In the spring and summer of 1655, Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector of England and with the authority of the Council of State, dispatched an English fleet under the command of Sea General William Penn and General Robert Venables to conquer and settle the target of their choosing among Spainís colonies in the Caribbean. A Spanish defending force of perhaps 400-600 men, mostly militia, repulsed a landing force of 9,000 men. Demoralized and defeated, the much-reduced force boarded their ships and sailed to the more weakly held island of Jamaica, where the Spanish who chose not to surrender faded into the interior to join their runaway slaves in a guerrilla campaign that would last five years before the English completed their conquest of the island. When Oliver Cromwell heard the news of the defeat at Hispaniola, observers in London reported that he shut himself in his room for an afternoon, before placing Penn and Venables in the Tower of London; but later recovered to call for godly Englishmen to settle the new colony of Jamaica. Few chose to answer, while most followed the example of the New England colonists, who felt they had enough trouble fulfilling Godís mission in the North American wilderness, without sailing through a war zone to an uncertain future in disease and hunger-ridden Jamaica. Meanwhile, the war Cromwell felt he could avoid in Europe broke out with Spain, gaining him Dunkirk but costing money and men. This ambitious and spectacularly unsuccessful project to colonize the Spanish Caribbean has come to be known as the Western Design.
The Western Design represents a key turning point in the history of the Caribbean and development of Englandís American colonial empire. Through an unprecedented use of state-commissioned force, England struck against a continental enemy across the Atlantic, and added what would become a valuable sugar island and buccaneering base to a growing American empire. The event has long been looked at by historians of Commonwealth England, both in exploring Cromwellís religious psychology, and in debating its foreign policy. However, with the growth of an Atlantic approach to history, new fields have opened within which the Western Design should be considered. One development has been the blurring of the formerly rigid historiographical distinctions of what constituted English, colonial American, and Caribbean history. A growing Atlantic empire including all three areas has begun to be explored, and events in one place have been examined as to how they affected events in the others. One example has been an analysis of the early seventeenth-century Caribbean as a target for Puritan colonization, much as New England has been viewed for decades and even centuries.