In 1765, frontiersmen in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania forcibly prohibited British officials and colonists from participating in the Indian trade, intercepting and destroying goods intended for Native Americans in the Ohio Country. Imperial officials and civil leaders in Pennsylvania condemned the actions of the so-called “Black Boys,” suggesting that they represented a form of insurrection. Close analysis of the Black Boys’ stated motivations, however, suggests that they did not seek an overthrow of royal rule. Instead, they sought a renegotiation of political power on the frontier, one in which local concerns and wishes tempered the exercise of imperial authority.
John Phillip ReidConstitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority of Rights (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press1986) 1–15 229. The Black Boys employed an understanding of the older English constitution rather than Reid’s evolving British constitution; Jack P. Greene Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States (Athens Ga.: University of Georgia Press 1987) 67–68.
John Phillip ReidConstitutional History of the American Revolution: Abridged Edition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press1995) 182. Reid notes Scotland’s legal origins rested in civil law not common law and the Scottish remained sensitive to different rights that the English would not claim John Phillip Reid Constitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority to Legislate (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 1991) 202–203.
ReidConstitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority of Rights7–8. Though constitutionalism and the law are separate concepts colonial constitutionalism arose due to the legal differences and customs between the colonies and England and cannot be separated. Incredibly enough Reid’s example differentiating legal and constitutional involves the hypothetical actions of an army officer who acts without consent from a civil magistrate.
Gregory Evans DowdWar under Heaven: Pontiac the Indian Nations the British Empire (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 336n; Spero, “Creating Pennsylvania: The Politics of the Frontier and the State” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania2009) 258n.
Joseph S. Tiedemann“A Tumultuous People: The Rage for Liberty and the Ambiance of Violence in the Middle Colonies in the Years Preceding the American Revolution,”Pennsylvania Historyvol. 77 no. 4 (Autumn 2010): 387–431 at 409–410.
Johnson to Gage 22 March1765Papers of Thomas Gage phmc. Johnson copied a letter from John Penn which notes “some Merchants of this Town … design to carry on a trade with the Western Nations tho’ they have not made any application for my License which his Majesty’s proclamation requires.”
SperoCreating Pennsylvania262 265. Spero suggests that Gage and Johnson viewed the Black Boys in negative terms from the start but his citations all come after news of the acquittal of the Black Boys spread. Oddly letters about the trial’s outcome suggests news reached Philadelphia in May after Governor Penn and his party returned to the city. Thomas Wharton did not learn of the acquittal until 1 May 1765 Thomas Wharton to Benjamin Franklin 27 April 1765. http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp (accessed 10 March 2014).