Imagine if no blacks had ever been brought to the British colonies, and African slavery was outlawed here, before it even began. Imagine a North America where there was no Revolutionary War, and what we think of as the Eastern United States remained a part of the British Empire. This is the universe inhabited by Billy Roper’s next book, “Commonwealth“, scheduled to be released in the Summer of 2017.
Commonwealth is an alternate history novel taking place in present-day British North America, a place remarkably different from, yet eerily similar to, our own.
The historical backdrop…
This delay caused the Third Supply Fleet to miss the worst of the hurricane which separated and damaged it in our timeline, and all five-hundred and thirteen colonists arrived safely in James Fort, including Sarah Hacker Rolfe, wife of Virginia colonist John Rolfe, who soon gave birth to their daughter, Nicotiana. With the additional colonists and supplies, the colony thrived. The local Paspahegh Indian tribe was completely annihilated in skirmishes over the next few years, but conflict with the larger Powhaten Confederacy continued until 1618, when the Chief’s death led to all out warfare with the English under the leadership of Powhaten’s brother.
While the settlement expanded northwards up the peninsula, during raids by the hostile tribes the James River served as a natural defensive line on the West, bulwarked by the cannons of Company ships anchored at Point Comfort. Admiral Sir George Somers ordered that one man-o-war should remain anchored there as a deterrent at all times, and forbade Virginia Company ships or crew from abandoning their posts or risking the Company’s ships, and therefore the security of the besieged colony, in pursuit of private gain.
Late in the summer of 1619, English Captain Jope, commanding a 160 ton Dutch man-o-war, The White Lion, attacked the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista, which was delivering a cargo of fifty African slaves from Luanda, Angola, to Vera Cruz, Mexico. Jope was sailing with a letters of marque issued by the Protestant Dutch Prince Maurice, son of William of Orange. A letters of marque legally permitted The White Lion to sail as a privateer attacking any Spanish or Portuguese ships it encountered. Sailing alongside Jope as consort was The Treasurer, a man-o-war owned by Virginia deputy governor Samuel Argall, Lord de la Warr, and the Earl of Warwick, Robert Rich. Sir Somers’ cautionary edicts made The Treasurer hold off closing in on the San Juan Bautista, creating confusion on the Portuguese ship as to the two ships’ intent. During the delay to the encounter, the African slaves revolted onboard the San Juan Bautista, killing many of the crew on deck. In horror, The White Lion and The Treasurer withdrew, instead of taking the slaves on as cargo and delivering them to Jamestown as the first black slaves in North America, as happened in our timeline.
The English pilot of The White Lion, named Marmaduke, reported the encounter to Admiral Sir George Somers, who decided that Jamestown had enough problem with the “savagies here alraed, nae to bring more”. Privateers and Virginia Company ships alike are forbidden to bring any African slaves to Jamestown, or anywhere else in the Virginia Colony. The next year, when the Pilgrims founded the Plymouth Colony, they instituted a similar law, based on news from the Virginia Colony arriving before their embarkation from Delfs Haven, Holland, where Dutch ships received the warning. Thus, a ban on the importation of African servants became part of the Mayflower Compact.
From 1620 to 1642, nearly six hundred indentured servants, primarily from Ireland but also from elsewhere in the British Isles, came to the Virginia Colony to work for seven years on the prosperous tobacco plantations in exchange for their passage. By the time they had earned their freedom and acquired land of their own, another wave had arrived, doubling the size of the colony overall within a generation, and leading to the extinction of the Powhaten Confederacy in several battles which freed up the West bank of the James River for homesteading, beginning with the failed Indian uprising of 1622. During this time, three hundred vagrant children from the streets of London were also forcibly colonized to the settlements, making Virginia by far the most populous English colony in the New World.
The English Civil Wars and conflicts in Ireland led to a decline in voluntary immigrants, so growing numbers of prisoners of war, political prisoners, felons, and other “undesirables” were sent to labor in the colonies against their will. Due to the success of Virginia’s economy and its growing population, it had become the dumping ground of unwanted Britons, rather than Barbados. After the Siege of Drogheda in 1649, Cromwell ordered most of the military prisoners who surrendered shipped to Virginia. His attempts to pacify Ireland led to thousands being sent to both destinations throughout the 1650’s, moreover. England’s American colonies in this period consisted of the New England Confederation, the Providence Plantation, the Virginia Colony, and the Maryland Colony.
