‘Ever at Variance and Foolishly Jealous’: Intercolonial Relations before the Revolution

Portrait of Dr. Joseph Warren, by John Singleton Copley, c.1765, oil on canvas / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

By Dr. Joanne Freeman / 01.21.2010
Professor of History and American Studies
Yale University


“Ever At Variance and Foolishly Jealous” actually comes from a colonist named Joseph Warren who was writing to a friend, probably 1766, and he tells his friend that until the passage of the Stamp Act the colonies had always been, quote, “ever at variance and foolishly jealous,” which is kind of going to be the point of today’s lecture. “Ever at variance and foolishly jealous” — but now with the Stamp Act, boy, people seemed to be a little bit more united. So today’s lecture is the foolishly jealous part and on Tuesday we plunge into the Stamp Act, which moves us to the more united part and actually begins a sort of series of events that are actually going to build up to a logic of resistance.

So I’m going to be talking about basically intercolonial relations, about how people in the different colonies viewed each other, about how the colonies as entities interacted with each other, and towards the end of the lecture I’m going to talk about colonial attempts before the 1760s for them to unite — colonial attempts to unite and act together — and, as we’re going to see today, they weren’t really amazingly successful, those attempts, so — and there were only three of them that I’m going to talk about — but unity is not taken for granted. That, I suppose, will be one message of today’s lecture: Don’t take unity — colonial unity for granted. And that’s going to lead us up perfectly to the next lecture on the Stamp Act crisis, which is then going to have people shifting a point of view because of the crisis at hand. Okay.

So basically, in a way, today’s lecture is the third and last in a series of lectures that’s really been laying the groundwork for our immersion into colonial conflict. So we’ve looked at the links between colonists and the mother country, we’ve looked at aspects of colonial life and settlement that were kind of distinctly colonial American, and now we’re sort of laying the last plank in, of the British-American mindset at the time, and that’s: how the colonies were relating with each other. Okay. And I — again I sort of — in Freeman’s Top Five Tips that I offered in the introductory lecture that I gave, the Top Five Tips Towards Understanding the Revolution — and I said, “remember contingency” — and I suppose that’s a sort of subtheme of today’s lecture, because we so assume the logic and inevitability of a unified nation at some point down the pike. I think it’s really easy for us to forget some of the things that I’m going to be talking about today, which all add up to: unity did not make sense a lot of the time.

Intercolonial Opinions: Notes from Jefferson, Washington, and Adams

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, oil on canvas / White House

Now I think to really appreciate ultimately how significant the first little glimmerings at union were, we first have to understand the vast differences between the different colonies and the different regions, because people at the time definitely did. They were always complaining and remarking on people from other regions, about how weird they were, about their bizarre manners, about the weird way they dressed, about their strange attitude: constantly, people from all regions, all colonies sort of remarking in a not necessarily favorable way about people from other places.

I want to offer you a couple of examples, and I want to start with Thomas Jefferson, who in the 1780s devoted some of his energies to explaining America to a French audience. And as you’ll hear in some of these quotes, he’s going to definitely be sounding like a Virginian. And of course what’s interesting to note about Jefferson is — I’ll quote him another time in today’s lecture — Jefferson’s strongest remarks about America or American character are always made to a foreign audience. Right? He doesn’t make them to Americans. So like, Notes on the State of Virginia,which has some remarkable passages in it — he didn’t think that Americans were going to be reading that. That was actually for a French audience and it sort of came back across the ocean. So a lot of what I’m going to be quoting here today, he was not quoting for Americans. He’s actually speaking to the French, which — You can say a lot of blunt things to the French that you wouldn’t necessarily say to fellow Americans.

