GUEST CURATOR: Alex Devolve
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Wanted Immediately, a number of settlers, to remove and settle … in New Hampshire.”
I have chosen an advertisement about settling a town called Relham in New Hampshire. The reason I chose this advertisement is because the idea of settling and expanding within and outside of the colonial borders was not only part of colonial dreams in the eighteenth century, but was similar to Manifest Destiny in the nineteenth century.
According to the Office of the Historian of the Foreign Service Institute of the United States Department of State, “The settlement of the lands west of the Appalachians brought inevitable tension and conflict between settlers and indigenous peoples” during the years prior to the American Revolution. Colonists’ hopes for expansion seemed to end after the French and Indian War due to the Proclamation Line of 1763, put in place in response to Pontiac’s Rebellion. This move was one of many that sent colonists into a rebellious state. They believed they were deprived of lands promised to them and that many had died for in the French and Indian War. The colonists’ felt their own interests were not being recognized by Britain. Even in places already settled by colonists, such as New Hampshire, they wanted their own land and opportunities.
This advertisement made me think about how important land was to colonists … and how their desire to create settlements had an impact on the events of the American Revolution and long after, impacting millions of lives.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
When they enter my Revolutionary America class, most students attribute the cause of the Revolution to “taxation without representation” and events like the Boston Massacre. That gives us a chance to discuss how that narrative tells an incomplete story, one that largely leaves out Indigenous peoples and the territories that Britain gained in the Seven Years War. As Alex notes, many colonizers, including land speculators, had their sights on territory previously claimed by the French. Neither the British government nor the colonizers, however, took into account the wishes of Indigenous peoples who already inhabited the region. That prompted an uprising, Pontiac’s War. Pontiac and his Indigenous allies captured most British forts in the Great Lakes, but not key outposts like Detroit. The uprising ultimately collapsed, but it convinced the British to establish the Proclamation Line in hopes that forbidding westward expansion would prevent further turmoil in the region. Colonizers promptly ignored the Proclamation Line, except to add it to a list of grievances that spurred them to declare independence.
Starting our examination of the era of the American Revolution with the outcome of the Seven Years War and the repercussions of Pontiac’s War makes sense chronologically, but, more significantly, it also introduces settler colonialism as an important theme for understanding the founding of the nation. As we consider events from 1763 to 1815 – before, during, and after the Revolution – we assess the extent that European colonizers and, later, American citizens sought to displace Indigenous Americans. This requires broadening the geographic scope of traditional narratives of the American Revolution. We do not focus solely on events in the thirteen colonies on the Atlantic coast. To aid in that endeavor, we work our way through Tiya Miles’s The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits. Miles tells the story of Detroit and the Great Lakes between 1760 and 1815, allowing us to move back and forth between the coast and the interior. She carefully recovers and incorporates the experiences of Indigenous people, enslaved and free, and Black people, enslaved and free, as well as French and English colonizers and American citizens. As my students and I discuss the political philosophy and the grievances against the king in the Declaration of Independence or the events that caused the War of 1812, often considered a second war for independence, we take into account settler colonialism within the thirteen colonies that became a new nation and in territories coveted and claimed by those colonizers and that nation.
Alex selected an advertisement that contributed to those discussions. Settler colonialism continued within the colonies in the early 1770s as colonizers responded to advertisements about “remarkable rich” land, moving from Connecticut to what would have been considered a frontier in New Hampshire. This advertisement in the Connecticut Courantproclaimed that “inhabitants are removing fast from this and the other colonies” to settle towns and possess land in territory already claimed by colonies. Examining settler colonialism during the era of the American Revolution helps us achieve a better understanding of the past than we achieve if we just retell the familiar story of “taxation without representation” and the Boston Massacre.