THE American colonies were forty and fifty years old before Mother England attempted to assert her maternal authority over them. To the overgrown waifs she seemed like a stepmother, and they treated her as an intruder in their home. By no fault of hers or theirs, but by sheer force of circumstances, they had grown apart from her. The two branches of the English-speaking families thenceforth were to be but players in a great tragedy.
An even hundred years before 1776, the farmers on the Virginia frontier took up arms to wrest the control of the government from the hands of the older planters down in the tidewater country and to obtain assistance in pushing the Indians still farther westward. Led by Nathaniel Bacon, a twenty-nine-year-old Englishman, who had been in the colony only two or three years, those frontiersmen drove the royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, and his faction from Jamestown, where he had ruled for most of thirty-five years, and they burned that viceregal capital.
At Bacon's untimely death, the revolution went to pieces, and Governor Berkeley returned from his safe retreat, blazing with a passion for revenge. The rebellious leaders were hunted down and their property confiscated. As one of them was brought in, the Governor hailed him mockingly: "Mr. Drummond, you are very welcome. I am more glad to see you than any man in Virginia. Mr. Drummond, you shall be hanged in half an hour."
Upward of forty men were sent to the gallows by Berkeley before he was halted by the King. "That old fool," said Charles II, "hath hanged more men in that naked wilderness than I have for the murder of my father."
That short Virginia rebellion of 1676 had at least one far-reaching consequence. It brought the first British soldiers into an English colony.
Massachusetts, that born rebel, baffled all the efforts of Charles II to discipline her. He found her minting her own money and ignoring the King's name even in her legal processes.
Moreover, New England was harboring Goffe and Whalley, two of the regicides concerned in the overthrow of His Majesty's father. At the same time their fellow-regicides in England were being put to death, and the body of Oliver Cromwell was hanging on a gibbet for crows to peck at.
When Charles commanded Massachusetts to stop disfranchising members of the church of England, she contrived to evade his decree, and she flouted all the King's horses and all the King's men. "New England is in a peevish and touchy humor," John Evelyn wrote in his famous diary. And Charles himself complained, "The New England disease is very catching."
All endeavors to stamp out that disease in its native breeding ground came to naught. Rather the King himself increased it by giving to Connecticut and Rhode Island the two most liberal charters ever granted to a colony. Perhaps he did it only to make a face at Massachusetts.
Massachusetts and the King were in agreement on one subject. With a chuckle, Charles twitted his dour brother and heir, who was impatiently waiting for his turn on the throne, "No one wishes me to die, Jamie." None of the colonists had any reason to rejoice, in 1685, when the Merry Monarch passed out and the crown was transferred to the narrow head of James II.
The new King straightway tore up all the New England charters and sent Sir Edmund Andros to govern those proud colonies, to abolish the General Court of Massachusetts, clip the wings of town meetings, and to declare all land titles illegal. When the Royal Governor landed in Boston, he brought with him the first redcoats to make their appearance in Massachusetts.
Even more to the horror of the Puritans, those soldiers carried the royal standard, with its cross of St. George. That cross had not been seen within the bounds of Massachusetts in all the fifty years since the sword of John Endicott had slashed it from the colors.
On horror's head still more horrors! The Royal Governor invaded that sanctum sanctorum of Puritanism, the Old South Meeting House, where he insisted on holding the first services of the Church of England that ever had been permitted in that colony of England. But he persisted in the desecration only until he could build King's Chapel, where he was to lay away in its yard the body of his wife, who was Lady Mary Craven, and there her dust still reposes.
Boston bore the yoke the more meekly because it proved to be lined with gold. A viceregal court, with a French cook, was good for business. And willing courtiers were found among the prosperous merchants in a town where an English visitor was surprised to see thirty houses as "handsomely furnished as most in London." But in the country towns, the Minute Men of '75 already were sprouting. The shrewdness of the Connecticut people in outwitting Governor Andros has given to American legendry one of its best known tales—the hiding of the charter in a hollow oak.
King James quickly ran his short course as a reigning monarch and was supplanted on the throne by his son-in-law and his daughter, William and Mary. When the glad tidings of that "glorious revolution" in England trickled into Boston, three or four months afterward, Massachusetts celebrated the event by overthrowing her vice-king. Andros was imprisoned in the harbor fort on Castle Island, from which the gallant knight escaped in a woman's dress, only to have his military boots peep out from under his skirt and give him away.
New York also revolted, under the lead of a German-born man, Jacob Leisler, aided by his son-in-law, Jacob Milbourne, who had come over to America as an indentured servant. After his revolutionary government had ruled the colony two years, Leisler's aristocratic neighbors hanged both him and his son-in-law as traitors to William and Mary, although that luckless pair had raised the standard of revolt in sympathy with the royal couple.
The other colonies as well were to learn with painful surprise that the "glorious revolution" which they had hailed with joy stopped at the water's edge. Its glory was not for them but for England alone.
James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930