By Ian McCulloch
Canadian Military History, Volume 7, Number 2 (1998)
Introduction: The first British regulars to appear in North America were those accompanying a small British expedition to wrest Manhattan from the Dutch in 1664. Colonel Richard Nicolls’ troops landed on Long Island 25 August 1664 at the exact site where General William Howe’s troops would disembark over a century later. After a swift Dutch capitulation, Nicolls’ redcoats and subsequent garrisons of British regulars would maintain a solid presence in New York for a virtually uninterrupted period of 119 years.
It has been suggested by one American historian that this factual record has been conveniently overlooked by most of his colleagues in order that “the dismal episode of Braddock’s defeat” can figure prominently in history books as the first appearance of British redcoats on the North American scene. Thus “they could be made to appear as stupid brutes led by an eighteenth century Colonel Blimp while American militia simultaneously appeared as a keen and valiant yeomanry led by that paragon of all virtue and destined military hero of the fight for American liberty, George Washington.
His accusation is a valid one, but not very surprising, as much of early American history has become firmly embedded in myth, legend and folklore. “Braddock’s Defeat,” “The Massacre at Fort William Henry,” “The Boston Massacre” and even “George Washington’s Cutting Down the Cherry Tree” have all served a variety of purposes down through the centuries. All have become part of the “usable past” and have been extensively deployed in any discussions of one of those favourite theme s of North American historians – the conflict between European and colonial values and methods. Inevitably European warfare vs. North American warfare [la petite guerre) has been drawn into the mythic vortex.