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British America
In two volumes by John M'Gregor, Esq.

British America
In two volumes by John M'Gregor, Esq. (second edition) (1833)


The materials of the following Sketches were principally collected during my travels, and while residing for several years in America. My pursuits afforded me the most favourable opportunities of becoming acquainted with the regions least known in these kingdoms; and I have zealously endeavoured to describe whatever came under my own observation, and to form conclusions according to the information communicated to me by others, without any bias.

Every thing convinced me that the British Empire in North America was imperfectly known; and, consequently, that the just value of that vast territory was not understood. I was also convinced that nearly all the errors committed in treating with foreign powers concerning His Majesty’s colonies, as well as all the blunders which have occurred in our colonial policy, have been the results of the meagre information possessed by our government, and not, according to a prevalent opinion, the effect of intentional neglect on the part of His Majesty’s ministers.

In order to give a general, historical, and descrip* tive view of British America, I have briefly noticed the early settlement, advancement, and the causes that led to the independence of the old colonies; and also the constitution, policy, military and naval force, and the public institutions of the United States. I have, at the same time, endeavoured to exhibit impartially the general characteristics of society in that extraordinary Republic*, in which, although there may be much to condemn, there is assuredly much more to admire: particularly among those who, from their education, superior abilities, and wealth, naturally give a tone to public manners, and, at the same time, openly or silently govern the people.

To avoid tedious recapitulation, I have in the Second Book endeavoured to describe, with all possible accuracy, the natural history of British America; and in appropriating a Book to an account of each colony, I have, with a short history of its settlement and progress, devoted respective portions to the topography, natural resources, constitution, laws, agriculture, trade, and inhabitants. The last Book contains remarks on emigration, and miscellaneous subjects, which are generally considered of importance by the Colonists, and to those who are about leaving the United Kingdom for America.

The descriptive parts of the work are principally from personal observation; or, when I was prevented from visiting any of the places that I have described, I have had recourse tojthe best resident authorities, whose statements and accounts I have carefully examined and compared, before introducing their substance into this work. I have also had the records of all the British American legislatures placed in my hands.

The statistical accounts are calculated according to official returns, and statements drawn up specially for me by resident gentlemen of well-known probity in Upper and Lower Canada, and in each of the Maritime Colonies.

The materials of the historical sketches I have taken from various old records, particularly those of Massachusetts Bay, relative to the early settlement of our colonies ; from Hakluyt; the Lex Merca-toria; Anderson on Commerce ; Lascarbot, Charlevoix ; Raynal; La Hontan; Pepperal’s Journal; Journal of the Jesuits; and various manuscript records and letters, which I collected in America.

To many gentlemen of high standing in the colonies, I have gratefully to acknowledge the obligations I owe them, not only for personal civilities, but for the excellent information which they have afforded me. For a great portion of the facts I required, in drawing up statements relative to the trade of the colonies, I am indebted to the Chamber of Commerce of Halifax, the best repository of commercial information in America; and the benefits of which were extended to me by the courtesy of the gentlemen who form its members having resolved, at a general meeting, when I was last at Halifax, “that the books in which their transactions were registered should be sent me, with liberty to make such extracts as I thought proper.” Nor must I omit to acknowledge the facility extended to me by the principal officers of His Majesty’s Customs.

In whatever I have read on emigration, there appeared to me either a prejudice or an interested bias for or against the question. The information collected for the Emigration Committee, and the observations founded on that information, by the Right Honourable Wilmot Horton, as far as regards emigration on a grand scale, afford, it is true, correct details; but they are not within the reach of general readers, nor to be obtained by persons in humble life, who emigrate at their own expense.. The valuable work of the late Lord Selkirk would form another exception to the above observation, if it detailed as fully the difficulties that attended, as it does the causes, that, in Scotland, led to emigration. It is no common-day business, but a most serious consideration, for a man with his family to remove from the place in which he was born and brought up, and from occupations to which he has been trained and habituated from his childhood, to a country far distant, and, in many respects, different from his own, and in which he must assume pursuits, and acquire ideas, to which he is a perfect stranger. I have therefore endeavoured to point out, occasionally in the descriptive pages, and concisely in the last book of this work, the advantages and the difficulties which may be expected to attend emigrating from the United Kingdom and settling in America.

