A Student of History

March 18, 2007

N.C. & the Shaping of an Imperial Identity

Filed under: NC History — John Maass @ 8:03 pm

As I mentioned in a previous post, this May I will be going to the north of Ireland to a conference of history, specifically on empires and their contested pasts.  I am looking forward to this trip quite a bit, it will be my 4th time in Ireland.  I will be gone 8 days, and will have a lot of opportunities to see places and people while I am there.  (I will post on this subject in a few days.)

My paper is entitled “North Carolina and the Shaping of an Imperial Identity,” and I give the entire paper proposal here:

During the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763), the British Empire found itself locked in a struggle with France in the wilderness of America, in which imperial officials in London expected its transoceanic colonies to contribute to the war effort by providing soldiers, supplies and money.  The results were disappointing in North Carolina, where the provincial assembly was extraordinarily reluctant to answer the call of metropolitan officials for wartime aid.  Recruiting for British regular regiments met with little success in North Carolina, while the colony’s insistence on issuing paper money in defiance of the crown’s well-known aversion to the practice further reveals the limited effect imperial command had in the province.  The colony’s poor economic condition and its remoteness from the seat of war explain much of this unwillingness to participate in imperial designs.  The parsimony and autonomy North Carolina’s Assembly demonstrates the not only the decentralized, tenuous nature of British metropolitanism and imperial commands in the 1750s, but also the colony’s increasing spirit of self-rule and growing autonomy. Britain’s perceptions of the language of command and control for use in colonial policy often emphasized a disciplinary implication of a “parent-child” relationship; North Carolina conversely stressed the sanctity of its legislature and the autonomy of its people, with Britain playing “an external background” role ensuring stability and protection.  In this perception, Carolinians were in effect actually encouraged by none other than Prime Minister William Pitt, who treated the colonies as near equals in his military reimbursement schemes, issues of rank, and even chastised one imperial official serving in America for “exerting too much authority over the people.” The stiffening reluctance on the part of the colony’s lower house to help Britain by refusing to raise troops, failing to send provisions, sending its own agent to London, and battling with the governor also reveals that Carolinians were not simply transplanted Britons living on the Atlantic littoral. Rather, a distinct imperial identity in North Carolina emerged during this conflict.  This was a peculiar identity characterized by a lack of deference to trans-Atlantic metropolitan commands, with an emphasis on provincial themes.  Historians have noted that by 1765 Britain’s mainland colonies had developed many separate identities; this was especially true in the case of North Carolina. 


  1. I am a member of the NC Provencials at Fort Dobbs in Statesville, NC. Find this very interesting as Gov. Dobbs, of NC, had to get uniforms from Gov. Dinwiddie of VA for the Provencials – NC would not provide! Beth Hill is the diretor of Fort Dobbs (fortdobbs.org), and is trying to get money from the state to build a recreation of the fort. As in olden days, really hard to get any money out of the state/colony! Is your original article available online anywhere? Maybe you will run into some of Arthur Dobbs’ or Hugh Waddell’s desendants in Ireland. Jim Strong, private, NC Provencials, 1756

    Comment by Jim Strong — April 23, 2007 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  2. NC did not have the financial resources to provide uniforms to its troops during the war.

    The same thing happened during the American Revolution as well. It kills me to see reenactors who portray Continentals in the South during the latter stages of the war wearing crisp, clean, new uniform coats, breeches, shirts, etc. All one has to do is read the last five volumes of the Greene Papers to see how inaccurate such an impression is.

    Comment by John Maass — May 26, 2007 @ 9:27 am | Reply

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