Colonial Wars

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Colonial Wars

COLONIAL WARS. 1565–1760. Competition among European imperial powers increased the scale and scope of conflict in North America. Since the outcomes of the European conflicts created the circumstances within which the American Revolution and the War of American Independence occurred, it is useful to summarize the wars in eastern North America before 1775 as part of the background of the events that occurred thereafter. Many of the people, places, events, and issues that were prominent during the last stages of the colonial wars also played important roles in the Revolution.


All European imperial powers—Spain, France, England (Britain after 1701), and the Netherlands (until 1664)—sought or were compelled to insinuate themselves into the relationships that had existed among Native American tribes before their arrival. As they worked to impose their own agenda on the land, the Europeans courted Native allies who could help them learn how to survive in the new environment and perhaps even provide support against hostile tribes.

The Spanish founded the first enduring European settlement on the eastern shore of North America at St. Augustine in Florida in 1565, and they exterminated their local French competitors at Fort Caroline the next year. The French established their first enduring settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley, at Quebec in 1609 and Montreal in 1611. The English were latecomers in the race for settlements on the mainland, establishing an evanescent presence on the Outer Banks of what would become North Carolina in 1585 before managing (barely) to survive at Jamestown in Virginia after 1607. Nearly every European who came to the New World did so to make money. Even the English men and women who emigrated to New England beginning in 1620 to create religiously based communities also searched for economic opportunity.

For the Spanish, St. Augustine was the northeastern outpost of their larger colonies in Central and South America, important principally to prevent competitors from establishing themselves too close to the routes that the treasure fleets took home to Spain. To create a hinterland to supply and support their relatively small coastal communities, they had founded by 1655 about forty missions in the interior and were making considerable progress in converting some twenty-five thousand Indians.

Frenchmen going to the New World were interested primarily in developing commercial outposts from which they could exploit the fur trade. From their initial settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley, they pushed inland through the Great Lakes, where they excelled in exploration and in establishing relations with Native Americans. Their most important competitor was a league of five tribes, known most commonly as the Iroquois, whose core towns stretched from the Hudson Valley in the east almost to the Niagara River in the west. To counter this league, the most powerful military force in eastern North America, the French allied with the Algonquins, Montaignais, and Hurons. The Iroquois drove back French outposts during 1642–1653, but the French had responded in sufficient strength by 1666 to make the league sue for peace. After the sieur de la Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi in 1683, the French claimed the entire region west of the Alleghenies to the Mississippi River. They called it Louisiana.

France and England also clashed in other areas of eastern North America. The French established a colony in Acadia, beginning at Port Royal in 1610, but it was destroyed by the English in 1613. In 1621 England granted Acadia to Sir William Alexander, which led to open hostilities with the French in 1627. The English privateers Alexander and David Kirke captured Quebec in 1629, but that key post, along with Acadia, was returned to the French by treaty in 1632. Competition for fish and furs led New Englanders to capture Acadia in 1654; they held the region until it was returned to France in 1670. The English also established trading posts on the shore of James Bay in 1668 to divert the fur trade from the St. Lawrence, but the French captured three of the five posts in 1686, severely impeding the operations of the Hudson's Bay Company.


The ambitions of Louis XIV brought Roman Catholic France into conflict with a Protestant coalition led by England's king and queen, William III and Mary II. In Europe, the war to curb French expansionism was known as the War of the League of Augsburg (1689–1697); its American extension was called King William's War. Hostilities started on Hudson Bay and in the Mohawk Valley. In the winter of 1690, the governor of New France, Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac, launched three raids by the French and their Abenaki and Caughnawaga allies on New England and New York border settlements and attacked the Iroquois on the western frontier. The continued French alliance with Native American tribes was bitterly resented by British Americans, which contributed to their willingness to overextend their resources to destroy New France in one blow.

After William Phips led a New England force to capture Port Royal in the early spring of 1690, the northern British colonies collaborated on a two-pronged attack on Quebec. Phips led a Massachusetts expedition up the St. Lawrence to besiege the key to New France, while a combined Connecticut-New York expedition struggled north along the Lake Champlain corridor to Montreal. Time and logistics, along with desperate French resistance, eventually stopped both expeditions. In subsequent years the French recaptured Port Royal and the remaining English posts on Hudson Bay, while the English recaptured their James Bay posts. The Treaty of Ryswick (1697) restored all conquests, leaving the French free to continue their expansion in Louisiana. They established a series of posts, beginning with Cahokia (near modern East St. Louis) and Fort Maurepas on Biloxi Bay in 1699, and followed up with Mackinac in 1700, Detroit in 1701, Fort Louis on the Mobile River in 1702, and Kaskaskia in 1703.

