The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

How England Treated her Colonies

The people in England had seemed to think all along that the colonies in America ought to do all they could to enrich England. Their idea was that the mother country had a right to the earnings of the colonies, so they treated the colonists like little children, not old enough to think or work for themselves.

Among other things, the English made laws about trade and navigation which were very good for England, but very bad for the colonies. For instance, they said that the Americans should not sell their tobacco, rice, sugar, furs, etc., to any country except England. Any colonist having any of these things for sale had to put them on English ships, and pay freight to carry them to England. Then he had to pay duty before his produce could be sold. Some other articles could be sold to other countries, provided they were sent over in English ships. But no vessels from foreign countries were allowed to come into any of the American ports, either to buy or to sell; and if a colonist wanted something from France, he had to get it by way of England, although it cost him much more.

As if all this were not bad enough, the English were so anxious to sell the goods they manufactured, that they said the Americans must buy of them, instead of making such articles for sale. Thus, a farmer could hammer out rough tools for his own use from the iron dug up on his land, but he could not make even a hoe for his neighbors in any other colony.


The women, who spun and wove their own flax and wool, cut and made ordinary family garments, and plaited straw, which they sewed together for hats, could not even sell a pair of mittens in the next colony. If the New Englanders wanted to exchange codfish for Virginia tobacco, they either had to send it by way of England, thus paying for its being carried twice across the Atlantic, or else they were obliged to pay heavy duties.

In her fear that the colonies would sell to other countries anything she could use, England even forbade Americans to cut down any very large or straight trees without her permission. She said that all this timber should be kept until she needed it as masts for her vessels.

Of course, the colonies did not like this, but they bore it for a long time as patiently as they could. Other countries did not approve of England's trade and navigation laws, either. Both the French and the Dutch, for instance, wanted to trade with the colonies. As the coast was very long, and there were customhouse officers in only a few of the towns, some foreign vessels managed to slip into small bays unseen, and thus began smuggling goods in and out of the country.

As long as France owned Canada, smuggling could not very well be stopped, for French or Dutch vessels caught along the coast said that they were on their way to or from Canada, and that they had been driven out of their course by contrary winds. But when the last French and Indian War was over, foreign vessels no longer had any excuse for coming near North America. The British, therefore, declared they would now seize any foreign vessel they met, and search any house where they fancied smuggled goods could be found.

Orders to search houses were called search warrants. They gave government officers the right to go over every part of a dwelling, and look into every closet and drawer. But people like to feel that their houses are their own, and that no one can come in unless invited. Knowing that those search warrants would make it easy for any officer who happened to dislike them to annoy them constantly, the Americans naturally objected to them.

The man who first spoke publicly against these search warrants, in the old statehouse in Boston, was James Otis. When he declared that this was not right, he was told it was done in Great Britain as well as in America. Otis then answered that, as the British had a share in making that law, they were, of course, obliged to obey it. But he added that the Americans had no seats in the British Parliament, had had no share in making the law, and were therefore not bound to respect it.

Many of the colonists agreed with Otis, so the British officers did not dare offend them by making frequent visits to their houses; but they kept ships along the coast to chase all suspicious vessels and see whether they had any foreign goods on board. This proceeding was almost as disagreeable to the colonists as searching their houses.

One of these boats, the Gaspee, in pursuing a colonial vessel, ran ashore in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, in 1772. Before it could be worked off the shoal,—which is still known as Gaspee Point,—a number of the best citizens of Providence came in disguise and set fire to the ship. But although the British said their flag had been insulted, and tried to find the guilty parties, they never could lay hands upon them.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell