Chronicles of America 

The Menace of New France

Now the work that Andros had come over to perform, and that which was most important in his eyes, was the defense of New England against the French. The contest between the two nations for control of the New World had already begun. The territory between Hudson Bay and the St. Lawrence and that between the Penobscot and the St. Croix were already in dispute, and New Englanders had taken their part in the conflict. When Governor of New York, Andros had become aware of the French danger, and his successor Dongan had proved himself capable of holding the Iroquois Indians to their allegiance to the English and of extending the beaver trade in the Mohawk Valley. But at this juncture reports kept coming in of renewed incursions of the French, led by the Canadian nobility, into the regions south of Lakes Erie and Ontario, and of new forts on territory that the English claimed as their own. There was increasing danger that the French would embroil the Indians of the Five Nations and, by drawing them into a French alliance, threaten not only the fur trade but the colonies themselves. The French Governor, Denonville, declared that the design of the King his master was the conversion of the infidels and the uniting of "all these barbarous people in the bosom of the Church"; but Dongan, though himself a Roman Catholic, saw no truth in this explanation and demanded that the French demolish their forts and retire to Canada, whence they had come. Just as this quarrel with the French threatened to arouse the Indians in northwestern New York, so it threatened to arouse, as eventually it did arouse, the Indians along the northern frontier of New England. To the authorities in England and to Andros in America, this menace of French aggression was one of the dangers which the Dominion of New England was intended to meet, and the substitution of a single civil and military head for the slow-moving and ineffective popular assemblies was designed to make possible an energetic military campaign.

Andros had no sooner organized his council and got his government into running order than he began to prosecute measures for improving the defenses of the colony. He sent soldiers to Pemaquid to occupy and strengthen the fort there, and himself began the reconstruction of the fortifications of Boston. He turned his attention to Fort Hill at the lower end of the town, erected a palisaded embankment with four bastions, a house for the garrison, and a place for a battery; later he leveled the hill on Castle Island in the harbor, and built there a similar palisade and earthwork and barracks for the soldiers. He took a survey of military stores, made application to England for guns and ammunition, endeavored to put the train-bands of the colony in as good shape as possible, and in 1688 went to Pemaquid to inspect the northern defenses as far as the Penobscot. He kept in close touch with Governor Dongan, and promised to send him, as rapidly as he could, men and money in case of a French invasion.

To make his work more effective he took steps to bring Connecticut immediately under his control. Rhode Island had already submitted and had sent its members to sit with the council at Boston. But Connecticut had avoided giving a direct answer, although a third writ of quo warranto had been served upon her, on December 28, 1686. Consequently Andros wrote to the recalcitrant colony, saying that he had been instructed to receive the surrender of the charter. To this letter, the Governor and magistrates of Connecticut replied that they preferred to remain as they were, but that, if annexation was to be their lot, they would be willing to join with Massachusetts, their old neighbor and friend, rather than with New York. Dongan, perplexed by the heavy expenses involved in the military defense of his colony and wishing to have the use of additional revenues, had hoped that he might persuade the Connecticut Government to come under the control of New York, but Connecticut preferred Massachusetts and had stated this preference in her letter. Andros and the Lords of Trade deemed the reply favorable, although in fact it was ingeniously noncommittal, and they took steps to complete the annexation.

On receiving a special letter of instructions from the King, Andros set out in person for Hartford, accompanied by a number of gentlemen, two trumpeters, and a guard of fifteen or twenty redcoats, "with small guns and short lances in the tops of them." He journeyed probably by way of Norwich, crossing the Connecticut River at Wethersfield, where he was met by a troop of sixty cavalry and escorted to Hartford. There, on October 31, 1687, the Governor, magistrates, and militia awaited his coming. Seated in the Governor's chair in the tavern chamber where the assembly was accustomed to meet, he caused his commission to be read, declared the old Government dissolved, selected two of those present as members of his council, and the next day appointed the necessary officials for the colony. Thence he went to Fairfield, New Haven, and New London, commissioning justices of the peace for those counties and organizing the customs service. No resistance was made to his proceedings, though it was generally understood in the colony that the charter itself had been spirited away and hidden in the hollow of an oak tree, henceforth famous as the Charter Oak.

Connecticut and the other colonies became for the time being administrative districts of the larger dominion. Their assemblies everywhere ceased to meet, that of Rhode Island for five years. Courts, provided by the act of December, 1687, were, however, generally held. The superior court for Connecticut sat four times in 1688 and the county courts, quarter sessions and common pleas, where appeared the newly appointed justices of the peace, sat for Hartford County, the one ten times and the other thirteen times during 1688 and 1689. But the surviving records of their meetings are few and references to their work very rare. The ordinary business of everyday life was carried on by the towns alone, which continued their usual activities undisturbed. In Connecticut, before Andros arrived, the assembly had taken the precaution to issue formal patents of land to the towns and to grant the public lands of the colony to Hartford and Windsor to prevent their falling into the hands of the new Government. This act may at the time have seemed a wise one, but it made a great deal of trouble afterwards.

The Dominion of New England, which now extended from the Penobscot to the borders of New York, was organized as a centralized government, with the old colonies serving as counties for administration and the exercise of justice. But as plans for an expedition against the French began to mature, it became evident that, if the French were to be successfully met, a further extension of territory was necessary; so in April, 1688, a second commission was issued to Andros, constituting him Governor of all the territory from the St. Croix River to the fortieth parallel, and thus adding to his domain New York and the Jerseys. Delaware and Pennsylvania were excepted by special royal intervention. Dongan was recalled, and Francis Nicholson was appointed lieutenant-governor under Andros, with his residence in New York.

Thus on paper Andros was Governor-General of a single territory running from the Delaware River and the northern boundary of Pennsylvania northward to the St. Lawrence, eastward to the St. Croix, and westward to the Pacific. There was an attempt here to reproduce, in size and organization, the French Dominion of Canada, but the likeness was only in appearance. To organize and defend his territory, Andros had two companies of British regulars, half a dozen trained officers, the local train-bands, which were not to be depended on for distant service, and a meager supply of guns and ammunition. Instead of having under him a body of colonials, such as were the belligerent gentlemen of Canada, who were eager to take part in raids against the English and who led their savage followers with the craft of the redskin and the intelligence of the white man, he had many separate groups of people. Averse to war and accustomed to govern themselves, most of these distrusted him and wanted to be rid of him, and desired only the restoration of their old governments without regard to those dangers which they were fully convinced they could meet quite as well themselves.

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