Louis XIV's ambition to win the Spanish throne for his nephew led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) in Europe. The American extension was called Queen Anne's War (1702–1713), after Mary's sister and William's successor. After years of exhausting war, the Iroquois in 1701 concluded a truce with New France that left the French and their Native American allies free to raid British settlements in Maine and Massachusetts. Benjamin Church retaliated by leading a New England expedition that destroyed two French villages in Acadia. In Newfoundland, the French and Indians took St. John in 1708 and established control of the eastern coast. After two failures, New England colonists, with British naval support, captured Port Royal in 1710. Then, in 1711, as the war wound down in Europe, Britain uncharacteristically invested heavily in a colonial campaign. It sent ten ships of the line under Rear Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker with six thousand regular troops in thirty transports under Brigadier General John Hill to Boston, carrying a total of eleven thousand soldiers and sailors. It was the largest British expedition to North America before the French and Indian War and was intended to ascend the St. Lawrence to Quebec while an expedition of colonial troops marched overland against Montreal. The entire campaign fell apart when, on 22 August, part of Walker's fleet was caught on a dead lee shore in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; nearly nine hundred men drowned.

Spanish threats to Carolina's southern frontier led the Carolinians to mount an overly ambitious attack on St. Augustine in 1702. Lacking the artillery to reduce Castillo de San Marcos, the force of Carolinians and Indians sacked the surrounding town and withdrew. Seeking to reestablish their credibility with their own Native allies, the Carolinians sent a force into the Appalachee in 1704 that destroyed all but one of the fourteen Spanish missions there. The unwillingness of the Choctaws to allow the Carolinians to pass through their territory ensured that Carolina's schemes to attack French settlements along the Gulf of Mexico never got off the ground. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave Britain the Hudson Bay area; Newfoundland; Acadia; St. Christopher in the West Indies; and with typical European ethnocentrism, the Iroquois country. France retained Cape Breton Island and islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. An agreement with Spain, called the asiento, allowed the British South Sea Company to ship forty-eight hundred Negro slaves a year to the Spanish colonies for thirty years, along with one trading vessel a year.


For twenty-five years after the end of Queen Anne's War, the French tried to rebuild and consolidate their position in North America. They began building the powerful fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island in 1720 to protect their fishing interests and to provide a naval harbor on the Atlantic. They began Fort Niagara in 1726 to help protect the trade route across Lakes Ontario and Erie and to promote their influence among the Iroquois. Between 1715 and 1731 they built Forts Miami, Ouiatenon (or Ouiataon), and Vincennes, in modern-day Indiana, to cover the route from Lake Erie via the Maumee and Wabash Rivers to the Mississippi. And, finally, they built a fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain in 1731 to push south the outer defenses of Montreal. The British colonies were growing rapidly, but they were less aggressive in shrinking and fortifying the zone of Native American influence that still separated them in most places from the French. The British built Fort Oswego on the south shore of Lake Ontario in 1725, to which Niagara, about 125 miles due west, was the counterweight, but the age of relentless expansion into Indian lands was only just beginning.

On the Carolina frontier, the expansion of settlements along the coast south of Charleston brought on a war in which the Yamassee and Lower Creeks regained control of all the area west of the Savannah River. The Carolinians managed, with the aid of the Cherokees, to defeat the Yamassees in 1716 and thereby also to reduce the Creek threat to their frontier. They built forts at Port Royal and the present site of Columbia, on the Santee River, for protection against the Indians, and despite Spanish protests, more forts on the Altamaha, Savannah, and Santee Rivers between 1716 and 1721. Thirteen months of hostilities between Britain and Spain in 1727–1728 gave the Carolinians a pretext to invade Spanish Florida and destroy a Yamassee refugee village near St. Augustine. The British position was significantly strengthened in 1732, when James Oglethorpe founded Georgia, with its southern boundary on the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers, one of the primary purposes of which was to serve as a buffer against the Spanish. To defend his southern frontier, Oglethorpe by 1739 had established forts on the islands of St. Simons, St. Andrew, Cumberland, and Amelia and inland at Augusta and Okfuskee on the Talapoosa River, in what is now Alabama.