So, okay. In 1786, he wrote to a French correspondent who clearly had written to him in some way and said, “Tell me about America.” So Jefferson writes back, and I’m going to talk a little bit about his view of all of the states, but in this particular instance he writes back and says he’s very curious about why Rhode Island is opposed to every useful proposition. Okay. I told you about Rhode Island. I forewarned you about Rhode Island. We have to have a Rhode Island moment here because it appears — it’s going to appear again and I mentioned also that Connecticut was going to appear again — Rhode Island was particularly troublesome. It was actually the last state to join the Union, and it actually joined the Union after the Constitution had already gone into effect. So when Washington becomes President and he goes on his first grand triumphal tour — ‘I will now go around the nation showing everyone that I am President” — he first swings through the North, and he actually refuses to cross the border into Rhode Island because Rhode Island is a foreign country, and he doesn’t want to go there. Okay. He was making kind of a strong statement. Rhode Island wasn’t really happy about this but it was their fault because they hadn’t ratified the Constitution yet. A really popular thing to do at the time in taverns was to drink 12 toasts, not 13, as a deliberate insult to Rhode Island, [laughter] like — ‘so there, Rhode Island.’ Of course, you also get to drink 12 toasts that day, and that’s the other happy thing about that, but at any rate — [laughter]. So Rhode Island is an issue, and it’s going to come up again today even.

So Jefferson was trying to figure out, what is the deal about Rhode Island? And here is what he — how he explains it. Rhode Island’s “geography accounts for it with the aid of one or two observations. The cultivators of the earth are the most virtuous citizens.” (It’s very Jeffersonian.) Merchants are the least virtuous.

“The latter reside principally in the seaport towns, the former in the interior country. Now, it happened that of the territory constituting Rhode Island and Connecticut, the part containing the seaports was erected into a State by itself, and called Rhode Island, and that containing the interior country was erected into another State called Connecticut. For though it has a little sea-coast, there are no good ports in it. Hence it happens that there is scarcely one merchant in the whole State of Connecticut, while there is not a single man in Rhode Island who is not a merchant of some sort,”

which is probably a little bit of an exaggeration. “This circumstance has decided the characters of the [correction: these] two States and the remedies to this evil are hazardous. One would be to consolidate the two States into one.” Right? That’s a really popular idea. “Another would be to banish Rhode Island from the Union.” [laughter] Thank you, Thomas Jefferson. Is anyone here from Rhode Island? Are there no Rhode Islanders? Am I bashing safely? Wow. [laughter] No one can come get me. One time someone did say, ‘Excuse me. [laughter] I’m from Rhode Island.’ [laughter] So [laughs] I’m safe. This is dangerous.

So number one, you could consolidate Connecticut and Rhode Island. Number two, you could banish Rhode Island from the union. Number three would be to compel the submission of Rhode Island to the will of the other states. Right? He has an issue with Rhode Island, but Rhode Island has issues. He’s speaking partly as a southerner but a lot of other people had questions about Rhode Island as well.

At about the same time, different French correspondent, once again Jefferson is writing about the character of the northern states and the character of the southern states. And Jefferson writes: “In the North they are cool, sober, laborious, persevering, independent, jealous of their own liberties and just to those of others, interested, chicaning, (cheating) superstitious and hypocritical in their religion.” Thank you, Thomas Jefferson. “In the South they are fiery, voluptuary, indolent, unsteady, independent, zealous for their own liberties but trampling on those of others, generous, candid, without attachment or pretensions to any religion but that of the heart.” Spoken like a Virginian. And according to Jefferson, as he explains to this Frenchman, “An observing traveler without the aid of a quadrant may always know his latitude by the character of the people among whom he finds himself” — like, he really believes that it’s very different people in the different colonies. And to Jefferson, Pennsylvania was sort of the perfect happy medium where the two characters kind of met and blended and formed a people which, as he put it, were “free from the extremes both of vice and virtue.” Now, that’s Jeffersonian rhetoric. There’s a lot of Jeffersonian rhetoric.

Portrait of George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart, 1797, oil on canvas / White House

George Washington, a man of much fewer words, put his views about the North a lot more succinctly. Okay. To Washington, New Englanders were, as he put it in 1777, right when he joined the continental army, and the continental army is in Massachusetts — Washington joins the army, he heads up to Massachusetts and the army is largely made of New Englanders; he confronts the army and he writes to a friend and says, “New Englanders are an exceeding dirty and nasty people.” [laughs] Okay. That’s us. [laughs] Sorry, father of our country. We didn’t live up to his demands.

