Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The American Revolution (2) The War of Independence

George Washington

Lexington and Concord

Events were now moving towards war as the ‘patriots’ seized the initiative, intimidating loyalists and training the militia into a serious fighting force.  As the protests mounted, the British authorities tried to stamp out unrest. On the night of 18 April 1775 General Thomas Gage, the commander in Boston, sent seven hundred redcoats from Boston to seize an arms depot at nearby Concord. Hearing of the plan, Boston’s Committee of Safety sent Paul Revere and William Dawes ahead on horseback, by separate routes, to warn of the British approach. This famous ride later became immortalised in Longfellow’s poem of 1861

Revere reached Lexington about midnight and then rode on towards Concord. 

At dawn on 19 April the British advance guard were confronted by about seventy Minute Men at Lexington. In the shooting that followed, eight colonists died. The battle of Lexington (‘the shot that rang around the world’) was followed by the engagement at Concord in which ‘Minute Men’ forced British troops back to Boston. 
Statue of a Minute Man, thought
to be Colonel John Parker
on Lexington Green, Massachusetts

In a European setting these would have been minor skirmishes, but the effect in America was enormous.  For the first time American blood had been deliberately shed by British hands.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The American Revolution (1) The coming of war

The Boston Tea Party

The dispute over taxation

The ending of the war presented the British government with new problems. How should the new territory be governed and defended?  What should they do about the lands inhabited by Indians but coveted by whites? There were 80,000 French settlers in Canada, and a potentially hostile Native American presence around the Great Lakes and the Ohio basin. In October 1763 a Royal Proclamation reserved the lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi to the Crown – a restriction that was offensive to the land-hungry colonists and was largely ignored.  The insecurity of British rule in North America meant that troops were constantly needed. Britain believed that it was only reasonable for the colonists to pay for their protection, but the colonists objected on the principle of ‘No taxation without representation’.

When George Grenville became Prime Minister in 1763 he found that the National Debt had doubled during the war to almost £143 million and that the estimated cost of defending America and Canada amounted to at least £300,000 pa. 

The Sugar Act: In April 1764 Parliament passed the Sugar Act, halving the duties on the molasses that the colonists imported from the French West Indies, but increasing duties on the imports of foreign textiles, wine, coffee, indigo, and sugar. The British government believed that this would reduce the temptation to smuggle, but the income from the new taxes was to go towards the defence of the colonies. For the first time Parliament had adopted duties designed to raise revenues and not merely to regulate trade. 

The Stamp Act: In an even more controversial attempt to raise
revenue, in March 1765 Parliament passed the Stamp Act.  The Act required that revenue stamps be purchased and fixed to legal documents, newspapers, playing cards, and dice. Though it was to acquire great historical significance, it was a minor piece of taxation (part of a general raft of colonial measures) and would bring in no more than £60,000 pa at a time when there was no immediate threat either from the French or the Indians.  However, it was the first internal tax that Britain had imposed and was the clearest possible assertion of the mother country’s right to tax. Unlike the Sugar Act, which affected mainly New England, the Stamp Act burdened all colonists who did any kind of business and it affected the most articulate elements in the community – lawyers, journalists and businessmen.  

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The colonies in the eighteenth century

19th-century engraving of
 the wounding of Major-General Braddock
at the Battle of the Monongahela, July 1755

Insecurity and expansion

In the eighteenth century the American colonists found themselves placed geographically between two powerful European empires, the French and the Spanish and in the midst of an often-hostile native population. European conflicts impacted on the lives of the colonists: for example, in 1704, at the height of the European War of the Spanish Succession a combined raid by the French and the Abenaki on Deerfield, Massachusetts left fifty dead, while a hundred were taken prisoner. Insecurity was built into the colonial experience. 

In spite of the insecurity the population was rising rapidly. Between 1700 and 1770 it rose from 265,000 to more than 2.3 million. Outside New England it was becoming ethnically more diverse. Germans flooded into Pennsylvania, creating the Pennsylvania Dutch community, ‘Scotch-Irish’ and Irish into the eastern seaports.  After Britain acquired territory from France in 1713, this population was increasingly on the move, extending beyond the original colonial boundaries, into New Hampshire and Maine, the Hudson Valley, and the Appalachians. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Thirteen Colonies

The Spanish explorations

The Spaniards were the first Europeans to reach the New World, and by the sixteenth century they were exploring the territory that became the United States. The earliest known exploration of Florida was made in 1513 by Juan Ponce de Léon, the governor of Puerto Rico. In 1539 Hernando de Soto  landed on the west coast of Florida with 620 men and 220 horses. His expedition travelled north into Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In 1541 they reached the Mississippi River, crossed it and travelled westward through modern day Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

Discovery of the Mississippi by William Henry Powell (1823–1879)
 This fanciful depiction hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda.

De Soto died on the expedition, which failed in its objective to acquire gold and establish colonies. But in 1565 the Spaniards founded St Augustine, Florida, the first European town in the present-day United States. The colony included a fort, church, hospital fish market and over a hundred shops and houses, built decades before the first English settlements. 

In 1609 they founded Santa Fe in New Mexico. This became the first centre of mission activity in the south-west.  Missionaries, particularly Franciscans and Jesuits, established mission settlements in which the Indians were persuaded to live and to convert to Catholicism. By 1630 there were fifty Catholic churches and friaries in New Mexico and some 3,000 Spaniards. 

Other European powers

While the Spaniards were establishing their missions, other European powers arrived on the American Continent, notably the French, the Dutch, and the English. 

The eventual dominance of British settlements was not inevitable and did not initially seem likely.  The Dutch were the first northern European settlers. In 1609 Henry Hudson, an English navigator employed by the Dutch East India Company sailed up what became the Hudson river, and in 1625 the Dutch East India Company established Niew Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, purchased from the local Lenape Indians.