Before the Revolution

When studying history we tend to divide time periods up and compartmentalize them for our own ease of study and understanding. Yet when we step back and look, it becomes obvious how events flow one into another. There is a great deal of overlap and often events occurred concurrently.

April 19 will bring the anniversary of the opening of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord. While the conflict with Great Britain was growing and festering, other events were taking place in various colonies. The ending of the French and Indian War is seen as the close of an era and a neat stopping point before the coming of the Revolution. Yet on the heels of the war’s ending, Britain began implementing the taxes and regulations that would anger American colonists.

The Treaty of Paris formally ended the war in 1763, the same year that the Proclamation Line was drawn to restrict colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet that same year a Native American rebellion on the frontier, Pontiac’s Rebellion, began. A pivotal battle took place that August at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania. Just two years later Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, an event that caused outrage in America and sparked protests from New England to the Carolinas. Pontiac’s War ended the next year, overlapping with Parliament’s new taxes and protests against England.

Monument at Bushy Run Battlefield, Author photo.

All along there was also tension and fierce rivalries between the different colonies. Pennsylvania and Connecticut had a boundary dispute which led to violence several times. Connecticut’s charter extended its boundary to the west, across what is now the northern tier of Pennsylvania. New England settlers moved into the region and founded towns. In 1775 Pennsylvania militia forced them out at gunpoint. The Revolution interrupted this struggle, and after it was over the conflict between the two states resumed. The new federal government established by the Articles of Confederation would rule in favor of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania also had a boundary dispute with its southern neighbor, Maryland. Pennsylvania claimed land farther to the south into modern Maryland, and the southern colony claimed land as far north as Philadelphia. The Mason Dixon survey from 1763 to 1767 established what the current boundary between the two is now. It happened as the Sons of Liberty in Boston were organizing protests against their royal governor.

Mason-Dixon Line Marker, author photo.

There was also a great deal of internal unrest in the southern colonies. North Carolina and South Carolina each experienced Regulator movements, where local vigilantes took justice into their own hands. In North Carolina,

Residents in the western and central part of the state felt that colonial officials were corrupt and unresponsive to their needs. With violence and intimation, ‘regulators’ threatened tax collectors, judges, and other government officials in 1764. Their goal was to regulate and overturn the corrupt and unsympathetic colonial government. Governor William Tryon brought out militia from the eastern counties and they met the Regulators in a pitched battle at Alamance in 1771. The Regulators were crushed by the better supplied and trained militia, and the rebellion collapsed. Leaders were arrested, and many fled or abandoned the cause.

In South Carolina, a similar Regulator movement began in 1767. There were no county courts outside of Charleston, a major inconvenience for western settlers. The frontier in the western part of the state was also lawless and violent. Regulators wanted more government assistance, and organized themselves to regulate, and maintain order. There were no courts, jails, or sheriffs on the frontier, so settlers organize their own gangs to enforce justice and punish suspects. In 1769 the colonial government enacted reforms to address the issues.

The area around Ninety Six, SC saw violence during the Regulator Movement. Author photo.

In 1767 Parliament passed the Townshend Acts which taxed certain imports to the colonies, and the Americans responded the next year with a Non-Importation Agreement. That same year the Iroquois and British settlers negotiated an important treaty at Fort Stanwix, NY. The treaty settled boundary disputes with several colonies and purchased much of modern-day northern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky.  

With violent protests increasing in Massachusetts, 2,000 British troops arrived in Boston in 1769 to maintain order. The following March the Boston Massacre occurred.

On May 27, 1771, after twelve days of rain the James River flooded in and around Richmond, VA. An estimated 150 were killed as the river rose to 45 feet above normal level. Crops and livestock were destroyed, and homes in low-lying areas swept away.

From 1773-4 Dunmore’s War was fought as Virginians claimed western land and clashed with the Shawnee.  George Washington, among other social elite, supported the royal governor in this effort. The Virginians decisively defeated the Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant, in October, 1774, and Royal Governor Lord Dunmore returned to the colony very popular.

Overlapping with Dunmore’s War was a rivalry between Pennsylvania and Virginia over western land. Virginia militia seized Fort Pitt and used it as a base for raids against the Shawnee. Settlers from both colonies were moving into the area, and both established rival county courts and militias in the region. In 1774, the year that the first Continental Congress meet, Virginia established the District of West Augusta in the disputed area with Pennsylvania, to give their claim great legitimacy.

Pennsylvania established Hannastown as a county seat not far from the rival courthouses of Virginia in what is now western Pennsylvania. Author photo.

By the time of the Gaspee Affair in 1772 and Boston Tea Party in 1773, Pennsylvania and Virginia were nearly at war over their boundary dispute. In 1775 both Pennsylvania and Virginia militia had arrested opposing leaders in the contested area. The boundary dispute dragged on through the Revolution was settled late in the war.

The battles at Lexington and Concord were fought in April 1775. A few months later in August and September, a deadly hurricane struck the east coast, killing an estimated 4,000 people. The storm hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina in late August and moved up to Virginia then Pennsylvania. Rivers flooded and there was widespread damage. The hurricane continued up to Newfoundland, causing more devastation as it went.

These events took place amid the growing crisis with England in the 1760s and 70s. In the fifteen years before the outbreak of the war, Americans were busy with everyday life, and often distracted by frontier warfare, natural disasters, boundary disputes, colonial rivalries, and internal unrest. No wonder unity was difficult to achieve before and then during the war, even with a common cause. It is important to see the overlap in these events and how they provide context for what was happening in each region.

4 thoughts on “Before the Revolution

  1. Mike Crossin

    Great Seminar in Williamsburg this year; see you at Fort Plain.
    Bert; very interesting article and loved your Sunday talk a couple weeks back on Brandywine. Bought your Brandywine book at Bruce’s seminar; I recommend it highly to any & all concerned.

    Liked by 2 people

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