This Day in History (22-Aug-1639) – Madras (now Chennai) is Founded by the East India Company

The rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire who ruled the South India, appointed chieftains called Nayaks to rule various regions of the province independently. In 1639, when the Brtish East India Company arrived in the area to establish a factory, Darmala Venkatadri Nayaka, a Telugu king and a powerful chieftain who was in charge of the area, gave the British a piece of land sandwiched between the Cooum River and the Egmore River. The area was known NariMedu i.e. mound of jackals. A factory of brick was built upon the island, and mounted with cannon, and called Fort St. George. This small settlement of the British gradually drew the attention of other East India traders such as the Portuguese and the Dutch who gradually joined the settlement. By 1649, Fort St. George had 19,000 residents due to which the East India Company expanded Fort St. George by constructing an additional wall. This expanded area came to be known as the Fort St. George settlement. According to a treaty signed with the Nayaks, the British and other European Christians were only allowed to colour the outside of their buildings white. Because of this, gradually over time, this area began to be known as “White Town”.

Gradually weavers, washers, painters, and hosts of other artisans, flocked to the spot and eagerly entered the service of the British, and began to set up their looms and to weave, wash, and paint their cotton goods in the open air beneath the trees. A settlement grew up by the side of Fort St. George and soon the Europeans were outnumbered. These non Europeans, mostly Hindu and Muslims, were given place near white town to set up a settlement and a wall was constructed to separate this new non-European settlement from White Town. This new area was known as “Black Town”. Originally, White Town and Black town were together known as Madras, a name derived from ‘Medurasapatnam’, which simply meant ‘chief’s town on the mound’. Fort St. George still stands and is home to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the office of the Chief Minister.