The origins of British Columbia are linked to King George Third
Issues of his life continue to define us. Georgia Straight, Prince George, Georgia Street. In Chinook Wawa, British Columbians are still called Kinchauchman (King George Men).
King George believed in the “Supremacy of Parliament” and was “a model of constitutional propriety”. He began the tradition of submitting the Royal Budget to Parliament for approval.
He affirmed an urban monarchy with Buckingham Palace and opened his libraries to all learned people, even those who opposed him. He loved dropping in on favorite authors like Samuel Johnson who called him “the finest gentleman I ever met”.
The first scientifically trained King, he encouraged new technology. His collection of technical instruments can still be seen in the Science Museum. He nurtured the Industrial Revolution, precisely concurrent with his reign.
The King built the world’s largest telescope for astronomer William Herschel; he once stayed up all night to observe the transit of Venus. Herschel discovered a new planet, which he named Georgium Sidus in gratitude. Some objected. It is now called Uranus.
King George loved the arts. A patron of Mozart, Handel, Johann Christian Bach, he started the Royal Academy of Arts to improve the social status of artists. The world’s first, it remains an important institution.
He transformed Kew Gardens from recreational to scientific. It is now the world’s largest collection of living plants. He encouraged Captain Cook and his midshipman George Vancouver to make their expeditions scientific, even personally sponsoring research. They named important BC landmarks after him and his court.
Columbia had two communities named after him. One is now Prince George. Astoria, is still called Pochauch in Chinook Wawa.
The King enjoyed walking through town to mingle with people. He once explained to tradespeople he met how to vote in municipal elections.
In 1772, admirer Chief Justice Mansfield freed all American slaves in England. The King almost certainly endorsed this; they were meeting regularly on the Royal Marriages Act. Slaves in America were energized, believing King George would emancipate them as well. “God save the King” chanted before slaveowners became a first slogan of black resistance.
The principle of ‘Repugnancy’ meant slavery would soon be abolished in America. The wealthy slave-owning Americans turned against Britain. In 1775, a white mob burned alive a black man named Jerry for encouraging slaves to remain loyal to the King. The first black church was forced to move to Charleston to be in loyalist territory.
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 41 owned slaves. Others endorsed slavery. Only a few opposed it.
George Washington owned 300 slaves. The unruly he sold to the brutal Caribbean trade never to see their families again. The false teeth he wore came from his slaves’ own mouths. Thomas Jefferson owned 600 slaves. One sex slave produced several children who he also kept as slaves.
It is uncertain that a referendum on American Independence would have passed. Throughout the violence, almost half of white Americans and most black and native people remained loyal. Slave owners terrorized the many loyal Americans. Inspired by the Boston Tea Party, Sons of Liberty sleeper cells tarred and feathered hundreds.
50,000 slaves and 80,000 white Americans fled to the loyalist areas of British North America, which became Canada. Some became explorers of British Columbia.
The King’s Proclamation of 1763 protected native people from aggressive settlers. Today, it is the basis of aboriginal legal power in British Columbia. The US rejected this, imposing Treaties through war, using democratic processes to ethnically cleanse native people from their land.
The King’s 1774 Québec Act protected the French language and Catholic religion. Americans called this one of the Five Intolerable Acts that led to War. King George also met Protestant extremist Lord Gordon to reduce Catholic discrimination in Britain. Instead, the Gordon Riots almost brought down the monarchy.
King George Third had almost bankrupted Britain to free the Americans from French and Spanish attacks. Under crushing debts from 7 years of war, the British Parliament taxed the colonists. Free from foreign threats with Britain exhausted, they refused to contribute. All taxes were rescinded except for tea. The King believed the colonists should respect the world’s most mature democracy, even with the tax, the price was less than black market tea Americans were already buying.
After a 28 year reign, King George was stricken by a temporary mental illness and retreated from earlier ideals.
US propagandists claimed King George was a tyrant, when he was defending the Supremacy of Parliament. They claimed to defend liberty, they were defending their freedom to enslave others.
King George Third changed society. He led the world into the Industrial Revolution, made the search for knowledge a priority, gave artists a more respected status. His aversion to slavery, belief in the Supremacy of Parliament and defense of native people from settlers split British North America into the United States and Canada. But he ensured a bilingual, multicultural Canada that would include British Columbia and provided the basis of First Nations legal power in our province.
In profound ways, King George Third and modern British Columbia are intimately linked.