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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
England and Her Colonies
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[From the gracefully-written work of an English author we select a description of the condition of the colonies, and their relations to the mother-country, in the period immediately succeeding the French and Indian War, extending the review to the date of the passage of the Stamp Act. The most important event of the period, outside of the political difficulties, was that known as Pontiac's Conspiracy, an Indian war of extended proportions and, for a time, of phenomenal success. Pontiac, a Shawnee chief, in the year 1763, organized a scheme of attack upon the frontier forts and settlements, the details of which were arranged with the utmost craft and secrecy. The Cherokees, and the Six Nations with the exception of the Senecas, kept out of the conspiracy, but the tribes of the Ohio, and most of those on the eastern side of the Mississippi, and in the vicinity of Detroit, were included, the leading tribes being the Shawnees and Delawares.

At the appointed time the warriors fell furiously upon the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Great numbers of the settlers were massacred, though many took the alarm in time to escape. For twenty miles inland the settlements were ruined. The traders among the Indians were murdered and their effects seized by the savages. But the most important result of the outbreak, from a military point of view, was the capture of several of the frontier forts. A number of the smaller forts--Le Boeuf, Venango, Presque Isle, Michilimackinac, and others--were taken by the savages, and the garrisons generally massacred. The large and important forts of Detroit, Niagara, and Pittsburg were fiercely assailed. Amherst quickly sent detachments to relieve these forts. That sent to Detroit, after reinforcing the garrison, fell into an ambuscade of the enemy, and met with heavy loss. The remainder took refuge in the fort, from which the besiegers soon after retired.

The fort of Pittsburg was assailed with unusual skill and obstinacy for Indian combatants. The post was ill prepared for a siege, and was maintained with difficulty against the furious assault. An expedition under Colonel Bouquet, sent to its relief, was ambuscaded on the march, and furiously assailed. The assault was one of the most persistent and skilfully conducted ever made by Indians, and only the steady discipline of the English and the skill of their leader saved them from destruction. For seven hours the battle continued, and it was renewed the next day with undiminished fury. The English were worn out by the repeated assaults of the ferocious enemy, who displayed a combined caution and intrepidity which were gradually wasting away the troops. Advance and retreat became alike impossible, and complete destruction seemed inevitable. At this crisis Colonel Bouquet essayed a manoeuvre which fortunately proved successful. Part of the troops retired as if in flight, while the others seemed endeavoring to cover the flight. On perceiving this, the savages abandoned their cautious tactics, and, emerging from their covers, rushed in rage and triumph on the seemingly flying army. This was what Bouquet had desired, and, the English turning on them with the skill and vigor of disciplined troops, they were routed with immense slaughter. Several of their ablest chiefs fell, and, despairing of success, they fled in terror. Four days afterwards, Bouquet reached the fort, from which the besiegers at once withdrew.

An assault was now made on the fort at Niagara. The same tactics were applied here. A convoy of provisions was assailed and captured; and a lake-fight took place between canoes and a provision-schooner, in which the savages were repulsed. Finally the fort was relieved; but the Indians continued a predatory warfare until the following spring and summer, when they were assailed with such spirit and success that they were forced to sue for peace. The articles of the treaty were very stringent, and greatly increased the strength of the English hold on the Western country.

One unfortunate result of this war was the inflaming of the passions of the settlers to deeds of unprovoked murder. A society of peaceful Indians, converted to Christianity by the Moravian missionaries, residing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were attacked and indiscriminately butchered by a party of settlers from the neighboring township of Paxton. These "Paxton Boys" even broke open the jail at Lancaster, and murdered the Indians who had been placed there as a measure of safety. The proclamations of the governor against these outrages were disdained, and the sanguinary mob marched upon Philadelphia, with the purpose of slaughtering the Indians who had been taken thither. There was much sympathy with the murderers in the city; but a body of the more respectable inhabitants, including many young Quakers, armed in defence of the refugees. The Paxton Boys advanced to Germantown, the governor fled in dismay, and the province seemed on the brink of civil war. Franklin and some others, however, expostulated with the insurgents, and finally prevailed on them to give up their purpose and return home.

The accompanying account of political events we extract from Mary Howitt's "History of the United States."]

The war between England and France, though at an end on the continent of America, was still continued among the West India islands, France in this case also being the loser. Martinique, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent's,--every island, in fact, which France possessed among the Caribbees,--passed into the hands of the English. Besides which, being at the same time at war with Spain, England took possession of Havana, the key to the whole trade of the Gulf of Mexico.

