30 September 2016
By Frederick Rosengarten, Jr
In 1648 a most unusual book was published in London entitled The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land: or a New Survey of the West India’s. In this work, Thomas Gage, a British Dominican friar, wrote a vivid account of conditions in Mexico and Guatemala during the 1620s and 1630s – the first authentic eyewitness description of South America by a non-Spaniard who had actually lived in the New World. Foreigners, especially Englishmen, were forbidden at the time to reside in Spanish South America, a region that has been reserved for Spaniards for a century and a half. Illiterate British sailors who raided the shores of New Spain and Central America had provided only fragmentary sketches of those remote lands since their view of the surrounding countryside was usually blocked by the prison bars of the Inquisition.
Left – Title page of the first English edition of Thomas Gage’s, The English-American, London, 1648.
Right – a close up of a fanciful portrayal of Prior Thomas Gage in his Dominican habit, on the shores of the New World. From the French edition of The English-American, Amsterdam, 1695.
Gage’s book was an immediate success and became a best seller. He gave his Protestant readers in England exactly what they wanted to read. The Black Legend, an anti-Spanish sentiment which for many decades systematically disparaged the character, reputation, and achievements of the Spanish people, was in full force. Thomas described in detail how the Spanish oppressed the wretched Indians, while the Spaniards themselves were often portrayed as lazy, lecherous, degenerate, and deceitful. He was influenced by the writings from the previous century of the Dominican missionary Bartolomé de las Casas (1474-1566), a Spaniard who become bishop of Chiapas. Las Casas, through his impassioned, exaggerated anti-Spanish treatises in Brevíssima Relación de la Destrucción de las Indias, printed in 1551, had championed the cause of the Indians while harshly criticising Spaniards in the New World, accusing them of vicious cruelty and blood-curdling abuses against the unfortunate savages. As one extreme example, Las Casas claimed that a Spaniard in Yucatan, noticing his hunting dogs were hungry, tore an Indian infant from its mother’s arms and fed it piecemeal to his hounds. Las Casas, known as the Apostle of the Indies, asserted the Spanish had exterminated thirty to fifty million Indians – an absurd exaggeration since that total was greater than the entire native population. Nevertheless, some of Las Casas’s charge of Spanish greed and cruelty were valid, and served to force the officialdom in Spain to take corrective action to protect the Indian population.
Gage expressing strong antipapist sentiments, pointed out it was morally justifiable and the duty of the righteous English to drive the evil-living Spaniards out of the New World. He showed how easy it would be for an enterprising nation to invade and conquer and other Spanish possessions in the West Indies, where military defences were weak and soldiers careless and negligent. In his dedicatory epistle for the first edition of The English-American he stated:
“No question but the just right or title to those countries [New Spain] appertains to the natives themselves, who, if they shall willingly and freely invite the English to their protection, what title soever they have in them no doubt but they may legally transfer it or communicate it to others.”
Thomas’s imperialistic, anti-Spanish suggestions appealed to Oliver Cromwell, who ordered the publication of a second edition of The English-American in 1655. At the time, Cromwell wanted to influence British public opinion in favour of a military, jingoistic expansion into the West Indies. A third edition appeared in England in 1677, a fourth in 1699, a fifth in 1702, and a sixth in 1711. An abridged American version, in serial form, was brought out in Woodbury, New Jersey in 1758 in the New American Magazine. An eighth, abridged edition, edited by A.P Newton, was published in New York in 1928, then reprinted in London in 1946. A tenth edition in English, with modernized text, edited by J. Eric S. Thompson, was published in Norman, Oklahoma in 1958.
Numerous translations of The English-American have been made. The book came out in French in 1676 when France was planning to extend her power overseas against the Spanish; this French edition was reprinted at least eight times between 1677 and 1821. A German translation was published in Leipzig in 1693. Dutch editions appeared in 1682 and 1720. An abridged Spanish edition came out in 1808 and 1838 in Paris; the Spanish translation was reprinted in Guatemala in 1946 and 1960, and in Mexico in 1947.
A map of Thomas Gage’s route through Central America (1625-1637)
Thomas Gage was born in England in 1602 or 1603, the second son of a prominent Roman Catholic family with roots in Sussex. His parents, John and Margaret Gage, were ardent supporters of the Jesuit order at a time when Catholics were being harshly persecuted throughout England. His mother and father had been sentenced to death in 1592 for hiding a missionary priest in the Gage ancestral home, Haling House, near Croydon, a suburb of London. Ignominiously shackled and taken to the execution site in a cart, they were spared from martyrdom at the last moment through the intercession of Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, who was ‘granted’ a twenty-one year lease of Haling House in return for his timely intervention. As it turned out, the Gages lost Haling House forever in exchange for their lives. Undeterred although impoverished, they continued to care for and conceal Jesuit priests despite the terrible risks involved.
