England and Always: In the Good Old Colony Days

England and Always”
The British, the Empire, and the Faith
Part III: In the Good Old Colony Days

In good old colony days
When we lived under the King,
Three roguish chaps fell into mishaps
Because they could not sing

After Queen Anne died in 1714, the Whig Oligarchs brought over her next closest protestant relation, George I of the House of Hanover. He was accepted with little comment as King in the colonies; and as he spoke no English and did not care to attend cabinet meetings, he was popular with the Whigs. Thus was begun the slow evolution of the office of First Lord of the Treasury from useful functionary to — as Prime Minister — master of the realm. But George was sufficiently hated by his new subjects to inspire the Jacobites with hope; in 1715 they rose in Northumberland and in the Highlands of Scotland; James III joined them there, but by then George’s troops had rallied, and he was forced to flee while his men were killed. Many of their leaders were executed for “treason” on Tower Hill — foremost of whom was the gallant Catholic nobleman, Lord Derwentwater. An even less successful attempt was mounted in 1719.

George’s son, George II, was a usurper, but not a coward; he was the last reigning British King to go into battle, at Dettingen. He spoke English better than his father but was more concerned with his Electorate of Hanover than with Britain. Nevertheless, he gave his name to the last of the Thirteen Colonies: Georgia. Designed as a place where felons and convicts could redeem themselves, it rapidly became a typical southern colony, slaves and all (slavery had initially been banned), much to the chagrin of founder and ex-Jacobite James Oglethorpe.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church had been growing in Pennsylvania. In the colony’s capital of Philadelphia, St. Joseph’s was founded by Maryland Jesuits in 1733 as the first legal Catholic Church in the English-speaking world since the overthrow of James II. It was rapidly followed in the City of Brotherly Love by St. Mary. English and German Catholics settled in towns like Conewago, Lancaster, and elsewhere in the southeastern part of the Province. Other congregations could be found in Delaware — the other Penn family colony. In the meantime, each of the colonies, based upon its particular history and ethnography, developed its own small Oligarchy.

Although there were no churches for them, there were by 1741 a great many Catholics in New York City — a large proportion of whom were slaves, brought up from the Spanish West Indies. But in that year, fear of a slave uprising, fear of Catholics, and fear of Jacobites culminated in the “Great Negro Plot,” wherein it was believed that the slaves and poor white Catholics of the city were going to rise and deliver it to the Spanish, with whom Great Britain was fighting the War of Jenkin’s Ear. Things were not improved by the Spanish gift of freedom to all slaves who joined their ranks, which offer eventually culminated in the founding of the freed Black settlement of Fort Mose outside St. Augustine. In the event, scores of blacks and whites were hanged or deported; many more were imprisoned.

In George II’s reign, Great Britain was involved in another World War, the War of Austrian Succession (predictably called in America “King George’s War”). In its course, Britain suffered a great defeat at the Battle of Fontenoy, due in no small part to James III’s subjects, the Irish Brigade in the service of France. Emboldened by this feat, perhaps, the King-over-the-Water’s son, Prince Charles —“Bonnie Prince Charlie” — essayed another attempt on taking back his ancestral Kingdoms: that glorious, doomed effort called the ’45. His landing with a few companions in Scotland, raising his father’s banner at Glenfinnan; leading the clans through the Highlands and holding court at Edinburgh; his skilful defeat of the enemy at Prestonpans; and the mad dash through England to Derby: these are all the stuff of legend, song, and story. If his Highlanders were the bulk of his army, Irish, English, and Welsh marched with him. Who knows what might have happened had his lieutenants not overruled him, and had they pushed swiftly onward via Oxford to London, where George II was packing his bags? What would have happened in prostrate Ireland? It is one of the great what-ifs of history. But in the event he was overruled, and the clansmen retreated to be slaughtered at Culloden Moor. Then followed months of hiding until the Prince — ably assisted by Flora MacDonald — made his way back to France (there is a curious possibility that he made a stop in Ireland en route) and dejection. His brother Henry had decided to enter the clergy and in swift order became a Cardinal — Cardinal York. Although King James lived on until 1766, father and son would never meet again.

For the Catholics of the British Isles and their Jacobite confreres, this defeat, the end of the fourth civil war, so to speak, was an unmitigated disaster. The Highlands were pillaged, and kilt and tartan outlawed; the Clan system was smashed, and the Clearances began; executions and expulsions were rife. Many of the Scots took the oath to King George and emigrated to North Carolina (as did Flora MacDonald and her husband) or to the Mohawk Valley of New York (many of these latter being Catholics) There would never again be a threat to the Whig establishment of the sort that the Stuarts had posed, and Catholics in all the three Kingdoms and thirteen colonies were bereft of any kind of political voice whatsoever.

