If you are a crow, living in the United States of America, and on a whim you decided to fly directly north to the northernmost part, from the southernmost part of the most southerly of the original Thirteen Colonies on the eastern seaboard, you would cover 750 kilometres or 500 miles. Though I am not a crow, I have done the journey in a Chevolet Impala (not mine) at a time when the President of the USA found it convenient, safer and cheaper for Americans to drive no faster than 55 m.p.h., even on the finest roads in the world.
I had been staying with an old school buddy on an impressively large farm in South Georgia, but I needed to get myself to Maine. Driving surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside, landscape, occasionally seascapes, stopping in motels and eating in Howard Johnsons, I passed through South Carolina, North Carolina (where I stayed at a place called Raleigh, named for a man of Devon); Virginia, where government started and starts in the USA (in Washington D.C.) and where the roads are slightly curved and black, and in Spring lined high to the sky with white, pink and yellow blossom. Americans know how to design roads.
Then I zipped through Maryland, where I got lost in Baltimore the capital; missing Delaware to starboard I shot through Pennsylvania, where again (in its capital) I lost myself on what appeared to be a ten-lane city circular road. I had got into the wrong lane, and couldn’t get out. If I had obeyed the rules of the road, I would still be circling Philadelphia some thirty-five years later. Just to the right of Pennsylvania there was (and is) New Jersey.
In New York, a state which contains New York (don’t let us become confused), or Manhattan (even more confused) I nearly drove into Lake Champlain, which I would have found rather cold. To the right there was Connecticut properly pronounced ‘Connedicut’ and gorgeous Rhode Island, where I know there still exist private houses of immoderate size that used to house America’s aristocracy, and now don’t. There are some excellent aerial shots of some of these Versailles/Chambords/Blenheims in the opening scenes of a film called High Society, to the haunting musical accompaniment of Satchmo.
Then into, where a lot of expensive horses rush around in meadows bordering very expensive farms, and into New Hampshire, my personal favourite, probably because there is no income tax in New Hampshire, a great help for writers such as John Updike who lived there and wrote about its charming colonial towns, one of which was the model for Witches of Eastwick.
At last the Impala and I were in Maine, where every seaboard township has seafood restaurants where you eat clams and crabs and lobsters with very little sauce, and for ever wipe your chin clean. My trip required three inexpensive nights in uninviting motels, each one of which I chose because there was an empty old clapboard mansion on a hill just nearby. I could hear the stabbing music of Mr Bernard Hermann, and see Mr Anthony Perkins in drag flourishing a kitchen knife. There had also been four days of driving a Cherolet Impala at 55 m.p.h., which is rather like taking an aircraft carrier on a tributary of the river Thames and being told to keep the knottage down.
The thirteen British colonies in North America were strung out along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Georgia. Each had fewer ties to each other than to the Mother Country – England. What they shared was an ambitious project to Go West. This is one of the reasons why the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was most unpopular, since it forbade expansion west of the mountain range called the Appalachians. Indeed it was most unpopular, particularly at a time when economic recessions made all that vast land beyond the frontier so supremely attractive. The 1763 Proclamation was actually made as an emergency measure to try (at least) to protect and preserve Native American lands – but it was of no use whatsoever. The colonists were too eager to see what lay beyond the Appalachians. Adventure beckoned. So did starvation, death and disease, but they didn’t know that at the time.
In 1776 those British colonies had ratified the Declaration of Independence, and were therefore founding states of the United States. They had been founded originally in 1607 (Virginia), 1629 (Massachusetts), 1632 (Maryland), 1635 (Connecticut), 1636 (Rhode Island), 1663 (the Carolinas), 1664 (New York), 1664 (New Jersey), 1664 Delaware, 1679 (New Hampshire), 1681 (Pennsylvania) and 1732 (Georgia). Maine was bought by Massachusetts in 1767.
By 1776 all these states were being ruled by royally appointed governors except Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. All had representative assemblies. They argued and fought over such issues as slavery and religion, but somehow after independence managed to maintain a fragile and sometimes threatened unity. This improbable cohesion was perhaps the greatest (unsought) achievement of King George III and his ministers. Benjamin Franklin said of it: ‘thirteen clocks strike as one’.
My little problem is that I can count fourteen original colonies. Here we go: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and THAT is fourteen. Am I right? Please advise Mr Swift in the Comments section.