Assassin’s Creed III takes place over a period of thirty years. You’ll be present during a time of enormous change, bearing witness to a burgeoning culture that has shaped our modern world in ways that it’s almost impossible to comprehend.
During the game’s time span, there’s a lot to experience. This is a time line featuring some – but certainly not all – of the key events that were not only shaping the New World but having monumental implications for the nations that claimed those colonies.
The French and Indian War
The year of British Lieutenant Colonel George Washington’s first military assignment for the Crown. He was dispatched to Fort Le Boeuf by the Governor of Virginia to request that the French troops there remove themselves from British territory. The French commander invited him in for dinner, read his letter and declined with civil contempt. The French and Indian War was now unavoidable.
1754 – 1763
The French ownership of the Mississippi River was incredibly important to their economic ambitions in North America and their claim on the Ohio River – in Virginian territory was intended to secure and effectively monopolise trade routes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the wilderness that was the Appalachian Mountains, it was significantly cheaper and quicker to take goods from Canada to Europe via New Orleans than via Boston or New York.
The French and Indian War begun after George Washington had been redeployed to support a British fort-building party at a fork in the Ohio river. On the way, he heard that the party had been evicted by a much larger French force who were now busy building their own Fort Duquesne on the site. Washington decided to press on and upon encountering a French scouting party, his men fired the first shots of the war that would eventually secure all land east of the Mississippi and north of Florida for the British.
In 1756, a new government came to power in Britain and the European side of the French/British war began (known, perhaps rather arrogantly, as the Seven Year War – ignoring the two years it had already been underway in the colonies). New British Secretary of State, William Pitt (for whom Pittsburgh is named) saw the value in securing the colonies of North America. He began allocating significantly greater funds for the military engagement and the tide turned in favour of the British. In 1759, Quebec Province was occupied when the British won the “Battle of the Plains of Abraham” and in 1760, Montreal was captured and the war was effectively won.
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed, giving up the French claim to all lands east of the Mississippi except for a very small archipelago off the coast of Newfoundland known as Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
The French and Indian War had a couple of very important repercussions. It left British relations with some of the Indian tribes who had fought on the French side in tatters (not that they had ever been particularly good) and it almost bankrupt Britain due to the vast expense of keeping a large army operating so far from home for so long.
Indian raiding parties were an ongoing danger for colonists and the 10,000 troops left behind after the war were, according to the British parliament, the perfect way to defend against those raids. Most colonists favoured the strategy of small volunteer militias to defend the colonies now that the large organised army of France was no longer a consideration but the British parliament disagreed and the troops were staying. But 10,000 British troops are expensive to maintain. Taxes needed to be raised.
Between the Wars
In an attempt to placate the Indian nations, British parliament made a proclamation: there would be no further expansion by colonists to the west. A western boundary was established along the line of the Appalachian Mountains and colonists were forbidden from purchasing Indian land, except under British sanction. This was supposed to calm the Indians who were resentful of the way colonies seemed to continue expanding and pushing them from land they’d lived on for countless generations and it was supposed to stop the rampant unfair deals made with unwitting Indians by unscrupulous colonists.
Colonists saw it as an attempt to prevent their economic growth but it was also seen as evidence of something the colonies were growing more and more to suspect – that the British parliament simply didn’t understand what life was like in the colonies.
Molasses were a key import to the colonies and the Revenue Act of 1764 changed the way in which they were taxed. The act actually lowered the amount of duty to be paid on molasses but it introduced clear and stringent ways of enforcing the taxes which had rarely been collected previously. The Revenue Act also taxed luxury items which weren’t produced in the colonies like potash (used as a fertilizer), wine and silk.
Colonists were outraged and large scale smuggling operations quickly evolved – often with the full knowledge and assistance of Crown officials in the colonies.
The Revenue Act, passed in the previous year, had failed to raise enough funds to pay for the defense of the colonies. Two new taxes were introduced in an effort to make up for the shortfall.
The presence of a large army in the colonies was a huge logistical problem and, in 1765, the Quartering Act was passed by parliament back in Britain. Under the terms of this act, colonies were made responsible for housing and feeding any Crown Forces in their colony. Barracks were built, barns and outhouses were taken over and innkeepers were kept busy feeding armies without compensation.
