12 August 2022

What If? France and Spain do not agree the Treaty of Fontainbleau in 1762

This is the backstory for a story I’m working on. The story is an alternate history where the point of difference (POD) is in 1762. In our time, the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed between France and Spain, transferring the Louisiana Territory to Spain. The story look at what might have happened if that treaty was not signed. Everything else springs from that. My aim in writing it was to provide a coherent context for my story. The information about the changed world can then come via the characters, without too many in-story infodumps.

It is not intended to be comprehensive. In particular, I have only addressed slavery and conflict with Native Americans where they impact on major political events.


POD – Point of Departure or Point of Difference

OTL – Our Time Line (i.e. history as we know it)

ATL – Alternate Time Line (i.e. history in the changed world)


1762 – 1790 Britain consolidates its hold on the continent

1762 The OTL Treaty of Fontainebleau between France and Spain is not agreed. Consequently, the Louisiana Territory is still French at the time of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. This is the POD.

1763 Treaty of Paris – all of French North America except Saint-Pierre and Miquelon becomes British. Britain also acquires Florida from Spain. Consequent on that, the King issues a Royal Proclamation which:

  • creates new colonies of East and West Florida and appoints governors.
  • renames the French territory of Canada as the Province of Quebec and appoints a governor.
  • renames the French Louisiana Territory as Charlottiana and appoints a governor.
  • prohibits white settlement west of Appalachians from colonies to the east.

1764 The Jamaica Station of the Royal Navy is renamed Caribbean Station. It is to be moved to New Orleans and a new Naval Yard constructed to the east of the city. Construction starts immediately using convict labour from the West Indies and later, transportees from Britain.

1765 The Governor of Charlottiana orders an expedition to survey the navigable extent of the Mississippi and its tributaries.

1767 The expedition returns. It has charted the Mississippi to its confluence with the Missouri, an extensive stretch of the Ohio and a portion of the Missouri. The expedition report points to the much more congenial climate of the interior compared to the delta area. It underlines the importance of the navigable river system for exploitation of the area.

It is noted that settlements have been created along the river by French trappers and traders. They are unaware of Britain’s assumption of control. St Louis near the confluence with the Missouri is remarked upon as particularly significant.

1768 Troops are despatched to St Louis. They have orders to take control of the settlement in the name of the King. The expedition Commander is instructed to set up a fort at a suitable location to control movements along the river. The Governor orders work to start on a squadron of gun boats to work the river. They need to be capable of navigating the river and carrying soldiers or supplies.

1769 Naval Yard completed.

1770 First land grants given for settlements in Charlottiana. Colonists begin to arrive in NO and move upriver.

1774 The Quebec Act expands the Province of Quebec. The extended Province includes land that in OTL is now southern Ontario, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota.

1775 British North America Act:

  • creates a new Northern Territory from lands north of St Louis and west of the Missouri. The Lieutenant-Governor will report to the Governor of Charlottiana.
  • adds lands north of the Ohio and east of the Missouri to the Province of Quebec. At this time, the full course of neither river is fully mapped, which causes problems later.
  • creates a new Crown Colony of Charlottiana (excluding New Orleans) from the balance of the former Territory south of St Louis.
  • creates a new Crown Colony of New Orleans combining New Orleans and West Florida and appoints a governor.

1775 Opening of American Revolutionary War.

1777 Declaration of Independence

1784 Treaty of Paris.

  • The Thirteen existing Colonies, including any land captured by Britain during hostilities, to be granted Independence.
  • All lands south of Ohio River and east of Mississippi River will be transferred to the USA. This excludes the colony of New Orleans and West Florida.
  • East Florida will be transferred to USA.
  • Unarmed civilian US vessels will have free passage on the Mississippi to its junction with the Ohio River.
  • Free passage is to be given to unarmed civilian US vessels on the Ohio to its highest navigable point.
  • Sets the boundary between Quebec and the USA, beyond the highest navigable point of the Ohio, to be roughly north to Lake Erie, but subject to joint survey.

1790-1814 – Tension on the East Coast

1794 Continued British support for native tribes in the area ceded to the USA in 1783 creates political tensions between the two governments as does stopping of US ships to remove alleged British deserters. The latter leads to several engagements between naval vessels of the two nations and loss of life.

1795 US agents are discovered smuggling arms to dissidents of French origin in Quebec and to native tribes in Charlottiana.

1799 British river boats seize several US owned vessels attempting to trade illegally on the Missouri river.

1812 A US Navy ship is seized off the coast of Virginia by a British naval vessel. Fifteen men are removed as alleged deserters. More incidents occur over the next couple of years.

1814 US declares war on Britain. The war is brief. Britain blockades US ports and raids the coast at will, burning Charleston. Elsewhere, the US is largely contained at its borders. From Charlottiana, with help from its Native American allies, British forces move east into Georgia and East Florida.

