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The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


Province of Quebec (British Empire)
AD 1760 - 1791

The English explorer John Cabot become in 1497 the first European since the Vikings to make landfall in Newfoundland. The first English colony in North America was chartered on 5 August at St John's Bay, Newfoundland, but the colony's founder failed to arrive. Subsequently, English colonial interests had largely been focussed farther south, leaving the north to the French.

The explorer Jacques Cartier made three voyages across the Atlantic between 1534 and 1542. The land he discovered in North America (largely focussing on the Quebec region of modern Canada) was claimed for King Francis I. The French colony of New France was the result.

Cartier heard two captured guides speak the Iroquoian word 'kanata', meaning 'village'. By the 1550s, the name 'Canada' had begun appearing on maps. Each French province had its own governor, but the governor-general of New France was the ultimate authority in the colonies.

During the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), and following their acceptance of defeat, the French abandoned most of the region to the British. Upon the surrender of Montreal in September 1760, the British Colonies gained territory to the north of New England which would later become Upper Canada (from 1791). By gaining control of this and the rest of New France between 1760 and 1763, Britain secured for itself the vast northern territories which today form the eastern half of Canada.

Following the capitulation of Montreal, a British military regime was established to replace the French colonial administration while awaiting the signature of a final peace treaty (which would take place under the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763). In that brief period over four thousand colonists returned to France. Private ownership rights and civil law were both guaranteed however, as was the freedom to practise Catholicism. French administrative records were safeguarded (to the eternal relief of future historians).

The post of governor of Quebec was a direct continuation of the former French position, mainly involving the control of British military forces and the territory's defence. However, very shortly after this date the thirteen British colonies to the south-east would be embroiled in the American War of Independence, with the result that Quebec assumed an increasingly important role in British interests in North America.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Indian Tribes of the New England Frontier (Osprey No 428 Men-at-Arms Series), Michael Johnson, from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and The Canadian Encyclopaedia: Upper Canada.)

1760 - 1763

Despite the death of General James Wolfe in 1759, his victory has gained the vast province of Quebec for Britain. As part of the ongoing war, Havana in Cuba is seized and looted on 13 August 1762, but is restored to Spain the following year in exchange for Florida.

Proclamation of 1763
The 'Royal Proclamation' of 1763 has long been debated by historians in reference to its influence on the later revolutionary war, but it was a genuine attempt to respect the territorial rights of the native Americans following the conclusion of the French-American War

The borders of the territory which are to be handed over are never entirely confirmed and remain contested (in words only) until after the creation of the USA. New France is also formally handed over to Britain by France and is renamed the province of Quebec.

The territory of the thirteen British Colonies is confirmed as lying between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian Mountains, with a band of crown lands reserved for native tribes to the east, although that territory is also claimed as part of the vast territory of Louisiana.

1760 - 1763

Sir Jeffrey Amherst

First British governor of Quebec. Recalled & criticised.

1761 - 1765

The Pontiac War involves initial battles in the Ohio river valley at forts Pitt and Miami, with the Delaware, Huron, Miami, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Seneca, and Shawnee all taking part under the collective leadership of Pontiac of the Ottawa, the 'Delaware Prophet'. Battles and sieges in 1763 are at Fort Detroit, Niagara, Presque Island, Sault St Marie, Mackinac, and Venango, with a final fight at Bushy Run.

One of the earliest Spanish areas of exploration in North America, Louisiana provided more of a challenge than had New Spain, with native groups proving quite hostile and New France eager to dominate there

In the same year the Seneca launch a double ambush of a British supply train and its supporting contingent of troops in what becomes known as the Devil's Hole Massacre, on 14 September 1763.

1763 - 1764

Thomas Gage

Temporary governor. A competent administrator.

1764 - 1768

James Murray

Civilian governor. Resign through lack of support.


In the summer, Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee attend a conference with William Johnson at Fort Niagara and make peace with the British. In August, Colonel John Bradstreet, with 1,200 men, advances west along the southern shore of Lake Erie to attack the remaining hostile Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Wyandot.

En route, Bradstreet meets the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee chiefs at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania), and concludes a preliminary peace treaty. He reaches Detroit in September, where another treaty is signed with the remainder of Pontiac's allies.

Shaken by the uprising, the British government issues the 'Proclamation of 1763', closing the frontier to further settlement to the west of the Appalachians. In the east, the law angers the colonists and starts them on the path to revolution.

