4/27/11 - our revolution started because of land more than tea

In today's excerpt - before the American Revolution, one of the biggest businesses in Virginia, Pennsylvania and other colonies was land speculation and development -- it was comparable in its importance and prestige to that of energy businesses in the twentieth century and internet businesses in the twenty-first. So when London tried to prop up the near-bankrupt finances of the East India Company by granting it a monopoly on tea, one belligerent colony -- Massachusetts -- staged a "tea party," but the vested interests of other colonies caused them to continue look for ways to reconcile with Britain. Then the Scotsman Lord Dunsmore, the Crown's appointed governor of Virginia, acted ill-advisedly to invalidate the claims of George Washington and others to the land they had worked strenuously to acquire in the west, and the Revolution began:

"As colonel of the regiment [during the 1763 French and Indian War, George] Washington was entitled to claim 20,000 acres of land on the south bank of the Ohio, or 10 percent of the 200,000 acres the House of Burgesses had reserved for the veterans. He supplemented this handsome reward by buying up the land warrants of scores of his fellow veterans, eventually realizing the rights to an additional 25,000 acres. From September 1767 he employed an old subordinate from the Virginia Regiment, Captain William Crawford, to identify tracts on the Ohio that he might acquire when the land grants were finally made. ... [Washington, along with many others, continued to actively acquire land in Pennsyvania and what is now Ohio and Kentucky.] ...

"[Because Virginia governor Lord Dunsmore initially acted to support the colonist's land speculation], it should not surprise us that Washington remained in contact with the governor through the spring of 1775, even after he had served as a delegate to the First Continental Congress and even as he was preparing to depart for Philadelphia as a  delegate to the Second. His fellow delegates in the two Virginia conventions chose him for these assignments precisely because he was not a firebrand like Patrick Henry or an impassioned writer like Thomas Jefferson but rather a moderate man, known more for the sobriety of his views than for his readiness to make a public issue of them.

"From late summer 1774 through the spring of 1775, Washington continued to look for accommodation. On one hand, he believed that Parliament's measures [such as the Stamp Act and the Coercive Acts] were 'not only repugnant to natural right, but subversive of the law and constitution of Great Britain itself'; on the other, he supported the campaign against the Shawnees [to enable additional land acquisition], kept up friendly relations with the royal governor who promoted it, and nursed the hope that the king and Parliament would back down from their position in Massachusetts and restore a sensible balance in imperial governance. Only in retrospect did it appear that those beliefs and actions were self-contradictory.

"It took a series of events in the spring of 1775 to destroy Washington's hope that harmony could be restored without the loss of colonial rights. The first development was the rumor that Dunmore had disallowed the surveys that William Crawford had made on Washington's behalf in the Ohio country on the grounds that Crawford was not properly licensed as a Virginia surveyor. Astonished, Washington wrote to the governor on April 3 to ask if this 'altogether incredible' information could possibly be accurate. His Lordship's curt reply, dated April 18, did nothing to dispel his fears; on the contrary, Dunmore essentially confirmed the rumor.

"That the governor would casually invalidate years of effort and expense mystified Washington as much as it offended him. Was this a reprisal for his participation in the two Virginia conventions and the Continental Congress? An attempt to bully him into taking sides against his fellow planters? Or was it an effort to snatch away lands that he had already surveyed and on which he had begun to seat settlers, in order to bestow them on the governor's supporters? Washington had no way to know, but when word of a second incident arrived shortly after, he found it impossible to believe that the mercurial Scot was up to anything but mischief."


Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton


The Dominion of War: Empire And Liberty in North America 1500-2000


Penguin Books


Copyright 2005 by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton


145-146, 154-155
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