1815 British burn Washington (including the White House and the Capitol). The Americans repulse attempts to invade New York and Maryland. American forces are defeated at Detroit. Attempts to invade Quebec and capture Montreal also fail. Thousands of slaves escape on British ships after raids or overland to British forces in Canada and later in Georgia. Several slave uprisings occur. These fail, but force the diversion of US troops away from the war.

1816 A final attempt by the USA to invade during the summer is fought to a draw. A French attack on New Orleans is defeated. The end of the war with France enables Britain to substantially increase the strength of the blockade of the coast. The American economy begins to collapse. Peace negotiations begin in August 1816, and the Treaty of Ghent is finally signed on 24 December 1816. However, before news reaches the Americas, British forces decisively defeat the US Army in Georgia. The treaty is finally ratified by the United States Senate on 17 February 1817, ending the war.

The cost to the burgeoning Republic is severe in both prestige and territory. Britain retains much of Georgia including Savannah and insists on the return of East Florida. These two are added to the Colony of New Orleans. The Treaty also removes US rights of navigation on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

1820 A treaty between Britain and Spain establishes borders between New Spain and the recently acquired Louisiana Territory. The area has never been properly surveyed and there is much ambiguity as to the actual boundary.

1790-1840 – Opening up the Pacific Coast

1790 Expeditions by sea begin to chart the west coast. Overland expeditions start mapping of the lands across the north of continent. Fur trade begins to develop. The North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company set up trading posts and occasionally come into direct conflict.

1801 The American Pacific Fur Company (APFC) sends a party round Cape Horn. The expedition founds a settlement near the entrance of the Columbia River. Their activities begin to impact on the interior trade posts of the North West and Hudson Bay Companies.

1816 During the War of 1814, the distances involved had left the region largely unaffected by the conflict. However news of the activities of the APFC leads the British government to send a warship to the area to protect British interests. Before it arrives, APFC management decide to wind up business and agree to sell all its assets to the NWC. HMS Sprite arrives the following month. The APFC settlement is named Fort George, in honour of the King. Fort George became the focus for British operations up and down the coast. Fur traded from the area becomes part of a triangular trade with China where furs are traded for tea etc, then on to Britain then return to Pacific coast with supplies. Relationships between NWC and HBC gradually degenerate into open conflict.

1821 Declining profits force a merger between NWC and HBC.

1840-1870 Years of Expansion

1840 Since 1831 immigration has quadrupled to about 650,000. This includes over 230,000 Irish, now starting to emigrate in large numbers following Britain’s easing of travel restrictions, and about 150,000 Germans, 70,000 British, 40,000 French, and around 20,000 former slaves from the US.

1842 The British Government revokes the Hudson Bay Company Charter and assumes all functions of government. Britain now claims all land in North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific excluding the USA. The British North America Act divides the lands claimed by Britain across the north of the continent into several Provinces. From west to east, these comprise Columbia (with a governor), Northern Territory and Quebec. A Lieutenant-Governor is appointed for the Northern Territory, under the control of the Governor of Quebec. To the south is Mexico, while to the east a new province is created called the Western Territories. A Lieutenant-Governor responsible to the Governor in Charlottiana is appointed. That colony is also renamed Victoria in honour of the new Queen. The western boundaries of the USA are now with Quebec in the north, Victoria in the west and with the Crown Colony of New Orleans and Florida on the Gulf Coast.

The Act is vague about the boundaries between provinces. It ignores the existence of Russian Alaska and includes within the new Western Territories land also claimed by Mexico.

The Act makes immigration from the US illegal except via New Orleans. Anyone intending to settle must also surrender their US citizenship and swear an oath to the Queen. In practice this is unenforceable and overland immigration continues. It is generally ignored unless settlers come into conflict with local tribes. Emigration from Europe continues to grow, largely on British ships to New Orleans. Later, other ports open up on the Gulf to accept immigrants.

The Act applies the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 to all British Territories in North America. As a consequence immigration from the USA by escaped slaves begins to increase.

1850 Since 1841, immigration has nearly tripled, with almost 2m immigrants arriving. This includes at least 780,000 Irish, 440,000 Germans, 267,000 British, and 77,000 French, plus an unknown number of escaped slaves. The Irish, driven by the Great Famine, are now emigrating directly from their homeland in huge numbers to escape poverty and death. Political upheaval on mainland Europe is driving many activists to seek a new life in North America.

Generally, these new migrants have no links or allegiance to the USA. US attempts to trigger risings against Britain continue, but they are largely unsuccessful and easily handled. Britain has learnt its lesson from the War of Independence. It is much more accommodating of calls for representation in the new territories. Relationships between Britain and the USA remain tense.

Many of the new immigrants ignore borders and begin to settle in areas claimed by Mexico. This especially affects the lands between the Rio Grande and the nominal border of the Sabine River.

1866 With tacit support from the USA, Irish Nationalists mount an incursion into Quebec. This is put down, although a portion of the invading force escape capture and head back to the US. They are pursued across the border by British forces. They finally make a stand in some farm buildings about 5 miles from the border. The British burn the farm and kill all but 5 of the insurgents. These are arrested and taken back over the border to Quebec, pursued by local US militia. The militia fire across the border, killing a civilian. Return fire kills two militiamen. The incident causes fury in both countries, but neither government is willing to press matters and risk war. The USA agrees to pay compensation to the family of the dead civilian. Both countries nevertheless maintain substantial border garrisons, although this is much simpler for the USA with easier internal communications.

