The Thirteen Colonies: Cooperation and Conflict

Stories that Take You for the Ride of Your Life

October, 2015

The Thirteen Colonies: Cooperation and Conflict

The vast diversity and individualistic nature of the original thirteen colonies made each of them a separate entity on their own. Despite commonality in political systems, shared origin, and institutions, each colony differed from the other in its economic needs, geography, and territorial aspirations. All these similarities and differences shaped economic and political cooperation, military collaboration and conflict over territorial claims. In The Rule of Ranging, among other issues I explore this cooperation and conflict between the colonies.

Military Collaboration and Political Cooperation

In 1607, the first settlement was established at Jamestown and the colony of Virginia grew around it. The process went on and the original thirteen colonies took shape by 1732 with the incorporation of Georgia into the new fold. Geographically, the colonies were divided into three groups, New England, middle, and southern colonies. Comprised of migrants mostly from British and Irish settlers, these colonies were tied in a fraternal bond and helped each other against the French and Native Americans. People recruited from southern colonies, such as Georgia, Maryland, and Carolina joined the British ranks to fight on the frontiers and at the sea. This military alliance helped the creation of a united Continental Army to battle the mainland British forces during the War of Independence.

The British identity enabled close political cooperation. While English democratic values influenced the early forms of self-government and constitutionalism, one colony followed the other in many political areas. Republican and freedom ethos that found resonance in New York and Massachusetts imbibed people living in North and South Carolina. By 1750s, political relations strengthened further with about two-thirds of more than 2.1 million residents in the 13 colonies tracing their roots to the new land.

The cooperation reached a new height at the Albany Congress of 1754, where all colonies united to demand greater political rights. They again met in 1774 for the First Continental Congress and chalked out a union plan. Despite having no formal legitimacy or treatise, 13 colonies readily accepted and implemented its decisions on boycotting all British Parliamentary acts. More shared colonial identity and egalitarian sentiment brought colonies politically together and resulted in the creation of the United States of America.

Conflict Over Territorial Disputes

Economic and geographical differences sparked territorial conflict among the colonies. Individuals established proprietary colonies following royal charters and the new character reflected it firmly. New England colonies dominated by Puritans developed an economic pattern based on manufacturing and trade while the more diverse middle colonies with more Quakers, Baptists, and Lutherans remain focused on agriculture and exploitation of natural resources. Anglican-dominated South had big plantations and farming communities.

One colony eager to expand with the influx of migrants and get a hold on natural resources tried to outdo the other and conflicting religious sentiments influenced territorial disputes. Pennsylvania and Virginia were locked in a quarrel over the southern boundary, which remained ambiguous in William Penn’s charter of 1681. Pennsylvania claimed the land adjacent to the 40th parallel as its own with John Michel’s 1755 map showing Pennsylvania territory as far as the Forks of Ohio. Peter Jefferson countered it with a plan that included the confluence of Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, at Pittsburgh, as part of Virginia. Joshua Frey and George Washington led Virginia militias to the Fork on border domination and anti-French expeditions. The dispute escalated over Westmoreland County, where settlers loyal to both colonies fought each other vehemently.

Pennsylvania and Virginia also had territorial disputes with Maryland and New York. The Mason–Dixon line solved the competing claims between Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Erie Triangle question led to a protracted dispute between New York and Pennsylvania though none had the charter claim on the water body. The Penn state viewed it as a way to end its landlocked status while New York did not want to let its fresh water source. It was settled in 1792 with Pennsylvania allowed to hold the lake shores for a one-time payment of $151,640.25.

Apart from these, there were minor territorial disputes, including North and South Carolina border dispute, Connecticut and New York boundary controversy, and Massachusetts–New Hampshire edge claims. Mutual agreements and state cession policy encouraged by the federal government resolved these disputes.

[Image credits: Al Pacino in Revolution (1985) directed by Hugh Hudson]

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