Now New Englanders, to be fair, had similar feelings about the South. Right? They thought southerners were snooty, aristocratic, proud. I once in a diary came across a passage in which there’s a Pennsylvanian and he’s sitting at a dinner table with some Virginians, and in his diary of course he’s complaining about this because he says all they did through the entire dinner was talk about gambling, horse racing, Virginia ham and drinking and drinking and drinking and drinking. And apparently to this Pennsylvanian I guess that’s what Virginia is, gambling and drinking. Virginia.

Portrait of John Adams, by John Trumbull, 1792, oil on canvas / White House

Now John Adams, with a little bit of a dose of Puritan guilt, felt that New Englanders were the best trained in the school of popular government but that they weren’t really skilled in personal relations. As he put it, “New Englanders are awkward, bashful, pert, ostentatious and vain, a mixture which excites ridicule and gives disgust.” Some part of me thinks he was speaking about himself, which he could have been. “Southerners,” he claims, “were skilled at display and gentlemanly manners” but according to Adams “they were habituated to higher notions of themselves and the distinction between them and the common people than we are.” So they’re basically snootier according to John Adams.

So comments like all of these are reminders about how very different these sort of colony-countries were from each other. They did each have different distinctive characters and, maybe equally important, they often distrusted one another. So in a sense, colonies often had more of a connection with the mother country than with each other. Now this is partly due to pragmatic concerns like bad roads, like the fact that there actually was not a huge bustling amount of intercolonial trade because colonies really did focus their trading energies on the mother country and not so much with each other, and then also there were a lot of border conflicts between colonies which caused distrust and complications between colonies and also helped to discourage trade. Now the colonies were hostile to each other because they were seeing to their own interests, but also, as kind of reflected in the comments that I opened the lecture with, there also was just basic cultural distrust.

Colony Types, and Differences between New England and Middle Colonies

Portrait of William Penn, 18th century, engraving / Library of Congress

It’s worth noting that there actually were three different types of colonies. There were three different ways in which colonies were founded, and these differences could sometimes affect the structure of the colony and its relations with the mother country. So this is going to be a very quick and dirty version of these three kinds of colonies. Type of colony number one: You had corporate colonies, like Connecticut and Rhode Island, incorporated by Puritans who left Massachusetts. And basically, a corporate colony made its own constitution, and it was then ratified by the King. So these are independently founded colonies. They’re clearly independent in spirit, which makes them potentially troublesome — not potentially troublesome; it just makes them troublesome. So corporate colonies is type of colony number one.

You also had proprietary colonies, like Pennsylvania and Maryland, where the King would give ownership of the colony to someone. So for example, William Penn is the proprietor in Pennsylvania; Lord Baltimore is the proprietor in Maryland.

So you have corporate colonies, you have proprietary colonies, and the third kind of colony is a royal colony, which is owned by the King. So royal colonies include New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, just the whole range of colonies that I basically haven’t named in those earlier colonies. A lot of these colonies were royal colonies; they were owned by the King.

Now of the three, in some ways corporate colonies were the closest to what would eventually become states, because corporate colonies had drawn up their own constitution; they made their own charter. And what that actually — and the charter was made by the people who lived in the colony. And what that actually means, is once independence is declared and all of these newly-created states need to create a new constitution which writes out royal authority, Connecticut kind of had its own little charter and Rhode Island too, to begin with. They kind of were already there as little independent entities. They were a little ahead of the game. They sort of had their own constitution that needed a little tweaking, but really all these other colonies were sort of starting from scratch.

Okay. So those are kind of basic structural institutional differences between these three kinds of colonies. But beyond their basic structure, there are also things about the social structure and the culture of the different regions of the colonies that differentiated them and bred some distrust. So let’s just look for just a few minutes at the different regions and let’s start with New England. Now logically enough — this is not a surprise — New England had the most structured institutional base of the colonies because of its Puritan roots. So just think about the whole idea of a New England town, and that’s what I’m talking about here. In general, New England colonies were divided into townships; each township was oriented around the church. Traditionally speaking, your church fathers were your town fathers. The church felt responsible not only for your soul in church but also for your soul as displayed in your everyday life, so there actually were church officials who sometimes went from home to home to be sure that you were living properly, abiding by godly standards of living — and that’s a sort of really strong institutional base of settlement.