1870 On the border with Mexico, there are numerous areas of dispute. The Anglo-Spanish Treaty of 1820 has never been confirmed by Mexico. Further confusion has developed as immigrants arrive in New Orleans and begin to settle. The area between the Sabine River and the Rio Grande in particular is now a patchwork of homesteads and townships. In addition to those dating from Spanish control, there are now Irish, German, Scandinavian and French settlements. These are all muddling along with no particular regard to which government claimed the territory. Mexico has no effective control of this area, but views these new settlers as illegal immigrants. It begins to make attempts to expel them. Since they had entered via British Territory, agitation begins for support from Britain. At first this is resisted. After Mexican troops attack an Irish settlement just east of the Rio Grande, questions began to be asked in Parliament as to what Britain would do to protect its citizens from aggression.

1870-1900 Confederation

1870 The British North America Act creates the Confederated Dominion of Canada. Components are Quebec, (immediately split to form Ontario and Quebec), Victoria, New Orleans and Florida, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

1872, Columbia agrees to join the Confederation. In the same year, the British Government transfers responsibility for the Northern Territory and Western Territory to Canada. This transfer includes claims to the entire land north of those territorial areas up to the Pole.

1873 Construction begins on the Canadian Pacific Railway planned eventually to run from Montreal to Fort George, now renamed Astoria.

1875 To encourage the rapid settlement of these new territories, the Canadian Government enables what become to be called bloc or block settlements. These are set up by a wide range of religious and ethnic groups, from African Americans to Old Believers (a splinter from the Russian Orthodox Church.) These settlements are dispersed across the new country in an attempt to avoid large areas of homogenous ethnicity. The result is a settlement pattern similar to that which has evolved naturally further south in Mexico.

The British Government has retained responsibility for Foreign Policy matters. As Mexican attempts to evict foreign settlers increase, the Canadian Government begins to add its pressure on the UK government to take action.

1879 Construction begins of New Orleans and Victoria Railway from New Orleans, north to meet the CPR.

1881 Completion of CPR to the Pacific Coast

1883 First Mexican incursion into Columbia in pursuit of rebels.

1884 Second Mexican incursion.

1885 Mexican attacks on settler communities near the Arkansas River in the north leads to a stream of refugees into Columbia. All have stories of outrages by the Mexican Army. In response, the provincial government raises and arms a militia force and sends it into Mexico to protect the refugees. They clash with the Mexican Army but with only minor casualties on both sides. The Columbia Militia withdraws, escorting a party of women and children.

New Orleans and Victoria Railway completed. Construction begins of Gulf Atlantic Railway, from Montreal to New Orleans.

1886 The British Government is forced to act and demands that the Mexican Army ceases its operations against civilian settlements. This is ignored and leads to the outbreak of the short-lived Mexican-British War. All the forces involved are raised in Canada, but armed by Britain. Canadian forces in the east quickly push the Mexican army back across the Rio Grande. In the north, the thinly stretched Mexican Army cannot resist attacks from numerous locations across Alta California and Nuevo Mexico. They are forced to fall back for hundreds of miles.

1887 Britain, recognising that Canada cannot sustain the pressure for much longer, brings in reinforcements from India. These land on the west coast and move up to replace the Canadians. On the Gulf of Mexico, reinforcements arrive from West Africa. Finally, Mexico calls for an end to hostilities and negotiations begin in Hawai’i.

1888 The Treaty of Pearl Harbour is signed. The Mexican Departments of Las Californias and Sonora, thinly settled by Spanish or Mexican people, are ceded to Britain. Also ceded is the northern portion of Nuevo Mexico. In the west, all the territory taken up to the Rio Grande is also ceded to Britain.

1889 Las Californias and Sonora are reorganised as the Crown Colony of California. The portion of Nuevo Mexico is added to the Western territories and placed under Canadian administration. The land east of the Rio Grande is placed under Canadian administration as a part of Victoria.

1891 California agrees to join the Confederation.

1893 The Western Territories are renamed Arizona and join the Confederation.

1898 Construction begins of Pacific Coast Railway, heading North from Astoria to Sitka in Alaska and South to San Gabriel (OTL Los Angeles)

1900 Russia finally realises it cannot afford to hold on to Alaska and offers it to Mexico. The offer is rejected, since the country is racked by disorder following the outcome of the Mexican-Canadian War. On hearing of the offer, Britain claims that a sale to Mexico would be seen as a hostile act. It is clear that Russia would be unable to hold Alaska in case of a war with Britain. Reluctantly, they accept the British offer of £1.2m for the territory.

1901 Gulf Atlantic Railway completed.

1903 The acquired land is placed under Canadian administration as the Alaska Territory, with a Lieutenant-Governor reporting to the Provincial Governor of California.

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