Part four of our series on 5 Myths about the Revolutionary War dwells on the pre-war period.
In the shorthand version of American history, the colonial period is one of peace and prosperity right up to the 1770s. But especially in New England, the 17th and 18th centuries were strewn with political conflict and open war.
Canada and New England ended up acting out the wars between France and England over and over from 1689 through 1763. In 1689, New Englanders overthrew the Dominion imposed on them by James II. From 1689-1697, New England was a battlefield in King William’s War. Just five years later, word came to New England that they were at war with Canada once again, for in 1702, Queen Anne’s War began. This war lasted until 1711. The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-42) involved New Englanders recruited to fight in the Caribbean, most notably in the attempt to take Cartagena (in what is today Colombia). 65% of the 4,183 Americans who went to fight for Cartagena died.
In 1745 and 1758, New Englanders went to Louisbourg, the major French fort guarding Canada from the sea, successfully capturing it in 1745 only to have Great Britain return it to France in their peace treaty. Harried by French-sponsored Native American attacks from 1748-58, New Englanders retook the fort at great cost in 1758 (it was destroyed in 1760).
So we see that New England was in a state of almost constant turmoil in its colonial years, turmoil almost always caused by England’s wars with France. England spared few troops for North America, focusing on the naval battles in Europe, and more than once promised to send soldiers to back up New England, then failed to do so. This caused great anger and bewilderment in New England, which felt it was being deliberately endangered by its mother country.
Of course, the last in this series of wars between France and Britain in America was the French and Indian War, 1756-63. The road to revolution was taken the next year, when the Sugar Act was passed.
No wonder New England was the hotbed of revolution against England by 1764. A sense of betrayal and separateness had been forged by all those battles against France that New Englanders fought without British help. It would not be until 1815, when the War of 1812 ended, that New England breathed several decades’ worth of peace.