T he great temptation facing students of colonial America is tointerpret it in the context of the Revolution. From this perspective its development was a natural progression from the founding of

English colonies in the seventeenth century to the emergence of the United

States late in the next century. Some illumination can of course be found

from this perspective. Carl Bridenbaugh in The Spirit of ’76 (1975) declared

that the act of planting new colonies was an unconscious act of indepen-

dence. He brilliantly argued that as the colonies developed, became richer,

more populated and increasingly sophisticated, their sense of being differ-

ent from Britain grew stronger. The Declaration of Independence was the

grand climax of a long process: ‘In every way the Spirit of ’76 was the cul-

mination of the 169 years that compose nearly all of the first half of our

history’. In one sense this was correct. Looking backwards there can be little

doubt that sooner or later the colonies would separate from the British Empire

and that seeds of separation were sown at the moments of first settlements.