Now as commerce boomed in New England, the sort of pure church-orientation of New England society got a little bit diluted, but still, it had an enormous impact on the tone of life in the northern colonies. Also, because of New England’s Puritan roots and the Puritan respect for the word as presented in the Bible — and you needed to be able to read and understand the Bible for yourself — literacy was particularly high in the New England colonies. And New England colleges, Harvard and Yale, were generally superior to most of the other colleges at the time, although King’s College in New York, which is now Columbia, and the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton, also ranked high. William and Mary in Virginia was kind of in a different league and I’m going to come back to that, and also to UVA, which is where I got my Ph.D., in a few minutes.

Now New England was mostly composed of small farms supported by family labor. And there was some slave labor; it was the least in all of the colonies, and there were roughly thirty-five white Europeans to every one slave. Because of its original Puritan origins — so, because of its original focus on excluding all but the like-minded who shared their religious sense of purpose — New England was not really diverse religiously or ethnically. And it was this lack of diversity, the kind of insular nature of New England society, that made many people think of New Englanders as kind of — well, their word for it was unmixed — sort of stiff and awkward: they’re not used to being out in the world, they don’t know how to have conversations with people who aren’t like them, they’re sort of weird because they only know other New Englanders. But, the same sort of relative lack of diversity also allowed New Englanders to unite quickly and powerfully if they felt that their rights were being impinged upon, as we’ll see during the first phases of the Revolution, within the next week or so. So that’s New England.

The middle colonies in at least one way were the precise opposite of New England because they were actually the most diverse of all of the colonies. The middle colonies were flooded by immigrants from Germany, from Ireland, from Scotland, to name just a few countries. And as a matter of fact the middle colonies were considered, in a phrase used at the time, “the best poor man’s country” because there were ample supplies of land and there weren’t harsh restrictions or great intolerance of diversity.

And part of the reason why it was so popular for immigrants is because of the great tolerance of the Quakers who founded the colony. Though Pennsylvania, like Massachusetts, was founded by basically a group of religious dissenters, the Quaker faith was quite different from Puritanism. And it was much more focused on regulating society according to your internal moral spirit rather than through institutional, sort of church-oriented structures. So there were fewer external rules and regulations controlling Pennsylvania society in the way there would have been in New England, and it was a lot easier for people who arrived in the middle colonies to adapt to living there. And tolerance was also integral to the Quaker faith, so again, it’s easier for immigrants to deal with arriving to the middle colonies.

Also the middle colonies, unlike New England and the South, were kind of less of a coherent region. And particularly New York and Pennsylvania, although they’re both lumped into middle colony-ness, they seemed to share fewer similarities, and it’s why at the time you don’t really hear people dividing the colonies into thirds. They do tend to break it into halves and they do tend to talk about northern or eastern colonies and southern colonies and they sort of shove Pennsylvania north and shove Maryland south, obviously thinking generally about slavery as a helpful dividing line.

Now that said, to people at the time New York was particularly problematic, and in some ways some people actually considered New York to be more southern than northern. Jefferson actually said that at the time. He thought that New York was in the wrong place — that somehow geographically it ended up far more north than it should have been. It should be a southern state. And what he meant by that was: unlike a lot of other states or colonies actually, not yet states, colonies, it was organized around great landowners who owned vast expanses of land. And although in all of the colonies there were sort of great families who controlled or who certainly had a lot of power, in New York politics was really largely organized around the clash between a handful of great families.

Portrait of Philip Livingston, engraving, 18th century / New York Public Library

And the Livingstons are the sort of largest and most noteworthy political clan in New York, and I can vouch to you as a historian of this time period that when you’re studying New York politics there are a million Livingstons and they’re all named Philip. Trying to tell which Livingston is which Livingston is really hard. There are a lot of Livingstons and they all — a lot of them are in power.