British violations of the trade agreements with the Spanish in the Caribbean led to seizures of British ships and the rough handling of her seamen. In 1739, a Captain Robert Jenkins claimed that the Spanish had cut off his ear eight years earlier as punishment for what he assured Parliament was nothing but legal trading, and he publicly displayed the severed part to "prove" Spanish brutality. Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, a former commander of the Jamaica station who advocated armed aggression against the Spanish colonies, sailed again for the West Indies in July 1739, three months before a reluctant Parliament declared war against Spain on 19 October in the so-called War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–1742). Vernon attacked Spanish possessions in the Caribbean, winning acclaim at home for his capture of Porto Bello on 22 November 1739, but he was recalled after the failure of combined land and sea attacks on Cartagena on the Spanish Main (April 1741) and on Santiago, on the southern coast of Cuba (by December). Roughly thirty-six hundred men recruited in the North American colonies served as part of the eighty-five-hundred man army under Major General Thomas Wentworth. George Washington's half brother, Lawrence, served as a captain in the colonial regiment and named his estate Mount Vernon in the admiral's honor. In North America, Oglethorpe—with Virginia, Georgia, and Carolina troops—invaded Florida in 1740. The expedition captured two Spanish forts on the St. Johns River, besieged St. Augustine for more than a month, and withdrew only when the Spanish threatened its rear. The British crushed a Spanish counterattack at the Battle of Bloody Swamp on St. Simon's Island, Georgia, in 1742, and Oglethorpe's second attack on St. Augustine, in 1743, also failed.

Frederick II of Prussia began a new round of European wars in December 1740, when he invaded Silesia to begin the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748); the war pitted Britain and Austria against France and Prussia. The North American extension of this conflict, called King George's War (1744–1748) after George II, overlapped the War of Jenkins's Ear. Operations in the northern British colonies were not pressed vigorously at the outset. In 1744 the French and their Native American allies raided along the Maine frontier and attacked, but failed to capture, Annapolis (formerly Port Royal) in Nova Scotia. William Johnson instigated Iroquois attacks on the French, who retaliated by burning Saratoga (1744) and raiding Albany (1745). Thanks to the initiative and energy of William Shirley, the governor of Massachusetts, a New England army led by William Pepperrell and supported by a British squadron under Sir Peter Warren, captured Louisburg on 16 June 1745 after a six-week siege. It was New England's greatest military success. A follow-up expedition against Quebec and Montreal planned for 1746, modeled on the attacks in 1690 and 1711, was cancelled when the British government diverted the essential Royal Navy squadron to attack more important targets in European waters. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 restored all conquests to all parties, including Louisburg to the French, a display of the British government's disregard for colonial achievements and interests that greatly embittered many New Englanders. In 1749 the British sent twenty-five hundred soldiers and settlers to found Halifax as a counterweight to the restored French fortress.


Creation of the Ohio Company and the increased penetration of Pennsylvania traders into the upper Ohio Valley in the late 1740s led the French to take a series of steps to protect their route to the Ohio and assert their claims in the area. They established a mission on the St. Lawrence near modern Ogdensburg, New York, to woo the Iroquois from the British, and they founded Fort Rouille (later York, afterward Toronto, Ontario) on the north shore of Lake Ontario to siphon trade from the British post at Oswego. Further west, they built another post at the Niagara portage to augment Fort Niagara and also strengthened Detroit. In 1749 the governor of Canada sent Céloron de Blainville (1693–1759) with 215 Frenchmen and some Indians to remind Native Americans in the Ohio Valley of their allegiance to the French. In 1752 Charles de Langlade captured the colonial trading post of Pickawillany on the Miami River (modern Piqua, Ohio) and killed all its defenders. In 1753 Ange de Menneville, marquis de Duquesne, the new governor of Canada, sent expeditions to build Fort Presque Isle (near Erie, Pennsylvania) and Fort Le Boeuf (modern Waterford, Pennsylvania) and to capture and expel the garrison of John Frazier's trading post at Venango (modern Franklin, Pennsylvania). The French line of operations from Canada into the Ohio Valley extended from Fort Presque Isle on Lake Erie across a fifteen-mile portage to Fort Le Boeuf on French Creek, and thence by water to the Allegheny River at Venango and so on to the Ohio River.

Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia was alarmed by the increase in French activity in the Ohio Valley, both because it seemed to threaten the Virginia frontier and because its success would foreclose lucrative speculation in Ohio lands. The governor sent twenty-one-year-old George Washington to warn the French to withdraw from the Ohio Valley because Britain claimed it as part of the Virginia colony. When Washington reached Fort Le Boeuf, he was told politely but clearly that the French were in the area to stay.