Some colonies – most notably New York – openly defied the Quartering Act and most saw it as another indication that the British parliament was unwilling to listen to the colonists’ wishes in how their colonies were managed.
This year also saw the Stamp Tax come into effect. This was a tax on all documents produced within a colony, it covered everything from newspapers to legal licenses. This tax was passed by a British parliament that didn’t even debate the issue and sought no advice from anyone in the colonies themselves. A gathering of nine of the thirteen colonies took place in New York and those nine all signed a resolution in opposition to the Stamp Tax which reasserted the colonists right to be treated as any other “Englishman”. This was the first organised, united colonial opposition to British parliament.
The subsequent debate within the British parliament saw much opposition and calls for the American colonies to be represented. Even the King urged his parliament to repeal the Stamp Tax.
In Boston, during the summer of 1765, a society was formed from local artisans, merchants and shopkeepers. They called themselves The Sons of Liberty and counted among their members many notable printers and newspaper owners, disgruntled by the Stamp Tax, who would ensure that the organisation’s message was spread far and wide. Branches cropped up in other colonies and their favoured tactic of persuading or threatening potential tax commissioners into declining their duties or posts undermined the attempts to enforce taxes. When the Stamp Tax was repealed, it was seen by many as a victory for The Sons of Liberty.
The Stamp Act’s repeal in 1766 was not without problems. As part of the act’s repeal, another law was passed called The American Colonies Act (widely known as the Declaratory Act). This stated that the British parliament had just as much right to pass laws and raise taxes in the American colonies as it did in mainland Britain – despite the lack of political representation for the colonies. The new act didn’t bring any new laws or taxes but it hinted at them and that was enough to cause concern for the future among many colonists.
The Townshend Acts, introduced by a British parliament still struggling to find ways to pay for the large army it left in the colonies, were despised by colonists. It was a series of laws which applied taxes to everything imported into the colonies. For a young economy, still very much an outpost of modernity surrounded by wilderness, this was a lot of items. Everything from glass and decent paper through to wine and even the colouring for paint was difficult to smuggle and subject to taxes.
The Townshend Acts established a Tax Commission, separate to the colonial governing bodies and loyal to the Crown for the collection of tax. It also included some extra penalties against New York for their stubborn refusal of the Quartering Act.
Colonial newspapers reprinted a series of twelve letters by a Pennsylvania farmer called John Dickinson. These letters carried the general theme that the British parliament had no right to enforce taxes on colonies which did not have parliamentary representation. Dickinson’s letters urged colonists to petition the King directly, circumventing parliament. He also urged readers to boycott trade with English merchants, an idea which would be picked up by others and eventually lead to trade with the English being cut in half.
Samuel Adams, who will be extremely significant later, wrote a letter in which he urged all colonies to resist the Townshend Acts based on the principal of “no taxation without representation” – a kind of political battle cry which would epitomise the spirit of the early resistance. This letter was approved by the Massachusetts Assembly and outraged British parliamentarians enough that they threatened to disband the Assembly completely. THe growing unrest in Boston led to the Governor requesting more British troops be sent there – an act which would only further increase a sense of disenchantment with British rule.
Boston was becoming the site of more and more civil unrest and the Massachusetts Governor’s request for more troops didn’t help anything. There were around 4,000 British troops stationed in Boston by 1768 and, thanks to the Quartering Act, they were a serious drain on the local economy that had nowhere left to house them.
Locals were resentful that troops had been brought in to quell the threat of civil unrest when Indian attacks were still ongoing. The large puritanical population of Boston also resented the boost to the local drinking establishments and prostitution that 4,000 soldiers represented.
There was a significant problem with soldiers deserting to try to start a new life inland in the colony. This led to very extreme and public acts of discipline when they were caught. Young boys were flogged or hanged in public for trying to escape the terrible conditions that being in the army involved and local residents were appalled by the brutality of it. The high desertion rate also led to checkpoints being established around the city, hindering people from traveling freely out of the city.