Other people commented not necessarily that New York seemed southern, but that it had really high-toned manners, that the people were really aristocratic, that they were very interested in fine living and display than some of the surrounding more northern colonies. And some people considered New Yorkers shifty, self-interested and subtle. There’s one account I came across in which this fellows says — basically he says he thinks New Yorkers are all liars, but the way he puts it is something like: New Yorkers are all guilty of telling great thumpers, [laughs] and I guess a great thumper is a big lie.

And actually that same diary — Okay. This really surprised me. I suppose — you know, very often — this is true with slang too — you consider slang or other things as being really, really modern, and then you discover it actually isn’t really modern; it dates all the way back. I found a letter once from this time period in which someone said, “I wanted to give So-and-So a good swift kick in the can.” Right? Okay. I don’t expect someone to say that in 1799, “a good swift kick in the can.” The can? — they’re saying that — I don’t know. It’s a little sort of more cas than I thought they would be in 1799.

But so in this diary account this person is talking about New York. He’s a Pennsylvanian and he says New Yorkers talk really fast, walk really fast, they do everything really fast in New York. They’re sort of really businesslike and abrupt. It actually just doesn’t sound very different from what someone today would say visiting New York City for the first time. But he also describes — and now I’m going to embarrass myself fully — he also describes what he calls the New York walk, which in his mind — He thinks all New Yorkers walk this way, which I guess is kind of bent over and walking very fast, so in his — and he does a little imitation of it. Apparently, in his diary he talks about it. So he is looking at New York. Basically his impression — you almost could read someone today making a very similar observation about New York.

So New York, Pennsylvania, middle colonies: a bit different. Considering though, these differences between New York and Pennsylvania, years later, after the Constitution kicks in, they actually become an enormous issue because they begin to play into the question of where the national capital should be located. Because the general belief at the time was, wherever the capital ended up being located would determine the manners of the national office-holders and thus determine the sort of manner and character of the nation. Right? So, wherever you’re living is going to shape how you act — so the national office holders are going to act — if they’re in New York — kind of snooty, and then the American public’s going to look at these snooty people and they’re going to try to act like the snooty people, and thus all of America will become aristocratic and corrupt and that’s the end of the republican experiment in government. Darn. Right?

So that was kind of the logic at the time so people had a lot of attitudes about whether the capital should be in New York or should be in Philadelphia, actually in Pennsylvania. The idea being that Pennsylvania seemed more ideal because it’s sort of in the middle, it seems kind of balanced, people said it seemed the most small “r” republican, meaning sort of virtuous and straightforward and uncorrupted. So it’s not as though these issues die out when we get states and a country. But now southerners might disagree and might say, ‘No. Pennsylvania is of course not the most republican. We in the South are the most republican, the most virtuous of all regions.’ Of course, other colonists from other regions would have disagreed and would have claimed, as many did, that the South was aristocratic in the extreme, that they had a true haughty aristocratic elite, plantation owners and then a glut of poor common folk.

Education and Social Culture in the Southern Colonies

A photochrom postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company. View of William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia, circa 1902. / Wikimedia Commons

Not surprisingly, southern society was structured around widely-scattered plantations which essentially functioned like small villages owned and controlled by southern gentlemen. And it was these gentlemen who controlled and regulated affairs, who did things like take responsibility for fixing roads or tending to local affairs, rather than having some kind of formal institution tending to those things, as might have happened in a place that was more structured — institutionally structured — like New England. And these southern gentlemen really did enjoy great display in their homes, in their clothing, in their style of living. They spent their leisure time gambling, cock fighting, horse racing and, as that diarist suggests, drinking.

Now generally speaking, education was not as important in the South as in the North, which is not to say gentlemen were [correction: weren’t] expected to be educated. They were in the South, but going to school at William and Mary was sometimes more social training than intellectual training. I’m sorry, William and Mary. I do not mean to insult you. But for one, Thomas Jefferson was really not impressed with his education at William and Mary, and ultimately, he created in his old age the University of Virginia because he wanted to create what he considered to be a better academic institution in the state of Virginia where people would be truly learning. This will be a temple of learning, the University of Virginia.