John Gage, twice married, had five sons who became Catholic priests. About 1615 young Thomas, following his elder brother Henry, was sent off for religious instruction to the English Jesuit seminary at St. Omer in northern France near Calais. In 1620 he moved on to San Gregorio College, Valladolid, Spain, where he was supposed to complete his preparations for Jesuit priesthood. Thomas, however, after several years, tired of the strict discipline, bad food, lack of sanitation, and student unrest at San Gregorio and decided instead to become a Dominican friar. In early 1625 he joined the Dominican friary at Jerez, Spain. Gage’s father was passionately Jesuit and anti-Dominican, looking on the Dominican order as heretical. He was so infuriated by Thomas’s switch of religious orders that he disinherited him.
Thomas Gage’s descriptive travels in The English-American begin in May 1625 in Jerez. Influenced by a friend and fellow friar named Antonio Melendez, he volunteered to join a Dominican expedition as a missionary to take part in the conversion of the natives of the Philippine Islands. The group was ordered to sale from the Spanish port of Cádiz to Veracruz, Mexico, pass through that country to Acapulco, and join the Manila fleet destined for the Philippines.
The departing friars enjoyed their brief sojourn in Cádiz, where abundant supplies of victuals and wine were bestowed upon them. Cádiz at the time was an important Spanish port for the American trade, its waterfront lined with brilliant white dwellings and capacious warehouses. Cheering crowds of well-wishers line the narrow streets of the town to bid the missionaries a tumultuous farewell.
The port of Cadiz, Spain. Thomas Gage’s travels to the New World began in July 1625 when he sailed from Cadiz on a Spanish ship bound for Veracruz, Mexico
A Spanish fleet of thirty-three merchant vessels set sail for the New World on July 2, 1625. Gage was one of the twenty-seven Dominicans on board the San Antonio. Numerous Jesuit and Mercenarian missionaries were passengers on other ships, one of which carried the newly appointed Mexican viceroy with his retinue. The governor of Cadiz came to Gage’s ship at the last minute to try to prevent him from sailing, since English Roman Catholics were not allowed to go to the Indies. Safely hidden in an empty biscuit barrel, and protected by his fellow Dominicans, Thomas avoided detention as the fleet moved out. Gage assumed the name of Fray Tomás de Santa Maria.
The merchant vessels were protected by eight galleons as far as the Canaries, in case of attack by Turks or Hollanders. Some vessels headed for Veracruz, others for Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Havana, and sundry West Indian ports. The cargo consisted of wines, figs, olives, raisins and cloth, as well as quicksilver to extract silver from the Mexican mines at Zacatecas. On the return voyage the Spanish ships normally carried silver bullion, cochineal and hides.
After seven weeks at sea they landed at the island of Guadeloupe, which had been discovered by Columbus in 1493. Fresh supplies were needed, including water, sugar cane, and plantains. At first, the Carib natives were friendly. However, when some Jesuit priests attempted to kidnap an escaped mulatto slave, the landing party were savagely attacked with poisoned arrows. Several Spaniards, who had ventured too far ashore, were killed. The fleet departed in a hurry.
In September they arrived at San Juan de Ulúa, now known as Veracruz, a harbour sheltered against winds and waves by a huge rock. This had been the starting point in 1519 for the march of Hernán Cortés to Mexico City. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Veracruz was the main Mexican port for the arrival and departure of Spanish ships.
The Dominicans were given a warm welcome at the priory, where they were offered sweetmeats and a tasty chocolate drink before a lavish dinner consisting of fish, capons, and turkeys. The prior himself was a vain, boastful young epicurean, who, surrounded by silks, tapestries, and other luxuries, entertained his religious visitors by singing trivial ballads. Thomas was highly critical of this pleasure-loving gallant who bragged about his prestigious birth and lustful conquests as a lover instead of dealing with pious, spiritual matters such as repentance and mortification.
There were about three thousand inhabitants of Veracruz, including some wealthy merchants, but the region was swampy, hot, and unhealthy. Polluted drinking water frequently caused illness among newly arrived Spaniards. After two days, the Dominicans were glad to depart for Mexico City on mule back. As they left Veracruz to the sound of trumpets, the miserable local Indians knelt upon the ground in reverent submission to the friars.