The Virginia House of Burgesses, an elected body, passed resolutions condemning British actions in Massachusetts and stating their belief that only the Governor of Virginia has the right to tax citizens of Virginia. They drafted a formal letter of complaint to the King and were dissolved by the Governor of Virginia.
The day after dissolution, delegates of the House of Burgesses met again. This meeting, led by George Washington, took place at a tavern in Raleigh and saw the formation of an organised resistance calling themselves the Virginia Association. They resolved to boycott trade with the British but also to boycott trading with Virginian businesses that continued to trade with Britain.
Merchants in Britain petitioned parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts on the grounds that the boycotts were so damaging to business. There was some debate in parliament and eventually it was decided to repeal the taxes on everything but tea, leaving the non-colonial Customs Authority in place to enforce the remaining tax.
The reasoning was that since tea was not produced on the British Isles, it wouldn’t harm merchants at home if it was still taxed. The motion to repeal the taxes on tea as well was defeated by 204 votes to 142 – a 62 vote margin that might have saved the colonies from impending war.
The western counties of North Carolina had seen some minor rebellions and skirmishes in protest of the unfair taxes and corrupt local government. These small uprisings were not against the King or British rule but they did unsettle the peace and the (allegedly corrupt) North Carolina Governor, William Tryon, soon got involved.
The Governor engaged in formal battle in May of 1771 after his peace terms were rejected and upon losing his temper with a peace negotiator and shooting him dead, open battle was inevitable. The Governor panicked after murdering the negotiator – a clear breach of the rules of war. He sent two men out under a white flag in an attempt to quell any backlash but both were shot by the rebels, incensing the quite hypocritical Tryon and leading him into full battle, which was easily won, ending the rebellion known as the Regulatory War.
The seas around Rhode Island were rife with smuggling operations attempting to defy the Revenue ships which inspected vessels and imposed the taxes. One of the most despised of those tax-collecting ships was a schooner called the Gaspee. One evening, a ship called The Hannah, captained by Thomas Lindsay, lured the Gaspee into shallow waters where it was beached.
When word reached land that the hated schooner was stranded, a party of around sixty men, led by leading merchant John Brown and Captain Abraham Whipple and consisting of many reputable residents of Rhode Island, set out to raid the Gaspee, taking surrenders from its crew before setting it alight.
Nobody was ever brought to justice for this open act of defiance, despite Crown officials pushing for trial in England on charges of Treason. The commission set up to gather evidence consisted of chiefs of supreme court of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts as well as the Judge of Vice Admiralty in Boston and the Governor of Rhode Island. They reported that there was inadequate evidence to try anyone for the crime.
This was the year that saw probably the most famous single act of rebellion before the Revolutionary War broke out. The Boston Tea Party is often seen now as a kind of jovial trick played by colonials that made fun of the British obsession with tea. At the time, it was incredibly serious and played out with murderous intent. A local tax official, John Malcolm, was tarred and feathered twice, subjected to severe beatings before he finally had his requests to be relieved of duty fulfilled – he sent his successful request letter with a square of his own charred skin.
The British had decided to award exclusive import rights to assist the ailing East India Tea Company who had massively over extended themselves and were in serious danger of collapse. Exclusive contracts were awarded to pro-British merchants who would work with the company and others were frozen out entirely.
A meeting took place, led by Samuel Adams, during which colonists had demanded that tea currently on a ship in the harbour be returned without landing in Boston – thereby avoiding the taxes. Under some duress, the captain of the ship agreed but the Governor of Massachusetts refused to allow the ship out of the harbour and stalemate ensued.
16 days later, during which time another two ships had arrived laden with tea (a third was caught in storms and delayed), another meeting took place. Thousands attended to hear Samuel Adams denounce the governor for preventing the safe passage of the tea ships out of the harbour and away from Boston without unloading (and paying taxes on) their cargo. Tempers flared and the meeting drew to an early end as thousands marched on the waterfront.
When the crowd arrived at the waterfront a band of between 50 and 100 men, some dressed as Mohawk Indians, emerged and boarded the three vessels, tossing 90,000 pounds of valuable tea into the sea, thereby ensuring that it couldn’t land and be taxed.