In January 1754 Dinwiddie sent a militia company to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio (modern Pittsburgh). On 17 April, a five-hundred-man French force captured the half-completed fort, allowed the Virginians to withdraw, and then built Fort Duquesne on the site. Anticipating the need for military force, the Virginia House of Burgesses had already authorized a small regiment of thirteen hundred frontiersmen under Colonel Joshua Fry, with Washington as lieutenant colonel and second-in-command. Washington, on the way to the Forks with sixty men, met the fort builders on their way home. After sending for reinforcements, Washington pushed his force forward; on 7 May it reached a clearing on the Cumberland Road known as Great Meadows, about ten miles east of what is modern Uniontown, Pennsylvania. While camped there, Washington learned that a small French force was approaching. In a controversial surprise attack on the morning of 27 May, Washington's men killed the enemy commander (Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers Jumonville) along with nine others and took twenty-one prisoners.

Returning to their camp, the Virginians strengthened it, named it Fort Necessity, and waited for the rest of the regiment to come up. Washington, who had assumed command of the regiment on the death of Colonel Fry on 31 May 1754, was joined in early June by the rest of the Virginians and Captain James Mackay's Independent Company of South Carolina, a unit of about one hundred regulars. On 3 July, Fort Necessity was attacked by about five hundred French and four hundred Indians. Washington was compelled to surrender after a long-range exchange of musketry that caused few casualties but which exposed the fact that his position was untenable. The next day, the French allowed Washington's force to withdraw with the honors of war to its base at Wills Creek (later Cumberland, Maryland), fifty miles away.


Washington's encounter with the French in the Ohio Valley was the spark that ignited the fourth (and final) imperial war in North America. The British government were increasingly concerned about so-called French encroachments on lands its colonies claimed along the frontier, and it had already asked the seven northern colonies (from New Hampshire to Maryland) to appoint delegates to meet at Albany, New York, to concert measures to defend the frontier. The request was an extension of a traditional idea: with the exception of the Walker expedition in 1711, the British had always tried to defend the colonies on the cheap by tapping colonial resources, especially manpower, to do the job. When the Albany Convention (19 June-10 July 1754) failed to create a workable model for intercolonial cooperation, the British decided by the end of October 1754 to up the ante in order to repair the damage done by the disaster at Fort Necessity. The government agreed to send Major General Edward Braddock to Virginia as commander in chief in America and gave him two understrength regiments from the Irish establishment, Colonel Peter Halkett's Forty-fourth Regiment and Colonel Thomas Dunbar's Forty-eighth Regiment, both of which were to be recruited to full strength in Maryland and Virginia. Braddock was ordered to execute the central part of a four-part strategy designed to push back the French. He would lead the expedition that would oust the French from Fort Duquesne; Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts would lead provincial soldiers against Fort Niagara; William Johnson of New York, appointed as Britain's superintendent of the Iroquois, would lead his new charges and some provincials against Crown Point; and Colonels Robert Monckton and John Winslow would lead a largely provincial force against Fort Beauséjour on the Chignecto Isthmus in Nova Scotia. Braddock, capable but overconfident, marched his fourteen hundred British regulars and eleven hundred provincials out of Fort Cumberland on 29 May. George Washington was one of his three aides. Horatio Gates commanded a New York independent company that guarded the pioneers, and Adam Stephen led the rearguard of Virginia provincials.

Having achieved the not inconsiderable accomplishment of getting his army over the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio Valley, Braddock was about eight miles from Fort Duquesne when, on 9 July 1755, a force of 250 French and 650 Indians surprised, stopped, and surrounded his advance guard of 400 regulars under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage, driving it back in confusion onto the main body of the army. Firing from behind trees, the French and Indians cut down the British regulars as they tried to restore their formations and move forward into open country. The regulars, bewildered and frightened by the unorthodox forest fighting, even shot down some of their colonial allies, who—like the enemy—were fighting from the cover of trees. Braddock, trying to rally his troops, had five horses shot from under him before he fell mortally wounded. In the three-hour fight, 63 out of 86 British officers were killed or wounded and 914 out of 1,373 soldiers were hit. The French lost only 43 men in all.

The Battle of the Monongahela (also known as Braddock's Defeat), together with the abandonment of the Niagara expedition for logistical reasons, ruined British strategy for 1755. Only in Nova Scotia, where Monckton and Winslow captured Fort Beauséjour on 19 June 1755 with a force of two thousand New Englanders and a few British, did things go according to plan.

