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Price Realized: $6,240 With Buyer's Premium Show Hammer Price
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Sale 2223 Lot 321
"WEE ARE ALL PRISONERS HEARE, FOR HOW LONGE I KNOW NOTT" (JAMAICA.) Sparke, Charles. Letter from a disgruntled soldier in Cromwell's occupying army. Autograph Letter Signed to brother Arthur Sparke in London. 2 pages, 9 1/2 x 7 inches, and address leaf on one sheet; minor wear and soiling without loss of text, partial wax seal and related tear on address panel. Jamaica, 9 July 1655
The author was part of the English army under Sir William Penn and Robert Venables which had seized control of Jamaica from the Spanish less than two months before. The Spanish had released their slaves to fight as guerillas in the interior mountains, and the British occupiers had difficulty living off the land. One historian has written that "the fate of the soldiers who remained behind in Jamaica . . . was as grim as any recorded in the long annals of the British Army. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ruled the land." Half of the original invasion force was dead by the end of the year from dysentery, malaria, and starvation (Taylor, The Western Design, 87, 91).
In this letter, Sparke begs his brother to send supplies, ranging from the basic needs of survival ("shoes for my owne wearinge") through trade goods like cinnamon and handkerchiefs. Bread was foremost on his mind. After asking once for bread and mentioning the lack of it twice more, he adds "If you send any thinge to mee, sende mee a barrill of breade."
Sparke also asks repeatedly for help in securing a 500-acre land grant from Lord Protector Cromwell, so he could settle in Jamaica and make his fortune. Returning home was not an option at the moment: "Wee are all prisoners heare, for how longe I know nott, for I have bourne my owne expense all alonge and proffered to pay my passage to goe for England, and it woulde nott be granted mee." He expresses frustration with his commanders: "I beleave if my Lord P'tector knew how wee are searved & starved for want of breade he woulde tye sum up by theire mits when thay cum home." Sparke's commanders were indeed soon imprisoned upon their return to London, although it was due to their military failings rather than to poor care of the troops.
Despite his immediate challenges, Sparke was impressed by the natural bounty of the land: "Itt is as gallant(?) lande as cann be settled for sugar, cotton, tobacco, indeco, ginger, horses and cows & . . . 10000s of neager and mules enough." His concluding postscript to his brother emphasizes that a great fortune could be made in Jamaica with sufficient land and capital.
Transcript available upon request. an unusually rich and lengthy letter from the dawn of jamaica as an english colony.Price Realized (with Buyer's Premium) $6,240