To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
contact us | site guide | search
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: American

Richard W. Seale, A New and Accurate Map of North America, 1763
- "The continent is not wide enough for us both": On the European competition for North American territory, 1699-1763 (PDF)
- A Letter from Benjamin Jones, on the defense of the Pennsylvania frontier, 1754 (PDF)
- Benjamin Franklin: The Interest of Great Britain Considered, With Regard to Her Colonies, 1760, excerpts (PDF)
- Map (zoomable):

There shall be sung another golden Age,
The rise of Empire and of Arts,
The Good and Great inspiring epic Rage,
The wisest Heads and noblest Hearts.

Not such as Europe breeds in her decay;
Such as she bred when fresh and young,
When heavenly Flame did animate her Clay,
By future Poets shall be sung.

Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way;
The four first Acts already past,
A fifth shall close the Drama with the Day;
Time's noblest Offspring is the last.

Rev. George Berkeley, ca. 17281      

"Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way." A line that connotes the nineteenth-century vision of America's "manifest destiny" to extend from sea to sea, yet a line written two centuries earlier, in the late 1720s, by an Anglican bishop predicting the transfer of enlightened civilization from Europe to America. And by the 1720s, American colonists were more than pleased to share the bounty of Britain's emergence as the dominant imperial power of Europe. "In the intertwined commercial and military successes, the British and their colonists found the measure of their virtues," writes historian Alan Taylor.2 "Enthusiastic participants in this patriotism of empire, the American colonists felt more strongly tied to the mother country." This "patriotism of empire," however, would be sorely tested during the imperial wars—the four French and Indian Wars—of the late 1600s and 1700s.3

In Theme III: ECONOMIES, we considered the commercial ties between Britain and the colonies in the 1700s. In this Theme, AMERICAN, we follow the political ties—the hot-button issues—that we now deem precursors to the American Revolution. And in this section, Empire, we look at the discord among the colonists, and between the colonists and Britain, over the persistent frontier threat of the French, Spanish, and their Indian allies.

  • "The continent is not wide enough for us both." So warned Rev. William Shirley in a sermon delivered before the governor and legislature of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1754, predicting another "violent concussion" to come with the French in North America. The strident voices of colonists and officials describing the European competition for North America are presented in this commentary from 1699 to 1763, when the British victory in the French and Indian War solidified its position as the dominant power on the continent.
    • - Commentary by Edward Randolph, Robert Johnson, George Berkeley, Benjamin Doolittle, Robert Sayer, Jonathan Mayhew, Benjamin Franklin, Edmond Aitken, William Clarke, Henry Overton, Cadwallader Colden, Nathaniel Ames, and "your Boy."

  • A Letter from Benjamin Jones. For each colony, defending its western lands against the French and Indians (and Spanish) presented unique challenges. In Pennsylvania, the challenge was the pacifism of the Quakers, the founding sect and politically dominant group. Because they opposed the use of violence, even in self-defense, the colony had no militia of citizen soldiers to protect the frontier settlers. In a letter to a Pennsylvania relative, a Virginia colonist berates the Pennsylvanians for failing to oppose the Quakers' position and allowing themselves to be "bullied by a Thousand vagabond, dirty, pilfering, rascally Frenchmen and Savages." The recipient soon published the letter as a pamphlet. What influence might the letter have had on Pennsylvanians?
    • - A Letter from Benjamin Jones, in Alexandria in Virginia, to John Jones, in Pennsylvania, 1754.

  • The Interest of Great Britain Considered, With Regard to Her Colonies. In the midst of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), fought primarily in French Canada and the northern colonies, the question presented itself: When we win, should we take possession of Canada or let the French keep it? Which alternative will provide more security and opportunity for the British colonies? When an anonymous writer published a pamphlet in 1760 supporting France's retention of Canada in a peace treaty, Benjamin Franklin revved up his pen and printing press in firm opposition and only slightly veiled disdain, demolishing each of the writer's arguments.
Study the North America maps (zoomable) while you read, using the map discussion questions below. How is it evident that both maps were created during the last imperial war in North America? How do the British mapmakers announce British territorial dominance in North America? (18 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you get from the readings and the map about the European conflicts for territory in North America? about the consequences of the wars for the colonies, the colonists, and the Indians (friend and foe)?
  2. How do the British and colonists view differently the territorial competition and its consequences to the British empire? to the colonies? Why?
  3. What illustrations do you find of a "patriotism of empire" among the colonists (even when they oppose specific British policies)?
  4. What enhances the colonists' "patriotism of empire"? When? Compare the colonists attitudes before and after the French and Indian War (1754-1963).
  5. What diminishes the colonists' "patriotism of empire"? What takes its place? Does Britain care?
  6. Summarize the main arguments for and against the British taking possession of French Canada after a victory in the French and Indian War. Why would it become a debated issue?
  7. Compare the tone of Benjamin Franklin and of Benjamin Jones in their selections. Why does Jones choose ridicule? Why does Franklin choose a tone of unruffled discourse? What implications underlie the tone in each selection? What is each man trying to achieve?
  8. Include other colonists' writings in a similar comparison of content and tone. Include a poem, a sermon, map annotations, etc.
  9. What, if any, evidence exists in these selections of the colonies "becoming American"? How are you defining "American" in order to reply to the question?

Map questions
  1. First, zoom into the maps. In each, follow the Atlantic coastline and the frontier boundaries between British and French (and Spanish) territories in North America. Study the region west of the Mississippi River. What general impressions do you have?
  2. What are the full titles of the maps? What political message does each title convey?
  3. What text do the mapmakers include beyond the names of towns, bodies of water, etc.? Why?
  4. How do the maps represent the western regions of North America?
  5. How do they represented disputed territory?
  6. How do the British mapmakers announce British territorial dominance in North America?
  7. How is it evident that the two 1763 maps were created during the last imperial war in North America?
  8. How do the mapmakers of the 1763 maps use color and annotations to demarcate the European possessions? Note the boundary annotations west of the Mississippi River.
  9. How would a French official evaluate the British maps?
  10. Compare these maps with the 1715 map of North America by Herman Moll. (See the discussion questions on the map.)
  11. Compare these maps with the three maps highlighted in GROWTH #9: The Colonies, 1720-1963.

Framing Questions
  •  How did the political relationship between the colonies and Great Britain change in this period?
  •  How did individual colonies and colonists influence and respond to these changes?
  •  To what extent were the colonies and colonists "becoming American"?

Commentary on European competition: 11
Jones letter on frontier defense:  3
Franklin, Interest of Great Britain Considered:  4
View map online.    
TOTAL 18 pages
Supplemental Sites

1 Rev. George Berkeley "Verses by the Author on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," poem (last three stanzas), written 1726, publ. 1752.

2 Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (Viking/Penguin, 2001), p. 300.

3 The four French and Indian wars in North America, between Britain and France, primarily, were:
King William's War, 1689-1697; ended in a treaty with no victor.
Queen Anne's War, 1702-1713, ended in armistice. Britain gained some French Canadian territory.
King George's War, 1744-1748, ended in a treaty with no victor.
The French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), 1754-1763; ended with British victory and acquisition of all French territory in continental North America, and all Spanish territory east of the Mississippi River.

Images: Richard W. Seale, A New and Accurate Map of North America, laid down according to the latest, and most approved observations and discoveries, 1763, detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division. Call No. G3300 1763 .S4 Vault.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. Empire   2. Power   3. Rights
4. Union?   5. Independence?

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search

Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact:
Copyright © National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: April 2009