Military history


Surfeit of Enthusiasm, Shortage of Resources


THE HEARTENING NEWS of Guadeloupe’s capitulation came to Pitt’s hand on June 13, just as the North American campaigns upon which his greatest hopes rested were about to begin. Bad weather had delayed the Québec expedition—the ice was not out of the river until the end of April, and heavy fogs kept Wolfe from meeting his naval escort at the Isle of Bic until June 18. The slowness of launching the year’s other campaigns, however, resulted from the equivocal outcomes of 1758. The problem was not that provincial morale had collapsed—although Abercromby’s defeat had in fact made enlistment much more difficult in New England—but rather that the previous year’s exertions had nearly exhausted the northern colonies. Particularly in New England it initially seemed impossible to comply with Pitt’s wish that the provinces field “at least as large a Body of Men as . . . for the last Campaign.” 1

Massachusetts, like the rest of New England, had supported the previous campaign to the utmost of its ability. Even before its great effort of 1758 the Bay Colony had spent £250,000 on the war, most of which it had had to borrow. Adding the expenses of 1758, Massachusetts by the outset of 1759 carried a public debt of over £350,000 lawful money, the repayment of which, with interest, would cost the province nearly £500,000 by the end of 1761. Since the annual revenue that the province could generate from taxes on polls, land, and trade seldom exceeded £100,000, it did not take a financial genius to see that the province had long passed the point of technical insolvency when the 1758 campaign ended. Without Parliament’s reimbursement for part of the province’s expenses in 1756, which arrived in the form of seven great chests of gold and silver in January 1759, Massachusetts would almost certainly have defaulted. Moreover, the numbers of men the Bay Colony had enlisted in its provincial forces in 1758, some seven thousand in all, comprised only a part of the total that had served in the campaigns. Including artificers, bateaumen, rangers, men serving in regular regiments and aboard Royal Navy ships, as well as privateers and the sailors aboard the province’s own frigate, the whole number in service during 1758 far surpassed ten thousand men—more than a quarter of the whole service-eligible male population of the colony. The extraction of so many workers from the rural economy had greatly concerned the province’s legislators even before the 1758 campaigns had begun; the prospect of duplicating the effort in 1759 offered cause for real alarm.2

On March 10, 1759, the assemblymen of Massachusetts had therefore informed Governor Pownall that “the House find it necessary to take into Consideration the Distresses brought upon the Inhabitants of the Province by Means of the great Levies which have been made from Year to Year since the War [began], and particularly by Means of the disproportion’d Number of Men that were in the Service the last Year[.] The House likewise consider, that . . . the Government is now burdened with a very heavy Load of Debt, and the Charges arising from the Services of the last Year are unpaid; and that it will be extremely difficult to procure such a Sum of Money as will be necessary to be immediately advanced in Case of engaging in any further Service.” They therefore agreed to make only five thousand men available for provincial service in 1759.3

Pownall responded with characteristic vigor, appealing to their patriotism and sense of duty, alternately wheedling and threatening (the Bay Colony had led in the war effort so far—and besides, Parliament would see any falling-off as cause for cutting reimbursements), offering what concessions he could (several hundred of the men would be used in an all-provincial expedition to fortify the Penobscot River region, a popular idea among legislators eager to secure new lands for the colony’s farmers), and even allowing them a recess to consult their constituents. Finally, on April 17, the General Court caved in and agreed to increase the number of enlistments. Nevertheless, the representatives warned Pownall,

The Distress brought upon the Inhabitants is . . . extremely great. The Number of Men raised this Year, we are sensible, [cannot be] equal to that of the last. The Assembly then made the greatest Effort that has ever been known in the Province. They looked upon it to be the last Effort; they had no Expectations that it could be repeated, and it was really so great as to render it impracticable for us to make the like a second Time. The Number of our Inhabitants is since then much lessened: Some were killed in Battle; many died by Sickness while they were in Service, or soon after their return Home; great Numbers have inlisted as Rangers, Artificers, Recruits in his Majesty’s Regular Forces, and for other Branches of the Service.