The remaining expedition, against Crown Point, was late in getting started and in addition faced logistical difficulties. William Johnson managed to get his force of thirty-five hundred New England provincials and four hundred Indians to the southern tip of Lake George by early September, where the troops constructed Fort William Henry to secure their communications. When Johnson learned on 8 September that a body of French and Indians under Jean-Armand, baron de Dieskau, was behind him, he sent a one-thousand-man reconnaissance-in-force under Colonel Ephraim Williams of Massachusetts to reestablish contact with Fort Edward on the Hudson. The French and Indians ambushed and decimated Williams's force but botched the pursuit. The remaining provincials in the hastily fortified Lake George camp were able to beat off fierce attacks by Dieskau's two hundred French regulars. When several hundred French and Indians returned to the scene of the earlier ambush, they were surprised and routed by a scouting party from Fort Edward that threw the enemy dead into what was thereafter known as Bloody Pond. The shock of combat, the losses incurred, the shortage of provisions, and the lateness of the season produced dissension among the ill-disciplined provincial troops, the reasons a reluctant Johnson gave for being unable to advance on Crown Point. The French constructed Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga, the point where Lake George flowed into Lake Champlain.

Britain formally declared war on France on 15 May 1756; a rapprochement between France and Austria meant that Britain was now compelled to ally with Prussia, a fact of significant European consequence but one which had little impact on the war in North America. Louis Joseph, marquis de Montcalm, (1712–1759), reached Canada with reinforcements on 11 May to take command of the French forces, and John Campbell, the earl of Loudoun, reached New York on 23 July to command the British and provincials. Montcalm used his head start to strike first, at Oswego, which he took after a short siege on 14 August. Loudoun spent the rest of the campaigning season shoring up the defense of the New York frontier.

For the 1757 campaign, Loudoun revived the idea of attacking Quebec by water. Recognizing that he had to reduce Louisburg first, he sailed for Halifax with the bulk of his regulars on 20 June. He planned to stand on the defensive along the New York frontier and had accordingly reduced the number of provincials he requested from the northern colonies. Unfortunately for his reputation, Loudoun saw his expectations confounded at every turn. At Halifax, he learned that the French had gathered superior naval forces at Louisburg, forcing him to return to New York in August after what Charles Lee memorably, if unfairly, called the "Cabbage Planting Expedition."

While Loudoun was diverted, Montcalm launched a spoiling expedition that capitalized on Quebec's temporary security. With six thousand French and Canadian soldiers and fifteen hundred Native American warriors from as far away as Lake Michigan, Montcalm moved rapidly south from Montreal along the traditional Lake Champlain route toward Albany. Major General Daniel Webb had anticipated the French advance and had fourteen hundred British regulars and nearly five thousand provincials ready to block it. Webb spread out his force at Fort Edward and points south to protect his lines of communication and stationed Lieutenant Colonel George Munro with twenty-two hundred men at Fort William Henry, the fort at the southern tip of Lake George that Johnson had begun in 1755. The French had managed to haul siege artillery across the lakes and thus had an enormous advantage when they besieged the fort in early August. Munro held out for a week while Webb waited to be reinforced by the New England militia, but the former was forced to surrender on 9 August 1757. The French could not control their Native allies, who plundered and killed British and provincial prisoners at the cost of acquiring the smallpox that decimated their tribes after they returned home later in the year. Montcalm then destroyed the fort and withdrew to Montreal.


On 29 June 1757, a coalition ministry led by William Pitt and the duke of Newcastle came to power in Britain, too late to change the outcomes of the 1757 campaign but in time for Pitt to begin making the decisions that led to the series of victories which drove the French from North America. Pitt changed the way Britain made war. Forced by George II to subsidize troops for the protection of Hanover, Pitt turned this "continental commitment" into a means of stalemating France in Europe while leaving Britain free to use its naval superiority to ship thousands of regulars to North America and strip France of its colonies. While this strategy was highly successful, it was also enormously expensive, especially when Pitt decided to subsidize the raising of provincial soldiers to give British armies an even greater numerical edge over their opponents. Pitt's decision to spare no expense created a huge debt that was a crucial element in prompting British politicians to reorganize the empire after the war to make its administration self-supporting. Proposals to reorganize the empire, in turn, prompted colonial Americans to begin rethinking the value of remaining in the empire.