Delaware Indians
A contemporary sketch of an unidentified tribe of Delaware Indians, with the mass of European influences - especially in terms of dress - suggesting that it may be from the mid or late 1700s

In the west, the frontiersmen simply ignore it and settle illegally in western Pennsylvania, beginning with the Redstone and, appropriately enough, Cheat rivers. The British military simply cannot stop them. By 1774, there are 50,000 whites occupying territory to the west of the Appalachians.


Prime Minister George Grenville, unpopular at home in Britain with the king and the people, attempts to regain favour by lowering domestic taxes at the expense of the colonies, introducing the Stamp Act (repealed in 1766). The laws give rise to widespread protests in America which eventually boil over into the War for Independence.

In the colonies, General Thomas Gage (the former temporary governor of Quebec) has rejected Bradstreet's treaty with the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee because it has been signed without first consulting William Johnson. Bradstreet is ordered to move south and attack the Delaware and Shawnee villages in Ohio.

At the same time, Bouquet's army moves west from Fort Pitt, trapping the Delaware and Shawnee in between. In November, the Delaware and Shawnee sign a peace with Britain at Coshocton and release the two hundred white prisoners they are holding. Pontiac makes his own peace with the British, but is disgraced by his capitulation and failure to take Detroit.

10 Downing Street, London
No 10 Downing Street was a new-build when offered by the king to Robert Walpole in 1735, with him in turn gifting it to all successive first lords

1766 - 1768

Sir Guy Carleton

Lieutenant-governor. Promoted.

1768 - 1778

Sir Guy Carleton

Former lieutenant-governor. Recalled 1770-1774 & 1778.

1770 - 1774

Hector Theophilus de Cramahé

Huguenot lieutenant-governor.


British troops kill three members of a mob in the 'Boston Massacre' - a propaganda coup for the colonials. In fairness to the soldiers, the confrontation had started off with a mob surrounding a lone sentry and verbally abusing him.

Several further soldiers and an officer who come to his assistance are attacked with clubs and stones - and even snowballs. One of the panicked troops fires off a shot and his colleagues join in.

1774 - 1775

In September 1774, an American provisional government is established and the American Revolutionary War, or War of Independence, begins. The first blood to be shed is at the Battles of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. The British win both, as well as successfully defending West Florida.

Fort Laurens
Fort Laurens was built by the revolutionary Americans at Bolivar in what is now Ohio, in a failed attempt to use it as a staging point to attack the British

1776 - 1783

On 4 July 1776, Britain's thirteen earliest colonies on the east coast of North America make a public declaration of independence. In revenge for the British seizure of Havana in Cuba in 1762, the Spanish governor of Louisiana supplies gunpowder to the revolutionary forces.

The British are defeated at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point in the war, but it still takes the revolutionary forces over seven years to force Britain to declare that it will cease hostilities and withdrawn its troops and Hessian allied units from the thirteen colonies.

The victors declare a United States of America. Britain is left with Bermuda, New Brunswick (formerly part of Nova Scotia), Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and the province of Quebec (formerly New France). Florida is ceded back to Spain, with the colonial possessions in the Canadas now being Britain's main focus of attention.

First Continental Congress
The 'First Continental Congress' - the provisional government of the colony's rebels - began with prayer led by Chaplain Jacob Duché at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia in September 1774

1778 - 1786

Sir Frederick Haldimand

Swiss. Returned to England in 1784.

1786 - 1791

Sir Guy Carleton

Second term of office. Later first governor-general of Canada.


British Quebec is renamed Lower Canada as a partner to the new Upper Canada which is created to accommodate Loyalists fleeing the USA. Ontario is separated from Quebec at the same time. The governor-general becomes the official representative of the British king in North America, charged with maintaining the territory's borders.

Province of Canada (Upper & Lower) (British Empire)
AD 1791 - 1867

Following defeat in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the French had to abandon most of the region to the British. When Montreal was surrendered in September 1760, the British Colonies gained territory to the north of New England which would later become Upper Canada (from 1791), with this being governed from Quebec.

However, in 1765 British Prime Minister George Grenville, unpopular at home with the king and the people, attempted to regain favour by lowering domestic taxes at the expense of the colonies, introducing the Stamp Act. The laws gave rise to widespread protests in America which eventually boiled over into the War for Independence despite the law being repealed in 1766.

With the loss of the thirteen British colonies to what soon became the United States of America, Canada became the main focus of British interests in North America. The governor-general became the official representative of the British king in North America, charged with maintaining the territory's borders. Initially, from 1791, the province's territory was governed in the form of two smaller provinces - Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

The first of these consisted of modern Southern Ontario and all of the Pays d'en Haut areas of Northern Ontario which had formed part of New France. The 'upper' reflected its geographic position along the Great Lakes, with much of this being above the headwaters of the Saint Lawrence River.