The war had diminished the province’s capacity, if not necessarily its will, to carry on the fight:

We are told, that we are the leading Province; We have been so for many Years past, and we have been as long unequally burdened. We have borne it patiently, although we have seen our Inhabitants leaving us, and removing to other Governments to live more free from Taxes; and a few Years ago, for this Reason alone, four of our principal Towns refused any longer to submit to our Jurisdiction, and another Government [Connecticut] found a Pretence for receiving them, and they are not yet returned to us.

Under these Difficulties we are still willing to afford every reasonable Aid in our Power. A further Impress would distress and discourage the People to such a Degree, that . . . we are bound to decline it. But great as our Burthens are, we have now engaged a Bounty more than double what has ever yet been given by the Province, in order to procure a voluntary enlistment of Fifteen Hundred Men, over and above the Five Thousand already raised; and we have Reason to hope that this Bounty will be sufficient, and have the Effect your Excellency desires.4

And indeed the new bounty—of fourteen pounds in provincial treasury notes, payable in installments with interest accrued over the next two years—did prove sufficient to raise the number of volunteers required. No smaller inducement could have done it, for the demand for men in the armies was also driving up the wages that civilian laborers could command, whether in ordinary work or in war-related occupations. Any attempt to draft militiamen and pay them only the standard provincial wage of one pound sixteen shillings per month would have triggered resistance more massive than the province’s minuscule coercive capacity could have overcome: this was why the representatives had felt “bound to decline” the option of impressment. The assemblymen of the Bay Colony had reason to believe that their province had no more left to give the cause of empire. Such exertions as they agreed to make would have been impossible if they had not been sure that Parliament would make good the expense of mounting this supreme effort to conquer Canada. 5

Indeed it was only the promise of reimbursement that enabled the northern colonies to raise men for the 1759 campaigns in numbers comparable to those of the previous year. The Connecticut Assembly cited the same reasons as its Massachusetts counterpart in initially agreeing to enlist 3,600 men. After a certain amount of prodding, it raised the number to 4,000 but it was only Amherst’s thinly veiled threat to advise Parliament against making further reimbursements that finally induced the assembly to offer “some Considerable additional Encouragements” and secure the enlistment of the final 1,000. Like Massachusetts, the announcement of a large additional bounty alone enabled Connecticut to meet its goals. “The Colony before this was greatly dreined of Men and seemed almost impracticable to raise many more yet as the Assembly took all imaginable Methods to rouse & revive the Spirit of the People, these additional Levies were made with uncommon Dispatch and beyond the Expectation of Many.”6

As Connecticut went, so went New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire—and even Rhode Island. In each colony the numbers raised finally approximated those of 1758; in each, virtually all the troops were raised without resorting to impressment; and in all, the regiments were finally filled after the assemblies agreed to pay extremely high bounties for enlistment. New Jersey once more raised a 1,000-man regiment, notwithstanding the loss of 500 men in each of the campaigns of 1756 and 1757 and the heavy participation of Jerseymen in privateering ventures; but it managed this feat only by offering a twelve-pound bounty—high enough to attract recruits from outside the province. New York enlisted 2,680 men but had to offer a fifteen-pound bonus to keep pace with the competition from Connecticut and New Jersey. New Hampshire, a sparsely populated colony with a long frontier to defend and little commercial wealth, recruited 800 provincials for the campaign, also by paying an enlistment bonus. Rhode Island’s assembly tried to meet its obligations without offering a bounty, by retaining its soldiers from 1758 in pay over the winter. Disease and desertion, however, required new enlistments, which in the end could only be had at a considerable expense. To raise the final 115 men for the colony’s 1,000-man regiment it was necessary to offer over twenty pounds in province bills of credit, plus a knapsack, a blanket, two months’ advance pay, and the promise of a ten-pound gratuity to be paid when Canada finally capitulated. 7

