BRITISH COLONIES 1600’s & 1700’s

Charles II’s brother James II succeeded him only to be replaced by his own daughter Mary who was married to William of Orange II and for a while Britain had a Dutch king. William successfully fought Catholics in Ireland (where “Orange men” still march today to celebrate his victory) but he died in a horse riding accident. His wife’s sister, Anne, succeeded him and when she died with no heirs, parliament searched for a Protestant monarch in Europe. They found one in the small kingdom of Hanover. He was George, grandson of James I, and it was from this German that the current British Royal Family is descended.

George I spoke no English and for the next hundred years the family was generally unpopular. At the same time England had been getting richer. Trade produced bigger and quicker profits than farming and the British Navy’s domination grew as the British Empire expanded.

It was the 1700’s and more than a million settlers had made their homes in English Colonies along the North American Coast.

In India, British and French battled each other for influence and control and with the help of Robert Clive, Britain prevailed.

Canada won from France

France and Britain continued to fight each other for other territory and trading rights.

In 1759 Quebec was the gateway to vast Canada. It was French and Quebec City, with its huge fortress towering above the river made sure the British would not have any ideas of attacking it or the French Colony. Protected by 100 guns, Montcalms’ army looked down somewhat amused as British riverboats appeared. Young English general, James Wolfe was in charge of the attack on what seemed an unreachable target. No army could get close enough to the fortress to scale its walls. But Wolfe had a plan. He had seen women washing their clothes in the river and with a spyglass he had picked out the zigzag path they utilized. Waiting for darkness he landed with1700 men preceded by a party of volunteers who followed the path and climbed the cliff to overpower the guard

They signaled their companions to follow. More boats drifted down the river and by dawn Wolfe had 4,500 men drawn up on the Plain of Abraham a mile or so from Quebec. In the battle that followed both Montcalm and Wolfe were killed but not before Wolfe, whose bright new uniform made an easy target for sharpshooters gave the order to charge and told his officers to “Hold me up! They must not see me fall.” He did not fall until victory was achieved but Quebec did and the whole of Canada became British. It would remain British, but not so its fellow colonies further south.

Revolt in the American colonies

By the time George III was on the throne, this rather stupid young man was faced with a dilemma. The mostly British settlers in America were restless. There were now more than 2 million who had left Britain because they were unhappy there. They had worked hard to establish themselves in America and resented being pushed about by haughty officials from Britain.

When George and his ministers put new taxes on items like glass, paper and tea the colonist refused to pay. An indignant group disguised as Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and threw their cargoes of tea overboard.

The king punished the “Boston Tea Party” by closing the port. The locals drew up a petition to the king, setting down their grievances but stating their loyalty to the crown. The king ignored the petition and fighting broke out. It went on for over three years and, based on military might, should have been won by the British. However, through British ineptitude and the courage and superb leadership of George Washington, the colonists triumphed and in 1776 declared their independence as a nation, the “United States of America” — there were 13 states at the time, now there are 50.

The Industrial Revolution

Although potentially the greatest colony of all had been lost, Britain was to continue building its Empire into the largest the world had ever seen. Canada was still there, so was India. Britain was on the verge of a great economic transformation, “The Industrial Revolution.” From small manufacturing workshops around the country arose a group of inventors that made Britain the chief manufacturing country in the world. The “Flying Shuttle” speeded up weaving, James Watt developed an efficient steam engine and canals were built that caused the price of coal to drop by half. Then George Stephenson developed a prototype moving steam engine, “Puffing Billy” and later the first train to move at an unbelievable 12 miles per hour! — “The Rocket.” Within 20 years Britain had the first railway network with over 5000 miles of track and “Rocket” would be the basic design of steam locomotion for 120 years.

France remained Britain’s primary European enemy especially when a brilliant French General, Napoleon arrived on the scene. He dominated Europe until he was defeated in 1815 by the Duke of Wellington at the little town of Waterloo in Belgium. (We shall meet Napoleon in the chapter on “The French”). Free now of serious competition from France, Britain was able to apply her newfound wealth, international experience and technology to building an Empire, the golden days of which fell, not under a king, but a queen who reigned for 63 years — Victoria.