Pitt expanded the resources Britain was willing to devote to making war in North America, but he did not change the basic strategy of rolling up the appendages of French power before striking at its heart. He recalled Loudoun and replaced him with Major General James Abercromby, who was also named to lead the expedition against Fort Carillon on Lake Champlain. Against the objections of George II, Pitt forced the promotion to major general of Colonel Jeffery Amherst—over the heads of what Pitt considered to be Amherst's mediocre superiors—to command the expedition against Louisburg. Brigadier General John Forbes was given command of the third expedition of 1758, which sought to avenge Braddock by taking Fort Duquesne.

Two of the three expeditions achieved their objectives. Amherst's fourteen thousand regulars, supported by a slightly larger naval force under Admiral Edward Boscawen, forced the strategic fortress to surrender on 26 July 1758. Brigadier General James Wolfe distinguished himself in establishing a beachhead in the difficult amphibious operation that preceded the seven-week siege. Forbes's expedition was a logistical masterpiece. The two thousand regulars and five thousand provincials cut a new road across the mountains and forced the French to evacuate Fort Duquesne on 25 November. Then they immediately set out to create the much larger Fort Pitt. Abercromby himself was less fortunate. Pitt had assigned the highly regarded Lord George Howe, the eldest brother of Richard and William Howe, as his second-in-command, but when Howe was killed in a skirmish on 6 July, Abercromby could find no better alternative than to shatter his sixteen-thousand-man expedition in a hopeless frontal attack on 8 July against the breastworks Montcalm had erected about a mile to the west of Fort Carillon. Colonel John Bradstreet's capture on 27 August of Fort Frontenac, on the north shore of Lake Ontario near where the lake flows into the St. Lawrence, crippled the ability of the French to supply their western forts and native allies and did a great deal to restore the morale of Abercromby's army. Bradstreet's success also demonstrated how vulnerable New France was to fast-moving raiders who could sever supply lines at a fraction of the cost of a full-scale expedition. But this success could not save Abercromby, who was recalled on 9 November.

Pitt planned a three-pronged offensive against Canada in 1759 that was designed to capitalize on success and redeem failure. He sent an amphibious expedition under Rear Admiral Charles Saunders and Major General James Wolfe to ascend the St. Lawrence and take Quebec. He had Amherst promoted to commander in chief and named him personally to lead the most difficult operation, the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Out west, Pitt sent Brigadier General John Prideaux to split Canada from Louisiana by taking Fort Niagara and then, retracing his steps, returning to Oswego and on down the St. Lawrence at least as far as La Galette (modern Ogdensburg, New York).

With fewer than seven thousand men, Amherst started north up Lake George on 22 July 1759. When he approached Ticonderoga, the French withdrew their main body of twenty-five-hundred men and two days later, on 26 July, the four-hundred-man rear guard withdrew after blowing up the fort. The French then destroyed Fort Frederick at Crown Point before the British could reach it. Amherst spent August reconstructing the works at Crown Point, establishing control of Lake Champlain, and putting through a road to the Connecticut River. Although Prideaux was killed on 20 July when he stepped in front of a mortar as it was being fired, his successor, Sir William Johnson, brought the siege to a successful conclusion on 24 July. Amherst sent Gage to take command of this column of two thousand British regulars and Johnson's one hundred Indians, but through an excess of caution, Gage did not leave Oswego.


Saunders's fleet, with Wolfe's nine thousand soldiers on board, left Louisburg on 4 June 1759 and began ascending the St. Lawrence on 16 June. In a remarkable feat of navigation on an often treacherous river from which the French had removed all markers and buoys, the fleet reached Île d'Orléans, downstream from Quebec, on 28 June and began disembarking the troops. The British established two additional camps by mid-July, on the north shore of the river east of where the Montmorenci River cascaded into the St. Lawrence, and at Point Levis, across the river from the city. Wolfe had great difficulty in finding a way to crack the French defenses: his camps did not encircle the city, and the bombardment of Quebec's lower town was showy but ineffective. Montcalm, in charge of the French defenses, easily repulsed Wolfe's principal attack, a frontal assault across the tidal flat beneath Montmorenci Falls, six miles northeast of the city, on 31 July, inflicting significant casualties on the British attackers. By early August, Wolfe was reduced to having his light troops ravage everything that stood on both banks of the river for miles downstream, but even this cruelty did not draw the French out of their trenches. As the days of August passed, Saunders became increasing worried about his ships becoming locked in place when winter froze the river.