Thus in 1759 it was possible for New Jersey, New York, and the New England colonies to field nearly seventeen thousand provincials to support the invasion of Canada: a phenomenal number given the exertions of the colonies in the previous year, and in every sense a number that would have been inconceivable without parliamentary reimbursements. But it was not only Parliament’s money that induced the northern colonies to cooperate at this level, for they now routinely showed themselves willing to resolve, with perfect amicability, issues that had crippled the war effort when Loudoun was commander in chief. Nothing had been more disruptive than quartering controversies, but there were no more of these after 1758. Every colony in which British troops were stationed built barracks at public expense and funded the incidental charges for firewood, salt, and small beer by voluntary acts of their legislatures. Massachusetts went so far as to billet regular recruiting parties in designated private houses, reimbursing the householders from province funds when their expenses exceeded the fourpence per day per man that the army paid for accommodations. Recruiters went about their business with little opposition, even in Boston, where justices of the peace now dealt summarily with anyone who tried to obstruct enlistment, instead of harassing the redcoats themselves.8

Similarly, issues of short-term finance, always a problem when Braddock, Loudoun, or Abercromby needed money, no longer troubled relations between the commander in chief and the colonies. Amherst was as short on operating funds as any previous commanding general had ever been, indeed shorter: the military chest he had taken over from Abercromby was almost empty, and his expected funds from England were slow to arrive. By mid-March 1759, he had no money on hand at all and found himself compelled in effect to kite checks in order to prepare for the coming campaign: when he issued warrants he did so with the request that recipients not present them to the paymaster general until money came from England. Faced with the prospect of having to suspend operations for lack of funds, he appealed to the New York Assembly for a loan of £150,000 against future payments from the Treasury. No colonial legislature had ever agreed to loan money on such terms to a commander in chief. When short on cash, Loudoun and Abercromby had always had to borrow from individual merchants, at very high interest; thus Lieutenant Governor De Lancey, himself a merchant, fully expected the New York Assembly to refuse the loan. To his surprise, they did not, and the delighted Amherst accepted the money with expressions of gratitude for the legislators’ “loyalty to the king and their Zeal for this service.” Since this loan could in no sense have been coerced, and since the assembly’s merchants must have known that they would lose an opportunity to line their own pockets by making it, Amherst’s praise was not just flattery. Loyalty and zeal must in fact have motivated the assemblymen in ways unknown to their notably self-interested predecessors.9

The most plausible explanation for such evident changes of heart is simple enough. The colonists, so long antagonized by British policies and behavior, by 1759 had become convinced that they were full partners in Pitt’s imperial adventure. Previously, no matter how much the colonies’ legislators may have approved individually of the effort to expel France from North America, collectively they had never been willing to reach for that goal by surrendering local control and local prerogatives to a distant authority. But now they were being asked to help, not ordered to participate in a war that almost everyone wished to see carried to a successful conclusion—and that shift from the imperative to the subjunctive mood removed the last misgivings of legislatures even so wary as those of New York and Massachusetts. Reimbursements were crucial because they removed the practical fear of public bankruptcy, but the enthusiasm for the common cause that Amherst called “Zeal” was the only engine that could drive the campaigns against Canada to their completion. So long as they thought the British were treating them as tools, the colonists had been suspicious, surly, uncooperative; once they thought that Pitt and Parliament were appealing to them as equals, they could indeed become zealots.

But if that was the lesson that 1759 offered, it was not the only one. A different and in some degree contradictory message could also be read in the replies of the provinces to the south of New York to Pitt’s appeal for renewed efforts against the enemy. Neither Georgia nor South Carolina had faced serious external threats and neither had participated heavily in the war to date; nor did either offer more than token support now. Georgia was so poor, sparsely populated, and exposed that it had to be defended by regulars, while South Carolina raised only five provincial companies for garrison duty. North Carolina did nothing at all. Maryland, its assemblymen locked in an endless, irresolvable dispute with the proprietary family, had long done nothing, and continued to do it.10 Only the two colonies that had been most directly threatened by French and Indians on their frontiers, Virginia and Pennsylvania, chose to participate actively in the campaigns of 1759. Both did so in ways that were less than satisfactory to Amherst and Pitt but that reveal something of their legislators’ views on the war and its consequences.