Passing through several Indian villages, the Dominicans were greeted with ceremonial humility and flowery speeches of welcome – honoured as if they were gods. Hundreds of Indians, on their knees, begged for blessings. Comfortable lodgings and abundant fruits, poultry, sweetmeats, and chocolate drinks served to make the trip agreeable for the friars – who always seemed to be hungry and thirsty.
After three days they reached Jalapa, a large town surrounded by maize fields, sugar plantings, and ranches for breeding cattle and mules, known as estancias. They were welcomed by Franciscan friars whom Gage accused of loose living. Wherever he travelled in Mexico and Guatamala, Thomas found priests and friars who, instead of keeping their vows of poverty and chastity, lived in scandalous luxury, clothed in the finest silks and laces. Having been freed from the oppressive discipline of their friaries in Spain, these degenerates indulged in excessive drinking, gambling, blasphemy, and other unrighteous pursuits.
The travellers continued their journey, passing through La Rinconada, Segura, Tlaxcala, and the city of Puebla, noted for its pleasant climate, fine cloth, and production of felt, a large glass factory, and a mint which coined half the silver from the mines at Zacatecas. They sojourned for three days at a Dominican monastery, and then proceeded to Huejotzingo. Thomas was shocked to observe Franciscan friars teaching the local Indian children how to dance to the tune of Spanish guitars, capering about with castanets, instead of instructing the youngsters in choir music and pious devotions. He criticised these pleasure-loving missionaries: “We still found vowed religious duties more and more neglected, and worldliness too much embraced by such as had renounced and forsaken the world and all its pleasures, sports and pastimes.”
Mexico City in the seventeenth century. An illustration from Beschryving van America, by Arnoldus Montanus 1671
The Dominicans continued upward to Mexico City, where the land seemed to be surrounded on all sides by water, somewhat like Venice. Gage described the aqueducts, the stone and brick mansions – built low out of fear of earthquakes. He noted the local saying: there are four fair things in Mexico – the women, the apparel, the horses, and the streets. There was an especially beautiful street known as La Platería, or Silversmith’s Street, where incredible amounts of gold, silver, pearls and other precious stones were on display. He saw colourful markets for cloth and silks, brass and steel; and stalls for the sale of many diverse fruits, food-stuffs and herbs. He described in detail the beautiful Mexican women, their silken petticoats, skirts laced with gold, and necklaces of gold and pearls. Their hair coverings, mantillas, and their almost bare breasts seemed to attract the attention of the devout friar.
The church at Amatitlan, where Gage was priest in charge in 1635. The booths are set up for the market in front of the church just as in Thomas’s day.
The Dominicans were scheduled to depart in a few days for Acapulco, to sail for Manila. They heard rumours about the horrible conditions in the Philippines, where some friars had hanged themselves in despair. Thomas and three companions decided to desert their missionary group and escape to Guatemala, where they were told friendly friars would welcome them. Traveling by night, resting by day, they fled to Oaxaca, avoiding pursuit and arrest by their irate Superior. In that pleasant valley, which the Spanish crown had granted to Cortés as a reward for his conquest of Mexico, the fleeing Dominicans found sanctuary for a few days, then proceeded southward to Tehuantepec, Ixtepec, and Chiapa. Although Gage wanted to move on at once to Guatemala, he was persuaded by the Dominican prior to remain in Chiapa for six months to teach Latin grammar in a local school. He was permitted by the priory to visit the fertile countryside in the vicinity of Chiapa (now part of the Mexican state of Chiapas), which he described in detail, including the climate, villages, rivers, mountains, and agricultural production, mentioning tobacco, sugar cane, hides, cochineal, and cacao (Theobroma cacao) and the production of chocolate: how the cocoa beans were ground into a powder and warmed to form a paste, then poured into moulds to make tablets; how the chocolate beverage was prepared by mixing the found tablets in boiling water with other flavouring ingredients produced locally, including chili peppers, sugar anise seed, hazel nuts, vanilla and reddish achiote (annatto seed).
The governor of Chiapa made a fortune trading in sugar, cacao, hides, and cochineal (Cochineal, formerly a popular red dye, was made from the dried bodies of female cochineal insects, gathered in Mexico and Central America from spineless cactus plants. Some seventy thousand insects were required to produce one pound of the cochineal of commerce – a product that was in demand for several centuries, up to about 1900, for colouring silk, cosmetics, butter and cheese.)
