British North America


BNA c1783


British North America (BNA) was not popularised until well after the American Revolution was settled in 1783.[1] With the exception of Rupert's Land, occupied by the Hudson Bay Company as a monopoly, British colonial effort was focused in eastern America, close to British trade and support. The French had sent their voyageurs, coureurs de bois, soldiers and missionaries across the continent, particularly north of the great lakes. Basically the western lands were empty. Prior to the Revolution, the American colonial population swelled enormously. In 1700, that population was 257,060, rose to 635,083 in 1730 and 1,593,625 by 1760.[2] This dramatic growth led to cheap colonial imports and markets for British goods. Exports rose from ten percent to 37% of the total volume of English exports. The resulting fortunes were made in Britain, largely England, and colonial exploitation began to harden attitudes.

There were 26, not 13, British colonies in America in 1776. Of these, the six 'sugar' colonies in the Caribbean, Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada and Tobago, St. Vincent; and Dominica, were among the wealthiest. These island colonies were closely related to the mainland by social ties and tightly connected by trade. In a period when most British colonists in North America lived less than 200 miles inland and the major cities were all situated along the coast, the ocean often acted as a highway between islands and mainland rather than a barrier. The Islands were settled into sugar-cane plantations to meet the increasing European demand. In fact in 1763, Britain seriously considered trading all of Canada for the valuable French sugar-island of Guadeloupe.[3] In 1763, Spain traded Florida to the British for the captured Cuba: the British were forced to return Florida to Spain 20 years later by the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution.

In 1783, t he British changed the name Canada (used by the French) to Québec (to molify the French colonists). Canada did not then exist as a political entity, but only as component colonies. The boundaries as shown in the adjacent map did not exist either, since the area along the west coast of the great lakes was claimed by both Britain (Rupert''s Land and the Oregon Territory) and Spain (France ceded Louisiana to Spain, which added to California, Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico). However, America purchased Louisiana and the western boundaries took some time to resolve. I have used the more familiar boundary forthe map above, it was settled in the 1846 Oregon Treaty (the 49th parallel). Both Britain and America had claimed sovereignty over much of modern British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon for hunting and trapping interests (note the map below). Both Russia and Spain had abandoned their own claims to the region, but the Russians still claimed Alaska whose southern boundary was at 54°40' N. Slogans were printed in the American press '54 40 or Fight', and 'Manifest Destiny' was again popular. The dispute was resolved as the Americans anticipated war with Mexico over the American annexation of Texas. Vancouver Island was proposed for shared claim, since the 49° N parallel cuts through the lower Island. Both the British and Americans ignored the Indian land claims.

The plantation system of the Caribbean islands was so similar to that of the southern mainland colonies that they had more in common with each other than either had with New England. Political developments in all the colonies moved along parallel tracks, with elected assemblies in the Caribbean, like their mainland counterparts, seeking to increase their authority at the expense of colonial executives. Yet when revolution came, the majority of the white island colonists did not side with their compatriots on the mainland.

Significantly, after the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765-1766, the Caribbean island colonists chose not to emulate the resistance of their cousins on the mainland. Once war came, it was increasingly unpopular in the British Caribbean; nonetheless, the white colonists cooperated with the British in defense of their islands. There was no broad backing among the Caribbean colonists for the American Revolution.


America took Indian land: 1790


America got Louisiana wanted Oregon: 1810


Several British colonies initially formed Canada. These included Québec, Acadia (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island), Isle St Jean (Prince Edward Island), and Newfoundland and Labrador. During and after the American Revolution many Indians, Americans, Loyalists and black slaves (plus British and German soldiers), migrated to British Canada.[4] These new immigrants were dissatisfied with the French legal system then existing in the colonies which was mainly based on the French majority. (France had introduced the Seigniorial system and the Catholic Church while many of the new migrants were Protestant and accustomed to Townships and land tenure.) In order to meet the demands of the new colonial immigrants and provide them land, Britain implemented the Canada Act of 1791. The act made three significant changes to British Canada: colonial borders were re-established; French property laws were replaced with a free-hold tenure system; and some power was given to regional elective councils that were also established.

The land surrounding the Great Lakes and St Lawrence water basin was divided into two parts, Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Upper Canada was located along the Great Lakes, West of the Ottawa River (in the current province of Ontario). Lower Canada was centered on the St Lawrence River, East of the Ottawa River (in modern Québec). Britain encouraged the new immigrants to settle in Upper Canada. Prior to 1791, the Upper Canada area was mainly Indian territory.

From 1776 to 1815 many immigrants came to Upper Canada, of which a significant share were Loyalists. It is estimated that between 80,000 to 100,000 Loyalists left the United States during and after the American Revolution. About 45,000 went to the British maritime colonies and about 9,500 went to Québec (which then included Ontario). Approximately 7,500 settled on the territory that would become Upper Canada in 1791. The new immigrants were given free land, clothes, tools, shelter and seeds. Most of the settlers were farmers and lived in log cabins on land that bordered the Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence was then the only efficient settlement route to reach the new regions. By 1812 about 75,000 Europeans had settled in Upper Canada, in time to participate in the War of 1812, which lasted until the end of 1814.