The second consisted of the southern part of today's province of Quebec and the Labrador area of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (although Labrador was transferred to Newfoundland in 1809). The 'lower' referred to its geographic position farther downriver from the headwaters of the St Lawrence River than Upper Canada. In 1840 they were united to form the province of Canada.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Journeys: A History of Canada, R D Francis, Richard Jones, & B Donald (Nelson Education, 2009), from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: Discover Canada - Canada's History (Government of Canada), and The Canadian Encyclopaedia: Upper Canada.)

1791 - 1796

Sir Guy Carleton

First governor-general, and former governor of Quebec.


By now, many members of the Piscataway are settling in Upper Canada, joining other Indian ex-allies of the British. Today, descendants of these northern migrants live on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reserve in Ontario, Canada. Although the larger tribe has been destroyed as an independent, sovereign entity, descendants of the Piscataway still survive.

William Woodward painting of the Piscataway
In 1699, two gentleman planters, Burr Harrison and Giles Vandercastel, became the first settlers to explore the interior of what is now Loudoun County and the first to record a meeting with Loudoun's native Indians, the Piscataway (William Woodward oil on canvas, 2003)

In the same year, 1793, following moves in the British Parliament to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, Upper Canada under Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe becomes the first province in the British empire to move towards full abolition.

1796 - 1799

Robert Prescott

Former governor of Martinique (1794). Recalled by London.

1799 - 1805

Robert Shore Milnes

Former Lt-Gov of Lower Canada.


By now the Meherrin tribal structure seems either to be on the verge of collapse or has already collapsed. This century soon sees the end of the last paramount chief until 1975 and other tribal members may now be viewed as direct citizens of the North Carolina government.

Tribal Meherrin are taken under the protection of the Haudenosaunee. Some Meherrin migrate to Canada and join the Six Nations on the Grand River Reserve. Some Tuscarora join them.

Meherrin home
As opposed to the colonial homes they were accused of burning, Meherrin houses were typical of those of all Iroquoian stock which shared the same otherwise unique building style

1805 - 1807

Thomas Dunn

Former Lt-Gov of Lower Canada. Died in Quebec in 1818.

1806 - 1807

The ministry of Lord Greville in the British Parliament results in one momentous achievement - the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Aside from its positive effects, this also has negative effects, notably in the African kingdom of Asante. Canada, however, embraces the prospect of the act - which for the moment pertains to British waters only - becoming universal across the empire.

1807 - 1811

Sir James Henry Craig

Also Lt-Gov of Lower Canada (1807-11).

1812 - 1815

Sir George Prevost

Former Lt-Gov of Lower Canada. Recalled.

1812 - 1814

The War of 1812 begins as the USA declares war on Britain over the interdiction of trade with Napoleonic France. At the heart of the declaration is the USA's desire to capture Britain's Canadian provinces to create a single nation in North America.

American soldiers invade Canada with the confident expectation of a quick and easy victory which, with a Canadian population of just 500,000 scattered among dozens of isolated settlements stretching from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic seaboard, seems entirely likely.

Burning of Washington 1814
The attack and burning of Washington in 1814 resulted from the British operating from other flanks in support of the Canadian border's defenders, and was a direct consequence of US forces burning Government House and the parliament buildings in Toronto (then known as York)

However, a few thousand British regulars, plus colonial militias and Native American allies such as Tecumseh of the Shawnee, continually shock the American troops and drive them back across the border. Modern Canada can be said to be formed by this success.

FeatureAt the conclusion of the war, the 49th parallel is established as the border between Rupert's Land and the US west to the Rocky Mountains (see feature link for a view of the latter). The Red River Colony is ceded to the US and joint control of Oregon Country is commenced.

1816 - 1818

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke

Former Lt-Gov of Nova Scotia. Retired due to ill health.

1818 - 1819

Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond

Former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Killed by rabies.

1820 - 1828

Earl of Dalhousie

Former Lt-Gov of Nova Scotia. Later Gov-Gen of India.

1828 - 1830

Sir James Kempt

Former Lt-Gov of Nova Scotia.

1830 - 1835

Lord Aylmer

Also Lt-Gov of Lower Canada. Recalled.

1832 - 1833

FeatureBritish Prime Minister Earl Grey's most remarkable achievement is the Reform Act, which sets in train a gradual process of electoral change. Around 130 years of parliamentary reform begin with this act and culminates in universal suffrage for men and women over the age of eighteen, plus secret ballots and legitimate constituencies (see feature link).