Out of alternatives and against the advice of his three senior subordinates, Wolfe chose to gamble on having Saunders float the bulk of his army upstream on the tide and seek to land at some point above Quebec. He learned from Captain Robert Stobo, a Virginian whom Washington had surrendered as a hostage at Fort Necessity in 1754 and who had been a prisoner in Quebec before escaping in the spring of 1759, that a path led from the river at L'Anse au Foulon up the face of the cliff to the Plains of Abraham. Starting at dark on 12 September, Colonel William Howe led his light infantry up the path from what would soon be renamed Wolfe's Cove. By dawn, forty-five hundred British troops were on the plateau, a mile and a half from the western walls of Quebec. Wolfe had placed his troops in an untenable position, without artillery to batter down the walls, between the walls and French forces rapidly approaching from their rear and without sufficient supplies to sustain themselves for more than a day.

Montcalm should have left Wolfe to twist in the wind, watching as his troops were gradually but inexorably ground down and facing the unenviable choice of assaulting the French positions or trying to withdraw to the river. Instead, in one of the worst decisions ever made by a military commander, Montcalm gave Wolfe exactly what the British commander wanted: a stand-up, open field fight using traditional European linear tactics (for the first time in North America) between Wolfe's superbly disciplined regulars and his own ragtag combination of French regulars and Canadian militia. Without waiting for three thousand reinforcements to arrive from Cap Rouge, on the eastern side of the city, Montcalm sallied forth with forty-five hundred men. His gallant but foolhardy attack, unsupported by artillery, was repulsed with a loss of two hundred French killed and twelve hundred wounded; the British lost only sixty killed and six hundred wounded. Both Wolfe and Montcalm were mortally wounded, the British commander dying in a blaze of glory at the very moment that his ridiculous gamble succeeded and the French commander living long enough to know that he had lost Quebec. The city surrendered on 18 September 1759.

The final conquest of Canada required one further campaign to complete. In the spring of 1760, Amherst personally took command of Gage's eleven-thousand-man force that had bogged down at Oswego and sent Colonel William Haviland with thirty-five-hundred men to reduce French defenses on Île aux Noix at the northern end of Lake Champlain and to push into the St. Lawrence Valley from the south. Brigadier General James Murray, Wolfe's successor at Quebec, had narrowly escaped losing Wolfe's great prize to a resurgent French force of seven thousand men under François-Gaston, chevalier de Levis, at Ste. Foy, six miles from the walls of the city, on 28 April. Badly beaten, Murray retreated to Quebec and was saved from disaster only because the first ship to reach the city up the still partly frozen St. Lawrence that spring (12 May) wore the Union Jack, not the fleurs-de-lis. Murray there-upon began organizing an advance up the St. Lawrence toward Montreal, where he arrived with twenty-five hundred men in late August. In a rare example of a successful "strategic concentration," the three widely separated British columns massed at Montreal almost simultaneously, Haviland arriving on the evening of 6 September and Amherst the next morning.

With no hope of succor from France, Pierre de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil, the governor of New France, surrendered Montreal unconditionally on 8 September 1760; it was crowded with refugees, the militia had deserted, and the twenty-four hundred French regulars had no chance of holding off the British. In the wake of his surrender, all of Canada passed into British hands. Major Robert Rogers, the famous ranger captain, led the principal force that traveled west, accepting the capitulation of Detroit and the other surviving French posts on the Great Lakes in 1760–1761. British attempts to replace French influence in the vast area west and southwest of Niagara helped to create a situation that many Native Americans found intolerable and which led to the outbreak of Pontiac's War in the summer of 1763.

Spain entered the war belatedly as an ally of France, fearing that a British victory would jeopardize its New World possessions. Anticipating this move, Britain declared war on Spain on 2 January 1762 and quickly moved to take advantage of Spanish weaknesses. A British amphibious expedition had already taken the French sugar island of Guadeloupe, in the West Indies, in the spring of 1759; another expedition had taken the rest of the French islands (Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent) by early March 1762. Britain followed up these successes by sending George Keppel, earl of Albemarle, with a strong force to attack Havana, Spain's most important city in the Caribbean. On 7 June 1762, twelve thousand regular troops from Britain and elsewhere in the West Indies began landing in Cuba and invested the city. Another four thousand regulars and provincials arrived from North America in late July. Havana capitulated on 13 August after a siege of two months, but disease ruined the invading army. At least half of the British and colonial troops sent to Havana died during and immediately after the siege, a tragic loss that Amherst had to keep in mind when planning the redeployment of forces to control the newly expanded North American empire. The two-thousand-man expedition, led by Brigadier General William Draper, that captured Manila on 5 October was, by contrast, relatively disease free. The British retained neither Havana nor Manila after the war. Both were returned to Spain, and by the treaty of San Ildefonso of 3 November 1762, France compensated Spain for its losses in the war by ceding all territory west of the Mississippi River and New Orleans itself to Spanish control. The preliminaries of the Treaty of Paris were also signed on 3 November, effectively ending a conflict that had reached around the globe; the Definitive Treaty was implemented on 10 February 1763.


