Anya Zilberstein

“Mostly Temperate”: Projecting the Climate in Northeastern America

The Scottish projector Samuel Vetch thought he had learned about the nature of empire from his involvement in 1698-1700 with the failed Darien colony in tropical Central America.  British settler colonies should be planted in familiar environments.  In 1708, this principle informed his ambitious “Canada Survey’d,” a proposal for the British conquest of French America in which he argued that Scots—“the most northern of the north
Britons”—should settle the region because they were already inured to its extremely cold and long winters.  Though his plan faltered in Canada, Vetch helped Britain secure its claim to Nova Scotia and he became governor of the province in 1714.  However, he failed to entice Scots or other potential migrants by his repeated descriptions of the province as “one of the coldest countries in the world.” As a result, Nova Scotia remained unsettled by Britons for the next thirty years. Nevertheless, his concern with the region’s climate points to a longstanding transatlantic debate about the relative habitability of northern environments.  Vetch’s 1708 scheme resembled numerous similar attempts to expand British settlement in the region from the seventeenth century, except in one crucial respect.  While Vetch emphasized the unavoidable severity of the northern climate, most early projectors asserted that it was becoming (or would become) increasingly temperate through the improving process of British settlement.  My paper will examine “Canada Survey’d” by contextualizing it in the history of projects to rationalize and promote the colonization of Northeastern America. These projects reveal what I argue was a more abiding goal of English or British colonialism: to inhabit and, ultimately, to expand the world’s temperate climates.