Fanciful portrait of Prior Thomas Gage receiving contributions from his native congregation in Guatemala. From the first German edition of The English-American, Leipzig, 1693
The bishop of the city of Chiapa Real (now known as San Cristobal de las Casas) enjoyed an even more lucrative business: he gathered exorbitant contributions from the Indians in nearby villages. Gage assisted the covetous bishop in passing the collection plate on one of the latter’s monthly pastoral visits.
In September, during the rainy season, Thomas left Chiapa on mule back for an arduous trip to Guatemala, passing through Comitán where there was a considerable production of cotton and pineapple. Crossing over the Cuchumatán mountain range he proceeded to Todos Santos and Chiantla. Reaching the cool highlands of Guatemala, he travelled through wheat-growing regions until he reached the open valley of Chimaltenango. (Wheat had been introduced to the New World from Spain in 1529.) As Gage approached Jocotenango, named for the native plum, he was much impressed by the fertile beauty that surrounded him. Worldly minded, industrious, Dominican friars were working hard at three water mills, grinding corn for the city known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. At first sight, Thomas did not realise he had entered the famous capital, since there were no gates, walls, towers, or bulwarks – just some humble dwellings with thatched or tile roofs and a new church. When he reached the stately Dominican cloister, the Spanish prior gave him a cordial welcome. Gage was appointed Reader of Arts at the local College of St. Thomas Aquinas in February 1627. He described the city of Santiago de Guatemala, close to the tall volcanoes of water (Agua) and fire (Fuego). The volcano Agua seemed to be a veritable paradise full of fields of Indian corn and attractive plantings of flower and fruits, including many plantains. On the other side of the city, the ominous volcano Fuego, in almost constant eruption, looked like a barren hell. The surrounding valley enjoyed a delightful, temperate climate and was abundantly provided with many agricultural products including corn, wheat, beans, fruits, herbs, fish from nearby lakes (Amatitlán and Atitlán), cacao from Suchitepéquez on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, as well as beef and mutton. (Guatemala’s wealth in the seventeenth century, as is the case today, was based on agriculture and not on the production of gold and silver.) Some five thousand families lived in Santiago de Guatemala, a picturesque city where Spanish colonial society was flourishing. (This former capital, now called Antigua, was abandoned in 1773 following many violent earthquakes which destroyed most of its buildings. Present-day Guatemala City lies about twenty miles east of Antiqua. In Thomas’s time, the Captaincy of General of Guatemala consisted of the Mexican state of Chiapas and most of the region now known as Central America including Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and part of Panama. Guatemala had been conquered by Pedro de Alvarado and was brought under Spanish control in 1524.)
Left – Reredos of side alter of the Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Right – the portrait of St Edward the Confessor at San Cristobal, believed to have been commissioned by Thomas Gage
In Santiago de Guatemala there were cloisters of Dominicans, Franciscans, Mercenarians, Augustines, and Jesuits, and two for nuns which were called Santa Catarina and Concepción. Thomas described Concepción, where a thousand women lived, including serving maids and young children brought up by the nuns and sisters. There was a fair and beautiful young nun named Sor Juana de Maldonado de Paz who was famed for her beauty, education, wit, and musical talent. Her wealthy father, a judge, provided her with all manner of presents, including a private chapel, with an altar bedecked with jewels and golden canopies. She even had a private garden walk and six black maids to wait on her. Despite her youth, she was overly ambitious and wanted to become the superior and abbess of the cloister. This caused a scandalous mutiny among the other sisters who were obedient to a more religious and aged nun. Sor Juana was harshly criticised for not being humble, modest, ascetic, and retiring in her demeanour.
Some research carried out in Guatemala prior to 1940 questioned Gage’s veracity in this story about Sor Juana. Guatamalan critics of Thomas claimed no such person ever existed. In a series of articles in the newspaper El Imparcial, written in Guatemala City in 1943, Cesar Brañas called Gage an entertaining liar who had fabricated the romantic legend of Sor Juana de Maldonado de Paz. Brañas entitle his articles “Un insigne mentiroso viaja por Centroamerica” (“A Famous Liar Travels through Central America”). He went on to question the veracity of several other comments and descriptions of Gage, as he quoted the old Spanish proverb: “En boca de mentiroso, la verdad se hace sospechosa.” (“The truth becomes suspect in the mouth of a liar.”) In Thomas’s defence, it should be pointed out that the more recent studies in the archives of Guatemala have established that Sor Juana did indeed exist, and before her death had become the head abbess of the convent.
