Pirates of the Caribbean - THE EAST INDIA COMPANY

Near the end of her reign, Queen Elizabeth I issued a Royal Charter for a business officially known as the British East India Company (popularly known as "John Company"). For nearly 250 years (from December 31, 1600 to 1858), it was one of the most powerful enterprises in the world.

It began its long life trying to take control of the Spice Islands (a group of islands in eastern Indonesia, between Celebes and New Guinea, still associated with the famous expedition of Ferdinand Magellan).

When those efforts failed, the company (whose main office was located on Leadenhall Street in London) focused its attentions on India.

Around 1670, Charles II granted the British East India Company even more sweeping powers. He allowed its representatives to:

  • Purchase territories;
  • Mint money;
  • Raise and command troops;
  • Form alliances;
  • Make war and peace; and
  • Be in charge of civil and criminal law in the acquired lands.

In the 1680s, using indigenous people, the company raised its own army. It had, effectively, become its own country on the Indian mainland, administering Bengal, Madras and Bombay.

Reaching even further into Asia, the company founded Singapore (as a trading post) and Hong Kong. Its representatives established tea cultivation in India and employed Captain Kidd (among others) to protect its ships from piracy.

Elihu Yale, after whom Yale University (in 1718 a struggling New Haven school called Collegiate) is named, made a fortune from his interests in the East India Company. In the 19th century, its representatives held Napoleon captive on Saint Helena.

The scope of the company’s influence was breathtaking. So was its economic clout.

Its representatives found the 106-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond (one of the world’s largest) in India, and for 150 years it has been part of the British Crown Jewels. In fact, until its independence in 1947, India was the most valuable country in the British sphere of influence and was often referred to as "The Jewel in the Crown."

A jewel of a different sort - the Caribbean island of Tortuga- also played a key role during the heyday of pirates. Let’s take a virtual visit.

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