In November, 1763, a treaty of peace was signed at Paris, which led to further changes, all being favorable to Britain; whilst Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia were restored to France, England took possession of St. Vincent's, Dominica, and Tobago islands, which had hitherto been considered neutral. By the same treaty all the vast territory east of the Mississippi, from its source to the Gulf of Mexico, with the exception of the island of New Orleans, was yielded up to the British; and Spain, in return for Havana, ceded her possession of Florida. Thus, says Hildreth, was vested in the British crown, as far as the consent of rival European claimants could give it, the sovereignty of the whole eastern half of North America, from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson's Bay and the Polar Ocean. By the same treaty the navigation of the Mississippi was free to both nations. France at the same time gave to Spain, as a compensation for her losses in the war, all Louisiana west of the Mississippi, which contained at that time about ten thousand inhabitants, to whom this transfer was very unsatisfactory. ..

The conquest of Canada and the subjection of the Eastern Indians giving security to the colonists of Maine, that province began to expand and flourish. The counties of Cumberland and Lincoln were added to the former single county of York, and settlers began to occupy the lower Kennebec and to extend themselves along the coast towards the Penobscot. Nor was this northern expansion confined alone to Maine; settlers began to occupy both sides of the upper Connecticut, and to advance into new regions beyond the Green Mountains towards Lake Champlain, a beautiful and fertile country which had first become known to the colonists in the late war. Homes were growing up in Vermont. In the same manner population extended westward beyond the Alleghanies as soon as the Indian disturbances were allayed in that direction. The go-ahead principle was ever active in British America. The population of Georgia was beginning to increase greatly, and in 1763 the first newspaper of that colony was published, called the "Georgia Gazette." A vital principle was operating also in the new province of East Florida, now that she ranked among the British possessions. In ten years more was done for the colony than had been done through the whole period of the Spanish occupation. A colony of Greeks settled about this time on the inlet still known as New Smyrna; and a body of settlers from the banks of the Roanoke planted themselves in West Florida, near Baton Rouge.

Nor was this increase confined to the newer provinces: the older ones progressed in the same degree. Hildreth calls this the golden age of Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina, which were increasing in population and productions at a rate unknown before or since. In the North, leisure was found for the cultivation of literature, art, and social refinement. The six colonial colleges were crowded with students; a medical college was established in Pennsylvania, the first in the colonies; and West and Copley, both born in the same year,--the one in New York, the other in Boston,--proved that genius was native to the New World, though the Old afforded richer patronage. Besides all this, the late wars and the growing difficulties with the mother-country had called forth and trained able commanders for the field, and sagacious intellects for the control of the great events which were at hand.

A vast amount of debt, as is always the case with war, was the result of the late contests in America. With peace, the costs of the struggle began to be reckoned. The colonies had lost, by disease or the sword, above thirty thousand men; and their debt amounted to about four million pounds, Massachusetts alone having been reimbursed by Parliament. The popular power had, however, grown in various ways; the colonial Assemblies had resisted the claims of the royal and proprietary governors to the management and irresponsible expenditure of the large sums which were raised for the war, and thus the executive influence became transferred in considerable degree from the governors to the colonial Assemblies. Another and still more dangerous result was the martial spirit which had sprung up, and the discovery of the powerful means which the colonists held in their hands for settling any disputed points of authority and right with the mother-country. The colonies had of late been a military college to her citizens, in which, though they had performed the hardest service and had been extremely offended and annoyed by the superiority assumed by the British officers and their own subordination, yet they had been well trained, and had learned their own power and resources. The conquest of New France, in great measure, cost England her colonies.

England at the close of the war -- at the close, in fact, of four wars within seventy years -- found herself burdened with a debt of one hundred and forty million pounds; and as it was necessary now to keep a standing army in her colonies, to defend and maintain her late conquests, the scheme of colonial taxation to provide a regular and certain revenue began again to be agitated. Already England feared the growing power and independence of her colonies, and even at one moment hesitated as to whether it were not wiser to restore Canada to France, in order that the proximity of a powerful rival might keep them in check and secure their dependence on the mother-country. As far as the colonists themselves were concerned, we are assured by their earlier historians that the majority had no idea of or wish to separate themselves from England, and that the utmost which they contemplated by the conquest of Canada was the freedom from French and Indian wars, and that state of tranquil prosperity which would leave them at liberty to cultivate and avail themselves of the productions and resources of an affluent land. The true causes which slowly alienated the colonies from the parent state may be traced back to the early encroachments on their civil rights and the restrictive enactments against their commerce.

The Americans were a bold and independent people from the beginning. They came to the shores of the New World, the greater and better part of them, republicans in feeling and principle. "They were men who scoffed at the rights of kings, and looked upon rulers as public servants bound to exercise their authority for the benefit of the government, and ever maintained that it is the inalienable right of the subject freely to give his money to the crown or to withhold it at his discretion." Such were the Americans in principle, yet were they bound to the mother-country by old ties of affection, and by no means wished to rush into rebellion. It was precisely the case of the son grown to years of discretion, whom an unreasonable parent seeks still to coerce, until the hitherto dutiful though clear-headed and resolute son violently breaks the bonds of parental authority and asserts the independence of his manhood. The human being would have been less worthy in submission; the colonies would have belied the strong race which planted them, had they done otherwise.