Okay. Things didn’t work out the way he planned initially at the University of Virginia. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of gambling. I think — I can’t remember whether Edgar Allan Poe was thrown out for drinking or gambling or both but he was expelled from the University of Virginia for doing one or both of those two things. Students really liked, at UVA — I don’t know if any of you have been there, but there is sort of this beautiful lawn at the center of campus — students really liked to ride up and down the lawn on their horses and shoot guns off in the air. This was a popular hobby.

Things got really bad apparently with the guns and the horses, so Thomas Jefferson in 1825 called a meeting of the faculty and students so that he could reprimand them. This is the hobby and delight of his old age, his — what he’s going to give to his own colony or state of Virginia, and now just wacky people riding around shooting guns and not really going to class, per se. So he calls this meeting of students and faculty and he invites along James Monroe and James Madison. Okay. So we’ve got three ex-Presidents who are standing over the Virginia student body who are going to reprimand them for shooting off their guns. And supposedly — I always find this sort of touching. Right? Supposedly, Thomas Jefferson stood up to yell at the students but he was so upset at what was happening at the university that he started to cry and he had to sit down. [laughter] So okay, crying Founders. So he was very upset and then one of the Jameses — I don’t know if it was Madison or Monroe — sort of had to take over.

Now you would think that a crying Founder might help the student body at Virginia to kind of shape up, but it did not. And years later when faculty told the still-rioting, gun-shooting students that they needed to actually give up their guns now because they apparently just didn’t want to stop shooting them, there was some kind of a gun riot, [laughter] a riot, like crashing windows and — I don’t know the details but it was ugly, and seventy students were expelled. Four years after the amazing gun riot, when students were celebrating the anniversary of the gun riot, [laughter] which kind of tells you that people being expelled really didn’t do a lot for — [laughter] This gets really unfortunate. They were celebrating the anniversary of the gun riot and a professor was accidentally shot and killed. [laughter] So, [laughter] it’s a problem. It’s UVA, the early years. Right? It’s a problem — unfortunate problem with the guns. Okay. [laughs] Virginia education in the early years.

So, as with the other regions, southern colonists — colonies — were distinctive in many ways other than crazy, gun-toting students. Of course, slavery had an enormous impact on the tone of life in the South. There were between 1.3 and 1.7 white Europeans to every slave in the South and in some colonies like South Carolina there actually was a black majority. To Jefferson, slavery corrupted the morals of the South, and once again, he says this in Notes on the State of Virginia to his French audience, so he certainly writes things there that he would not have said to a fellow Virginian. And in this case this is what he writes in Notes:

“There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting deposition on the one part and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate it for man is an imitative animal. The parent storms, the child looks on, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated and daily exercised in tyranny cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances.”

So that’s Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, in a really strong passage about the influence of slavery on the morals and manners of southerners. So clearly the South is based on the mastery, literally and figuratively, of a ruling elite. And it’s this spirit of entitlement and independence and mastery that would inspire some of the emotional response in the South to Britain’s actions in the 1760s and 1770s, particularly in Virginia, which was the colony that really believed itself to be at the top of the hierarchy of southern colonies, the leader of the South. The response of Virginia to what they perceived to be the impingement of Britain upon their rights was second in intensity, as we’re going to see, only to what took place in Massachusetts and particularly in Boston.

So you can now begin to see how really diverse these different regions and colonies were and you can also begin to see why when different men from different regions came together in something like ultimately a continental congress they were pretty quick to pick up on those differences. And New Englanders picked apart the southerners as being arrogant and wearing flashy clothes and southerners thought the New Englanders were strange and awkward and everybody distrusted the New Yorkers and everybody smiled at the Pennsylvanians, but all of these [laughter] things were pretty prominent in any kind of a continental organization.

Dutch Expansion and the English Dominion: The First Two Unions

Seal of the Dominion of New England / Wikimedia Commons

So with all of these big differences you can begin to see how truly amazing and noteworthy would have been any attempts at colonial unity. And what I’m going to do right now is just talk very briefly about these three attempts at colonial unity that I mentioned at the outset of the lecture. Two of them, as we’ll see, were inspired by the colonies as a means of self-defense. One of them was basically created by the British, not surprisingly as a means of asserting British control. But what’s really most important to note in these examples that I’m going to offer you here is: generally speaking, when American colonists considered colonial union on their own it was for reasons of self-defense. It was for reasons of self-interest and not because of some greater ideological calling; it was really for basic self-defense.

