The military history of the Anglo-american colonies is at best mixed, and in general unhappy. Again and again, Indians -- often encouraged and supplied by New France or New Spain -- would attack the Anglo-american frontier, driv- ing settlement backward, spreading panic far beyond the point of actual attack, creating political crisis in provincial governments, and provoking efforts to re- taliate massively and ruthlessly. Indian wars dragged Anglo-american provinces into or near to civil chaos more than once -- Virginia in 1675-76, Massachusetts and New York in 1688-90, South Carolina in 1719-20, and Pennsylvania in 1755 and 1763-64.18 Hundreds of miles of ever-shifting frontier were not readily de- fensible; the only available strategy was retaliation so brutal that it would deter Indian attacks in the future, and the complete elimination of French and Spanish power from the North American continent. When the Anglo-americans could persuade government in London to help them in dealing with France and Spain, the help sent -- munitions, ships, commanders, sometimes even soldiers -- was usually inadequate or too late. Even along the southern frontier, where the outer defenses of New Spain seemed ever on the brink of collapse, Indians continued to seek shelter in the Spanish missions from the rapacity and cruelty of Anglo- american traders and frontiersmen.19 The policy that the numerous Anglo- americans should be able to defend themselves never worked satisfactorily; ef- fective defense invariably seemed to demand offensive operations, which in turn were both very expensive and very difficult. Seldom could Indians be caught and punished, and expeditions against Quebec and St. Augustine foundered more than once. Only in 1745, when New Englanders caught the French defenders of Louisbourg unready, did Anglo-american military performance approximate the reiterated expectations of policy made in London.
The continuing failure of British military policy for the North American colonies reflected the nature of the British empire. Haphazard in its origins, it remained decentralized, dependent on local elites who could command popular support and thus govern effectively. But decentralized, popular government in the Anglo-american provinces made military coordination almost impossible. At the same time, an agricultural, naturally expansive colonial society made wars inevitable. Recurrent wars, repeated military failure with all its attendant, un- pleasant consequences -- this was the dilemma that colonial officials and theo- rists could never resolve. 20
The murky, even contradictory quality of Anglo-american military policy and experience simply reflects the confusion within the government itself about the value of these continental colonies. Fish, flour, lumber, and livestock were not valuable enough to justify the cost of a colonial military establishment; to- bacco saved Virginia but was hardly vital to the British economy; Carolina rice. was highly profitable to the colonial planter but otherwise unimportant. Nothing produced on the continent could approach in value West Indian sugar. The chief economic value of the continental colonies lay in their land, but private persons -