He was born amidst chaos. The French and Indian War had been already two years underway by the time James Monroe came into the world and he was the sole founding father to be brought up during the conflict. A global conflict that included every European great power and spread across five separate continents, the French and Indian War split Europe into two coalitions led by Great Britain on one side, and another, the Kingdom of France. The two nations had long since been at heads with one another for centuries when the war officially commenced. It was centered on Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from the Prussians as well as France and Britain’s rivalry over supremacy in North America. Observing the opportunity to curtail Britain’s and Prussia’s ever-growing might, France and Austria set aside their ancient rivalry to form a grand coalition of their own, bringing most of the other European powers to their side. In this tangle of events, Britain aligned itself with Prussia.
Conflict spilled out when the British attacked claimed French positions in the territory of North America. Control of the expansive Ohio Valley region, especially near the joining of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, was of great intrigue to both counterparts. Rivers encompassing the Ohio, which connected to the Mississippi, were essential transit corridors for goods produced in the region and these ongoing frontier tensions only climaxed. The border between French and British possessions was not well defined, and one disputed territory was the upper Ohio River valley. The French had constructed a number of forts in this region in an attempt to strengthen their claim on the territory. British colonial forces, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, who was then only in his 20s and would later be the future commander in chief of the Continental Army, strived to expel the French in 1754, but were outnumbered and defeated by the French. When news of Washington’s failure reached British Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle, he called for a quick undeclared retaliatory strike. However, his adversaries in the Cabinet outmaneuvered him by making the plans public, thus alerting the French Government and escalating a distant frontier skirmish into a full-scale war.
The war did not begin well for the British. The British Government sent General Edward Braddock to the colonies as commander in chief of British North American forces, but he alienated potential Indian allies and colonial leaders failed to cooperate with him. On July 13, 1755, Braddock died after being mortally wounded in an ambush on a failed expedition to capture Fort Duquesne in present-day Pittsburgh. The war in North America settled into a stalemate for the next several years, while in Europe the French scored an important naval victory and captured the British possession of Minorca in the Mediterranean in 1756. However, after 1757 the war began to turn in favor of Great Britain.
In 1754, fearing the encroachments of France on the Ohio Country, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia authorised the raising of two companies of provincial infantry for the defence of Virginia. The Assembly of the province also agreed to raise a total of six companies of infantry, but by the middle of the year, only five companies had been raised. George Washington was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the provincials, with Joshua Fry the acting colonel of the regiment. This was the first Virginian regiment in the war. An additional regiment, the 2nd, would be raised on March 30th 1758, under the command of Colonel William Byrd, but it was disbanded in December of the same year at the end of the campaign. Within a hundred miles of the Monroe farm in Westmore County Virginia; throngs of settlers fled before the advances of the French and Indian troops, huddled in cities like Fredericksburg with horrifying tales of atrocities. One one farm, the Indians had scalped a man, a woman and a small child; on another they had driven stakes through the heads of living captives before scalping them and throwing them into the flaming ruins of their farmhouse. England responded to the reports by declaring war yet again against France on May 17th, 1756.
By then, the French had swept southward from Canada into New York. In Virginia, France’s ally Indians sent Washington’s nine hundred man force reeling back across the Shenandoah Valley to Winchester. “Desolation and murder still increase, and no prospects to relief,” George Washington wrote to the Governor. Volunteers began flocking to the scene to boost Washington forces. Aided by a bitter and menacing winter, the soldiers were able to forestall the Indian’s brutality. By the Spring of 1757, fresh British soldiers of around nine thousand arrived to halt the French and Indian advance, pushing them back across the Appalachian Mountains and rid Eastern Virginia of the marauders.
Within days of young Monroe’s birth, in April 1758, part of the regiment was assigned to the expedition against Fort Duquesne under Brigadier John Forbes. By the end of June, Forbes’ Army was on the march from Philadelphia, slowly progressing towards Fort Duquesne by Raystown, Shippensburg and Loyalhannon. In September, a detachment of Virginians took part to a raid on Fort Duquesne but the affair was mismanaged and several men were killed when counter-ambushed by the French and their Indian allies. At the end of November, Forbes’ Army marched on the fort which was destroyed by the French before retiring. At the beginning of December, Forbes’ troops began their march back to Pennsylvania. The task of holding Pittsburgh for the winter was assigned to Lieutenant-colonel John Mercer, with two hundred Provincials. Part of the newly raised regiment was assigned to the expedition against Fort Duquesne under Brigadier John Forbes.