So let’s look at the first attempt at colonial union, which took place in 1643. Okay. So in 1643, representatives of the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven — New Haven is its own little settlement. I — It happens several times in this course that New Haven just appears all by itself, which I always kind of love because you just don’t expect it to sort of sit there all by itself having historical prominence, but here it is. So Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven decided that they wanted to form a confederation to defend themselves against Dutch expansion and hostile Indian tribes, and to create some kind of forum for resolving intercolonial disputes, which happened all the time. Rhode Island tried to join the forum [laughs] but it was excluded [laughter] because nobody trusted Rhode Island [laughter] so they were not invited to join. The union, known as the United Colonies of New England, or the New England Confederation, didn’t have any sanction in the charters of its member colonies. Instead it was just a kind of joint advisory council and it was made up of two members from each participating colony, so basically it had eight people in it, right? And six of the eight had to vote for something for it to take effect. So between 1643 and 1664, the United Colonies of New England, or the New England Confederation, met — between those years, 1643 and 1664 — until Connecticut annexed New Haven and the number of members decreased and went down to six and this became a problem. So after 1664, when New Haven sort of merged with Connecticut, it didn’t meet very often and then ultimately in 1684 it kind of drifted to an end, the end of the United Colonies of New England. So that’s amazing first attempt at union. It was an attempt.

The second union of a sort was spurred by the British government, which in the 1680s became worried that the New England colonies were not sympathetic and loyal to the British monarch and we’re — basically we’re creeping up here on — I’m not going to go into it in any detail but — on what comes to be known as the Glorious Revolution, when the monarchy falls, so there’s a reason why they’re wondering how loyal the New Englanders are to the monarchy. But British authorities wanted to be sure that the New England colonies were going to be loyal to the British monarch.

So in 1686, the British government formed what they called the Dominion of New England, which to me sounds like sort of Darth Vader, “Star Wars” — the “Dominion.” So they formed the Dominion of New England, 1686, which fused all of the New England colonies plus New York plus New Jersey into one colony to be ruled by one royal governor and an appointed council. That’s a dramatic gesture. The resulting mass that was made by merging all of that into one colony was larger in size than England. Okay. That’s a lot of land, a lot of land. The newly-installed royal governor was named Edmund Andros, A-n-d-r-o-s.

Andros ruled over the Dominion without a legislature, passing laws after they were approved by a majority of his councilors. You can see how happy this is going to make the New Englanders. Not surprisingly, a lot of New Englanders resented the dominion and the way it just sort of supplanted colonial legislatures. Even more unfortunate, Andros was not a very diplomatic politician and he really had no reason to be diplomatic. He was sent to New England on royal authority, his job was to assert royal authority, so he really didn’t need to please anybody except the King. Even so, he somehow seemed intent on really proving his authority by flaunting it before New Englanders. So for example, not long after he arrived, Andros took over a Puritan meeting house and converted it into an Anglican church. Right? Nothing like a little ‘ha, you Puritans, you think you control the Dominion, but I control the Dominion,’ dramatic gesture. He also put the colonial militia under the direct control of the governor himself. And there were a number of other highly unpopular things that he did. But in 1689 when the Stuart monarchy fell in England because of the Glorious Revolution, American colonists also revolted and they toppled the Dominion government; they jailed its officers including Andros, who supposedly tried to escape in women’s clothing. [laughter] Okay. So that’s somewhat humiliating. Even more humiliating, he was caught, [laughs] poor Andros, and he is eventually freed and not surprisingly fled right back to England. And soon after, Britain just let the colonies resume their former status so end of the Dominion of New England. That’s a really obviously whopping big success.