Although the newer, Puritan colonies, most notably Massachusetts, were dominated by Parliamentarians, the older colonies sided with the Crown during the English Civil War. The Virginia Colony, Antigua, and Barbados were conspicuous in their loyalty to the Crown, and were singled out by the Rump Parliament in An Act for prohibiting Trade Barabadas, Virginia, Bermuda, and Antego in October, 1650. This dictated that “due punishment [be] inflicted upon the said Delinquents, do Declare all and every the said persons in Barbada’s Antego, Bermuda’s and Virginia, that have contrived, abetted, aided or assisted those horrid Rebellions, or have since willingly joyned with them, to be notorious Robbers and Traitors, and such as by the Law of Nations are not to be permitted any maner of Commerce or Traffique with any people whatsoever; and do forbid to all maner of persons, Foreiners, and others, all maner of Commerce, Traffique and Correspondency whatsoever, to be used or held with the said Rebels in the Barbada’s, Bermuda’s, Virginia and Antego, or either of them.”
The Act also authorized Parliamentary privateers to act against English vessels trading with the rebellious colonies: “All Ships that Trade with the Rebels may be surprized. Goods and tackle of such ships not to be embezeled, till judgement in the Admiralty; Two or three of the Officers of every ship to be examined upon oath.”
Virginia’s population swelled with Cavaliers during and after the English Civil War. Despite the resistance of the Virginia Cavaliers, Virginian Puritan Richard Bennett was made Governor answering to Cromwell in 1652, followed by two more nominal “Commonwealth Governors”. Nonetheless, the colony was rewarded for its loyalty to the Crown by Charles the II following the Restoration when he dubbed it ‘The Old Dominion’.
With the Restoration in 1660 the Governorship returned to its previous holder, Sir William Berkeley.
Those forced Royalist prisoner immigrants who had served for more than a seven year indenture were granted their freedoms in the Virginia Colony, and the remainder were soon manumitted.
When Charles II granted land to eight Lords Proprietors in 1663, Virginia’s southern border was once again defined at 36 degrees of latitude. In 1664, the English conquered the Dutch colony of New Netherlands. As Virginia and Maryland Colony laws forbade their entry into their expanding territories, the African slaves there were shipped to British Barbados for the sugar plantations. In 1665, the border was moved north a half-degree to 36 degrees, 30 minutes, giving the Carolina proprietors full control over the navigable parts of Albemarle Sound – plus land along the shoreline, whose settlers wanted to ship tobacco and lumber to England without paying export taxes to the Virginia colony. Although the founders of Carolina attempted to establish a plantation system between Virginia and Spanish Florida similar to the system in place in Barbados, they did not include African slaves in that institution, relying instead on indentured Irish and Scots servants for labor. The next year, the Great London Fire encouraged many of the newly homeless to the western frontiers of the southern colonies, where the falling tobacco prices had begun to diversify the economy more towards new crops, including cotton. For the next decade, the large plantation systems began to decline in importance, in favor of subsistence farming, as a land rush spread Celtic immigrants from the Shenandoah Valley, where they met Germans moving south from Pennsylvania, and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the Appalachian barrier.
In 1676, Bacon’s Rebellion challenged the political order of the Virginia colony. While a military failure, its handling did result in Governor Berkeley being recalled to England. The crown did not heed the warning sign, however. Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, while Jewish-owned slave ships continue to bring African slaves to Spanish Mexico, as well as Spanish and Portuguese South America, none came to North America, except for a small number arriving in French Colonial Louisiana in 1719. Meanwhile, two generations of Irish and Scots-Irish, freed from their servitude but bearing a lasting grudge against British royal power, multiplied and moved north for work once land became more scarce in the southern colonies. They carried their animosities with them into New England, infecting the population there with a growing resentment towards the King and Parliament.
Those who stayed behind took out their frustrations on the native peoples in a series of Southern Tribal Wars, conflicts which served them as good experience in the successive fights to come. Despite royal decrees of peace and several attempted treaties, in 1712 and 1713 the Tuscaroras were wiped out, as were the Muscogee Creek in 1716, and most of the Cherokee in a bitter campaign lasting from 1725 to 1730, after White frontier settlements came under attack by the beleaguered tribal confederation, which had lost much of its hunting grounds.
Owing largely to the earlier forced and voluntary Irish and Scots immigration and their descendants, by 1730 the population of British North America consisted of over a million people. (As opposed to 635,083, in our timeline.) In 1732, King George II approved the charter for Georgia, a colony which was designed to serve as a new home to debtors and the poor of England, who were to be shipped there as a buffer between the southern colonies and Spanish Florida. The last of the Cherokee died out in a smallpox epidemic in 1738, freeing up White expansion into their former territories.
