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Raleigh’s Guiana Essay

In 1594, Sir Walter Raleigh was sent to Guyana, present day Venezuela. While in Guiana, he captured a Spanish aristocrat named Sarmiento de Gamboa. In Guiana, Sarmiento de Gamboa told Raleigh of the legend of El Dorado, which is a golden kingdom, supposedly hidden in South America. Sir Walter Raleigh was interested in finding El Dorado, but he was more interested in a real English foothold on the American continent that would be an effective challenge to Spanish power in the area. He felt that El Dorado would be an ideal base for England. His fleet set sail in 1595. When they arrived to South America, Sir Walter Raleigh and his men traveled up the Orinoco and Caroni Rivers, as well as Cumana, Trinidad, and the Venezuelan Coast. The expedition was more of a misfortune and it achieved little, but in 1596 Sir Walter Raleigh returned to England to write “The Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guyana.” (Britannica) In” The Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guyana,” Sir Walter Raleigh provides a convincing argument for colonizing the Guyana.

His first argument was that Guiana might have wonders and riches for England to use. “In Guiana itself I never saw marcasite; but all the rocks, mountains, all stones in the plains, woods, and by the rivers’ sides, are in effect thorough-shining, and appear marvelous rich; which, being tried to be no marcasite, are the true signs of rich minerals, but are no other than El madre del oro, as the Spaniards term them, which is the mother of gold, or, as it is said by others, the scum of gold. Of divers sorts of these many of my company brought also into England, every one taking the fairest for the best, which is not general.” (pg. 1203) In other colonies gold was found, after exploring Guiana, Raleigh still felt may be gold in Guiana. That is one of the reasons; Raleigh felt England should conquer Guiana. The Spanish conquered the Incas and Aztecs and other lands in both North and South America. By conquering the Americas the Spanish found gold, silver, sugar, and other economically profitable items. These profitable items made Spain have a successful economy with a great deal of money, assets, valuable natural resources and expensive materials. Raleigh felt that if England had a colony in the Americas England would have a stronger economy than Spain. His second argument plays towards the English beliefs towards the Native Americans. He describes the Amazonians as blood thirsty and cruel, which is
what some English people believed Native Americans were. “It was further told to me, that if in the wars they took me prisoners that they used to accompany with those also at what time soever, but in the end for certain they put them to death: for they said to be cruel and blood thirsty, especially to such as offer to invade their territories.” (pg. 1206) In order to promote the colonization of a land, Raleigh had to appease the English nobles who believed Native Americans were blood thirsty and cruel. Although, Sir Walter Raleigh believed that the Native Americans were important people who should be respected.

His third argument is Guiana has a good defense against the enemies. Sir Walter Raleigh felt it would be a perfect military fortress for England, as well as an outpost. “Guiana hath but one entrance by the sea, if it hath that, for any vessels of burden. So as whosoever shall first possess it, it shall be found inaccessible for any enemy, except he come in wherries, barges, or canoes, or else in flat-bottomed boats…” (pg. 1210) Raleigh wanted a secure position in the Americas in which the English can effectively challenge the Spanish. During this time, the English and the Spanish were colonizing in the Americas, Africa, and Asia to build their empires. Spain was colonizing rapidly and the English were also trying to economically benefit from the “New World.” Raleigh felt El Dorado’s formidable design would help the English defeat the Spanish and he felt El Dorado was in Guiana.

His final argument is the Spanish are cruel to the Native Americans and that is something England doesn’t promote. “For he cannot but know how his predecessors, yea, how his own great uncles, Guascar and Atabalipa, sons to Guiana-Capac, emperor of Peru, were, while they contended for the empire, beaten out by the Spaniards, and that both of late years and ever since the said conquest, the Spaniards have sought the passages and entry of his country; and of their cruelties used to the borderers he cannot be ignorant.” (pg. 1211) Sir Walter Raleigh believed that the Spanish’s policies towards the Native Americans were outrageous and the Queen should assist the Native Americans. Earlier in his life, Sir Walter Raleigh commissioned a writer named Richard Hakluyt to describe the “the Americas as
a promised land of honey, venison, palm trees, wine, sassafras (a cure for VD), gold and red copper. Hakluyt saw America as a panacea for unemployment. Prisons could be emptied of criminals who could then be transported to this New World. He insisted the Spanish genocidal policies were an outrage and that the Queen should give every assistance the Native Americans.” (Britannica)

Sir Walter Raleigh never got Queen Elizabeth’s approval for a settlement in Guiana, but he provided a persuasive argument for colonizing Guyana. His arguments in “The Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guyana” were Guiana has wonders and riches, the Native Americans are conquerable, Guiana has a good defense against the enemies, and the Spanish are cruel to the Native Americans and that is something England doesn’t promote. Although, Sir Walter Raleigh’s main reasons for conquering Guiana, modern day Venezuela, are gold and gaining a military fortress, he also was interested in helping the Native Americans.

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