Thomas Gage

Thomas Gage provided inspiration to Cromwell to attack Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. As a young man he had been a Dominican firar who had travelled extensively throughout the Spanish possessions in the New World. He converted to Anglicanism in 1642 and became a harsh critic of Catholicisim.

He wrote The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land, or, A New Survey of the West Indias (1648). This was the first book by an English writer--in fact, the first book not by a Habsburg subject--portraying daily life in Spanish America. It sold well and has often been reprinted. Gage took from others his account of the conquest of Mexico; wholly his own were the strong narrative line and his gift for observation. He wrote of the volcanoes overlooking Antigua (Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango) and the bustle of Portobello when the treasure fleet was in, with silver ingots piled in the street like paving-stones. He zestfully recalled the cuisine of the New World--the tortillas, beans, and tamales of the poor, the strange new fruits of the Indian market, and delicacies like the iguana. To chocolate, with an addict's obsessiveness, he devoted an entire chapter. He denounced the blending of Mayan ceremony and Catholic rites, but seldom condescended to his Indian parishioners, whom he found civil, gentle, industrious, and long-suffering.

In 1654, Gage submitted to Oliver Cromwell a plan to attack the Spanish Caribbean. Both the Venetian ambassador and Bishop Gilbert Burnet report secret meetings between Gage and the protector and credit Gage with inspiring this 'Western design'. When, in late 1654, General Robert Venables and Admiral William Penn led an expeditionary force to the Caribbean, Gage sailed with the force as Venables's chaplain. The English fleet was rebuffed at Hispaniola--where Indian peasants and escaped slaves failed to aid the English in spite of Gage's hopeful predictions otherwise--but sailed on to seize Jamaica. Spanish sources place Gage among the English officers at the conference table, taking a characteristically vocal part.

In early 1656 Gage died in Jamaica, amid the epidemic dysentery and malaria which killed half of the English garrison.

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by Stephen Luscombe