scheduled elections were put on hold as a "needlesse and unnecessary Charge and Trouble to the inhabitants". There were angry protests as Byam started incarcerating or banishing his critics. Soon the colony had descended into angry sectarianism. [4]

Willoughby himself, who had been relieved of his Governorship of Barbados by the Parliamentarians and returned to England, [1] was in 1662 restored to the governorship of Barbados and given the proprietorship of some of the ‘Charibbee’ islands and of Willoughbyland, to be held jointly with the Earl of Clarendon. This gave him almost unlimited power there, a state of affairs unwelcome to many of the planters.

A 1662 warrant to the Attorney-General Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Bt. read "Aug. 27 1662. 359. Warrant to (the Attorney-General). To prepare a bill containing a lease to pass the Great Seal to Francis Lord Willoughby of Parham, and his assigns, for 7 years from Christmas Day next, of all his Majesty's islands, colonies, and plantations, known by the name of the Caribbee Islands and others, between 1 and 20 N. Lat. from the island of St. John de Porto Rico to 324 easterly, rendering to his Majesty, his heirs and successors, one moiety of all fines, customs, rents, dues, &c. raised out of the same, the other moiety to be kept by the said Lord Willoughby and his assigns for his or their own benefit." [Dom. Entry Bk., Chas. II., Vol. VII., pp. 205, 206.]" [5]

Chief Justice

Part of his Royal grant gave Willoughby or his appointee responsibility to administer justice, including the death penalty. According to Matthew Parker, "It seems that Willoughby himself, and his establishment in Suriname, was above the law. Wasn't this the mistake that Charles I had made and had been punished for?"

Plans had been drawn up by Parliament almost a month before Charles II's arrival at Dover, that sheriffs, mayors, constables and the like should continue in their duties in the King's name. Rumours of this reached Byam in Suriname at the same time as he learnt of the restoration of the King. Byam then falsely claimed to have received a similar order to keep in his post, although there was only one month left of his year's tenure. [4]

Final years

When at last Willoughby revisited his colony in November 1664, he only narrowly survived an assassination attempt. Worse, his entourage introduced a fever into the colony, which killed as many as a third of the population. [4]

The Second Anglo-Dutch War broke out in March 1665. Willoughby was drowned in around late July 1666 off Guadeloupe, when his fleet was destroyed in a hurricane. [6]

When the English attacked the Dutch settlements in 1667, Willoughbyland was captured by the Dutch Admiral Abraham Crijnssen and the main settlement renamed Fort Zeelandia. Under the Treaty of Breda (1667), Willoughbyland was exchanged for New Amsterdam, now New York City. [7]


  1. ^ a b Parker, Matthew (2016). Willoughbyland: England's Lost Colony. Windmill Books. pp. 84, 111, 116. ISBN  9780099559399.
  2. ^ 'Preface', in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 5, 1661–1668, ed. W Noel Sainsbury (London, 1880), pp. vii–lxxxiii. British History Online [accessed 18 September 2017]
  3. ^ Warren, George (1667). An impartial description of Surinam, etc. London: Printed by William Godbid for Nathaniel Brooke.
  4. ^ a b c d e Parker, Matthew (4 July 2016). "Britain's Forgotten South American Colony". History Today. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  5. ^ 'America and West Indies: August 1662', in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 5, 1661–1668, ed. W Noel Sainsbury (London, 1880), pp. 102–107. British History Online [accessed 18 September 2017].
  6. ^ Firth, Charles Harding (1885–1900). "Willoughby, Francis" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  7. ^ Briggs, Philip (2015). Suriname. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 10. ISBN  9781841629100.

Latitude and Longitude:

5°51′N 55°12′W / 5.850°N 55.200°W / 5.850; -55.200