French and Indian War

views updated Jun 08 2018


FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR. This was the last in a series of conflicts between Great Britain and France for dominance in North America. The French and Indian War (1754–1763), sometimes referred to as the Great War for Empire, and part of the global conflict called the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) in Europe, resulted in a British victory and the end of the French empire in North America.

In the seventeenth century, the French had explored and claimed a vast amount of land in the interior of North America, ranging from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes in the north to the Mississippi River and New Orleans in the south. In order to consolidate and control this enormous region, they had established a series of forts, trading posts, missions, and settlements, all enclosed by four major cites: Montreal, Quebec, Detroit, and New Orleans. In this manner, France hoped to restrict English settlement in North America to the Atlantic seaboard east of the Appalachian Mountains.

While the English colonies were still confined to the area along the North American coast from Maine to Georgia, some of the English colonies claimed lands as far west as the Mississippi. In three wars fought between 1689 and 1748, French and English colonists had struggled inconclusively for control of the interior. Interest in these unsettled lands was primarily speculative since there were not yet enough settlers in North America to occupy the entire region, although by the 1750s the British colonials were beginning to feel the pressures of population growth. Adding to the growing tensions between the colonists on both sides were disputes over the fur trade and over fishing rights along the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

English settlers were eager to expand westward. High birth rates and a drop in the number of infant deaths were combining to produce larger families and generally dramatic rises in population. As farmers, the settlers felt it only natural that they should expand their colonies across the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio Valley. In his "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind" published in 1751, Benjamin Franklin summarized the feelings held by many of his fellow colonists. Noting that the colonial population was doubling every twenty-five years, Franklin argued that additional land for settlement was required or the colonies would begin to deteriorate. He went on to state that Britain should help acquire this land, as that nation would profit greatly from the opening of new markets that would come about as the result of expansion. Like other colonial leaders Franklin understood that expansion would involve conflict with the French.

In King George's War (1744–1748), the ambitions of some of the English colonists were fulfilled by the capture of the French fort of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island. There was also talk of conquering the rest of Canada and of driving the French out of their holdings along the Mississippi. These ambitions were disappointed when the peace agreement, negotiated in Europe, returned Louis-burg to the French.

Both sides understood the importance of the original inhabitants of North America in their competition for control of the continent. England and France each worked to win the support of the various native tribes, either as trading partners or as military allies. Britain had the advantage of a more advanced economy and could therefore offer the Indians more and better goods. The French, however, with a far smaller number of settlers, could be more tolerant of Native American concerns, and when the war began France enjoyed better relations with the Indians than did the British.

The powerful Iroquois Confederacy that stood astride the colony of New York tended to keep their distance from both the British and French. The Iroquois generally remained independent of both powers by trading with both and playing them off against each other.

Between 1749 and 1754, the relations between the French and English broke down rapidly, and the Iroquois Confederation found itself caught in the middle. The Iroquois had agreed to give the English what amounted to significant trading privileges in the interior; for the first time the Iroquois had taken a side. The French, interpreting this action as the prelude to British expansion into the Ohio Valley, began to construct new forts in that area. Meanwhile, in 1749, unimpressed by French claims to that region, a group of Virginia businessmen had secured a grant of half a million acres in the Ohio Valley for settlement purposes. The French program of building forts was seen as a threat to their plans, and the English began making military plans and building their own fortifications.

The French completed a line of forts in the region extending from Presque Isle to Fort Duquesne on the Monongahela River. Finally, in the summer of 1754, Virginia's governor, Robert Dinwiddie, alarmed by the actions of the French, sent a militia force under the command of the young and inexperienced officer named George Washington to halt French encroachment on what he considered English soil. Arriving near the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Washington built a small fort, named Fort Necessity, and attacked a detachment of French troops, killing their commander and several others. The French retaliated with a strike against Fort Necessity, trapping Washington and his force. Washington surrendered and retreated to Virginia. These encounters began the French and Indian War.

Meanwhile, the London Board of Trade had arranged for a conference between delegates from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and New England at Albany, New York, to deal with the question of improving relations with the Indians as well as to promote frontier defense. Meeting between June 19, 1754 and July 11, 1754, the delegates learned of Washington's defeat before the conference concluded. The conference adopted the Albany Plan of Union, which would grant a central colonial authority unprecedented powers to oversee their defense, manage Indian relations, and administer the western lands. The clash at Fort Necessity had already taken place when the plan was presented to the colonial assemblies. None of them approved the plan, as they were unwilling to surrender their autonomy to any central authority, even when threatened with war.