Battle of St Eustache: 1837


In 1837 and 1838 there were rebellions in the Canadas. The colonies wanted greater independence from Britain and some battles occurred in the St. Lawrence region, some were only skirmishes but others were rather heavy (the 14 December 1837 Battle of St Eustache).[5] During this period several important Canadian political parties were formed. In response to the Canadian rebellion Britain issued the Durham Report in 1839. The report recommended increased colonial self government, the union of the two Canadas, that Kingston be made capital of Canada, that English is established as Canada's official language and that an elected assembly of 84 officials was to be created. The report also discussed the eventual union of all British North America.

The Governor General of the Province of Canada was then John George Lambton, 1 Earl of Durham, who considered the situation and made a report. Following the recommendations of the Durham report the Act of Union was established in 1840. The act joined the former Upper and Lower Canadas as Canada East and Canada West and gave greater power to the colonies. In 1848, against Durham's recommendations, the act was amended to make Canada an officially bilingual (English and French languages) colony. Ottawa (then called Bytown) was finally made the capital of United Canada in 1865, after several failed earlier attempts to negotiate a choice amongst Newark, Tronto, Kingston, and Montréal.

The first meeting of leaders from the Province of Canada and the Maritime colonies to discuss the idea of Confederation. It took place at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in September of 1864. At first the meeting was meant only to talk about a union of the Maritime colonies, but leaders from the two Canadas asked that they be able to propose a larger union.

Canada and America

Canadians have had cause to be anxious about their powerful American neighbour: Canadian territory has been invaded from the south since the colonial era.[6] One American aim was territorial aggrandizement, as John Adams made clear when he wrote that “Canada must be ours; Québec must be taken.” The following data identify specific invasions. No inferences should be taken from the data, it is merely an historical record; certainly the French also led their own men south.

Invasions of Canada (by/with [colonial] Americans)

Invasion Date




July 1613 Samuel Argall sailed from the Virginia Colony of English Adventurers with 60 men and 14 cannons. Acadian settlements of Saint Sauveur, Fort La Habitation, and Port-Royal (now in NS). Acadian settlements destroyed and burned.
1628 Lewis and David Kirke. Québec Captured Tadoussac and captured a French supply fleet near Gaspé.
1629-1632 Lewis and David Kirke with ships and men. (guided by Étienne Brûlé). Captured Québec City, Fort Saint-Louis, and Place-Royale (La Habitation, Québec City). Occupied Québec until 1632. French possessions were returned by King Charles I.
1654 Massachusetts colonists. French Acadian settlements. Attacked several settlements. Widened conflict to Indian allies.
1689 New Englanders and 1,500 Indians. Nouvelle France settlements: Lachine, Québec. Widened the scope of war in the New World: Killed, burned and cut living flesh off victims to be eaten later.
May 1690 Sir William Phips & Johnson's Massachusetts regiment.

Acadian economy.

Acadian settlements and fishing destroyed and Port Royale surrendered.
August 1690 Sir William Phips & seven Massachusetts regiments. Attempted capture of Québec Failed expedition.
1691 Boston colony.

Acadian economy.

Acadian settlements and fishing destroyed.
July 1704 500 Bostonians.

Acadian economy.

Failed Attack against Acadian Port Royale and fishing.
May 1707 Wainright's and Hilton's Massachusetts regiments.

Acadian economy.

