This year is the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Peace of Paris ending the Seven Years War, and today marks 250 years to the day since King George III issued his Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763 reorganizing the British North American empire in the aftermath of that war. Partly as a provocation, I sometimes tell folks that the Seven Years War and the diplomatic arrangements that ended it constitute the single most important set of events in modern Atlantic history. Of course, on its face such an assertion is relatively meaningless: everything gives rise to everything else, back to the beginning of time. But as a statement about the context out of which the Atlantic revolutionary era and thus the modern Atlantic world arises, it is hard to dispute. Consider the following three massive land transfers or settlements that were occasioned by the war: “Canada” goes from the French to the British, “Louisiana” goes from the Spanish to the French, and “India” comes under the undisputed domination of the British (though the French Company of the Indies retained its principal trading ports along the Coromandel coast, most notably Pondichéry). And that is just the beginning of the story: I am leaving out here the transformation of the Caribbean and the impact on the European sphere, for this was indeed arguably the first global military conflict. “Things like this” just did not happen every day in the eighteenth century or in any other century. So the next time my students react skeptically to another of my breathless evocations of the astonishing significance of the Seven Years War, I ask them to consider, as dispassionately as possible, the raw evidence!
This past Friday I went with a small group of my students from “How to Stage a Revolution” to see the Bostonian Society‘s wonderful (and now, sadly, closed) exhibit “1763: A Revolutionary Peace,” at the Old State House in Boston. (The Bostonian Society is the organization now in charge of preserving the Old State House, the location of the Massachusetts colonial governor’s office and council chambers, and the backdrop to the 1770 Boston Massacre of John Adams fame.) Thanks to Nat Sheidley, director of public history programs for the Society, and Donald Carlton, project director for the Peace of 1763 Commemoration, for a memorable tour, and for sharing their images of three extraordinary documents produced by the Seven Years War conflict. The first is the signature page of Britain’s original manuscript copy of the Peace of Paris treaty, signed Feb. 10, 1763:
The second is a 1755 proclamation by Massachusetts Lieut. Governor Phips setting prices on the heads of Penobscott Indians (three different prices, one for men, another for women, and a third for children of either sex under twelve).
And the third is the the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which, among other things, barred the American colonists from settling (further) into Indian country west of the Appalachian mountains (look to the final provisions at the lower right for the language in question):
There you have it. Three extraordinary documents, one extraordinary war. The Junto (an early Americanists blog) has an interesting post today on the Bostonian Society’s roundtable of this past Friday (Oct. 4) on the Royal Proclamation and the Seven Years War, wherein I learned of the energetic efforts of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies to recall especially the American Indian dimensions of the Seven Years War, including by way of a forthcoming conference on the December 1763 Conestoga Massacre carried out by the Paxton Boys (and denounced by Benjamin Franklin in a famous pamphlet).