Although the war continued in the West, exhausted militiamen galloped home to their families to whom that had been away from. Nine months after the return of Virginia militiamen, on April 28th, 1758 from London Benjamin Franklin penned a letter to Thomas Hubbard perfectly unknowing to “America’s first patriot” that while he was casually disclosing information to an acquaintance, the future of his country, fifth president James Monroe, was born to parents Spence and Elizabeth “Eliza” Monroe in Virginia.
The Monroes emerged from one of ancient Scottish clans hurtling across highland slopes savaging rival clansmen in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The name in Gaelic means “red bog.” George Munro, ninth baron of Fowlis, was slain at the battle of Bannockburn, under Robert Brute of Scotland, in 1314. Robert Munroe, twenty-first baron, was killed in the service of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, defending the civil and religious liberties of Germany in 1633. Sir Robert, twenty-fifth baron, was a zealous Presbyterian and, being remarkable for “size and corpulency” the same figure with Colonel Munroe of our Revolution was nicknamed “the Presbyterian mortarpiece.” His grandson, Sir Robert, twenty-seventh baron, who succeeded his father in 1729, was greatly distinguished for his military services. He was in the battle of Fontenoy and was “killed in the Battle of Falkirk, as was his brother, Dr. Munroe.“ Up to the year 1651, there had been three generals, eight colonels, eleven majors, thirty captains, and five lieutenants of the “Munroe” stock.
His father, Spence Monroe was born to parents Andrew and Christian Tyler Monroe. The main branch of the Monroe family immigrated to America from Scotland in the mid-17th century. Spence Monroe traced his ancestry back to King Edward III of England. His great-grandfather Andrew Monroe I, James’s great-great-grandfather, had fought as a Captain (others source him as a Major) at the side of King Charles I in the English Civil Wars but 1648 at the Battle of Worchester he was taken prisoner and exiled to Virginia in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The main branch of the Monroe family immigrated to America from Scotland in the mid-17th century. In 1650, the Captain patented a large tract of land in Washington Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia. He later built Monrovia, also known as Monroe Hall, on a two hundred acre plot by a little stream which fed into the Potomac River ascending from its union with Chesapeake Bay. This would came to be known as Monroe Creek, a tributary of the Potomac near present day Colonial Beach, Virginia. This estate became the plantation that generations of Monroes would cultivate expanding over the next two generations into a respectable 1,100 acres. By the 1680s, he began to write the name Munroe instead of Munro and it finally attained its present form, Monroe. Captain Monroe died in 1668, leaving six heirs, one of whom was William, father of Andrew, Spence’s father. Andrew Monroe married Christian Tyler and they had seven children, including in 1727 Spence Monroe, James Monroe’s father born on the estate of Mill Hill in Monroe Creek.
In the time of Spence Monroe’s father, Andrew, "King” Carter of Corotoman–Robert Carter–agent of the Fairfaxes “ruled the Northern Neck,” though he probably did not succeed in ruling his family of fifteen children. It was he who was so ideal a public figure to the community that the congregation of Old Christ Church, Lancaster, always waited outside until he had preceded them within. In 1731, Andrew served as the Westmoreland Virginia county sheriff but at the age of forty on March 27th, 1735, the third Andrew died and the accumulated land was separated between his children. For the eldest child, Andrew IV, six hundred acres was distributed and for the younger child, Spence who was only eight years old at the time of his father’s death, he received less with five hundred acres from the will. Not not much is known about the childhood of Spence. Unable to compete with the larger slave-run operations in the area, Spence supplemented the income of his farm by serving as a carpenter, cabinetmaker and builder as well and apprenticed himself to a “Robert Waler of King George County.” His finances increased with the marriage of himself to Elizabeth Jones.
