22 August 1639
Madras founded by the East India Company.
On 22 August 1639, English official Francis Day obtained a grant of a 3-mile-long strip of land for the East India Company from the local ruler, Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka, the Nayaka of Wandiwash. This land was a fishing village called Madraspatnam. This grant, issued for 2 years, authorised the company to build a fort and a castle there. This would later grow into the modern-day metropolitan city of Chennai.
- After securing the grant from the Nayaka, Francis Day and his superior in the company Andrew Cogan reached Madraspatnam on 20th February 1640 when the first actual settlement of the British started. In 1642, the grant was renewed.
- A new grant was signed in 1645 between the English and the new Raja which empowered the English to enact English Common Law among the settlers, and to administer civil law among the settlers and also the local population in the settlement.
- This third grant further added land to Madraspatnam.
- The fort the British built in the settlement was called Fort St. George.
- Residences were built within the fort and this soon attracted other traders, both Indians and Europeans to it.
- The fort and some areas around it which were acquired by the company came to be called the Fort St. George settlement.
- As per the rules of the Nayaka, the Europeans in the area were not allowed to decorate their houses with any colour other than white. Hence, this area came to be called the ‘White Town’.
- The surrounding areas were populated by Indians who came in large numbers to partake in the commercial activities. Because of frequent riots between the local population and the Europeans, their respective areas were demarcated as ‘White Town’ and the ‘Black Town’.
- Fort St. George, White Town and Black Town were together called Madras.
- Andrew Cogan and Francis Day can be considered the founders of Madras.
- Various areas which are now part of the city of Madras like Triplicane, Nungambakkam, Purasawalkam, Mylapore, Chennapatnam, etc. were later on added by the British in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
- Chennai was attacked by General Mir Jumla in 1646. In 1687, the region fell under the direct rule of the Mughal Emperor in Delhi. The Mughal Enperor issued Firmans which restored rights to the East India Company. The town was then ruled by British governors/presidents.
- The first president of Fort St. George was Elihu Yale. During his time as president from 1687 to 1692, many European settlers came to the region. This led to the establishment of a corporation and the institution of Mayor for Madras. (Yale amassed a lot of wealth during his stint here. He later became a benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut (British America). This was later renamed Yale College.)
- Madras was briefly controlled by the French from 1746 to 1748 after the Battle of Madras which happened during the War of the Austrian Succession in Europe when French-English rivalry was going on. It was secured back to the British as per the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
- Madras was an important place to the colonialists because of the port there.
- The city became an important trading centre between India and Europe after the development of the harbour.
- Many merchants arrived and set businesses in Madras, many of which trade till date. Examples are EID Parry (started in 1788, one of the oldest mercantile companies in India), Binny & Co, Higginbotham’s, etc.
- The original Fort St. George, which was rebuilt, houses the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the Chief Minister’s office.
- On July 17th 1996, Madras was renamed Chennai, the name being derived from Chennapatnam.
- Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu (which itself was renamed from Madras State in 1969) is now an educational, commercial and cultural hub in India. It has a thriving automobile manufacturing business. Chennai city is also called the ‘Detroit of India’. It is also noted for its healthcare sector. Chennai is also an important centre for Carnatic music and Bharathanatyam.
- Chennai was the only Indian city to face German shelling during the First World War.
Also on this day
1818: Death of Warren Hastings, first Governor-General of India aged 85. 1922: Alluri Sitarama Raju leads an army of tribals in the Rampa Rebellion against the British.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.