In the northern British colonies, more closely bordering populated sections of New France, competition had grown heated between the two European powers and their proxies. Massachusetts clung to its Puritan roots against royal pressure, as Cotton Mather and his successors criticized royal governance. New York was most interested in absorbing and replacing Francophone territory to its north. Connecticut was the most diverse, consisting of French, Dutch, English, German, and Scots-Irish immigrants. It was through this opening that the descendants of indenture migrated, influencing their new communities against the Crown.
In 1744 the Iroquois signed the Treaty of Lancaster with the British, which ceded Iroquois claims in Maryland and Virginia. While the Iroquois assumed that this meant the Shenandoah Valley and land already within settled colonial boundaries, the British interpreted it as the entire area of English claim. Virginia’s charter specified that its western boundary was the Pacific Ocean. By 1745, the Virginia House of Burgesses began granting western land to Virginia-based land companies. The French saw this as a threat to their territorial claims, which were based on early exploration and settlement.
By 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, traveling on behalf of the Loyal Land Company of Virginia, discovered the Cumberland Gap. That same year, the owners of the Ohio Company commissioned Christopher Gist to explore their western lands; after traveling down the Ohio River, Gist explored eastern Kentucky and crossed the mountains into the Carolinas.
Two years later, France sent the Marquis de Duquesne to be the governor-general of Canada and to command French forces in North America. English settlers moving into the Ohio River valley come into contact with French pioneers there. The French were there primarily to trade with the Indians, while the English saw them both as adversaries. Still, an informal treaty was agreed to between them, but without royal authority, the British government did not recognize it. In 1753 the French began to erect a chain of forts from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Major George Washington spent the greater part of that year visiting and spying on French positions throughout the region, before reporting to Robert Dinwiddie, the Lt. Governor of Virginia, on the expansions. Drawn into the global war between France and Great Britain, the North American colonies raised 25,000 troops, despite their reluctance to fight for the King (20% more than were raised in our timeline), primarily due to depridations suffered from Indian allies of the French along the frontier. On May 28th, 1754, Major Washington executed a group of Indian guides serving under his command who had begun killing and scalping wounded French prisoners following the Battle of Jumonville Glen, Pennsylvania, the first battle of what would come to be called the French and Indian War. Without any prior experience with African slaves, he had been desensitized to human depravity and barbarism, and their actions shocked him into the disciplinary action. Retreating to Fort Necessity after the skirmish, Washington was besieged by French and Canadian forces from Fort Duquesne, who compelled his surrender. They had also initially demanded that he state in writing that the death of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, the French commander of the massacred detachment, had been an ambassadorial assassination. Surviving French prisoner’s accounts of Washington executing Tanacharison and the other Mingo warriors involved in the massacre and mutilations made him an honorable hero to the French, though, while driving the Mingos to revolt. He and all of his men were allowed to return to Virginia unharmed. (In our timeline, Washington was forced to surrender Captain Robert Stobo to the French as a hostage. He was taken from Fort Necessity to Fort Duquesne to Quebec City, where he was held prisoner, but allowed freedom to walk around, unescorted. By the time he escaped in the Spring of 1759, he knew the terrain inside and out, and was able to advise British General Wolf of a secret path up and over the cliffs protecting the city.)
The next year, Brigadier General Edward Braddock was killed trying to take Fort Duquesne, and his army of regular British soldiers soundly defeated. Dinwiddie gave command to Washington. Washington wrote of a local mob that freed several men from jail who had been drafted and were being held until they could be attached to a regiment. This was not an isolated act. Settlers also threatened, “to blow out my [Washington’s] brains” when the army tried to impress needed supplies. Washington was challenged in fulfilling his duty by the lack of support among the people he was fighting for and by the Virginia government’s lukewarm support. In November of 1755, Washington witnessed, under the command of General John Forbes, the fall of Fort Duquesne to the British. He then married, resigned from the army as a Colonel, and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, a gentleman farmer using free (Irish) labor.
After the disastrous 1757 British campaigns (resulting in a failed expedition against Louisbourg and the Siege of Fort William Henry, which was followed by Indian torture and massacres of British victims), the British government in London fell. British regular army units sent by the new leader, William Pitt, replaced colonial militia, who were increasingly uninterested in fighting alongside either the redcoats or their Indian allies. Many deserted and went home, while others went rogue, regardless of orders or treaties.
