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Proclamation Line 2021

Woody Holton



At the close of the Seven Years’ War, the British government adopted two major policies aimed at appeasing the Indians. On October 7, 1763, the king-in-council issued a proclamation drawing an imaginary line along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. All of the land west of this so-called “Proclamation Line” would be reserved for the Indians.

The government positioned nearly half of its new American garrison in Indian country. The redcoats were there partly to maintain British forts for use in future wars against France and Spain. But they also had more immediate goals, and one was to protect the colonists from the Indians... The thin red line of British soldiers between Indian and British American villages was like an insurance policy—and the idea, at least, was for the colonists to pay the [cost through taxes].

But the single most important reason for the British government’s decision to leave ten thousand troops in North America after the Seven Years’ War was not to guard the colonists against Indian incursions. Just the opposite. It was to protect the Indians from the colonists.

British forts would double as trading posts where transactions between native trappers and British fur merchants would take place under the watchful eyes of British officers. Fort commanders would also attempt to prevent colonists from encroaching on Indian land. Britain actually would have needed considerably more than ten thousand troops to hold back the tide of migration. But given the shared racial assumptions of British subjects on both sides of the Atlantic, it is amazing to discover imperial army units ranging the woods of western Pennsylvania and other regions in the 1760s, burning the cabins of dozens of British settlers who had squatted on Indian land.