The Treaty of Versailles (1783) and the Tracing of Canada-US Borders

After two years of vacillation and delay, Great Britain and the future United States of America signed, on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Versailles, which also involved France, Spain, and the Netherlands and officially marked the end of the War of American Independence. Great Britain recognized the sovereignty of the United States, which was made up of its 13 former colonies. However, since the Canada-U.S. border was not clearly defined, it was subsequently contested. The union of the Thirteen Colonies remained fragile, and it was not until four years later that a constitution was drafted and a veritable federation created. As for the first president of the new republic, George Washington, he did not take up his duties until 1789 (the year of the French Revolution).

According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the United States were granted...

  • Independence under the name "United States of America"
  • Expansion of their territory westward to Mississippi, as well as ownership of "Indian territory"
  • A clearly defined border with Canada and the equal partition of the Great Lakes, except for Lake Michigan, which was granted to the Americans in full
  • Fishing rights off the banks of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia

Great Britain obtained...

  • The recognition of debts it contracted before, during, and after the conflict (to be repaid in pounds sterling)
  • Amnesty for the Loyalists and permission for them to resettle in other British colonies (Québec, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, the British West Indies, etc.)

From a geographical viewpoint, the Treaty of Versailles redrew the borders between Great Britain's colonies to the north and the United States to the south. As a result, the United States' territory doubled, while that of the Province of Québec was reduced by a third.

Map of eastern North America in 1774.

Map of eastern North America in 1783.

Under the Treaty, the southwest border of the colony of Québec was redrawn so as to bisect the Great Lakes, except for Lake Michigan, which was ceded to the Americans in its entirety. Further south, Great Britain lost Florida, which was handed over to Spain. Several border disputes remained to be resolved, in particular in Nova Scotia (on the territory of present-day New Brunswick). These new Québec borders meant that the Canadians who lived in the area south of the Great Lakes instantly became American citizens. Most of the inhabitants were Amerindians, French Métis, and French-speaking Whites. All of them became English speakers over the next few decades.

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