Pre American Revolution

THE famous treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 produced the pacification of Europe, and a lull in warfare in America. It seemed to promise a long repose from war in both hemispheres. In that ancient city of Rhenish Prussia, where Charlemagne was born and where he died, and where fifty-five emperors have been crowned, the representatives of Great Britain, France, Holland, Germany, Spain and Genoa, signed a solemn treaty which ended a war begun in 1740. That was the consequence of the ascension of the throne of Austria by Maria Theresa in conformity to the "Pragmatic Sanction"--a royal ordinance--of her father, Charles the Sixth of Germany, made in 1713. That treaty confirmed six other treaties which had been made in the space of a century; and hopeful men looked for the peace of the millennium almost. But that treaty was made delusive by a further struggle between France and England for dominion in America.

The commissioners at Aix-la-Chapelle had hardly reached their homes before the rash and inexperienced Earl of Halifax, at the head of the Board of Trade and Plantations, observing the steady encroachments upon claimed English domain in America, and the menacing attitude of the French there, resolved to employ measures for securing to England the conquered territory on the east and the Valley of the Ohio River on the west: the latter by settlements and colonization. The Indians there were friendly to the English, and the Six Nations held the passes from Canada to that rich valley.

Virginians and Marylanders had proposed the planting of an English colony beyond the Alleghany Mountains, where there was seen only here and there the solitary cabin of an English trader. Halifax regarded that region as "the centre of the British dominions," and he persuaded the king to instruct the governor of Virginia to grant to a company of speculators five hundred thousand acres of land on the north side of the Ohio, between the site of the present city of Pittsburgh and the mouth of the Kanawha River. This association was known as The Ohio Land Company. It was agreed that the company should not be called upon for quit-rent for the space of ten years. It was also agreed that within seven years at least one hundred families should be settled on the tract, and the company, at their own expense, to build a fort there. Among the proprietors was Robert Dinwiddie of Scotland, then surveyor-general for the southern colonies, who was soon afterward made lieutenant-governor of Virginia.

At the same time cruel measures were adopted by the English government for securing dominion in Acadie, or Nova Scotia. The French government and French priests proceeded to coax the simple French inhabitants to leave their ancient settlements on the peninsula and take a position near the frontier, the object being to make them a barrier against the encroachments of the English. At about the same time Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts, proposed to remove the Acadians altogether, and distribute them among the English colonies, because they were French Roman Catholics, and to settle their country with Protestants. This atrocious proposal was opposed by the British ministry at first. A more humane policy was adopted. It was to settle so many Protestants among the Acadians that the obedience of the French inhabitants to British authority would be secured. Protestants in European countries were invited to settle there, under English protection, but responses were few. Finally, the British government induced disbanded British soldiers and marines to accept lands among the Acadians and to settle there. During the year 1749, about fourteen hundred of these, led by Colonel Cornwallis, went among the Acadians and planted the first English town east of the Penobscot, in a dreary place, and named it Halifax. This was in compliment to the energetic earl who had actively promoted the emigration.

Now the serious troubles of the simple-minded Acadians began. When, twenty years before, they bowed submissively to English rule, they had been promised freedom in religious matters, and exemption from bearing arms against the French and Indians. This gave them the name of French Neutrals. Now they were ordered to take an oath of allegiance to Great Britain, and the supremacy of the crown in religious matters, and be subjected to all the duties of English subjects. A thousand of the men signed a petition humbly asking permission to sell their lands and remove to some place to be provided by the French government. Their hearts bore allegiance to France and the ancient church, and they begged not to be compelled to take up arms against the one, nor to forswear the other. The haughty Cornwallis said to the ambassadors who brought the petition to him: "Take the oath or your property will be confiscated. It is for me to command: you to obey."

More cruel were the proceedings against the Indians on the peninsula, whom Jesuit priests had incited to furious raids along the New England frontiers. Cornwallis summoned a powerful Micmac chief to his presence. He came, feathered and painted, with two young warriors. Wrapped in his blanket, he stood erect and defiant before the English commander. Cornwallis demanded the instant submission of all the tribe to British authority. The chief haughtily replied: "The land on which you sleep, is ours; we sprung from it as do the trees, and the grass, and the flowers. It is ours forever, and we will not yield it to any man;" and turning on his heel went back to his people. Under the orders of his superiors, who declared that the Indians on the peninsula were "banditti, ruffians or rebels," Cornwallis offered ten guineas for every one of them "taken or killed," to be paid on producing the body or scalp of the Indian. Such were the measures adopted by the English at the middle of the last century for checking the encroachments of the French on the east and west of their domain. At that time the English in America numbered almost a million and a half; the French were not more than a hundred thousand strong, but they controlled much of the Indian power of the continent. France and England were heirs to an ancient quarrel originating far back in feudal ages and kept alive by frequent collisions.