The establishing of steam-vessels between the United Kingdom and British America, touching at the points marked in the general chart, would not only connect both countries much more intimately than at present, but the resources of each would be greatly augmented in value, and the importance of the British colonies would also be much better appreciated. I may observe, that the province of Nova Scotia alone, if possessed by the United States, would render that Republic independent of all Europe; and, in the event of another war, when steam-ships will become terrible to all others, the Americans would be enabled, by possessing the exhaustless coal and iron mines of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, to defy the united naval force of all Europe on the shores of the western world.

At present the Americans have no coal within themselves that we know of*, except the remarkably slow kindling anthracite, which is useless for the immediate fire required in the furnaces of steam-engines, while Great Britain now possesses the most.valuable treasures of the most useful of all minerals, coal and iron, in the parts most convenient for immediate use, both in her home and colonial dominions.

The British North American colonies are, comparatively speaking, still in their infancy. To be convinced of this, we have only to compare what the old colonies now forming the United States were when they declared their independence, with their present condition, and then draw a parallel between their condition at that time, and the present state of the British North American colonies.

In 17/2, the European population of. the old colonies was little more than 2,000,000. At present, the population of the United States is about 18,500,000. In 1788, all the European inhabitants of the present British North American possessions only amounted to 198,000. They now (1833) contain a population of about 1,800,000. When we therefore consider that these colonies, by cultivation and improvement, are capable of supporting at least 30,000,000 of inhabitants ; and including the countries west of the great lakes, probably more than 50,000,000, and that the soil of those countries will produce all the crops that ripen in England, with Indian com, and other productions, in a climate equally salubrious as that of Britain, we will have little difficulty in concluding, that the men who plant themselves in those regions must rapidly increase their numbers; and becoming, from interest and inclination, attached to the land of their adoption, they and their offspring will for ever maintain possession of vast and valuable territory, which, from well known causes, will give the power that holds dominion over it the umpirage of the Western World.

It has been urged, as an argument in support of the inutility of our colonies, that the United States of America have taken more British manufactured goods since, than before their independence. Never was there a more false inference made by men who commit blunders from not examining facts. The increased consumption of British goods in the American republic, is the natural consequence of a rapidly increased population; for that the people of the United States have not augmented the demand for British fabrics, in the same ratio as their numbers have multiplied, is satisfactorily proved by various unexceptionable authorities.

This arises in consequence of the political bond between the United Kingdom and the United States being severed, having turned the attention of Congress to home manufactures; and, in order to foster them, to impose heavy restrictions by an obnoxious tariff on the importation of goods, as a measure which the American legislature consider politically wise. Vast quantities of French, and other continental manufactures, as well as Asiatic fabrics, have also been annually consumed in the United States since they became independent; while the present British North America and West Indian colonies receive nearly all their manufactured supplies from the United Kingdom.

There are, we know, men who clamour against the retention of her colonies by England. But let us only consider, that if Great Britain lose her present possessions in North America, they must either merge into the government of the United States, or if they be left independently to themselves, interest and safety would induce thpm to form a league, offensive and defensive, at least the Northern States; and should such a separation, and such a compact ever be formed, who can say that the splendid magnificence of England will not be tarnished —that her naval glory will not decline—and that her political consequence among the nations of the earth will not diminish, along with the loss of the colonies of the West?

Admitting, on the ground of argument, that the colonies are to be abandoned by Great Britain, will they be conquered by the Americans ? Certainly not During the last war, the progress the latter made towards conquering Canada, was little more than trifling desultory attacks, although the defence of the country depended chiefly on the bravery of the Canadian militia. The British colonies can now raise an effective militia of at least 180,000 men, equally brave and well-disciplined as any troops the Americans can bring against them; and if ever the American Republic and the British North American colonies unite under one government, it must be by 'mutual consent, and from considerations of mutual benefit and protection.

The retention of our colonies is, however, an object of such vital importance to the power and prosperity—to the trade, manufactures, and safety of the United Kingdom — that the very idea of abandoning them cannot be for one moment defended, either on just or political grounds. Wanting colonies, and consequentlya commercial navy, the manufactures and military navy of France began to languish from the day that the battle which Wolfe fought on the plains of Abraham, destroyed the poWer of France in America. Had England wanted her colonies during the last war, her importance in the scale of nations would, in all probability, be very different from the magnificent and powerful state which she has maintained amidst all the eventful changes of that period.

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