Thomas lived in the Dominican friary in Santiago de Guatemala for about three years (1627-1629). Within its walls there were spacious gardens, fountains, fruit trees, ponds, and even a small boat for the recreation of the friars. During this period, while studying and preaching, he gradually became disillusioned with the Catholic religion. He was disgusted by the immorality of the priests, and their unjust treatment of the Indians. He thought that Roman Catholic theology was full of lies and errors. After much agonising, he decided to become a Protestant. He requested permission to return to Europe, but his petition was rejected.
By late 1629, Gage had become restless in the sheltered existence of the Dominican cloister. He took part in a brief, unsuccessful expedition to Cobán and the rain forests of north-eastern Guatemala, now known as the Alta Verapaz, in an effort to convert hostile Indians to that remote region to Christianity. The Indians were not impressed by money and other gifts; following some military skirmishes, the Spanish missionaries were fortunate to escape with their lives.
Thomas visited Honduras, then returned to take charge of the Dominican missions at Mixco and Pinula, two villages near the city of Santiago de Guatemala. A competent linguist, he soon mastered the Pokoman dialect of the local Indians. After several months of intense study, he was able to preach in the Pokomon tongue. When he wrote The English-American he included some rudiments of Pokoman grammar.
Left – Mixco church, where Gage was priest for five years
Right – Antigua, Guatemala, where Thomas Gage lived in a Dominican friary from 1627 to 1629
As a resident priest of Mixco and Pinula between 1630 and 1635, Gage was required to submit a quarterly account to his superiors at the cloister in Santiago de Guatemala. The poor Indians of each town were obliged to pay monthly instalments to the priest on sales of corn and wheat. In addition, Gage was constantly being given money by the Indians for masses and sodalities (charitable contributions), as well as receiving substantial food offerings from them consisting of eggs, honey, cacao, and fruits. In his book Gage criticized the greedy Spaniards for their habitual exploitation of the Indians (although he himself participated in this corrupt practice):
“But not only do the friars and priests live by them and eat the sweat of their brows, but also all the Spaniards, who not only with their work and service (being themselves many given to idleness) grow wealthy and rich, but with needless offices and authority are still fleecing them, and taking from them that little which they gain with much hardness and severity.”
Thomas managed to accumulate considerable sums of money as a result of these gifts from the Indians, only a modest percentage of which he sent along to the cloister – as was the custom among the village priests. He led a comfortable life, having two furnished houses, complete with servants: one in Mixco and the other in Pinula. In 1635, he was appointed vicar of Amatitlán, another nearby village on the shores of an attractive lake. Despite his knowledge of Pokomon, however, he realized he had made little progress in converting the Indians to true Christianity: it seemed to him his flock was still worshiping idols – even though the idols now had the names of saints instead of pagan gods.
Thomas requested permission again in 1636 to return to Spain, but was transferred instead to nearby Petapa (on the outskirts of present-day Guatemala City), where he resided as a priest for another year. He came to the conclusion that his Dominican superiors would never let him go, so he decided to run away. During twelve years as a priest in the New World he had amassed some nine thousand pieces of eight (Spanish-American silver dollars, equal to eight reals), including proceeds from the confidential sale of his books, pictures, chests, cabinets, and household effects. He quietly converted part of his wealth into pearls and precious stones – his preparations for departure from Guatemala had to be carried out in the utmost secrecy.
Accompanied by a faithful black servant, Gage surreptitiously left his Guatemalan home one night toward the end of December 1636. Following many days of travel on mule back, he reached the River Sueré in Costa Rica, near Puerto Limón, where he boarded a frigate bound for Portobelo, on the Caribbean coast of Panama.
Just after this small ship reached the open sea, it was seized by a Dutch man-of-war. Gage thereupon had almost his entire personal fortune taken away from him by force in a few minutes – the pearls, precious stones, and pieces of eight he had accumulated in Guatemala. Philosophically, he looked upon this great loss as a holy chastisement of his greed. The pirates allowed him to keep his clothes, his quilt, and a few books: he had also managed to hide some coins.
