Events Leading to the French and Indian War

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Events Leading to the French and Indian War

The French and Indian War is part of an often-forgotten period in American history. It took place from 1754 to 1763—between the time the first European settlers arrived in North America and the time when some of their descendants fought for independence in the American Revolution (1775- 83). The French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War) was the fourth in a series of wars between Great Britain and France, fought to determine which European country would emerge as the world's dominant power. Unlike the first three wars, though, this one started in the North American colonies held by British and French settlers. On one side of the fight were British soldiers, settlers from the thirteen American colonies, and several Indian (Native American) tribes. On the other side were French soldiers, settlers from the colony of New France, and their Indian allies.

The French and Indian War played an important role in shaping both American and world history. In fact, some historians claim that the conflict was more significant than the American Revolution in the eyes of the world. The conflict involved three continents and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives; it could legitimately be considered the first world war. In addition, the French and Indian War was the first eighteenth-century conflict that ended in a dramatic victory for one side. By winning the war, Great Britain gained control over all of North America east of the Mississippi River and expanded the British empire around the world. But the conflict also created serious problems between the British government and the American colonies. These differences ultimately led to the creation of the United States of America.

Europeans settle in North America

The story of the French and Indian War begins with the arrival of European settlers in the New World. The British formed their first permanent settlement in North America in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The French founded the capital of New France in Quebec (a present-day province of Canada) a year later. For many years, the vast wilderness that stretched between these colonies ensured that the French and British settlers would have little contact with each other.

The French government viewed its colony in North America as a source of furs and other valuable trade goods, rather than as a place to be settled. The people who came to New France in its early years were mostly explorers and traders, although several busy towns eventually developed. On the other hand, the British government viewed its North American territory as a land that would provide new homes for poor and dissatisfied British citizens. British leaders actively promoted settlement in America and allowed the colonists to form their own governments, with governors approved by the king of England.

Over time, it became clear that the North American colonies could produce tremendous wealth for the nations of Europe through farming, logging, mining, fur trapping, and other activities. With this in mind, several European countries fought for control over sections of North America, including Spain and Denmark. By the early 1700s, however, Great Britain and France held most of the territory east of the Mississippi River. The British colonies consisted of scattered towns and villages stretching along the Atlantic Coast, from present-day Maine to Georgia. Meanwhile, the French controlled eastern Canada and parts of the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River basin.

Indians occupy middle ground between France and England

By the time the first European settlers arrived, North America was already home to millions of Indians. These peoples had developed a wide range of cultures over thousands of years. Some tribes lived in large, permanent settlements of several thousand residents, while others spent most of their time traveling in search of food and game. Some of the tribes maintained peaceful relations with neighboring peoples, while other tribes were constantly at war with one another.

For the most part, the French people who came to North America got along well with the Indians. They traded fairly with the tribes, learned their ways, and did not push them off of their traditional lands. French priests even converted many Great Lakes tribes to the Catholic religion. But the more numerous British settlers needed more land for their farming operations. As a result, they pushed into areas that were previously inhabited only by Indians, who came to be viewed as obstacles to further settlement.

The British settlers maintained good relations only with the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of six Indian nations from the Iroquois language family (Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) centered in northern New York. The Iroquois had held a grudge against the French since the early 1600s when, during one of the first European expeditions into North America, French explorer Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567-1635) had shot several Iroquois warriors with the first firearm they had ever seen.

As the French and British settlements grew, the Indians were pushed into the middle ground between the European colonies. The Iroquois Confederacy formed an alliance with the British in order to control trade and prevent the French from expanding their territory. Meanwhile, the French formed a system of alliances with Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Great Lakes region, including the Pequot, Illinois, Kickapoo, Menomini, Miami, Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. Many of the Algonquian peoples were longtime enemies of the Iroquois.

Three early wars

Throughout the late 1600s and early 1700s, Great Britain and France struggled to become the most dominant power in Europe. The two countries entered into three wars during these years. All of these wars were fought primarily in Europe. But even though an ocean separated Europe from North America, these wars had a significant influence on the lives of many French and British settlers in the "New World." King William's War (known in Europe as the War of the League of Augsburg) took place between 1689 and 1697. In North America, French and British forces fought to decide who would control the major rivers that ran through the Appalachian Mountains. (Rivers acted as roads in those days because it was so difficult to carry goods through woods and over mountains.)

