French and Indian War (1754–1763)
FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR (1754–1763)
The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was the last of a series of great colonial wars that stretched for almost a hundred years and disrupted settlements throughout North America. It marked the end of the French empire in North America and the beginning of English domination of the continent. It also emphasized the differences between Englishmen and colonists and laid the groundwork for the drive toward independence, culminating in the American Revolution (1775–1783).
The events that sparked the French and Indian War had their origin in the trade with Native Americans. The French had claimed the territory surrounding the Great Lakes and had established Christian missions and trading posts throughout the area. They hoped to profit from the trade in furs that they maintained with the Indians. By the 1740s, British traders were entering the nearby same area of what became the state of Ohio, crossing over the Appalachian and Allegheny mountains and competing with the French. Because British trade goods were cheaper and better made than those the French offered, many Native Americans—including the Wyandot chief Memeskia, the Shawnee, and the Delaware, chose to break with the French and establish links with the English instead. The Six Nations, also known as the Iroquois League, retained their alliance with the English, which was formed almost a century earlier. The French responded by beginning the construction of a network of forts stretching from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. They also warned the Native Americans that the English were more interested in their lands than they were in the items the Indians had to trade.
The French were telling the truth about the British desire for land. In 1749, King George II authorized the charter of the Ohio Company, a coalition of British and Virginian traders and speculators, and gave the new company title to enormous territories in the Ohio valley. King George required the company to establish a settlement in the area and to build a fort for its protection within seven years. From 1750 to 1752, Ohio Company agent Christopher Gist traveled the area, looking for suitable areas to place such a settlement. Between May and July 1752, Gist concluded the Logstown Treaty at Ambridge, Pennsylvania, between the colony of Virginia and the Six Nations of the Iroquois, Wyandot, Delaware, and Shawnee, which opened the Ohio country to English trade and settlement.
The negotiations at Logtown were disrupted by news that a coalition of French-allied tribes, led by a French Indian agent named Charles Langlade, had attacked the town of Pickawillany (modern Piqua, Ohio), which was the major center of English trade in Ohio. Memeskia, a long-time British friend and collaborator, was killed by Langlade and ritually eaten. As a result of the news the Seneca asked the Virginians to build a fort at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers—known as the Forks of the Ohio—to protect them from the French and their Indian allies and to give them access to English goods.
Partly because of this request and partly because of the forts the French were building in the area and political pressure in the British Cabinet, in 1753 Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie sent George Washington (1732–1799)—the brother of an Ohio Company investor, who had trained as a surveyor—on a mission to the French at Fort LeBoeuf (modern Waterford, Pennsylvania). Washington demanded the French evacuate the fort, which (the English claimed) was built on Virginian territory. The French commander, Captain Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, refused and Washington, unable to force his compliance, returned to Dinwiddie. The governor then commanded Captain William Trent to begin work on the fort requested by the Seneca. On April 17, 1754, a French force of 600 captured the fort and its 41-man English garrison. On May 28 Washington, who had been sent by Dinwiddie with 150 reinforcements for the fort, surprised a French reconnaissance party and killed several of its members, including Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, an officer the French regarded as an ambassador.
Washington's fight marked the opening of the French and Indian War, even though it would be another two years before the English and the French governments formally declared war in 1756. In the meantime, the brother of Ensign Coulon de Villiers forced the surrender of Washington's party and the makeshift fort Washington built at Great Meadows. Washington's defeat and the fall of the fort effectively ejected the English from the Ohio country. It also helped alienate many Native Americans who had been English allies. Most of the Ohio Indians, won over by military successes, returned to their traditional relationships with the French.
By the time the Albany Congress was convened in mid-summer of 1754, the Iroquois were the only Native American allies left to the English. Although the Congress was intended to promote unity among colonies and to conclude a treaty with the Iroquois, it had almost the opposite effect. Although a treaty was signed, Conrad Weiser of Pennsylvania and Joseph Lydius of Connecticut bribed and cheated Iroquois chiefs into ceding thousands of square miles of land in western Pennsylvania and southern New York. The Oneida sachem Concochquiesie complained to Indian agent William Johnson that Lydius "is a Devil and has stole [sic] our Lands. He takes Indians slyly by the Blanket one at a time, and when they are drunk, puts some money in their bosoms, and perswades [sic] them to sign deeds for our lands." The Iroquois Confederacy declared itself officially neutral in the war, but many of their tributary tribes allied themselves with the French.
English policies in the early years of the war met with resistance from white settlers as well. Merchants in the north, especially in New York, had created a close (and illegal) trade with Canada based on smuggling. These businessmen took exception to the difficulties the war created and opposed British efforts to deal with the risks the French posed. Colonists who served in the armed forces resented the strict discipline, harsh punishments, and contempt in which British officers held them, despite the fact that provincial forces and their Indian allies won British victories while regular commanders were defeated. Major General Edward Braddock, for instance, lost the Battle of the Wilderness (July 9, 1755) and drove the Delaware into a French alliance in part due to his refusal to pay attention to his colonial advisors. Provincial forces also played important roles at the Battle of Lake George (September 7–8, 1755), and the relief of Fort Oswego (July 3, 1756).
The fortunes of the English began to shift with a change in government. When William Pitt became Prime Minister of Great Britain in December of 1756, he promised a much more aggressive promotion of the war. Despite the victories of the talented French commander the Marquis de Montcalm, most notably at Fort William Henry (August 1757), Pitt increased financial and military support for the British forces in the colonies. By the summer of 1757 Pitt's efforts had begun to be felt, and in October, 1758, a new Indian treaty signed at Easton, Pennsylvania, brought many French Indian allies into the British camp. In September, 1759, the town of Quebec fell to an assault by General James Wolfe, and in 1760 Montreal fell. The war in the American colonies was essentially over.
The aftermath of the French and Indian War had a great economic effect on the colonies. With battlefields spreading over much of the Pennsylvania, New York and New England frontier districts, the war left colonial economies in ruins. Many backwoods families had been forced to abandon their homes and, according to the terms negotiated between the British and the Indians, they would never be allowed to return west of the Appalachians. Although England had won great territories by forcing the French out of Canada, they had also created a huge national debt in fighting the war. The means of financing and repaying this debt—and for paying the salaries of the thousands of soldiers needed to keep peace between frontiersmen and Indians on the Appalachian borders as well as in Canada— brought Great Britain and her American colonies to the brink of war a little more than a decade later.
See also: George Washington
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