While the French power in America seemed to be confined to a narrow strip of territory along the St. Lawrence and the Lakes, the remote north-eastern portion of the continent, and in the western wilderness to very distant missionary stations, very little apprehension of real danger to their colonies was felt by the English; but when, after the French lost Louisburg in 1745, they built strong vessels at the foot of Lake Ontario; made stronger their little trading fort at Niagara; built a cordon of fortifications, more than sixty in number, between Montreal and New Orleans; claimed dominion over all the territory drained by tributaries of the Mississippi, with the plausible plea that the French were the discoverers of a greater portion of that stream, and were negotiating treaties with the powerful Delawares and Shawnoese, on the frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia, the English perceived real and impending danger. The American colonists saw it first, and were alarmed; hence the proposition to plant an English settlement west of the Alleghanies. It was at that moment, when there appeared the plausible pretext of a necessity for united action, under a single head, against the French, that the British government resolved to assert its supreme authority in the colonies. Governor Shirley, a thorough royalist, proposed the building of frontier forts, under the direction of royal officers and engineers, at the expense of the colonies, and demanding from them the levying of a tax sufficient for the purpose. The crown officers of New York approved the measure. Shirley went to England to perfect his schemes, and found the government eager to do anything to check the democratic spirit in America which was evidently aiming at legislative independence, if not the setting up of an independent sovereignty. The English-Americans found themselves in the critical position of being compelled to fight the French and Indians for the preservation of their domain, and to contend with the mother country for their chartered rights and natural liberties. The French were their political and religious enemies, and menaced them with open hostility; their British brethren were their social foes, nestling in their bosoms, and seeking to conquer their noble and holy aspirations under false pretences. Yet the Americans were hopeful and firm. When the Lords of Trade induced the parliament to attempt to assert its supremacy in the colonies, and royal governors, under instructions, demanded of the colonial assemblies, in haughty words, the money and the rights of the Americans, their demands were met by a quiet defiance in the form of positive refusals and energetic protest of an indignant people. These had, many of them, been driven from England by persecution; had founded homes and built up states without England's aid, and had spent blood and treasure freely for England's honor and glory without even the poor return of thanks; therefore this insidious attempt to enslave them gave vehemence to their determination to assert their right to local self-government at all hazards. Their bold attitude at this time made the imperial government pause, and reserve its wrath for a more convenient season.

The words of young Mahew went forth from his pulpit in Boston, at that time, with the seeming unction and authority of the ancient prophets, "Thus saith the Lord"--when, with fervid eloquence, he denounced the unholy alliance of church and state for stamping out the freedom of Americans. It was then no secret that the English hierarchy were conspiring with the crown for the establishment of an episcopacy in America, and making the liturgy of the Church of England the state form of public worship. It was a part of the plan for enslaving the Americans. Whitefield had sounded the alarm-bell in New England, and Mahew was among the first to openly avow the public dissatisfaction. He vehemently reproved the "impious bargain between the sceptre and the surplice." "Resist the small beginnings of civil tyranny," he said, "lest it should swell to a torrent and deluge empires." "The divine right of kings, and non-resistance," he said in a sermon in 1750, "are as fabulous and chimerical as the most absurd reveries of ancient or modern visionaries.. If those who bear the title of civil rulers do not perform the duty of civil rulers--if they injure and oppress--they have not the least pretence to be honored or obeyed. If the common safety or utility would not be promoted by submission to the government, there is no motive for submission." And he declared that disobedience, under such circumstance, became "lawful and glorious." The sentiment of the colonists was responsive; and the temper manifested by the people then was the herald of that flame of feeling which, a quarter of a century later, kindled the old war for independence. It aroused the animosity of the crown and its creatures against the Americans, and history was repeated. Demosthenes said to the Thebans two thousand years before: "We are well aware of that inextinguishable hatred which kings and the slaves of kings have ever felt towards nations which have plumed themselves on being free."

A crisis was now at hand. The disputes between the French and English in America ripened into action.

The French were offended by the planting of Halifax, in Nova Scotia; and a partisan named La Corne, professing to act under the orders of Joncaire, chief captain in Canada, took possession of the isthmus that connects the peninsula with the main, with a large force of French and Indians. He summoned the Acadians to renounce their allegiance to the English and take refuge with the French; and that poor people were at their wits' and. He held a village (now Fort Lawrence), and compelled the inhabitants to take an oath of allegiance to France.

When Cornwallis heard of this he called upon Massachusetts to help in disloding the intruders. The Assembly replied: "By the constitution of this province we must first be convinced of the necessity of raising supplies." So they politely refused, and Cornwallis was compelled to rely upon the slender means at his command. With four hundred soldiers he appeared in transports before the town. The alarmed Jesuit priest set fire to the church, and compelled the bewildered inhabitants to lay their houses in ashes and flee across the river. The French were too strong for the English, and the latter withdrew. A second expedition, a few months later, was successful. Fort Beau Sejour, which the French had built opposite the desolated town, was captured, with loss of life. This was the first blood they had shed in war since the treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle. It was now August, 1750.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I