In revenge for the kidnapping of Mary Jemison and the killing of her family on the Western Pennsylvania frontier in 1758, several regiments of Scots-Irish volunteers were raised. Within weeks they had brought the girl home, then turned their attentions on destroying the Delaware Indian nation, and capturing Fort Duquesne from the British, who had tried to protect some of the local Indians behind their walls. They blamed the regular army for not protecting the frontier, and for shielding the Delaware from what they saw as rough justice.
The British inability to control their colonial militia, or limit the slaughter of whole villages of Indians, led to the abandonment of their alliance by the Iroquois Confederation and the Mohawks, who made peace with the Algonquin and joined the French side, in response to the genocide of the Delaware. This severely weakened British positions in the north, especially, and forced them to release their native scouts and auxiliaries out of a well-earned mistrust. The colonials were sent home to guard their frontiers, and leave the French-fighting to the professionals.
In 1758, a third invasion was stopped with the improbable French victory in the Battle of Carillon, in which 3,600 Frenchmen famously and decisively defeated Gen. Abercrombie’s force of 12,000 British regulars outside the fort the French called Carillon and the British called Ticonderoga. In Europe and on the high seas, Britain was faring better, especially on the continent, but in one piece of good fortune, some French supply ships managed to depart France, eluding the British blockade of the French coast.
All throughout 1759, both powers focused much of their energies in the New World on control of Quebec City. This culminated in a siege and climactic battle in September of 1759 which failed to find a way around the natural defenses of the cliffs, without Robert Stobo’s help. Gen. Wolfe reluctantly withdrew from the siege due to growing sickness among his ranks, including himself. The French had lost elsewhere, but would retain control of Quebec. Despite the Royal Navy having destroyed the French fleet, and reserves not coming as expected, the city would not fall.
After Quebec, many British troops from North America were reassigned to participate in further British actions in the West Indies, including the capture of Spanish Havana when Spain belatedly entered the conflict on the side of France, and a British expedition against French Martinique in 1762, led by (the now) Major General Robert Monckton. Perhaps that’s why the local garrisons were taken by surprise when the colonial volunteer regiments, barely suppressing Gaelic war cries, surrounded their stockades and demanded their surrender. It was an edgy standoff. The Irish Regiments crushed Pontiac’s rebellion in 1763, and almost completely annihilated the entire Ottowa Indians in the Great Lakes region, securing territory which neither the French nor the British regulars had been able to hold. The French seized St. John’s, Newfoundland, early that fall. British naval power allowed them to hold on to the most profitable six ‘sugar’ colonies in the Caribbean, Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada and Tobago, St. Vincent; and Dominica.
With so much of their North American colonies in or at the edge of open revolt, and her armies stretched thin, Britain quietly withdrew most of her forces from North America’s mainland, without acknowledging their independence, or indeed, any revolution at all. Redcoat garrisons were left at minimal skeleton crews. Local militias patrolled the streets of the cities in Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia, keeping order of their own and intimidating British government officials. Benjamin Franklin, who had just returned from England where he had been acting as an agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, began contacting his counterparts in the other colonial legislatures. One by one, he was able to calm them into listening to reason. Up until this point, the uprising had been spontaneous and disjointed, with no head of the snake to be stricken at. Was the crown too deep in debt from her war to afford a blind swipe? Or would they let things quieten down without a direct confrontation with the rebellious colonists? Not wishing to provoke a full break they might not control, Parliament never passed the Townshend Duties, the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act, or the Sugar Act. That was what its detractors feared the most…and that is exactly what happened. British Parliament did not interfere in the government of the colonies, and America existed in relative political isolation until passions had cooled. During this several year interval, colonists took advantage of the laissez faire period to cross the Appalachians and fill in the disputed region between the mountains and the Mississippi. In the long run, the policy of Salutary Neglect preserved British North America for the Commonwealth.
‘The Big Picture’
‘Deja Vu’ (1st and 2nd editions)
‘The Fifth Horseman’
‘The Hasten The Day Trilogy’
‘The Balk: What it means, and what it means for America’s future.’
‘Look Away: an alternate history of the Civil War’
‘The Ice Path: A Way Forward’
‘PaleoAmerican Ethnic Diversity’
‘Hasten The Day’
‘Waiting For The Sun: Hasten The Day, Part II’
‘Wasting The Dawn: Hasten The Day, Part III’
Available as e-book or print paperback editions through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other fine book retailers.
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