A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 13, 2012

When Tangier Was British

Pursuing one of my non-Middle Eastern interests I was reading a bit in colonial Virginia history, dealing with the well-known colonial governor Alexander Spotswood, who was much involved in the expansion of the Old Dominion beyond the mountains in the early 1700s, and tried to name every river in the colony for his sovereign, Queen Anne. Hence we still have the North Anna, the South Anna, the Fluvanna, the Rivanna, and the somewhat disguised Rapidan, which started life as the Rapid Ann. Yes, he was a bit of a brown-nose, though he did name Spotsylvania County after himself, though Latinized. But I also noticed something in his biography that I don't recall encountering before: he was born in Tangier in 1676

Why was an Englishman of semi-aristocratic background born in Tangier? Because his father was Surgeon to the British Garrison in Tangier. What British Garrison in Tangier? Well, that's the occasion for one of my obscure historical diversions. The beautiful Moroccan city of Tangier was indeed a British colony from 1661 to 1684.

It seems when Charles II married the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, he got Tangier as part of the dowry, along with Bombay. Portugal had held Tangier since 1471. The colony proved expensive to maintain, and Parliament suspected the whole venture as part of the Stuarts' Catholic leanings. And to make things interesting, the British took over just as Morocco was being reunited under the reign of the Alaouite Dynasty, which still rules today. The second Alaouite Sultan, Moulay Ismail, besieged the town, and eventually the British evacuated (Samuel Pepys was along for some reason), destroying the harbor as they left.

Spotswood was not the only one to end up in America after Tangier became Moroccan again: one senior official went on to become governor of a new colony the Stuarts had just seized from the Dutch. They renamed it New York.



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