Elizabeth Jones was the daughter of a well-off Welsh immigrant, James Jones and his wife Hester Lampton, from King George County, immediately up the road from Westmoreland County. Among the ancestors as well were French huguenots who arrived in the colonies in the early 1700s. Elizabeth “Eliza” Monroe was an educated woman for her times due to her family’s wealth. Her father James was an architect and her only direct brother Joseph was judge. Joseph Jones later played an integral part in the lives of her children, especially able to gather credit for her eldest son’s well future in the oncoming years. The Jones name grew to be a rather prominent one in King George County. James ran a country store and a tavern, later became a successful merchant with England. Eliza was raised in a full home, with one brother, two sisters and four half-brothers. Hester Lampton’s marriage to James Jones was her second, her previous marriage had been to William Lampton who died in 1722 leaving behind three sons–William, Samuel and Joshua. Hester’s stakes rose when she entered into marriage with well-off James Jones, greatly increasing her finance and the lives of her children. It is unknown exactly when they married, but in 1727, Eliza’s elder brother Joseph was born in King George County. Three years later, Eliza was born in 1730 followed by two younger siblings of her blood Hester and Blanch. While Joseph was sent to school at a nearby schoolhouse, Eliza most than likely gained her good education at home under the tutelage of a personal tutor.
In 1752, Eliza Jones and Spence Monroe married. James was not the first child of the Monroe family, nor was he be the last. An elder sister also named Elizabeth born in 1754 arrived after the marriage of his parents for two years followed by James himself in 1758 and three younger brothers in the years to come. Nestled at the head of Monroe Creek was the farmhouse where he spent all of his childhood, never moving homes or locations. Near the upper reaches of Monroe Creek in the Northern Neck of Virginia there is today a dock in place of his birth home. The waters house herons and many types of fish including carp, striped bass and croaker. Westmoreland was not only home to James Monroe but also to two infamous American Historical figures–George Washington and Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederates army during the American Civil War. It would come to encompass much of what later became the various counties and cities of Northern Virginia, including the city of Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County, and Prince William County. Many of the plantations were penetrated by salt- water creeks and coves, rich in foodfish and delicacies and delights dear to the palates of the proprietors. Choice estates fronted on the Potomac; others, just as advantageously placed, looked out upon the Rappahannock.
“The common Planters leading easy Lives,” wrote Hugh Jones, in “The State of Virginia,” “don’t much admire Labour, or any manly Exercise, except Horse-Racing, nor Diversion except Cock-Fighting in which some greatly delight. This easy way of Living, and the Heat of Summer, makes some very lazy, who are then said to be Climate-Struck!” Though lassitude might creep over one in summer, as the bay breezes blew softly in, it was different when frost came; then a fierce desire to hunt the fox, the coon, the opossum might seize a man and carry him far afield. It was in reality a lively age–an outdoor age, a hard living age, an age of adventure, and of duelling. It was also a ripe age in the sense that the peculiar Virginia civilization had been developing for nearly a century and a half.
In James Monroe’s boyhood days, the Northern Neck was the country of the Fairfaxes, and many notable names as the Lees, Marshalls, Washingtons and Mercers. The old vestry-books contain these locally notable names and many besides. Some of Monroe’s contemporaries figure in the county chronicles in traditions and anecdotes well remembered between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. There is significant record of Monroe’s childhood neighbors. But Westmoreland was the one of the most celebrated of the colonial counties. So noteworthy was the culture of the south shore of the Potomac, and so numerous the celebrities, that it was designated, in the classical hyperbole “The Athens of America”. There are the birthplaces of three presidents of the United States. James Monroe himself, and a future dear friend of his Thomas Jefferson who lived only a little way to the northwest in the upper part of the Northern Neck. Madison too, was born in the Northern Neck “at the house of his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Eleanor Conway, on the north bank of the Rappahannock, in the County of King George.
Like Washington, who was "bred a man of honor in the free school of Virginian society” it should be kept in mind that Monroe was less blue in his blood and grew to be a much plainer, a much more democratic man, than many of his contemporaries. This man, by will of his destiny would end up the creator of a nation with not a single idea as a youth of the talents he would engage in.
We all know the rules of The Bechdel Test. In recent years, fans of more feminist-friendly films have included their own character tests, like The Mako Mori Test, The Furiosa Test, The Sexy Lamp Test, the list goes on. While these are all helpful (though comical) tools feminists have used to criticize media narratives, very few of them seem to empower or apply when viewing Indigenous and Aboriginal women in media narratives / storytelling.