To put this into perspective, 90,000 pounds of tea was a year’s supply for Boston. It was worth roughly £9,000 which would be the equivalent of almost £1million today. Benjamin Franklin famously decreed that the damages should rightly be paid for and several merchants actually offered to compensate for them on Boston’s behalf but all were refused in the interests of punishing Boston for its uprising. This act united all political parties in parliament against the colonial cause for the first time.
After the Boston Tea Party, the British parliament passed several new, restrictive acts in reprisal. These acts closed the port of Boston until the East India Tea Company – a private business – was fully compensated for the loss of its goods. They also decreed that the royally appointed governor would take full control over all local government in Massachusetts and that all public officials, including Sheriffs and juries would be royally appointed. Further rights to quarter even more troops were also claimed by these “Coercive Acts”.
The Boston Committee of Correspondence wrote to each of the other twelve colonies to ask them if they felt they were “suffering a common cause” – a clear attempt to gauge support for a united rebellion. The reactions were mixed but the idea was out in the open and would gather support over the next two years.
The Sons of Liberty became even more active in Boston and many royally appointed officials were prevented or dissuaded from taking up their positions.
Also included with the Coercive Acts, the British parliament passed the Quebec Act which extended the province of Quebec down the western border of Massachusetts, effectively halting any ideas of expansion the colony might have had. It also assured rights to settle to many Catholic settlers – something that the puritanical Protestants of Massachusetts were wary of.
In the autumn of 1774, the first Continental Congress took place in Philadelphia. The Governor of Massachusetts had vetoed twelve elected members of his council before departing for England and leaving his general, Thomas Gage, in charge. The council met anyway and appointed their delegation for the Congress. Only Georgia didn’t send a delegation to the meeting which was scheduled to discuss the colonial response to the Coercive Acts.
The First Continental Congress passed a call to ban import and export trade with Britain. During this meeting, Patrick Henry of Virginia said “Today I am no longer a Virginian but an American” marking the first major indication that there was a collective identity emerging for Americans rather than individual colonists.
The American Revolutionary War
The General who was left in charge of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, learned of weapon caches that were being stored in the town of Concord. 700 troops were dispatched to the town to search for weapons and confiscate or destroy them. The colonists had superior intelligence though, and the movements of troops were apparently known the night before they moved, as well as the overall British plans being known by militia leaders weeks in advance of their execution.
On the way, the troops were confronted by a smaller force of militiamen and shots were exchanged outside Lexington. The militiamen were routed and the Crown Forces continued to Concord where they destroyed weapons caches before three companies of King’s men were engaged and defeated at the North Bridge in Concord.
As the Crown Forces fell back to Charleston, outside Boston, they were hounded by a growing force of militiamen who inflicted heavy damage on them, in spite of reinforcements. Upon arrival back in Charleston, the militia blockaded the narrow pass and the Siege of Boston had begun.
During the parliamentary debates on this matter, Edmund Burke referenced Thomas Gage’s conflicting roles as Massachusetts Governor and commander of British forces saying that “an Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery”. This demonstrates that as late as 1775, colonial supporters – at least on the European side of the Atlantic – still considered the colonists as “Englishmen”.
Interestingly, Burke himself was an Irishman, colonial American sympathiser and member of parliament for an English constituency resided over by the Irish Lord Fermanagh – nationality and parliamentary representation was a complicated matter for everyone in 1775.
With the battles of Lexington and Concord and the Siege of Boston, war was underway. To begin with, the colonial militias were simply fighting for their rights to be represented properly and not subjected to the grossly unfair taxes and hapless governance that they’d seen since the end of the French and Indian War. But some saw an opportunity for more and the sporadic battles, together with the King’s rejection of an earlier attempt to reaffirm American loyalty to the British crown allowed more militant members of the colonial political landscape to seize the initiative.
During the Second Continental Congress’ meeting in Philadelphia, they enacted a resolution declaring independence from the British Empire. Two days later, they read and approved the Declaration of Independence.
This was not the first step taken in the colonies to gain independence, the Watauga Association had claimed independence in what would become Tennessee as early as 1772 and New Hampshire’s ratification of their own state constitution occurred earlier in 1776. But the Declaration of Independence was the first united statement of all thirteen colonies that they wished to be separated from the British Empire.
