Britain’s American colonies were widely thought to be peopled by miscreants and ‘desperate villains’. Rachel Christian describes the reality for those who found a new life across the Atlantic.
Virginia, in 1755, was one of the jewels in the British Crown. Prosperous, well-populated and claimant to huge territories beyond the Appalachian mountains, it was only natural that the colony should serve as a staging ground for the forces sent to oppose French troops in the American theatre of the Seven Years War. Just before marching west toward Fort Duquesne, in what is now Pittsburgh, the army of General Edward Braddock assembled in the Potomac port of Alexandria to gather supplies, determine strategy and join forces with colonial militia groups. Fort Duquesne survived the Braddock expedition, only to be destroyed in 1758 and Fort Pitt to be constructed in its place. Yet, regardless of their military record, Braddock's troops seem to have left consternation in their wake, not among the French, but among their friends back in Virginia. Despite the fact that they were sent to defend their fellow British subjects, the regulars did little to endear themselves to the locals. John Carlyle, whose home Braddock chose as his headquarters, recorded how the soldiers 'used us like an enemy country … calling us the spawn of convicts [and] the sweepings of the gaols'. Carlyle, a Scottish-born merchant in his mid-thirties, was a prominent landowner of unquestioned loyalty, serving as a militia officer in wartime and a Fairfax County judge in more peaceful days.