Britain: United States and north American Colonies Essay

Submitted By Julie-Skousen
Words: 1475
Pages: 6

On February 2, 1766, forty-one days after his ship had left Boston's harbor, the Indian Samson Occom recorded in his diary, "About 10 in the morning, we discovered the land of England." Almost three centuries after Columbus had brought news of the existence of a New World to Europe, a descendant of the people who had met the explorer on its shores had embarked on his own voyage of discovery. However, by the mid-eighteenth century, Indians were not the only North Americans for whom Britain was a strange and distant land. Although emigration to the colonies continued to be an important factor in the rapid growth of North America throughout the eighteenth century, after 1700 the birth-rate was by far the most significant element in the spectacular rise in population among white colonists. Thus, by the time of the American Revolution few colonists had actually ever seen Britain.
This does not mean that they did not have distinct opinions about what the mother country was like. Britain was, after all, the political, social, economic, and cultural center of the American colonies. Americans modeled their political institutions on British institutions; they strove to imitate British social practices; they depended on the British to buy their raw materials, extend them credit, and protect their ships. Like their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic, the colonists exalted in the achievements of Britain, closely following the accounts of military victories throughout the empire and enthusiastically participating in the rapidly expanding spheres of trade. In fact, during the eighteenth century the majority of the people who populated the North American colonies considered themselves to be Britons. At the close of the French and Indian War (1754-1760), Benjamin Franklin wrote, "No one can more sincerely rejoice than I do on the reduction of Canada; and this is not merely as I am a colonist, but as I am a Briton." Five years later Francis Hopkinson, a future revolutionary, argued, "We in America are in all respects Englishmen, notwithstanding that the Atlantic rolls her waves between us and the throne to which we all owe our allegiance." Even in 1775 the South Carolinian Ralph Izard was able to assure a friend in England, "I can solemnly vouch that the colonists look upon their descent from Englishmen, and their connection with England, as their greatest glory and honor."
As much as the majority of the people who populated the North American colonies identified with the mother country, however, the British saw the colonists as strange and primitive. After all, what were the colonies but a society planted in the midst of a wilderness; populated by a bewildering mix of Europeans, transported criminals, Indians, and slaves; unable to supply itself with most of the manufactured goods taken for granted in England; and culturally handicapped by the lack of a leisure class dedicated to the cultivation of polite society, political leadership, and the support of the arts and sciences? Given these circumstances, the British could not understand why they should consider the colonists to be their equals.
This attitude became apparent to the colonists in a number of unpleasant ways. During the French and Indian War, for example, the British soldiers sent to the colonies to fight the French showed little respect for their American allies. Indeed, John Carlyle of Alexandria, Virginia, complained that the British troops "by some means or another came in so prejudiced against us [and] our Country . . . that they used us like an enemy country and took everything they wanted and paid nothing, or very little, for it. And when complaints [were] made to the commanding officers, they [cursed] the country and inhabitants, calling us the spawn of convicts the sweepings of the gaols . . . which made their company very disagreeable." In 1773, John Ewing, the future provost of the University of Pennsylvania, found that even Dr. Samuel Johnson held