In 1777, the war was really in full swing. This was the year in which most of the battles took place and the British were winning most of them. The Continental Army was pushed back, Philadelphia, the de facto capital of the United States, fell to the British and Washington’s army built and garrisoned Valley Forge, which we’ll see in Assassin’s Creed III.
Vermont, which was not one of the thirteen colonies and not involved in the war, declared itself an independent republic and adopted a constitution which made them the first (and for a long time, only) part of modern day United States to abolish slavery. Vermont would later become the fourteenth state of the union.
The one positive thing for the United States that occurred was the adoption of a document called the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen colonies present at the Second Continental Congress. It established the United States of America as a confederation of thirteen sovereign states and would act as its constitution until 1789 when the U.S. Constitution was drawn up. Although weak, the Articles of Confederation gave the fledgling government international legitimacy and the ability to engage in diplomacy with European nations.
The French had been supporting the colonists secretly with loans, arms deals and secret trade routes since soon after war broke out. In 1778, the arrangement became formal and France openly joined the war on the side of the United States. The treaty, signed by representatives of the French King Louis XVI (who would lose his head to his own revolutionary uprising fifteen years later) and the Second Continental Congress, ensured French protection against attacks from the British.
The French brought with them serious naval power and many years of martial experience – much of it earned against the British in earlier wars. They trained, drilled and advised the young United States army and even led armies in battle.
The threat of French naval attacks were a major contributing factor to Britains decision to leave Philadelphia and retreat to New York, where their own navy – the largest at sea – was mostly situated.
The Battle of Stony Point was a surprise attack made by a select group of Continental Army soldiers who wiped out almost an entire regiment of British infantry in a little under 25 minutes. Although the Continental Army only stayed for a few days, the British decided it was too difficult to defend and abandoned Stony Point permanently. The position was strategically important because it commanded a key ferry crossing over the Hudson and was later used by the Continental Army as they marched to Yorktown.
Benedict Arnold was a successful general in the Continental Army who was repeatedly passed over for promotions and routinely accused of wrongdoing by his rivals within the army. In 1779 he took command of West Point, north of New York and began plotting to change sides and hand West Point to the British.
In 1780, his plot was discovered when British Major John André was captured carrying papers detailing the plot. Arnold fled down the Hudson to the safety of a British sloop-of-war, only narrowly avoiding capture by George Washington.
Benedict Arnold was subsequently made a brigadier general in the British army and led several raids, at one point almost capturing Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. His name has become a byword for betrayal in the modern day United States.
On October 19th 1781, Britain surrendered. Lord Cornwallis, the leader of the remaining British troops, claimed illness and declined to be present at the formal surrender. Instead, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara presented the sword of surrender to Rochambeau, the leader of French forces. Rochambeau refused, motioning that the sword should be presented to George Washington instead. When O’Hara attempted to give the sword to Washington, he was again turned away towards Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated by the British in a particularly ruthless battle at Charleston. Lincoln accepted the surrender and 8,000 British soldiers became prisoners of war.
The American Revolutionary War was won.
The first bank in the United States was instituted in January 1782, eight days before anyone went before the Congress and suggested setting up a national mint and forming a decimal currency.
The first official seal of the United States was designed and the Bald Eagle became the national bird. This was one of many measures taken by the former colonists to differentiate themselves from their former governors. The Bald Eagle was an American bird, which didn’t exist in the old world and its adoption as the official symbol demonstrated the desire to identify more with the nation they were forming than with the nations their forebears had left.
At the end of 1782, papers were drawn up in Paris which would act as preliminary peace documents to be formalised the following year.
The Treaty of Paris formally ended the war (in Europe as well as in America) and marked the first formal recognition by the British that the “United States” were “free, sovereign and independent states.”
A nation was born and the inhabitants of the United States of America – at least, the ones of European ancestry – were free. For the Indians and those brought to the former colonies on slave ships, the struggle was far from over.
More in this series:
- For the first, on the subject of nationality at the time, click here.
- For the second, on in-game locations, click here.
- For the third, on other important locations, click here.