A more effective challenge to governmental authority emerged across the Atlantic. The British had begun to establish permanent settlements early in the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th century, the 13 colonies on the North American mainland south of present-day Canada had developed much of the apparatus of civilised Europe. They had courts, both civil and criminal, universities, newspapers and printing presses, and legislative assemblies whose powers and relationship with Westminster were not precisely delimited, but whose membership was more broadly based than that of the British Parliament. The members of those legislatures were part of an elite, as in Britain, but an elite based to a greater extent on ability, education and endeavour than any in Europe. An increasing proportion of their populations had been born in the Americas or had emigrated from some European state other than Britain, so that ties of blood and sentiment to the British Crown were loosening. The British conquest of Quebec during the Seven Years War, in which colonial militias had fought alongside British regular troops, had removed the main external threat to the Thirteen Colonies, lessening reasons for reliance on Britain and at the same time increasing the pride and confidence of the colonists themselves. To a much greater extent than in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the British Crown was literally a distant thing.