Rumour, Religion and Revolt: Fears of Indian and Catholic conspiracy during Maryland’s Glorious Revolution (1689-1690)

12 June 2017

Empire and Globalism | History

Helen Kilburn is a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester. Her research examines the influence of non-elite Catholic religious and national identity on justifications for the establishment of slavery in seventeenth century Maryland.

Portrait of Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore

Portrait of Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore, n.d. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Maryland’s Glorious Revolution (1689-1690) removed the Catholic Lords Baltimore from government in perpetuity. The family would only return in 1715 as Anglican converts. Maryland’s revolution coincided with the Glorious Revolution in England (1688), which replaced the Catholic King James II with the Protestant William III, and the Nine Years War (1689-1697) with France, known in the American colonial context as King William’s War. In 1684 rumour of a Catholic-American Indian conspiracy circulated amongst colonists. The rumours implicated Colonels Henry Darnall and William Pye, and Major William Boreman Sr., a former mariner and Indian trader, each of whom was a wealthy and distinguished planter in Maryland. All were members of the elite polity of Catholics and family members that constituted the government of the third Lord Baltimore, Charles Calvert. As high profile members of government, the accusations fuelled Protestant fears of both the concentration of power and resources in Catholic hands and the manipulation of American Indian groups to support a Catholic assault:

Two extracts discussing trade and the fleeing of Chaptico Indians, 1684. © Reproduced by permission of The National Archives London, UK.

Two extracts discussing trade and the fleeing of Chaptico Indians, 1684. © Reproduced by permission of The National Archives London, UK. Click the image to view the the original letter.

 

'… the Indians replyed that they were to fight for my Lord agt Protestants being persuaded by Coll Darnall Coll Pye & Maj Ḛ [sic] Boreman promising them to furnish them with sloopes & boates for their passage to the Eastern Shore where upon this desp[ondent] [Matthew Tomnison] dissuaded them from goeing telling them that the Protestants was too numerous for them.' (1)

 

A selection of documents within Adam Matthews' Colonial America collection reveal how Maryland’s Glorious Revolution (1689-1690) was an extension of constitutional rupture in England and across her empire. The documents demonstrate that fear of French attack on English Protestants, and collusion with American Indians in order to do so, was a perceived threat across England’s North American colonies. In Maryland, the interaction of nationalism, anti-Catholicism and prejudice towards an "other" with the immediate, military threat of a hostile nation was a death knell for the Baltimore Catholic proprietary.

 

Fear of American Indian attack laced with anti-Catholic paranoia had an established history in Maryland. A number of historians have examined the deployment of perceived American Indian incivility in rhetoric aimed to undermine Maryland’s Catholic proprietary. (2) They argue that from the 1670s onwards fear of American Indian attack at the behest of Catholics was a consequence of poor political choices on the part of Charles Calvert, and rising wealth inequality in the colony along confessional lines. Lois Green Carr and David Jordan point to the heavy financial burden that defence spending had placed on colonists. This spending had become a source of discontent by the 1670s as a result of apparent inefficacy of the levies to prevent attacks by American Indians from the Five Nations which lasted until as late as 1682. This discontent was exasperated firstly, by Baltimore’s decision to maintain the colony’s central magazine at his own residence at Mattapany House, which deprived colonists of quick and ready access to weapons in the face of an attack. (3) Secondly, as Julia King, Skylar Bauer and Alex Flick have described, in 1675 colonists were concerned with Baltimore’s honouring of a treaty with the Piscataway and Mattawoman nations to provide arms for self-defence against Susquehannocks whose raids later played a precipitating role in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676) in Virginia. (4) Thus, in 1676 and likely emboldened by Bacon’s Rebellion, colonists William Davies and John Pate launched an unsuccessful revolt against Baltimore’s government. (5) The justifications for the Davies-Pate rebellion were presented in the tract addressed to the King of England later that year:

 

It is high time, that the originall Cause of the late and former distractions should be inquired into: the Berklieu and Baltimore Partys will tell a great many over smothed Contraries: the platt form is, Pope Jesuit determined to over terne Engld, with feyer, sword and distractions, within themselves, and by the Maryland Papists, to drive us Protestants to Purgatory within our selves in America, with the help of the French spirits from Canada.’ (6)

Letter to the Bishop of London discussing French support for Indian incursions, 1690. © Reproduced by permission of The National Archives London, UK.

Letter to the Bishop of London discussing French support for Indian incursions, 1690. © Reproduced by permission of The National Archives London, UK.

 

‘A Huy and crye’ expresses discontent with the Baltimore government within an English imperial framework that reacted to a French-American Indian threat in jingoistic and religious terms. Most interesting however, is how ‘A Huy and crye’ and a large quantity of material in Colonial America provides insight into American Indian political legitimacy in the English imagination. They reveal that despite treaties recognising their sovereignty, nations allied, or at least friendly to Maryland colonists failed to receive fair and equal treatment from the colony’s judiciary. A copy of an answer to the lower assembly sent in 1689 by one of the Maryland nations, described by the English delegation as ‘very civill and kind & [who] desire nothing but peace,’ reveals that the murderer of a American Indian woman was not brought to justice and that the nation leaders still waited a ‘satisfactory answer.’ The nation leaders continue that this and other crimes committed against them had ‘seized them with fear.’ (7) However, the delegation’s description of the American Indians here is crucial. In support of American Indian grievances, the Maryland colonists made clear that they were ‘civill’, thus marking this particular group as separate from the "savage" norm in the English imagination.