As a Native woman, I’ve experienced disappointment and heartache from the way Native women were represented on film, television, cartoons, and other forms of media. From stereotypical “Indian princesses” to the distressing amount of physical and sexual violence in live action period pieces, it felt that a Native woman was not a character you were meant to love and root for. She was never a character you were supposed to relate to or want to be. In almost every role she’s in, she cannot exist without being a prop for another character’s story, and if she has a “happy ending,” it’s usually in the arms of a white colonist or settler.
I’ve created the Aila Test to bring my own concerns to the table when feminists criticize media. Not only should these issues be analyzed and addressed, but content creators who write about Indigenous / Aboriginal women should consider writing characters who pass this test. We need them now, more than ever.
To pass the Aila Test, your film / animation / comic book / novel / etc, must abide by these three important rules:
1. Is she an Indigenous / Aboriginal woman who is a main character…
2. Who DOES NOT fall in love with a white man…
3. And DOES NOT end up raped or murdered at any point in the story.
Do you know characters that pass the Aila Test? Please submit them to this page!
Please don’t forget that Asian American immigration history exists and is being used as precedent for a lot of gross policies, like directly with Japanese Internment making the Trump Admin think Muslim Internment is an option. Don’t forget that even President Obama erased our immigration history in his farewell address when he compared immigrants of today to the Irish and German and Poles and said nothing of the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South East Asian, Vietnamese, “waves” of immigrants literally imported to work the fields bc they would take a lower wage. Don’t forget about the refugees that fled the Vietnam and Korean and other wars and regime changes that came here to start from nothing and are now our nail salon jokes. Our history is full of disgusting immigration acts created by the US govt and they have the gall to pat us on the head and call us a model minority.
Don’t let them get away with it. History is supposed to teach us not to do bad things again.
“YOU DON’T LOOK NATIVE” - is something that bothers me greatly. I see it happen all the time, especially to Natives in the US & Canada.
Telling any Native person that they aren’t Native because they don’t fit your superficial stereotype is RACIST! Every single person pictured above is a NATIVE.
This is something that all non-Natives need to understand, there is no “Native look”.
- Not all Native women look like Disney’s “Pocahontas”.
- Not all Native men look like a Plains NDN with long flowing hair.
- Not all Natives have high cheekbones.
- Not all Natives have black straight hair. Some have brown hair, some have curly hair, some have light hair and so on.
- Yes Native men CAN grow beards and have facial hair.
- Not all Natives have brown eyes. Some have blue eyes, some have grey eyes, some have green eyes and some have hazel eyes.
- There are tall Natives and there are short Natives.
- There are dark skinned Natives, light skinned Natives and pale skinned Natives.
National Aboriginal Day is on June 21st. If it doesn’t coincide with another event (I remember a few years back that it did with BlackOut, but was worked around), I think we should celebrate. If you’re Aboriginal / Indigenous, upload your selfies, post art, talk about Aboriginal characters that you know and love, talk about books and films made by and for Indigenous people. We are still here but we are individually unique and have our own experiences and stories to tell.
Use #HappyAboriginalDay and spread the word.
EDIT: The date for BlackOut is June 6th. We’re in the clear!
This post has gained a lot of attention over the last couple of days! Thank you to everybody who has shared and reblogged it. I want to take a moment to address a question that keeps popping up: if you are indigenous/aboriginal, you can participate if you choose to! This is not limited just to Native American / First Nations people. If you are Ainu, Maori, Saami, native Hawaiian, etc, feel free to participate! It’s great opportunity for us to represent ourselves, our cultures, our lives, our heroes, and celebrate both our differences and similarities.
I can’t wait to see you all on June 21st! Keep boosting this post and don’t forget to use the #HappyAboriginalDay tag!
As if I wasn’t riled up about Canada’s “birthday” before today???? We all love to throw around the term “reconciliation” when it comes to Canada’s indigenous population but at the end of the damn day, the Canadian government cannot even stand a teepee going up and sharing space with “official” Canada day celebrations on Parliament Hill. Why? Because we aren’t supposed to exist, and any display of agency that indigenous peoples show is a threat.