Crossing over to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, Thomas finally reached Panama, a town he found to be extremely hot and unsanitary. Impoverished and weary, he rested for two weeks at the Dominican cloister before proceeding to Portobelo, a famous Spanish emporium for South American trade in the seventeenth century. Mule trains from Panama were constantly arriving laden with silver bullion and jewels from Peru, as well as produce from Central America, for shipment on merchant vessels bound for Spain. Lodging was scarce and extremely expensive, so Gage was fortunate to be given a free room. He made a little money, which he sorely needed, by preaching and celebrating a few masses. Portobelo was an over-crowded fever town, especially when the fleet came in. Because of poor sanitation, hundreds of merchants, soldiers, and sailors died annually of fevers, dysentery, and other tropical ailments. Gage called this pestiferous port an “open grave”. The local priests were kept busy attending the sick, administering last rites, and burying the dead.
After ten days, a Spanish fleet arrived consisting of eight galleons and ten other vessels. Thomas manged to obtain free passage as chaplain on a merchant ship. Although threatened by Dutch and English privateers, and buffeted about by Atlantic storms, most of the fleet arrived safely in Spain about three months after leaving Portobelo, having stopped briefly at Cartagena, Colombia and Havana. Gage himself disembarked at San Lucar, near Cádiz, on November 28, 1637.
The following month, Gage sailed from San Lucar to Dover, setting foot on English soil for the first time in over twenty years. He claimed he could only speak a few words of broken English, having lived for so long in the company of Spaniards. He learned that his father had died four years earlier and cut him off without a penny. Still troubled by religious doubts, he lived with various relatives in England for over a year, while continuing to preach and celebrate mass. In 1639 he visited Italy, Germany, and France, returning to London in September 1640. It was now obvious to Gage the Catholic cause was in such desperate straits in England that simply being a Dominican friar exposed him to constant danger. So, swimming with the tide, he became an Anglican Protestant. On August 28, 1642, he preached a sermon of recantation at St. Paul’s in London entitled The Tyranny of Satan …. The apostacy of Thomas horrified the rest of the Gage family, which remained staunchly Catholic. To prove the sincerity of his conversion, Thomas took himself a wife, Mary, and in 1644 became the father of a daughter, also named Mary.
Thomas turned into a Protestant fanatic. At the time, the British government considered it treasonable and punishable by death for a Catholic priest to say mass in England. In order to curry favour with the Protestant authorities, he testified in a trial against a former schoolmate at St. Omer’s, Father Thomas Holland. Gage’s testimony was so damaging that the unfortunate Holland was convicted of treason – and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on December 12, 1642.
Two other Catholic martyrs were subsequently executed in England following incriminating testimony brought against them by Thomas Gage. Father Arthur Bell, a Franciscan priest, was tried for popish activities at a home of one of Thomas’s relatives, and put to death in 1643. Father Peter Wright, a Jesuit and dear friend of Gage’s brother George, was sent to the gallows at Tyburn in 1651 for saying mass.
Gage was rewarded for his anti-Catholic activities. In 1643 he was appointed rector of the Anglican church at Acrise in Kent; in 1648 he became rector at St. Leonard’s Church at Deal, also in Kent. This was the same year The English-American was first published.
In 1654 Oliver Cromwell wanted England to conquer several islands of the West Indies – to take them away from Spain. According to Cromwell, the Spanish had deprived the British of their God-given right to trade in the region. Since Thomas Gage possessed a unique knowledge of the New World, Cromwell asked him to prepare a report entitled Observations on the West Indies. In this memorandum, Gage pointed out that a military victory should be easy for the British, since the Spaniards were so decadent and feeble; furthermore, great wealth could be obtained with relatively little effort. Originally Gage had suggested the British could seize Guatemala, but Cromwell, instead of attacking the Central American mainland where supply problems would be difficult, decided instead to invade the islands of Hispaniola and Jamaica.
Thomas was appointed chaplain of the British expedition, which consisted of some sixty ships and six thousand men, under the joint command of General Venables and Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn, the founder of the State of Pennsylvania). The fleet sailed from Portsmouth on December 20, 1654. Gage left his wife at Deal.
The attack at Hispaniola ended in confusion and failure. The local anti-Spanish collaborators who were supposed to guide the British invaders failed to appear. Undaunted, the expeditionary force sailed from Hispaniola to Jamaica and captured that island without much trouble. Soon thereafter, however, while Venables and Penn squabbled, many troops died of starvation and fever. Thomas stayed on as chaplain for the occupation army, but he became ill and died in Jamaica in early 1656. Later that year, his widow was granted a small pension by the British government. Thomas Gage’s final accomplishment was to play a minor role in the conquest of Jamaica, which was destined to be the largest British colony in the West Indies for three centuries. And thus the highly controversial author of The English-American passed into history.