1763: The Royal Proclamation & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “Je me souviens: New France, 1534–1763”

While King George III is unfortunately known as the tyrant who lost the Thirteen Colonies and who suffered from at least two bouts of mental illness, re-evaluations of this often misunderstood man whose accession was saddled with the unfortunate baggage of the Seven Years’ War. With Britain crippled in debt due to William Pitt’s aggressive battle plans, George III was left to be the head of state of an entirely new colony that included a rather large amount of French people who did not necessarily want to become English.

One of George III’s first known actions to the new territory gains in the New World was the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This royal document contained what is called by historians as the “Proclamation Line”: a boundary west of the Appalachian Mountains beyond which the British colonists were forbidden to settle. A good portion of British-won land to the west were reserved instead for the Native Americans living in the area. In fact, the Royal Proclamation is still of legal interest today as it supports many Native territorial rights: notably, the Proclamation contains a clause stipulating that only the government is allowed to purchase Native land after a public meeting with the heads of the various tribes. In Canada, the force of the Royal Proclamation is further guaranteed by section 25 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These clauses guaranteeing Native rights were an effort to appease the various nations living in the area, who had enjoyed a more or less cordial relationship with the French, and to prevent rebellions. This native land, called by the archaic name “Indian Reserves”, would be sandwiched between the Thirteen Colonies and the lower part of what used to be New France, now called the Province of Quebec. The Proclamation Line would be another source of continual tension between the British colonists of the Thirteen Colonies and their government in the Continent, with families such as the Washington family having claimed territories already beyond the Line; these disagreements were later settled with treaties with the Natives whose lands were disrupted by these other land claims.

With both the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, and the Royal Proclamation, which reorganised the colony, signed, it was time to reorganise the internal workings of the former New France colony. As the colonists from the Thirteen Colonies became increasingly agitated, the British government would have to both appease the French colonists and, eventually, fight a battle in their own colony. During this awkward time, the Province of Quebec would be a colony in transition for a while. It would be a strange mix of French and English customs, neither wholly French nor wholly British, with peoples struggling with decisions of integration and clashes of two very different cultures. The ashes of this historic conquest would only settle in 1791.

Check back next week for the continuation of this series, “A Colony in Transition: The Province of Quebec, 1763-1791”.