Focusing on the London East India Company's (EIC) first trading center abroad, the factory in Bantam on Java, this essay explores corporate traumas and divisions of interest in this protoglobal organization that illuminate ongoing volatilities in global capitalism. The factory papers, which include the neglected “Journal of John Saris on the Clove,” reward attention today for the light they shed on fundamental challenges of transnational trafficking. The essay calls for a return to the manuscripts of the EIC archive, whose printed materials were edited, in the main, by proto- and late-imperial scholars. A catastrophe-tolerant joint-stock body that was granted legal personhood by royal charter in 1600, the EIC tested a defining predicament of incorporation: that the corporate body outlives its personnel. Bantam's lethality to company employees disclosed the parasitic tendencies of this process. Mariners and factors on fixed salaries risked and were far likelier to lose their lives than shareholders their high-yielding speculations. The loss during the first voyage of Jacobean England's greatest merchant ship and crew in Bantam shocked England's maritime and mercantile communities and ignited rancorous debate over the human, material, and environmental costs of the East Indian trade. Without superfluxes of maritime and mercantile labor and vigorous management of public relations in England, the cash-poor EIC probably would not have survived its first generation.

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