England believed that she had a right to dictate and change the government of the colonies at her pleasure, and to regulate and restrict their commerce; and for some time this was, if not patiently submitted to, at least allowed. The navigation acts declared that, for the benefit of British shipping, no merchandise from the English colonies should be imported into England excepting by English vessels; and, for the benefit of English manufacturers, prohibited exportation from the colonies, nor allowed articles of domestic manufacture to be carried from one colony to another; she forbade hats, at one time, to be made in the colony where beaver abounded; at another, that any hatter should have above two apprentices at one time; she subjected rum, sugar, and molasses to exorbitant duties on importation; she forbade the erection of iron-works and the preparation of steel, or the felling of pitch and whitepine trees unless in enclosed lands. To some of these laws, though felt to be an encroachment on their rights, the colonies submitted patiently; others, as, for instance, the duties on sugar and molasses, they evaded and opposed in every possible way, and the British authorities, from the year 1733, when these duties were first imposed, to 1761, made but little resistance to this opposition. At this latter date, however, George III. having then ascended the throne, and being, as Charles Townshend described him, "a very obstinate young man," it was determined to enforce this law, and "writs of assistance," in other words, search-warrants, were issued, by means of which the royal custom-house officers were authorized to search for goods which had been imported without the payment of duty. The people of Boston opposed and resented these measures; and their two most eminent lawyers, Oxenbridge Thacher and James Otis, expressed the public sentiment in the strongest language. Spite of search-warrants and official vigilance, the payment of these duties was still evaded, and smuggling increased to a great extent, while the colonial trade with the West Indies was nearly destroyed.

In 1764 the sugar-duties were somewhat reduced, as a boon to the colonies, but new duties were imposed on articles which had hitherto been imported free; at the same time, Lord Grenville proposed a new impost in the form of a stamp-tax. All pamphlets, almanacs, newspapers, all bonds, notes, leases, policies of insurance, together with all papers used for legal purposes, in order to be valid were to be drawn on stamped paper, to be purchased only from the king's officers appointed for that purpose. This plan met with the entire approbation of the British Parliament, but its enactment was deferred until the following year, in order that the colonies might have an opportunity of expressing their feelings on the subject. Though deference was thus apparently paid to their wishes, the intention of the British government was no longer concealed. The preamble of the bill openly avowed the intention of raising revenue from "his majesty's dominions in America;" the same act gave increased power to the admiralty courts, and provided more stringent means for enforcing the payment of duties and punishing their evasion.

The colonies received the news of these proposed measures with strong indignation. Massachusetts instructed her agent in London to deny the right of Parliament to impose duties and taxes on a people who were not represented in the House of Commons. "If we are not represented," said they, "we are slaves." A combination of all the colonies for the defence of their common interests was suggested.

Otis, who had published a pamphlet on Colonial Rights, seeing the tide of public indignation rising very high, inculcated "obedience" and "the duty of submission;" but this was not a doctrine which the Americans were then in a state of mind to listen to. Better suited to their feeling was Thacher's pamphlet against all Parliamentary taxation. Rhode Island expressed the same; so did Maryland, by the secretary of the province; so did Virginia, by a leading member of her House of Burgesses. Strong as the expression of resentment was in the colonies, addresses in a much milder strain were prepared to the king and Parliament from most of them, New York alone expressing boldly and decidedly the true nature of her feelings, the same tone being maintained by Rhode Island.

But the minds of the British monarch and his ministers were not to be influenced either by the remonstrances and pleadings of the colonies or their agents in London, or of their few friends in Parliament. Grenville, the minister, according to prearrangement, brought in his bill for collecting a stamp-tax in America, and it passed the House of Commons five to one, and in the House of Lords there was neither division on the subject nor the slightest opposition. This act was to come into operation on the 1st day of November of the same year. It was on the occasion of its discussion in the House of Commons that Colonel Barre, who had fought with Wolfe at Louisburg and Quebec, electrified the House with his burst of eloquence in reply to one of the ministers who spoke of the colonists as "children planted by our care, nourished by our indulgence, and protected by our arms." "They planted by your care!" retorted Barre. "No; your oppression planted them in America. They nourished by your indulgence! They grew up by your neglect of them. They protected by your arms! Those sons of liberty have nobly taken up arms in your defence. I claim to know more of America than most of you, having been conversant in that country. The people, I believe, are as truly loyal subjects as the king has, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them should they ever be violated."

The day after the Stamp Act had passed the House, Benjamin Franklin, then in London as agent for Philadelphia, wrote the news to his friend Charles Thomson. "The sun of liberty," said he, "is set; you must light up the candles of industry and economy." "We shall light up torches of quite another kind," was the reply.

Mary Howitt

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