A New Nation Born

John Rocque, A set of plans and forts in America. London: Mary Ann Rocque, 1765.  Acquired 1941 (A 1765 .R63)

This rare atlas documents the British and French fortifications constructed in the northern region extending from Pittsburgh to Louisbourg. Included are noted Revolutionary War battlegrounds such as Quebec, Ticonderoga, and Crown Point. Plate 1 (pictured) is a plan of lower Manhattan by Peter Andrews after Peter Maerschalck’s 1755 map. The plans were engraved under the supervision of John Rocque, a Huguenot surveyor and map publisher, and issued by his widow.

Daniel Dulany, Considerations on the propriety of imposing taxes in the British colonies, for the purpose of raising a revenue, by act of Parliament. [Annapolis: Jonas Green], 1765.  Original McGregor Library (A 1765 .D85)

Of the many pamphlets opposing the Stamp Act, Dulany’s was perhaps the most influential. A prominent Maryland attorney and mayor of Annapolis, Dulany argued, “it is an essential principle of the English constitution, that the subject shall not be taxed without his consent.” The power to levy taxes should be reserved to colonial legislatures and not to Parliament, where colonists had no direct representation. Neither Dulany nor printer Jonas Green dared place their names on this controversial pamphlet. In 1776 Dulany was again compelled to take a stand: in choosing loyalty to England over independence, he lost his property to confiscation.

John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, By his Excellency the Right Honorable John Earl of Dunmore, ... A proclamation [Williamsburg?: Alexander Purdie?, 1775]  Acquired ca. 1940 (A 1775 .V55a)

Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last colonial governor, effectively lost control in June 1775 after rashly seizing the militia’s gunpowder stores. He fled to safety aboard a British warship anchored off Yorktown, watching helplessly while Virginia patriots consolidated their power. In desperation, Dunmore issued this extraordinary proclamation on November 7, declaring martial law and promising freedom to any slave who came to his aid. Hundreds joined Dunmore’s army, which attacked patriot forces and burned Norfolk before being defeated. The McGregor Library holds both the extremely rare broadside printed on board Dunmore’s ship, and this equally rare Williamsburg reprint (right).

Massachusetts Provincial Congress, A narrative of the excursion and ravages of the King's troops under the command of General Gage, on the nineteenth of April, 1775. Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, 1775.  Original McGregor Library (A 1775 .M377)

During the early 1770s, Boston printer Isaiah Thomas staunchly supported the patriot cause in his influential newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy. With war imminent, Thomas quietly slipped his printing press and types out of Boston on April 16, 1775, setting up shop fifty miles inland in the safe haven of Worcester. He resumed the newspaper on May 3, 1775. Three weeks later the Massachusetts Provincial Congress commissioned Thomas to print this official account of Lexington and Concord. Included are various eyewitness depositions and a list, arranged by town, of Minutemen casualties.

United States, Articles of Confederation and perpetual union [Lancaster, Pa.?: John Dunlap?, 1777]  Acquired 1968 (A 1777 .U56 A8)

In June 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft a constitution uniting all 13 states in one confederation. After protracted debate, Congress approved the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777 at Lancaster, Pa., where it fled after the British occupied Philadelphia. Probably the work of John Dunlap, first printer of the Declaration of Independence, this is one of the 200 official copies distributed to the states. Three more years would pass before every state ratified the Articles, which remained in force until the Constitution took effect in 1789.

Richard Oswald, Memorandum, 15 August 1781.  Acquired 1939 (MSS 703)

A wealthy merchant and slave trader with deep knowledge of the American Colonies, Richard Oswald also was a trusted adviser to the British government. In this memorandum—one of four held by the McGregor Library—Oswald pleads for the immediate reassignment of Lord Cornwallis and his troops from Virginia, where there is little hope of success, to the Carolinas. By helping to establish pro-British colonial governments there, Cornwallis’s troops would enable Britain to retain the south, even if the northern colonies should win independence. Ironically, Oswald wrote this memorandum on the very day that George Washington decided to attack Cornwallis.

Official intelligence from Virginia. Providence, R.I.: John Carter, [1781]  Acquired ca. 1950 (Broadside 1781 .W3)

Americans received Revolutionary War news in slow, piecemeal fashion. After Lord Cornwallis and his army surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, the news travelled northward by postrider and ship. Citizens of Providence, R.I. first learned of the surrender on October 25 via Newport, where a vessel from Virginia had docked. Another two weeks elapsed before copies of the surrender documents arrived. These had traveled by horseback to Philadelphia and were published there in a newspaper. A copy of the newspaper made its way to British-occupied New York, where the documents were reprinted in a Loyalist newspaper, which was carried to Providence on a flag-of-truce that arrived on November 8. This broadside helped spread the news further.