Warfare in North America, c. 1756-1815

British Perspectives

• Unique access to over 37,000 documents, spread across over 65,000 double-spread images
• All documents drawn from The National Archives, London, offering a British view in this key period of North American history, tracking 60 years from colonialism to independence
• Supplemented with searchable index terms per document, an academic introduction, further reading list, and maps
• Includes MARC 21 catalogue records

This collection makes available a wide selection of original documents held at The National Archives, London, concerning warfare in North America from the Seven Years War (1754-1763), the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), to the War of 1812 (1812-1815). This large collection of primary source documents offers a unique perspective on the British view of the period, which saw a turbulent transition of the North American colonies from British rule to fully-fledged independence.

Many different types of document are represented in the collection. Letters are the most common, while there are also military and intelligence reports, memoranda of various kinds, petitions and memorials from civilians, order books giving insight into logistical and financial issues, newspaper extracts, and material on legal cases. Most documents are hand-written, including a few plans and maps, while some are printed. The vast majority of the texts are written in English, with some in French and some in Spanish. Some letters containing confidential information are even written in cypher.

The Seven Years War was a global conflict, and in North American history, it is a significant watershed. France was forced to cede much of its territory to Great Britain, leaving Britain as the dominant colonial power in North America. Just over a decade later, however, the American Revolutionary War broke out between the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain, concluded by the Treaty of Paris (1783) and resulting in the independence of the United States of America. The War of 1812, some years later, is also hugely significant in North America; it achieved a more formal union of the states, gave the United States its national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and famously also saw the burning to the ground of the White House by British forces. These three wars, so fundamental to the shaping of modern North America, have been seen as strongly interlinked by historians, even conceived of by some as ‘The Sixty Years War’; from the British perspective, all three were also part of a wider global struggle of this time.

The documents are drawn from four major collections of The National Archives, London. The Amherst Papers (WO 34) provide a wealth of detail on the Seven Years War in North America. The British Army Headquarters Papers (PRO 30/55) cover the whole of the War of Independence. Material in the Colonial Office Papers relating to Upper and Lower Canada (CO 42) illustrates the War of 1812. The material chosen from the vast collection of Admiralty Papers (ADM 1) presents rich evidence on the naval aspects of all three wars.

Warfare is a major theme of the collection, with insight offered into both terrestrial and naval military operations on the ground and up to the very highest levels of command. Topics such as campaigns, tactics, deployments, equipment, morale, finances, are covered in detail, offering fascinating glimpses of the functioning of armies in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and illustrating the particular challenges of war in North America and its impact on the population – native, enslaved, as well as settlers of European lineage. Other military themes are also covered, such as the dynamics of leadership, allegiance, and identity; patronage and promotion; intelligence and communication; prisoners of war; and the daily lives of soldiers.

The collection also affords good insight into the many aspects of society affected by the hostilities. Trade, taxation, and economic concerns rank high on this list, and feature prominently in correspondence. This theme can also be seen at a lower level, with civilians launching petitions and complaints against property damage. Relations with the native peoples is also covered, and the role of slavery is seen, most prominently in the famous ‘Book of Negroes’ (1783), which provides information on around 3,000 slaves who had joined the British. While many of the documents are formal in nature, there are also documents of great human interest, such as the ‘Book of Negroes’, memorials to fallen soldiers, and personal letters. Famous names also abound, with documents of Bernardo de Gálvez, governor of Spanish Louisiana, royal decrees of King George III, and letters of George Washington.

The material is supplemented by full metadata per document, including date of document, language of document, type of document, and author and recipient of document (where applicable). This metadata is fully searchable, and builds significantly on the item-level information currently available in The National Archives’ online catalogue. The collection is accompanied by an academic introduction, a further reading list, and maps of the three wars.

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Academic Advisor
Stephen Conway, University College London

Scholars and students of military, political, economic, and social history in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly of revolution and independence in North America (USA and Canada), and of European (British, French, and Spanish) colonialism and imperialism, plus scholars focusing on the global connectedness of the 18th and early 19th-century world.
Stephen Conway is Professor of History at University College London. His publications include The British Isles and the War of American Independence (2000) and A Short History of the American Revolutionary War (2013).
Documents drawn from the following collections:

• WO 34 – The Amherst Papers
• PRO 30/55 – The British Army Headquarters Papers (also known as the Carleton papers or Dorchester Papers)
• CO 42 – Colonial Office Papers relating to Upper and Lower Canada
• ADM 1 – Admiralty In-Letters
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