The February 1763 Treaty of Paris that officially ended the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War) set in motion a series of actions that led to unintended and unpredictable consequences for the peoples of North America. But, as Dartmouth historian Colin G. Calloway demonstrates in his superb narrative history, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and The Transformation of North America, The Peace of Paris brought little peace to North America, where Indian war dominated 1763 and where turmoil and movement led, ultimately, to civil war and revolution. This latest title in Oxford's outstanding Pivotal Moments in American History series gives us the Big Picture, as well as concise and insightful descriptions of individuals and groups.
For example, Calloway describes the Native Americans as being stunned by the news that France had handed over their lands to Britain without even consulting them. He finds Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander-in-chief, arrogant and ignorant of Indian ways, and his policies significantly changed British-Indian relations, putting British lives in danger. Pontiac's War, named after the Ottawa war chief, was really a war of independence in which Indian peoples resisted the British Empire a dozen years before American colonists did. Britain's attempt to rule its huge North American territory revealed the fragility of its imperial power. From the government's perspective, it seemed reasonable to expect the colonists to bear some of the expenses of victory after all, British ministers pointed out, the war had been fought for them. But, as we know now, taxation and the rights of the colonists fueled protest, rebellion and revolution. The Scratch of a Pen also details the crucial roles played by other factors, including increased immigration from Europe and demand for land, rampant disease and racial tension. America in 1763 was a crowded and often confused stage, Calloway says. His impressive panoramic view is a marvel of the historian's craft and provides another way of looking at the reasons for what happened in 1776. Roger Bishop is a Nashville bookseller and a frequent contributor to BookPage.