Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763

Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763

Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763

Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763


This lively book recounts the story of the antagonism between the American colonists and the British armed forces prior to the Revolution. Douglas Leach reveals certain Anglo-American attitudes and stereotypes that evolved before 1763 and became an important factor leading to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Using research from both England and the United States, Leach provides a comprehensive study of this complex historical relationship. British professional armed forces first were stationed in significant numbers in the colonies during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. During early clashes in Virginia in the 1670s and in Boston and New York in the late 1680s, the colonists began to perceive the British standing army as a repressive force.

The colonists rarely identified with the British military and naval personnel and often came to dislike them as individuals and groups. Not suprisingly, these hostile feelings were reciprocated by the British soldiers, who viewed the colonists as people who had failed to succeed at home and had chosen a crude existence in the wilderness. These attitudes hardened, and by the mid-eighteenth century an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion prevailed on both sides.

With the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754, greater numbers of British regulars came to America. Reaching uprecedented levels, the increased contact intensified the British military's difficulty in finding shelter and acquiring needed supplies and troops from the colonists. Aristocratic British officers considered the provincial officers crude amateurs -- incompetent, ineffective, and undisciplined -- leading slovenly, unreliable troops. Colonists, in general, hindered the British military by profiteering whenever possible, denouncing taxation for military purposes, and undermining recruiting efforts. Leach shows that these attitudes, formed over decades of tension-breeding contact, are an important development leading up to the American Revolution.


This book has been many years in the making. As early as the 1960s, while doing the research for my Arms for Empire: a Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607-1763, I became increasingly aware of the tensions arising in the colonies as a by- product of the British professional military-naval presence. My preliminary perception of this potentially significant condition was presented in the form of a paper read to the American Historical Association convened at Boston in 1970. Simultaneously, other historians were exploring various aspects of the same phenomenon. As a consequence, we are now gaining a much deeper understanding of the causal relationship between Anglo-American military friction prior to 1763 and the very rapid growth of intense and eventually decisive antagonism after that date.

John Shy pioneered with his highly suggestive Toward Lexington: the Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution, which, although focused mainly on the period 1760-1775, begins with a review of earlier conditions. Next, Alan Rogers took a more intensive look into the period dominated by the last of the great colonial wars with his Empire and Liberty: American Resistance to British Authority, 1755-1763. Stephen S. Webb then began drawing attention to the inherently military character of British colonial administration, first in "Army and Empire: English Garrison Government in Britain and America, 1569 to 1763," published in 1977 in the William and Mary Quarterly, and subsequently in his provocative book the Governors-General: the English Army and the Definition of the Empire, 169-1681, with more to follow. William Pencak and Fred Anderson, with equal imagination and skill, have focused on the key colony of Massachusetts Bay. I stand indebted to these and a host of other scholars, all of whom are listed in my bibliography, but in the main I have relied upon my own research in primary sources, both published and unpublished. My major conclusion, and the thesis of this book, is that Anglo-American friction caused by the presence of British regular forces prior to 1763 was indeed an important contributing factor in the coming of the American Revolution, especially in the form of intergroup attitudes and perceptions hardening into stereotypes and traditions.

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