In 1757, world war broke out again; but where the past series had witnessed Protestant Great Britain allied with Catholic Austria against Protestant Prussia and Catholic France, this latest saw the four powers divided religiously, with Britain and Frederick the Great fighting Louis XV and Maria Theresa (this revolution in alliances had been sealed by the wedding of Louis’ grandson, the future Louis XVI, with the Empress’ daughter, Marie Antoinette). Different too was the spark that ignited the conflagration — rather than some European skirmish, it was the massacre of some French troops by the American Captain George Washington. Thus was born the Seven Years War or, as we call it in America, the French and Indian War. In 1760, as the war raged, George II died. He was replaced by his grandson, George III; first of his line for whom English was his first language, he was called the first of them to “glory in the name of Briton.”

Because of his role in the mythos of American independence, as well as because of the bouts of madness he suffered as the years wore on, he has been depicted as everything from evil to weak. But this is quite an unfair characterization. The truth is that he was pious in a low-church Anglican way, devoted to wife and family, a keen and curious patron of the arts, sciences, literature, and learning in general. He was keen on alleviating as many of the burdens upon his Catholic subjects as he could — to the degree, of course, that they did not conspire with foreign enemies: France, Spain, Austria, and of course, James III. But he and James shared an aspiration — to be King in the sense that their common fathers had been Kings; not absolute rulers, but chief executives of their peoples’ happiness. For George, this would mean breaking the power of the Oligarchy in Parliament.

But first there was a war to be won. In due course it was, and when the smoke cleared in 1763, King George had acquired New France — almost wholly French-speaking and Catholic; with it he acquired the diocese of Quebec. Also there came into his realm a number of Indian tribes, former allies of Louis XV. By treaty he was obligated to treat them as though they were his own native-born subjects.

Three years later, James III died in Rome. Thereupon, despite Cardinal York’s entreaty, Pope Clement XIII recognised George III as King of Great Britain and Ireland, and forbade anyone in Rome to offer Prince Charles — or Charles III, as we must now call him — Royal honours. When the rectors of the Pontifical English, Scots, and Irish Colleges did just that, they were all fired from their posts — the rector of St. Isidore’s Irish College somehow escaped that fate. The stage was set for something approaching a working relationship between the Holy See and the Court of St. James. Cardinal York took up his father’s position as distributor of benefices in the shadow world of English-Scottish-Irish-colonial Catholicism. In truth, he was far better off than his elder brother: the 20 years since Culloden had not been kind to the rightful King, and the 22 that would follow would be in some ways worse.

Meanwhile, George III received Catholic nobility at court — the first ruling sovereign to do so since 1688. He slowly and methodically worked at assembling a party of King’s Friends to oppose the Whigs in Parliament. Meanwhile, as the 1760s progressed, Whig cabinet after Whig cabinet wrestled with the problems of colonial administration. In the late war, the government had run up a huge debt on behalf of colonial defence — once which continued to climb with the never-ending expenses of guarding the frontier and keeping the Royal Navy mistress of the seas. It fell entirely upon the British taxpayer, who was beginning to resent it. Some way must be found to get the colonies to pay a symbolic amount of the monies expended on them, past and present.

For His Majesty’s Catholic subjects, the period after James III’s death was a quiet one. Blessed by prelates like the Scottish Vicar Apostolic George Hay (a survivor of Culloden) and his London District counterpart, Richard Challoner, in the British Isles and the colonies alike they were content to quietly practise their Faith, assist at low Masses offered in private chapels — or, in London, the Spanish, Sardinian, and Portuguese/Bavarian Embassy Chapels. Male and female religious in the Continental establishments offered their daily offices for continued safety from open persecution and an easing of the Penal laws. Their style of reserved, undramatic piety is well expressed in Bishop Challoner’s prayer book, The Garden of the Soul. Prayers were said for the King — though which King might be another matter. Unlike their Nonjuror counterparts, Catholics were coming to feel ever greater loyalty to George III. Freedom to live their religion privately and to fit in with the rest of their fellow subjects was all they wanted after 250 years of nonstop defeats. By 1770 the last thing most English-speaking Catholics on either side of the ocean wanted was another civil war, let alone another attempt at restoring the Stuarts.

While he was able to name at last a friendly Prime Minister, Lord North (ushering in what has been called his “personal rule”), North confronted the same problems that neither the Stamp Tax nor the Townshend Acts had been able to resolve. The problem the ministry faced was that the Oligarchy in each colony was dead set against paying any tax at all; moreover, they were talented men: the four wealthiest magnates in the colonies were George Washington, John Hancock, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (a Catholic), and Philip Schuyler — all of whom would play key roles in the coming struggle. While complaining of being taxed while unrepresented in the British Parliament, however, the fact that the colonial assemblies they dominated — which only a minority of white men could vote for — nevertheless levied the vast majority of the taxes the King’s American subjects paid. Apparently taxation without representation was only bothersome when they were on the paying end.

