Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/36

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

company, to which he had been elected 23 March 1623–4. Intense excitement prevailed throughout the country, and the greatest anxiety was evinced as to the steps that Abbot would take. He recognised at once the necessity of ‘pressing the matter modestly,’ in order to avoid open war with Holland; but in repeated audiences with the king and in petitions and speeches to the privy council he insisted that demand should be made of the Dutch authorities to bring the perpetrators of the outrage to justice. He spoke of withdrawing from the trade altogether if this measure was not adopted, and after much delay the Dutch agreed to give the desired reparation. But death of James I saw the promise unfulfilled, and Abbot's efforts to pursue the question further proved unavailing.

But it was not only in the affairs of the East India Company that Abbot during these years took a leading part. He was an influential member of the Levant Company before 1607, and the English merchant service was, from the beginning of the seventeenth century, largely under his control. In 1614 one of his vessels, named the Tiger, was assaulted and taken by ‘M. Mintaine, a Frenchman of the Mauritius,’ and Abbot sought redress for the injury in vain. In 1616 he with others received a bounty for building six new ships. In 1612 he was nominated a director of a newly incorporated company ‘of merchants of London, discoverers of the north-west passage,’ and his statement that in 1614 he ‘brought to the mint 60 pounds weight of gold for Indian commodities exported’ proves that his own commercial transactions continued for many years on a very large scale. He also expressed himself anxious a few years later to open up trade with Persia, and to wrest from the Portuguese the commercial predominance they had acquired there.

During the last twenty years of his life Abbot played a still more active part in public affairs. In 1621 he was elected member of parliament for Kingston-upon-Hull; shortly afterwards was nominated one of the commissioners for equipping merchant vessels to take part in a projected expedition against the pirates of Algiers, and he appears to have been consulted by the king's ministers in every stage of the preparations, which were for a long period under discussion. On 17 Nov. of the same year he became a farmer of the customs, and in 1623 he was empowered to administer ‘oaths to such persons as should either desire to pass the seas from this kingdom or to enter it from abroad’ (Rymer, Fœdera, xvii. 467). A few months later he was engaged in personal negotiations with James I and the Duke of Buckingham for the remission of part of 20,000l. claimed by them from the East India Company. In 1624, when he was again returned to parliament for Kingston-upon-Hull, Abbot was appointed a member of the council for establishing the colony of Virginia. It was in the same year that he had been elected governor of the East India Company, an office that he was still holding in 1633, but which he resigned before 1638; and during the time that he sat in parliament he was continually called upon to speak in the company's behalf. On many occasions he complained of the obloquy heaped upon himself and his friends, because it was supposed that their extensive foreign trade deprived this country of the benefit of their wealth, and, with a discrimination far in advance of his age, denounced the ‘curiousness’ of the English in forbidding the exportation of specie, and asserted the economic advantages to the state of the company's commerce.

On the accession of Charles I in 1625 Abbot was the first to receive the honour of knighthood from the new king (Authentic Documents of the Court of Charles I, i. 15), and he represented London in the earliest parliament of the reign, although his old constituency had tried hard to secure his services. He apparently supplied some of the jewellery required for Charles's coronation, and received on 5 July of the same year ‘8,000l. for a diamond cut in facets and set in a collet.’ On 15 Dec. 1626 Abbot became alderman of the ward of Bridge Without, and a few months later was chosen sheriff of London. In 1627 the customs department was reorganised, and Abbot with others received a lease of the customs on wines and currants for three and a half years, in consideration of a fine of 12,000l. and a loan to the king of 20,000l. But he was no servile agent of the crown. On 16 Sept. 1628 information was sent to the king's council that Abbot was one of the merchants who refused to pay a newly imposed additional tax on the importation of currants, and that, while the quarrel was pending, he had broken into the government warehouse where currants belonging to him had been stored. But the supreme authorities do not appear to have pressed the charge against him. In 1637 he was one of those entrusted by the lords of the admiralty with fitting out ships at the expense of the city of London in accordance with the ship-money edict of 1636, and the attorney-general and the recorder of London shortly afterwards exhibited an information against him in the exchequer court on the ground that he had not provided sufficient