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: 6 : “A Few More or Less Make No Difference” Accounting for Pearls in Northern Europe in the Seventeenth Century As pearls continued to illuminate Iberian imperial approaches to maritime empire into the seventeenth century, they caught the imagination and attention of state actors and quasi-­ independent entrepreneurs throughout northern Europe as well. As empires moved to objectify profit and regulate the role of subjects in new ways, pearls continued to serve as a useful index—an elenco, in Spanish—of the private calculations that diverse subjects made about the worth of the relationships that structured their lives. Pearls had been long eclipsed as a source of profit by other commodity trades, but their deceptively simple beauty, their complex and mysterious origins, and their powerful association with mastery of the seas allowed the jewel to remain a powerful heuristic device for the expression of ideas about mutability, profit, and the nature of different places and peoples around the world.Throughout northern Europe’s expanding monarchies and on frontiers domestic and distant , pearls illuminate diverse parties’ thinking about the creation and expression of wealth. And there was no better symbol of the diversity of tastes and practices to which pearl use attested than the barrueca, or baroque, pearl: a pathology of nature transformed into art, a signifier of the independence of taste and the ungovernable diversity of the world.1 Pearls and “the Assuredness of the Commodities”: Early English Visions for Virginia In the early seventeenth century, as Iberian entrepreneurs scouted new fisheries along the coasts of Brazil and California and stood guard over existing ones as best they could, English rivals encroached on the Ameri1 . On the baroque as a pathology, see Mabel Moraña, “Baroque/Neobaroque/Ultrabaroque : Disruptive Readings of Modernity,” in Nicholas Spadaccini and Luis Martín-­ Estudillo, Hispanic Baroques: Reading Cultures in Context (Nashville,Tenn., 2005), 241– 281, esp. 242. { 194 } Accounting for Pearls in Northern Europe cas. Pearls’ symbolic association with maritime glory and their popularity in global commodities markets assured them a place in English imaginings of these new territories. In northern European imperial blueprints for Atlantic empire, as in Iberian ones, pearls loaned themselves to meditations on wealth creation and its component parts. In the years following Elizabeth I’s death in 1603, the English crown transitioned from a haphazard approach to Atlantic endeavors, one that relied heavily on the semi-­ independent ventures of slave traders and pirates-­ cum-­ knights such as Francis Drake and John Hawkins, to a more methodical and long-­ term policy of settlement and colonization. A mixture of private and crown investment, the Virginia joint-­stock company received its charter from James I and VI in 1606. The Council of Virginia made the case for the new settlement by noting “the assuredness of the commodities,” a hopeful note sounded by numerous reports from visitors to the region.2 Pearls figured prominently in early accounts of Virginia’s natural bounty. Virginia pearls, the council noted, “though discolored and softened by fire for want of skill in the naturals to pierce them,” were found “in great abundance ,” in addition to less glamorous items such as “pitch, soap-­ ashes, timber ,” and other goods. Council member George Percy recalled happening on an abandoned campground and fire, where the English party ate “very large and delicate” oysters and observed others, unharvested, lying “on the ground as thick as stones.” They opened some and found pearls “in many.” John Smith recounted with interest that one group of Indians showed him “the manner of their diving for mussels, in which they find pearls,” and George Summers observed that “there are many large pearls in that country and a great quantity of coral.” Ralph Hamor recounted with care the diplomatic purposes served by a pearl necklace exchanged between Powhatan and an English envoy. According to William Strachey, “The lakes have pearls it cannot be doubted, for we ourselves have seen many chains and bracelets worn by the people, and we have found plenty of them in the sepulchers of their 2. The Council of Virginia, “A True and Sincere Declaration . . .” (circa 1607), in Edward Wright Haile, Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony: The First Decade, 1607–1617 (Champlain,Va., 1998), 367.There are a number of excellent accounts of these early decades of exploration. For a few examples, see Mark G. Hanna, Pirate Nests and the Riseof the British Empire, 1570–1740 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2015); James Horn, A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469638997
Related ISBN
9781469638973
MARC Record
OCLC
1029886295
Pages
304
Launched on MUSE
2018-04-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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