By the beginning of the 1770s, the religious map of the colonies was something like this: Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia boasted the Church of England as their State Church, as did the lower four counties of New York (who also had a newly chartered Anglican college). New York also had many members of the Dutch Reformed Church, as did New Jersey — though that colony’s governor and other officials were generally Anglican. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut were officially Congregational, but the Anglicans were making inroads, especially in the latter colony. Rhode Island permitted any religion except Catholicism, and as we have seen Pennsylvania and Delaware permitted the Faith.

So did Maryland, barely. But the established Church was the Church of England, and Catholics suffered a number of restrictions. The result was that in the mid-1770s, many Catholics there began to settle in central Kentucky, on what was then the frontier — a movement that would go on after the Revolution. This region, included such centres as Bardstown, Holy Cross, St. Mary, and others. This region of English-speaking Catholicism came to be known as the “Holy Land.” After independence, Catholic Marylanders would send out a few other colonies, including Locust Grove, Georgia. While the latter was not a tremendous success, it did survive; one of its most noted descendants was Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor.

In the meantime, the King was dealing with the political situation in the colonies. His ministry had the brilliant idea of selling untaxed East India Company tea; this would at once bankrupt smugglers like John Hancock by offering the public a cheaper brew, while the expected profits would save the Company from a bankruptcy that could only have the then unimaginable effect of forcing the government to run the Company’s Indian possessions. Logical as the idea would seem, it sparked the Boston and other tea parties, as local magnates realised the extent to which it would cut into their profits.

In response, 1774 saw Parliament pass a number of acts to punish Boston as the ringleader city, until such time as her citizens paid for what they had destroyed. These were denounced as the “Intolerable Acts.” At the same time, the King rushed through the Quebec Act, which gave the French Canadians freedom or religion and continued them under their old law code; it also expanded the province to include such Francophone settlements as Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Prairie du Rocher, Vincennes, La Baie, Detroit, and Prairie du Chien. This act was just as hateful to the newly convened Continental Congress.

The Continental Congress spent October of 1774 writing and dispatching letters to the people of Great Britain, Quebec, and the King. On October 10, they sent “An Address to the People of Great Britain,” in which they condemned all of these measures. Of the Quebec Act, the document said: “the act passed in the same session for establishing the Roman Catholic religion, in the province of Quebec, abolishing the equitable system of English laws, and erecting a tyranny there, to the great danger (from so total a dissimilarity of religion, law and government) of the neighboring British colonies, by the assistance of whose blood and treasure the said country was conquered from France.” This was followed by a missive to the people of Quebec, in which the same worthies declared “We are too well acquainted with the liberality of sentiment distinguishing your nation, to imagine that difference of religion will prejudice you against a hearty amity with us.” Unfortunately for them, copies of both fell into the hands of Quebec’s Bishop, Jean-Oliver Briand. The same day, an appeal was sent to the King, asking him “We, therefore, most earnestly beseech your majesty that your royal authority and interposition may be used for our relief …”. That is, to overrule all that Parliament had enacted — an interesting notion, given that the subjection of King to Parliament had been a cornerstone of British governance since 1688, and that no sovereign since Queen Anne had dared to veto a bill passed by Lords and Commons. In any case, the Congress were affecting to believe that George III’s Kingship over the colonies was separate from that he exercised over Great Britain, Ireland, and the rest of the Empire, and moreover that Parliament’s Sovereignty did not extend to them. Although this notion of the “divisilibility of the Crown” was erected into law by the Statute of Westminster in 1931 (which is why Elizabeth II’s Queenships of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and the rest are separate from her reign over the United Kingdom, and why her father, although at war with Germany in World War II as head of the British Empire, was neutral as King of Ireland), it was unheard of in 1774. Regardless, given the totality of the Congressional messages, both Bishop Briand and His Majesty might be forgiven for doubting their sincerity.

Meanwhile, Fr. John Carroll, scion of the powerful Carroll clan and cousin to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, having been superior of the Maryland Jesuits — and having rallied them when the Society was suppressed in 1773, became the foremost Catholic priest in the Thirteen Colonies, thanks to both his family connections and his political beliefs. He accompanied Benjamin Franklin and two other Congressional commissioners on a trip to Quebec in 1776, in hopes of bringing the French-Canadians over to the rebel side. But they found that all of Congress’ addresses were well known there; Bishop Briand excommunicated Fr. Carroll and suspended the local priest with whom he stayed. (That excommunication was purely local; but it is why Carroll would go to England after the war for Episcopal Consecration rather than Quebec — it was only lifted in the 21st century by Marc Cardinal Ouellet at the request of Cardinal Foley). At any rate, Catholic or non-Catholic, loyal or rebel, the peoples of the Thirteen Colonies were on the brink of another civil war.