The French and Indian Threats: The Third Colonial Union

In 1754 the British government asked colonial representatives to meet in Albany, New York, to develop a treaty with Native Americans and plan the defense of the colonies against France. Exceeding these limited objectives, the assembly adopted a plan developed by Benjamin Franklin for government of the colonies by a central executive and a council of delegates. Although rejected by England and the colonies, the Albany Plan became a useful guide in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. The mural depicts some of the delegates (from left to right): William Franklin and his father, Benjamin (Pennsylvania); Governor Thomas Hutchinson (Massachusetts); Governor William Delancey (New York); Sir William Johnson (Massachusetts); Colonel Benjamin Tasker (Maryland). / Wikimedia Commons

The third and last attempt at union is in 1754, and like the first one, it was largely because of a threat. And this time, colonies were afraid of threats coming from the French and from Indians. And here we have the not really promising entry of George Washington on to the colonial military scene. I’m going to draw a little picture to you of George Washington’s moment of glory at this moment in time. Okay. So in 1753, 1754, there were some skirmishes on the Pennsylvania frontier because French forces were moving south from Quebec. And Virginia militia under the command of George Washington — a young and, as we will hear, inexperienced officer — he’s sent out by the governor of Virginia to investigate and see what’s happening with these sort of French movements on the frontier. So Washington and his men apparently tramp around the frontier for a while and ultimately they find a small party of French soldiers in an encampment and they open fire on them and kill a lot of them, and then discover unfortunately after the fact that actually it was a neutral ambassador holding papers for a negotiation, and his diplomatic escort. Okay. [laughter] So Washington just killed a bunch of diplomats and their escort and the diplomat literally died clutching papers to negotiate Okay. [laughter] Thank you, George Washington.

So Washington, after this glorious moment, decides he’s going to pull back and he’s going to encamp his troops in a fort that he will have built. Right? So he has troops build a fort and he names it Fort Necessity, which it really was. Right? He just killed people he shouldn’t have been killing; now he’d better create a fort, so he creates Fort Necessity, but unfortunately for Washington he built it in — basically in a valley. Okay, fort in valley, just not good. He didn’t really think very hard about the places up above the fort where the French could perch and fire down in to the fort, which of course they did. Right? [laughter] He also didn’t think about the fact that if it’s in a valley if it rains, it’s really bad for people in the valley. So sure enough the French attack, there is a big rain storm, the French are shooting down from the heights, and Washington and his little troop are down in this sort of soggy, increasingly puddled fort in which their powder is all getting soaked in these huge puddles as it continues to rain. This did not end well for Washington and basically he ultimately had to surrender.

Not only did he have to surrender, but because of a document that was really badly translated, he signed his name to terms of surrender which announced that Washington had, quote, “assassinated” a French diplomat. Yes, I assassinated a — This was all bad. [laughter] This is just — This is George Washington’s entry. Right? Let’s give the command to him. This is not a good moment for George. And in addition to that, supposedly in this moment, Washington wrote a letter to his brother. He was still kind of cheery about this whole thing, throughout this whole thing. He wrote a letter to his brother and he said — I have to quote it precisely here — “I heard bullets whistle and, believe me, there was something charming in the sound.” Right? He’s so excited about getting a chance to fight. It’s like — the charming sound of bullets. Supposedly, that quote made its way back to King George the Second, who thought it was a really stupidly ridiculous thing for anybody to say, and I think what the king said was something along the lines of: ‘He wouldn’t think so if he heard very many of those bullets whistling. They would not be charming anymore.’

So, not a good moment for George. He’s not helping matters, but in addition to that the British really were worried that Indian relations generally speaking were deteriorating largely due to complications between colonies that weren’t cooperating with each other. So the governors of Massachusetts and New York persuade the British Lords of Trade — they’re the guys who regulate trade in the colonies — to issue a call for a conference to meet in Albany in June of 1754 to negotiate with the Six Nations, with the Iroquois Confederation, and to talk about other ways of coordinating defense for the colonies.

So in 1754, there is this meeting called to figure out a way for the colonies to jointly work things out with the Native Americans, the Six Nations. Invitations went to nine colonies: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. I’ll repeat that one more time: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were not included because they were probably just too far away from where people thought there was going to be conflict. New Jersey and Virginia declined because it was too expensive to go. So even here when you — people are afraid, there’s an Indian threat — some colonies just say, ‘Oh, it costs too much. I don’t think I’m going to bother.’

This meeting came to be known as the Albany Congress in 1754.