The Quartering Act


quartering act
The frontispiece of the Mutiny Act, more widely known as the Quartering Act

The end of war usually brings about a dramatic decline in the number of soldiers garrisoned in a particular place. Not so in the American colonies after the French and Indian War, where numbers of British regulars (uniformed troops) remained inordinately high throughout the 1760s. This was a conscious decision by the British parliament, still concerned about the possibility of territorial challenges from the French or Spanish. There were also concerns of conflict between native American tribes and settlers from the colonies, moving westward to claim tracts of land formerly under French control. In mid-1763 their fears were realised when Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa people sparked a series of attacks on British forts north-east of the 13 colonies. Pontiac’s Rebellion, as it became known, involved numerous tribes: Ottawa , Huron, Ojibwas, Miami, Kickapoo, Delaware, Shawnee and others. A continued troop presence in America was not only a deterrent to native uprisings, it could also limit the westward movement of settlers that might spark such a conflict.


Maintaining troops abroad was a costly business, so in early 1765 the parliament passed the Mutiny Act. Though primarily intended to ensure discipline amongst soldiers in America, the legislation also contained a clause that allowed for soldiers to be quartered in private barns, buildings or vacant homes, if suitable barracks or hotel accommodation was not available. The colonies, however, refused to recognise or enforce this clause. The response from London was to introduce a further act, the Quartering Act, which placed a direct requirement on colonial authorities to house, supply and feed British soldiers. To members of parliament this was a fair deal: the colonies were expected to meet the cost of troops who were stationed in America , ostensibly for their own protection. The Americans, particularly colonial politicians, had not asked for these soldiers nor had they been consulted about the matter. Since the French and Indian War was almost two years over, they saw no need for thousands of infantrymen in colonies which were not at war.

“This section of the act made abundantly clear that there would be no quartering of troops in inhabited private houses. What caused trouble, and what brought about the ultimate defeat of the act, was the section relating to soldiers’ supplies. Most colonial legislatures refused to pay, and within five years the law was a dead letter. The Quartering Act met significant opposition and it was altered, for the original proposals went against a deeply ingrained English distrust of the military, a distrust which George Grenville himself shared.””
Merrill Jensen, historian

There was also an objection on principle to the mere presence of soldiers in the colonies. During the 18th century, armies were generally only raised in times of war or crisis. Few nations kept standing armies in times of peace. Having thousands of British soldiers stationed in the American colonies during times of peace was viewed as both unnecessary and insulting. It also produced friction between the colonists and the soldiers, tension that was a significant factor in the ‘Boston Massacre’ of 1770.


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