 

By 1690, depictions of American Indians as uncivilised were the norm in North America which were no doubt reinforced by raids conducted by Americans Indians from Canada discussed in a number of documents dated 1690. (8) This is reflected in a letter written by New Englander Benjamin Woodbridge to the Bishop of London, Henry Compton. Like the author of ‘A Huy and crye’, Woodbridge attributes American Indian violence to the Five Nations’ animist beliefs (‘heathen’, ‘spirits’), but attributes their motivation to attack not to their own political autonomy but the encouragement of the French:

 

I presume it hath been altogether unknown to your Lordship, how God hath let loose the heathen upon is in these parts of the world; which hath been to the destruction of many amongst us & the impoverishing of all…. [the American Indians] are now strengthened by the French’s joining with, supplying, & encouraging them…’ (9)

 

Yet, at Lachine on Montreal Island in 1688, the French themselves had faced aggression from the Iroquois nation of New York who joined forces with the Abenaki nation of northern New England. (10) The threat to New France presented by the Five Nations was so much greater than the threat presented by the English that it prompted Governor-General Jacques-René de Brisay, marquis de Denonville, to suggest to King Louis XIV an attack on New York in the belief that it would require less than half the forces needed to defeat the Iroquois. Only Louis’ hesitation and a series of bad weather prevented the implementation of the plan, instead a treaty with Iroquois was signed with a view to attack English at New York. (11) That the French did this, exemplifies Richard White’s argument that American Indians exploited the ‘middle ground’ between competing European empires for their own gain. (12)

 

The sources reveal that English Protestants and Catholics competed for dominance in Maryland against a backdrop of European confessional and national conflict, but also that the agency of American Indian groups across British North America was perceived to be passive, if violent, and thus susceptible to manipulation. Europeans, by contrast, were assumed to have political agency though in the English Protestant imagination Catholic agency was considered foreign and subversive. These documents thus demonstrate that despite their nationality, English Catholics were always at risk of accusations of foreignness that threatened their stake in England’s empire.



Footnotes 

1. Author unknown, ‘Two extracts discussing trade and the fleeing of Chaptico Indians’ [7 May 1684] CO 5/713, Colonial America, Adam Matthews Digital Collections.

2. Lois Green Carr and David William Jordan, Maryland’s Revolution of Government 1689-1692, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974); Michael Graham, ‘Popish Plots: Protestant Fears in Early Colonial Maryland, 1676-1689,’ Catholic Historical Review, 79:2 (Apr., 1993).197-216; Julia King, Skylar A. Bauer, and Alex J. Flick, ‘The Politics of Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Maryland,’ Maryland Historical Magazine, 111:1 (Spring/Summer 2016) 6-42.

3. Carr and Jordan, Maryland’s Revolution of Government, 16-18.

4. King, Bauer, Flick, ‘The Politics of Landscape,’ 28.

5. Graham, ‘Popish Plots,’ 204-205.

6. ‘Complaint from Heaven with a Huy and crye and a petition out of Virginia and Maryland,’ [1676] Vol. 52. P. R. O., Colonial Papers. Transcribed in Vol. 134, Proceedings of the Council of Maryland, 1667-75, Maryland State Archives (MSA) Online.

7. ‘Copy of the answer sent to the burgesses from the Indians,’ [23 Aug 1689], CO 5/718 Part 1, Colonial America, Adam Matthews Digital Collection.

8. Jacob Younge, ‘Letter from Jacob Younge regarding French prisoners and Indians,’ [30 May 1690], CO 5/713, Colonial America, Adam Matthews Digital Collection; Author unknown, ‘Letters regarding the alleged treason of Richard Hill, the rule of Governor Coode, the fleet and Indian aggressions in the North,’ [19 May - 1 Aug 1690], CO 5/713, Colonial America, Adam Matthews Digital Collection; ‘Order of the assembly concerning Jacob Young and the Indians,’ [28 Aug 1689], CO 5/718 Part 1, Colonial America, Adam Matthews Digital Collection.

9. Benjamin Woodbridge, New England, ‘Letter to the Bishop of London discussing French support for Indian incursions’, [2 Apr 1690], CO 5/713, Colonial America, Adam Matthews Digital Collections.

10. James Pritchard, In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670–1730, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 302, 333.

11. Ibid: 334-336.

12. Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

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Two extracts discussing trade and the fleeing of Chaptico Indians
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About the Author

Helen Kilburn

Helen Kilburn

Helen Kilburn is a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester. Her research examines the influence of non-elite Catholic religious and national identity on justifications for the establishment of slavery in seventeenth century Maryland.