Failed Attack against Acadian Port Royale and fishing.
September 1710 Two Massachusetts regiments joined British naval forces. Acadian economy. Captured and Destroyed Port Royal.
August 1711 Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker, General Nicholson, and Brigadier-General Hill with Vetch's and Walton's Massachusetts regiments, plus New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut units. Attempted capture of Montréal, Québec, New France. Failed expedition.
May 1745 Sir William Pepperrell and 4,000 New Englanders. Captured Fort Louisbourg, with help of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Warren. Captured and garrisoned Fort Louisbourg. Returned by treaty.
23 May-July 1755 Colonel Robert Monckton and 2,000 New England Colonials. Defeated Nouvelle France in Seven Years' War. Destroyed Fort St John, Beauséjour and Fort Gaspereau.
May-October 1755 New Englanders joined British naval forces of Vice Admiral Cornwallis and Governor Lieutenant Colonel Charles Lawrence. Eliminated French population in Acadia. Transported 6,800 French Acadians.
16 September-31 December 1775 Brigadier General Richard Montgomery and 1,700 American militiamen. Capture Canada. Captured and garrisoned Fort Chambly (18 Oct), Fort St Jean (3 Nov) and Montréal (13 Nov). Defeated at Québec City (31 Dec).
25 September-31 December 1775 Colonel Benedict Arnold and ~1,000 American militiamen Captured Canada. 14 Nov-31 Dec Siege of Québec City. Defeated at Québec City (31 Dec).
Apr-October 1776 Major General John Thomas and 2,000 American militiamen. Captured Canada. Garrisoned Montréal, Fort Chambly, Fort St Jean but defeated and withdrew.
12 July 1812 Brigadier General William Hull and American militiamen. Entered Upper Canada from Detroit to Attacked British. Defeated.
13 October 1812 Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer III and American militiamen. Attacked British in Upper Canada. Defeated at Queenston Heights.
27 April 1813 Major General Henry Dearborn and 2,000 American militiamen. Attacked British in Upper Canada. Captured, pillaged, and burned York (Toronto) then captured Fort George 27 May).
6 June 1813 Brigadier General Winder and 3,500 American militiamen. Attacked British in Upper Canada and Capture Canada. Defeated at Battle of Stoney Creek.
September-December 1813 Major General William Henry Harrison and 3,500 American regular and militiamen. Attacked British in Upper Canada and Capture Canada. Defeated British, Canadians and Indians (5 Oct) Battle of Thames. Burned Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) (10 Dec).
26 October 1813 Major General Wade Hampton and 4,000 American regular and militiamen. Attacked British in Lower Canada. Defeated at Battles of Chateauguay (Oct).
17 October 1813 Major General James Wilkinson and 8,000 American regular and militiamen. Sailed Lake Ontario to Attacked British in Québec (Lower Canada). Defeated at Battle of Crysler's Farm (11 Nov).
March 1814 Major General James Wilkinson and 4,000 American regular and militiamen. Attacked British in Lower Canada. Defeated at Second Battle of Lacolle Mills (30 Mar).
2 July 1814 Major General Jacob Brown and 3,600 American militiamen. Attacked British in Upper Canada. Captured Fort Erie (3 Jul).
31 May 1866 Colonel John O'Neill and 500 Irishmen (Fenians). Capture Upper Canada territory to trade for British Ireland. Defeated Canadian militia at Battle of Ridgeway (2 Jun), but withdrew with casualties to New York.
7 June 1866 Brigadier General Samuel Spear and 700 Fenians. Capture Lower Canada territory to trade for British Ireland. Captured and looted four villages. Withdrew to New York when attacked (9 Jun).
25 May 1870 Brigadier General John O'Neill and 400 Fenians. Capture Lower Canada territory to trade for British Ireland. Confronted and retreated to Vermont.
27 May 1870 ~200 Fenians. Capture Lower Canada territory to trade for British Ireland. Defeated near Holbrook Corners, Québec and withdrew to New York.

British West Indies

The Caribbean islands were apparently first settled c5000BC by the Siboney People, and were apparently followed by the Arawak Indians c1000-400 BC from South America. The fierce Callinagos, now called the Caribs, were next from c1000 AD and they gave their name to the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish settled some islands from 1492-1498, and their African slaves washed up on other islands after various shipwrecks as late as 1635. The English settled Barbados in 1627 and 'transported' rebeliious Scots and Irish to Barbados as slaves. On St Vincent in 1730, according to an historical census, Africans outnumbered Carib Indians 6,000 to 4,000. The Carib/African dichotomy was exploited by the French and the Caribs wound up rebelling against the later English, who in 1655 first captured Jamaica. During the next two centuries of British rule, Jamaica became the world's largest sugar exporting nation and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually by 1820 through the massive use of imported African slave labor.


West Indies


The term British West Indies defines the British colonial islands in the Caribbean. Today, the islands of the British West Indies include: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Historically, the term British West Indies was once also extended to many of the former colonies of the British in the Caribbean region. Those nations which had been a part of the British West Indies (now known collectively as the Anglophone Caribbean) include: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. There are other labels for this general island area: the Antilles, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles, and the Caribbean. I have chosen to use the term Caribbean to define this general island group. Many of these islands have been controlled earlier by the Spanish, or French; and some by the Dutch, Danish, or Germans: Caribbean seemed a politically-neutral label.

Although the word Indies was retained as a notional Spanish reference to the word island, it may have also collectively included the British mainland Caribbean territories of British Honduras (Belize), British Guiana on the Mosquito Coast. The two mainland territories British Honduras (Belize), and British Guiana (Guyana) also became independent, and have changed their names (either before or upon independence). The majority of the island territories and states which once made up the entire British West Indies are now independent nations.

After an attempt to create a West Indies Federation to pursue a unified path towards independence, some of the islands either remained or reverted to British colonial status. The remaining overseas territories of the British are still the British West Indies.


1             The map is from Houghton Mifflin map,

2             Jack P Greene, "The Preconditions of the American Revolution", from Richard D Brown, Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution 1760-1791, p. 63.

3             SE Morison, The European Discovery of America, The Southern Voyages AD 1492-1616, p106;;

4             The Loyalists were identified as those people from the American colonies who supported the British monarchy. They have since been labelled as Tories by Americans, since the Tory party in the British parliament was conservative and clearly supported the monarchy.

5             For details see Battle of Saint-Eustache, at

6             While the list seems argumentative it does apear to represent the historical record. For further details see: hartrand, René, Colonial American Troops 1610-1774 (1), (2), & (3), _Canada/,,,,,,,,

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