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Colonial adolescence: a study of the Maritime colonies of British North America, 1790-1814 Whiteside, Margaret Susan

Abstract

The original intention of this thesis was to study the opinions and activities of the Maritime colonies during the War of 1812, in an attempt to explain the colonies' almost neutral position throughout the hostilities. The Maritime attitude has already been explained in terms of economic ties binding the colonies' interests with those of New England. This thesis was therefore directed by a desire to ascertain whether or not such economic interests constituted the dominating influence in Maritime policy or whether there existed equally important influences of a political and social nature. The conclusion attributes Maritime reaction in 1812 to a combination of economic, political, and social factors shaping the colonies' activities during the preceding twenty years. In the course of defining these factors, however, the emphasis shifted from the war itself to the preceding two decades which emerged as a period of experiment and adjustment—a period of confused adolescent fumbling toward the larger powers and responsibilities of adulthood. Into the midst of these struggles the War of 1812 was projected, to be greeted by the Maritimers as an interruption meriting attention only in so far as it could contribute to their provincial interests. In this thesis, therefore, the War of 1812 is presented as but the epilogue illustrating the trend of Maritime interests and policy during the period 1790-1810. It is not the intention of this thesis to view Maritime history strictly in terms of a cyclical development paralleling the human life cycle. However, the contradictory character of the Maritime scene during this period, as the colonies see-sawed between dependency and self-sufficiency in their claims, resembles the confusion of adolescence and the title of Colonial Adolescence was chosen for lack of a better description of this transitional phase. In the study of the Maritime colonies' transitional struggles, this thesis seeks to illustrate how the social-economic complex of a community moulds and is reflected in its political life. Although the period 1790-1814 was one of isolation and individualism for the colonies, the majority of Maritime communities faced similar problems in their struggles for stability and identity. Geography had rendered them an economic unit; the British administration had endowed them with similar political organizations; and settlement had produced similar social problems. This thesis, therefore, treats its subject in terms of basic economic, political, and social situations as they were faced in the Maritimes, with whatever variations each colony might offer. The three chapters dealing with these situations constitute the core of the thesis. In the first chapter an attempt has been made to set the scene of British politics and administration, for it was in this context that the colonies pursued their objectives influenced at all times by the changing fortunes of British politics. The study throughout tends to concentrate upon the mainland colonies of Nava Scotia and New Brunswick, partly because the developments of this period were centered here, since Prince Edward Island remained a backward variant; and partly because the nature of sources dictated such an approach. Research was concentrated mainly upon the Colonial Office records pertaining to Maritime affairs during this period. These included the official correspondence passing between the Colonial Office and the colonial governors, in which the policy of the British administration and its colonial deputies is outlined and colonial reaction commented upon. Also included were the journals of Assembly and Council, shipping statistics, petitions and memorials from individuals and associations in the colonies reflecting something of colonial opinion, needs and activities. These records were supplemented by secondary sources, drawn upon for an outline of British and North American activities and policies; to a more limited extent colonial newspapers and private papers provided contemporary comment on the Maritime scene—but the Maritimers do not emerge from these researches as an articulate lot.

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