French and Indian Wars

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The French and Indian War (17541763) 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 (17751783).

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 Americansincluding 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 riversknown as the Forks of the Ohioto 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 (17321799)the brother of an Ohio Company investor, who had trained as a surveyoron 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 78, 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 debtand 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


Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crown, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years' War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988.

Middleton, Richard. The Bells of Victory: The Pitt- Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Newbold, Robert C. The Albany Congress and Plan of Union of 1754. New York: Vantage Press, 1955.

Schwartz, Seymour I. The French and Indian War, 1754-1763: The Imperial Struggle for North America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Walton, Gary M., and James F. Shepherd. The Economic Rise of Early America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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French and Indian Wars, 1689–1763, the name given by American historians to the North American colonial wars between Great Britain and France in the late 17th and the 18th cent. They were really campaigns in the worldwide struggle for empire and were roughly linked to wars of the European coalitions. At the time they were viewed in Europe as only an unimportant aspect of the struggle, and, although the stakes were Canada, the American West, and the West Indies, the fortunes of war in Europe had more effect in determining the winner than the fighting in the disputed territory itself.

To the settlers in America, however, the rivalry of the two powers was of immediate concern, for the fighting meant not only raids by the French or the British but also the horrors of tribal border warfare. The conflict may be looked on, from the American viewpoint, as a single war with interruptions. The ultimate aim—domination of the eastern part of the continent—was the same; and the methods—capture of the seaboard strongholds and the little Western forts and attacks on frontier settlements—were the same.

The wars helped to bring about important changes in the British colonies. In addition to the fact of their ocean-wide distance from the mother country, the colonies felt themselves less dependent militarily on the British by the end of the wars; they became most concerned with their own problems and put greater value on their own institutions. In other words, they began to think of themselves as American rather than British.

King William's War

The first of the wars, King William's War (1689–97), approximately corresponds to the European War of the Grand Alliance (1688–97). It was marked in America principally by frontier attacks on the British colonies and by the taking of Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, N.S.) by British colonial forces under Sir William Phips in 1690. (The French recaptured it the next year.) The British were unable to take Quebec, and the French commander, the comte de Frontenac, attacked the British coast. The peace that followed the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 was short-lived, and shortly the colonies were plunged into war again.

Queen Anne's War

Queen Anne's War (1702–13) corresponds to the War of the Spanish Succession. The frontier was again the scene of many bloody battles; the French and Native American raid (1704) on Deerfield, Mass., was especially notable. Another British attempt to take Quebec, this time by naval attack, failed. Port Royal, and with it Acadia, fell (1710) to an expedition under Francis Nicholson and was confirmed to the British in the Peace of Utrecht, as were Newfoundland and the fur-trading posts about Hudson Bay.

King George's War

Hostilities lapsed for years until trouble between England and Spain led to the so-called War of Jenkins's Ear (1739–41), which merged into the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). The American phase, King George's War, did not begin until 1744, when the French made an unsuccessful assault on Port Royal. The next year, a Massachusetts-planned expedition under William Pepperrell with a British fleet under Sir Peter Warren took Louisburg. Border warfare was severe but not conclusive. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) returned Louisburg to France, but the hostile feelings that had been aroused did not die.

The French and Indian War

Rivalry for the West, particularly for the valley of the upper Ohio, prepared the way for another war. In 1748 a group of Virginians interested in Western lands formed the Ohio Company, and at the same time the French were investigating possibilities of occupying the upper Ohio region. The French were first to act, moving S from Canada and founding two forts. Robert Dinwiddie, governor of Virginia, sent an emissary, young George Washington, to protest.

The contest between the Ohio Company and the French was now joined and hinged on possession of the spot where the Monongahela and the Allegheny join to form the Ohio (the site of Pittsburgh). The English started a fort there but were expelled by the French, who built Fort Duquesne in 1754. Dinwiddie, after attempting to get aid from the other colonies, sent out an expedition under Washington. He defeated a small force of French and Native Americans but had to withdraw and, building Fort Necessity, held his ground until forced to surrender (July, 1754). The British colonies, alarmed by French activities at their back door, attempted to coordinate their activities in the Albany Congress. War had thus broken out before fighting began in Europe in the Seven Years War (1756–63)

The American conflict, the last and by far the most important of the series, is usually called simply the French and Indian War. The British undertook to capture the French forts in the West—not only Duquesne, but also Fort Frontenac (see Kingston, Ont., Canada), Fort Niagara, and the posts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point. They also set out to take Louisburg and the French cities on the St. Lawrence, Quebec and Montreal. They at first failed in their attempts. The expedition led by Edward Braddock against Duquesne in 1755 was a costly fiasco, and the attempt by Admiral Boscawen to blockade Canada and the first expeditions against Niagara and Crown Point were fruitless.

After 1757, when the British ministry of the elder William Pitt was reconstituted, Pitt was able to supervise the war in America. Affairs then took a better turn for the British. Lord Amherst in 1758 took Louisburg, where James Wolfe distinguished himself. That same year Gen. John Forbes took Fort Duquesne (which became Fort Pitt).

The French Louis Joseph de Montcalm, one of the great commanders of his time, distinguished himself (1758) by repulsing the attack of James Abercromby on Ticonderoga. The next year that fort fell to Amherst. In the West, the hold of Sir William Johnson over the Iroquois and the activities of border troops under his general command—most spectacular, perhaps, were the exploits of the rangers under Robert Rogers—reduced French holdings and influence.

The war became a fight for the St. Lawrence, with Montcalm pitted against the brilliant Wolfe. The climax came in 1759 in the open battle on the Plains of Abraham (see Abraham, Plains of). Both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed, but Quebec fell to the British. In 1760, Montreal also fell, and the war was over. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 (see Paris, Treaty of) ended French control of Canada, which went to Great Britain.


The classic works in English on the conflict are those of Francis Parkman. See also W. Wood, The Passing of New France (1915); G. M. Wrong, The Conquest of New France (1918); L. H. Gipson, The British Empire before the American Revolution, Vol. IV–VIII (with individual titles, 1939–53); B. Connell, The Savage Years (1959); E. P. Hamilton, The French and Indian Wars (1962); H. Bird, Battle for a Continent (1965); G. Fregault, Canada: The War of the Conquest (1955, tr. 1969); F. Anderson, Crucible of War (2000); F. Anderson, The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War (2005).

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French and Indian Wars (1689–1763) Collective name for four colonial wars in North America, fought between Great Britain and France with Native American nations fighting on both sides. The aim of the wars in North America was for control of the e part of the continent, with ports and forts that controlled trade to the Old World. King William's War (1689–97) ended inconclusively. Queen Anne's War (1702–13) corresponds to the War of the Spanish Succession in Europe. Britain gained Newfoundland, Acadia and Hudson Bay. King George's War (1744–48) grew out of the War of the Austrian Succession. It ended inconclusively. The French and Indian War (1754–63) was the most significant conflict, forming part of the Seven Years' War. British efforts (1754–55) to capture French forts in w America were unsuccessful. After 1756, British resources improved, and forts at Louisburg and Duquesne (1758) were captured. Ticonderoga fell in 1759. In the battle for Québec on the Plains of Abraham (1759), both the French and English generals, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and James Wolfe, were killed, but Britain emerged victorious. In 1760, the British captured Montréal. The Treaty of Paris (1763) established British control of Canada.