The return of peace to the backcountry was the single most important fact so far as either Virginia’s or Pennsylvania’s legislators were concerned, and insofar as it was necessary to maintain a military presence at the Forks in order to keep the French from returning, both agreed to raise provincials for yet another year. Thus Virginia’s House of Burgesses moved with unaccustomed dispatch to authorize the enlistment of men to be employed under Amherst’s general direction, outside the province. Yet the Burgesses saw no reason to duplicate the effort of 1758 and voted to raise only a single regiment of a thousand men, to be commanded, now that Washington had resigned, by Colonel William Byrd III and seconded by Washington’s old subordinate, Lieutenant Colonel Adam Stephen. The Burgesses intended that the regiment should be used only to secure the Forks, not that it would be marched north to participate in the invasion of Canada. Another five hundred men, to be drawn from the militia, would garrison the colony’s chain of forts and defend the settlers who had already begun to move back beyond the Blue Ridge. Eventually two hundred of these militiamen would be sent to Pittsburgh as artificers, to help build Fort Pitt.11

Although Pennsylvania’s assembly eventually authorized 3,060 provincials to be raised for service—a small increase over the previous year’s number—it moved slowly because its members once more found themselves absorbed in the old dispute with the proprietors over the taxation of Penn family lands. The return of peace to the frontier had allowed politics to resume its habitual course, as antiproprietary assemblymen sought to establish their right to raise revenue by taxing the proprietors’ estates; but whereas Governor Denny had found it prudent to cooperate with the antiproprietary majority in the previous year, he now resumed the defense of his employers’ interests and refused to assent to the tax bill that the assembly sent him. In April, with no troops yet raised and Amherst worried that none would ever be, the commander in chief finally pressured Denny into signing the tax bill, despite the fact that doing so would cost the Penn family about forty thousand pounds. Their victory won, the legislators quickly agreed to raise the number of provincials Pitt had requested and even offered a fifty thousand–pound loan to Brigadier General John Stanwix (Forbes’s successor as regional commander), so that he could undertake the year’s operations without delay.12

Indeed at this point the legislators were positively eager for Stanwix to begin refortifying the Forks and improving Forbes Road, for everyone realized that Pittsburgh was too important a position to risk losing once more to the French. Equally salient for the Pennsylvanians, however, was the knowledge that the western posts were largely being held by Virginia provincials, and that Byrd’s regiment was already nearly completed. If Pittsburgh was too important to lose to the French, it was far too valuable to be surrendered to the Virginians.13

Thus even the temporary removal of the enemy threat to the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania—and no one doubted that the French would try to recapture the Forks—was enough to permit the rival colonies to resume their competition for control over the Ohio Country, even as it also allowed the endemic internal factionalism of Pennsylvanian politics to reemerge. The colonies had shown themselves to be capable of cooperation, and even enthusiasm, in support of the war. But their underlying disunity—their localism and inveterate competition—had by no means been extinguished. While the previous year had shown that Virginians and Pennsylvanians could act together under a British commander, it could hardly have been clearer that such cooperation was only possible under limited, and limiting, conditions.

The war had lately taken a promising turn because of Pitt’s change of policy and because Amherst was capable of behaving with more tact and restraint that any previous commander in chief. The prospect of winning a great victory over the French had thus made the Americans into British patriots—of a sort. As Amherst and his superiors saw it, however, all their enthusiasm for the empire, all their protestations of loyalty, were superficial appearances beneath which the colonists remained unchanged. Although it was by no means an entirely just inference, British observers in 1759 tended to conclude that Parliament’s subsidies had bought the provincials’ enthusiasm. No matter how much zeal he might profess for the common cause, you could still scratch a colonist and, beneath his patriotic veneer, find only—an American.

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