15 August 2005

Scotland's colonial empire

Here's something I never knew — Scotland, in the late 17th century, spent approximately one-third of the wealth of the nation to establish a colony in what is now Panama. The area they picked, Darién, is known for its jungle, which is so dense and impenetrable that even today the Pan-American Highway, which is otherwise continuous from Alaska to Patagonia, has never been built there. The colony failed utterly, and this failure was a major reason that Scotland falls under British rule today.

This is in the news today because the three surviving letters from the colonists are being exhibited in Panama this week. One of those letters describes one man "pining for 'a barrel of oatmeal,' a 'stone of cheese' and 'a case of brandy'" — sentiments which will be familiar to any expat of any era.

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