The conflict began when the governor of New France, Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac (1620-1698), ordered his Indian allies to conduct violent raids on the British colonies in New England. The Indians killed hundreds of British settlers in a series of raids along the frontier over the next few years. The British responded by launching an attack against New France. They succeeded in capturing Port Royal in Nova Scotia (a present-day province of Canada), but they failed in an attempt to take Quebec. The conflict ended shortly after Frontenac died in 1697. As part of the peace process in Europe, British negotiators returned Nova Scotia to France.

Peace lasted only a few years, though, as Queen Anne's War (known in Europe as the War of the Spanish Succession) began in 1701. This conflict began when the Spanish throne became vacant and both Great Britain and France tried to ensure that one of their allies became the new king of Spain. In North America, the Iroquois Confederacy signed an agreement with France in which they promised to remain neutral in the growing conflict. The governor of New France, Philippe de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil (1643-1725), then sent his Indian allies on raids against British settlements outside of Iroquois control—in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The most famous of these raids took place in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in February 1704, when fifty-six men, women, and children were killed and more than one hundred more were forced to march through the cold into Canada.

The British responded to the raids by launching a major military expedition to conquer Canada in 1711. British ships carried six thousand troops up the Atlantic coast to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, which provided access to the inland cities of Quebec and Montreal. But the ships lost their way in a heavy fog, and several of them crashed on the rocks and sank. About one thousand people drowned, forcing the British admiral to call off the expedition.

The war in Europe ended in a British victory in 1713. Great Britain claimed several French territories in Canada, including the Hudson Bay region, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. But the peace treaty that ended the war left some boundaries between the colonies unclear. These uncertainties opened the door to future conflicts.

In 1720, the French began building a huge fort in Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island. Ownership of this large island, located just north of Nova Scotia at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, remained in dispute at the time. The French wanted to claim the island in order to prevent the British from controlling the St. Lawrence. The new fort had stone walls that were thirty feet high, ten feet thick, and topped with one hundred heavy guns.

By the time King George's War (known in Europe as the war of the Austrian Succession) began in 1744, though, only seven hundred French troops were stationed in Louisbourg. The American colonies sent an army of four thousand men under General William Pepperell (1696-1759) to attack Louisbourg in 1745. These forces captured several French cannons that had been abandoned across the harbor from Louisbourg and used them to bombard the fort. The small number of French defenders surrendered the fort a short time later. The American colonists were very proud of their conquest. When the war ended in 1748, however, the terms of the peace treaty returned Cape Breton Island to France.

Stage Is set for the French and Indian War

As British and French forces fought for control of North America throughout the early eighteenth century, the Iroquois Confederacy remained on the sidelines. Yet the Iroquois played an important role in maintaining the balance of power in North America. Indian nations that were loyal to the confederacy controlled the vast territory between the French and British colonies, known as the Ohio Country. The Iroquois traded with both sides, accepted their gifts, and played the European powers against each other for their own benefit.

But the Iroquois Confederacy gradually began losing its influence over other Indian nations as well as the British and French. In 1742, the Iroquois accepted a controversial land deal known as the Walking Purchase of 1737. In this deal, the Penn family (founders of Pennsylvania Colony) stole 670,000 acres in eastern Pennsylvania from the Delaware Indian tribe. The Delawares were forced to relocate to the Ohio Country, and they held a grudge against the confederacy from that time forward.

The Iroquois lost even more of their power in 1744, when they signed the Treaty of Lancaster. Under this agreement, the British gave the Iroquois a huge number of gifts and acknowledged that the confederacy had the authority to speak for its member tribes throughout the Ohio Country. In exchange, the Iroquois agreed to give up all remaining Indian land claims in the colonies of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. In reality, however, the Treaty of Lancaster was much more costly for the Iroquois Confederacy. The Indians who negotiated the treaty thought they were only giving the British a small parcel of land in the Shenandoah Valley. But the original charters (written documents that define the boundaries of property and grant rights to landowners) for these colonies said that their borders extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Without realizing it, the Iroquois had given up formal control over the Ohio Country.

Once the Treaty of Lancaster was signed, governors of the American colonies immediately began granting land rights in the Ohio Country to their citizens. British traders and settlers rushed to claim the territory. They set up huge trading posts, including one on the site of the modern-day city of Cleveland, and began trading with northern Indian tribes that were supposed to be French allies. French leaders grew alarmed at this turn of events. They were upset about facing new competition in trade with the Indians, and they worried that the availability of British goods would lure away their Indian allies. They were also angry that the British were trying to control the Ohio Country, which they felt belonged to France. In the meantime, the Indians wanted to prevent either European power from claiming the Ohio Country, where they had lived for many generations. This tense situation soon erupted into war.

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Events Leading to the French and Indian War

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