Railway accident 1830
The remarkable inaugural day of running on the UK's Manchester to Liverpool railway line (only the second passenger-carrying railway in the entire country after the Canterbury and Whitstable) was marred by a dreadful tragedy

Grey also introduces restrictions on the employment of children, and sees the abolition of slavery in the British empire in 1833. Thousands of slaves subsequently escape from the USA by 'following the North Star' and settling in Canada via the Underground Railroad, a Christian anti-slavery network.

1835 - 1837

Earl of Gosford

Also Lt-gov of Lower Canada. Resigned his office.

1837 - 1838

During In the 1830s, reformers in Upper and Lower Canada have been agitating towards full democracy, believing progress to be too slow in that direction. Some of them believe that Canada should adopt American republican values or even try to join the United States.

When armed rebellions occur in 1837-1838 in the area outside Montreal and in Toronto, the rebels do not have enough public support to succeed. They are defeated by British troops and Canadian volunteers. A number of rebels are hanged or exiled, although some of the latter eventually return to Canada.

Canadian Rebellion of 1838
Rebellion in Canada was rare, with the only one of note in this period occurring in 1838, during which the rebels realised that they were not supported by the general populace

1837 - 1838

Sir John Colborne

Acting. Lt-Gov of Upper Canada.

1838 - 1839

Earl of Durham

Former British ambassador to Russia.

1839 - 1841

Lord Sydenham

First governor-general of the 'Province of Canada'. Died.


Partially as a reaction to the rebellions of 1837-1838, Upper Canada and Lower Canada are united as the 'Province of Canada'. Reformers such as Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin, in parallel with Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, work with Britain's governors towards achieving responsible government. This forms the basis of the present form of governance in Canada.

1842 - 1843

Sir Charles Bagot

Former British ambassador to Russia. Resigned, ill.

1843 - 1845

Charles Metcalfe

Former acting governor-general of India.

1845 - 1846

The US triggers the Mexican-American War in which it is successful. Britain, which still holds much of the disputed territory of Oregon, is persuaded not to intervene by an agreement called the Oregon Treaty which divides the territory along the 49th parallel in 1846. Britain keeps Vancouver to the north of the line (British Columbia), while the US gains Seattle to the south (Washington and Oregon).

Oregon meeting at Champoeg to form a government
Oregon headed towards statehood following meetings such as the one at Champoeg which decided on the formation of a government (a mural by Barry Faulkner which sits in the house chamber of the Oregon Capitol building)

1846 - 1847

Earl Cathcart

Also Lt-Gov of Canada West.

1847 - 1854

Earl of Elgin and Kincardine

Later viceroy of India (1862).

1854 - 1861

Sir Edmund Walker Head

Also Lt-Gov of Canada East & West.


The colony of British Columbia is founded from the fur district of New Caledonia. The main driving force behind this is the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858, which results in an influx of Americans into New Caledonia.

1861 - 1867

Viscount Monck

Became first governor-general of the dominion of Canada.


Between 1864-1867, representatives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the 'Province of Canada', with British support, work together to establish a new country. These men are known as the 'Fathers of Confederation'. They create two levels of government: federal and provincial.

The result is that in 1867 the old 'Province of Canada' is divided into two new provinces - Ontario and Quebec - which, together with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, form the new country called the 'Dominion of Canada'. Each province will now elect its own legislature and have control of such areas as education and health.

Victoria discovers she is queen
The moment when young Victoria discovered she was queen, as Lord Conyngham (left) and William Howley, archbishop of Canterbury, kneel before her


An Irish republican organisation named the Fenian Brotherhood is based in the United States. Starting in this year, in support of Irish independence from Britain they launch a series of raids on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada.

Their cause serves to split the Catholic Irish-Canadian population of Canada while the Protestant Irish generally support Britain and side with the Orange Order against the Fenians.

The US authorities do what they can to prevent the Fenians from launching their raids from US territory, although suspicion exists that what they really could do is a lot more than what they actually achieve. All five Fenian raids between 1866 and 1871 are failures.


The United States senate purchases Russian America from Russia for just US$7.2 million. Czar Alexander of Russia allows this because he fears that the British in Canada will invade and seize it. In Canada and Britain the act is seen somewhat differently, as a threat to Britain's Pacific coast colony.

The act of Confederation in Canada
The British North America Act of 1867 created Canadian confederation out of the various British-governed territories in North America, uniting all of them into a single body

As a reaction, and also as a result of the three years of planning which had preceded this moment, three months later Upper and Lower Canada are united with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on 1 July under the British North America Act, creating the 'Dominion of Canada'.

Viscount Monk remains in office as the last governor-general of the province of Canada and the first of the dominion of Canada. The first Canadian Prime Minister is elected in 1867 to take on the task of directly governing the new state.

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