chapter  2
34 Pages

Colonial Counting

O ne small corner of the vast uni verse that some Englishmen were attempting to subdue with numbers was the coast of North America. In the first half ofthe seventeenth century

English joint-stock companies began colonization efforts in the Chesapeake, in New England, and in the West Indies, in imitation of the Spanish colonization of Central and South America. But while Spain's forays into the New World were sponsored and controlled directly by her royal government, England's monarch instead transferred control to private companies, which then developed colonization schemes designed to produce commercial profit. Thus the leaders of the early English colonization efforts were chiefty businessmen with an eye on the balance sheet, not adventurers or political administrators with an eye on the ftag. They brought to their task a quantitative outlook that was entirely appropriate for commercial enterprises but that had not yet been extended to the political and social realms. More than half a century before William Petty invented "political arithmetic"- that wedding of vulgar calculation and public policy-the Virginia Company of London was busy collecting censuses and totting up ship lists of emigrants, because in their enterprise people had been reduced to commodities.