Thanks to the unparalleled worldwide reach of its naval, military, and economic power, Britain emerged from the war in 1763 in an unprecedented position of dominance among its traditional competitors. But success brought new problems and exacerbated some old ones. Nearly everyone recognized that the perturbation in the European balance of power was only a temporary condition. France, especially, was left angry and humiliated, brimming with a new determination to rebuild its army and navy and find a way to exact revenge on its ancient enemy. Pitt's willingness to spare no expense in waging and winning the war had doubled the British national debt, a hard reality that made his successors extremely sensitive to the costs of running the enlarged empire. In some ways, Britain's reach had exceeded its grasp; the return of Havana and Manila to Spanish control reflected an understanding that the nation had neither the desire nor the resources to control Cuba and the Philippines.

Britain won its greatest territorial and psychological advantages in North America, which appeared to be the culmination of a long-sought goal. The conquest of Canada united the colonists with the mother country as never before in an exuberant celebration of the elimination of the French threat. But the way in which the war had been conducted also widened important fissures that would quickly turn jubilation into contention. Friction among the colonies, and between the colonies and Britain, had been common throughout the entire span of imperial wars. The colonies were always reluctant to lose control over their internal affairs by cooperating too closely with their neighbors, even when military necessity seemed to mandate a joint effort. They continually claimed they did not have the financial resources to participate more fully in military action, close to the truth in an agricultural economy with little ability to generate large amounts of liquid capital rapidly. In the early years of the French and Indian War, several colonies even continued to trade with the French West Indies because that was, they claimed, the only way they could acquire the money to prosecute the war against Canada. The imperial government had a different perspective on the behavior of the colonies, becoming increasingly frustrated by their lack of intercolonial cooperation; their failure to meet demands for men, money, and supplies as promptly or as fully as British generals required; and especially, their persistence in trading with the enemy.

Confrontations over most of these problems had been muted or postponed by the pressing need to defeat the French and, especially, by Pitt's liberality with Parliament's gold. Pitt had treated the colonies more as allies than as subordinates, and the victories of Wolfe and Amherst in 1759 and 1760 were seen in America more as capstones on a alliance than as the prelude to a more closely regulated empire. The disappointment and bewilderment felt by many colonists when Parliament tightened the screws, started raising taxes, and began putting them in their place were enhanced because expectations had been so different. Resistance to these measures found fertile ground in part because large numbers of colonists had been exposed to British attitudes and practices for the first time when they enlisted in the provincial regiments raised to reinforce the regulars. Many were offended by the supercilious attitude of regular officers; the brutality of regular discipline (compared with their own far less rigid version); and in particular, the vast social gulf that separated officers from the men. Memories of how British commanders had scorned and mismanaged colonial volunteers in various campaigns—for example, Walker and Hill at Boston in 1711, Vernon and Wentworth at Cartagena in 1742, Braddock on his way to the Monongahela in 1755, Loudoun in 1756 and 1757, Abercromby at Ticonderoga in 1758, and Amherst thereafter—contributed to making it apparent to many colonists that the British were now, by 1765, a different people than they were, with different attitudes, behaviors, and aspirations. A rethinking of the imperial relationship was inevitable, although independence was perhaps not.

SEE ALSO Abenaki; Albany Convention and Plan; Amherst, Jeffery (1717–1797); Background and Origins of the Revolution; Bradstreet's Capture of Fort Frontenac; Cabbage Planting Expedition; Caughnawaga; Chatham, William Pitt, First Earl of; Forbes's Expedition to Fort Duquesne; Fort William Henry (Fort George), New York; Gage, Thomas; Gates, Horatio; Howe, William; Johnson, Sir William; Langlade, Charles Michel de; Loudoun, John Campbell; Monckton, Robert; Ohio Company of Virginia; Paris, Treaty of (10 February 1763); Pontiac's War; Rogers, Robert; Stephen, Adam.


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                              revised by Harold E. Selesky

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