In 1755, the British government responded to Washington's defeat by sending two regiments of infantry to Virginia under the command of General Edward Brad-dock. Braddock was experienced in European warfare, but not in the type of fighting that would take place in the forests of America. In May 1755 Braddock and his men started out for the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne, arriving in early July. There, the British were surprised by the French and their Indian allies, and routed. The Indians fought in the way they were accustomed, using all available cover to conceal themselves and to fire upon the enemy, and Braddock was unable to adjust to these tactics. Braddock was mortally wounded and the British troops and colonial militia were forced to withdraw. The French now controlled a line of forts extending from Lake Champlain to Lake Erie to the mouth of the Ohio River.

The war entered a new phase when Great Britain and France formally declared war on 17 May 1756. The conflict now became international in scope. To this point, a lack of reinforcements had forced the English colonists to manage the war themselves, and things had not gone well. Now, Britain unleashed the power of the Royal Navy, which proved to be highly effective at preventing the French from reinforcing New France. Meanwhile, the fighting spread to the West Indies, India, and Europe, although North America remained the focal point.

The war was inconclusive until 1757, when William Pitt, as secretary of state, took command of the effort. He planned military strategy, appointed military leaders, and even issued orders to the colonists. Since military recruitment had dropped off significantly in the colonies, British officers were permitted to forcibly enlist or "impress" colonists into the army and navy. Colonial farmers and businessmen had supplies seized from them, usually without compensation. And the colonists were required to provide shelter for British troops, again without being paid. These measures strengthened the war effort but created resentment among the colonists. By 1758, the tensions between the mother country and its colonists threatened to paralyze Britain's war effort.

Pitt relented in 1758, easing many of the policies the Americans found objectionable. He agreed to pay back the colonists for all of the materials the army had seized, and control over recruitment was returned to the colonial assemblies. These concessions revived American support for the war, and increased militia enlistments. More important, Pitt began to send larger numbers of British regulars to North America and the tide began to turn in Britain's favor.

The French had always been significantly outnumbered by the English in North America, and after 1756, poor harvests also began to take their toll on the French. Together, the British regulars (who did most of the fighting in North America) and colonial militias began to capture important French strongholds. Pitt had developed a war plan that enabled the British to launch expeditions against the French in several areas, and the plan proved to be successful.

British forces under Jeffrey Amherst and James Wolfe took Louisburg in July of 1758. The French stronghold at Frontenac fell a month later, cutting the line of communications with the Ohio Valley. In November 1758 the French abandoned and burned Fort Duquesne just before English troops arrived.

In 1759, Quebec came under siege. Located atopa high cliff and seemingly impregnable, this century-old city was the capital of New France. But Quebec fell on 13 September 1759, after the British commander, General James Wolfe, led his men onto the Plains of Abraham, at the western edge of the city, and surprised the larger French garrison. The French commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, led his troops out of the fortress to confront the English. Both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed in the ensuing battle, but the British won the day. Montreal surrendered to Amherst nearly a year later, on 7 September 1760. This victory concluded the French and Indian War.

The French continued to struggle on other fronts until 1763, when the Peace of Paris was concluded. France gave up some of its islands in the West Indies and most of its colonial possessions in India and Canada, as well as all other French-held territory in North America. French claims west of the Mississippi and New Orleans were ceded to Spain, so that France abandoned all of its claims to territory on the North American continent.

The results of the French and Indian War were of tremendous significance to Great Britain. While England's territory in the New World more than doubled, so did the cost of maintaining this enlarged empire. The victory over France forced the British government to face a problem it had neglected to this point—how to finance and govern a vast empire. The British realized that the old colonial system, which had functioned with minimal British supervision, would no longer be adequate to administer this new realm.

The cost of the war had also enlarged England's debt and created tensions with the American colonists. These feelings were the result of what the British felt was American incompetence during the war, along with anger for what was perceived as a lack of financial support on the part of the colonies in a struggle that was being waged primarily for their benefit. For these reasons, many of Britain's political leaders believed a major reorganization of the empire was in order, and that London would have to increase its authority over its North American possessions. The colonies would now be expected to assume some of the financial burden of maintaining the empire as well.

From the American standpoint, the results of the war had a different, although equally profound, effect. For the first time, the thirteen colonies had been forced to act together to resist a common enemy, establishing a precedent for unified action against the mother country. And the hostility that had been aroused over British policies between 1756 and 1757 seemed to justify the feelings held by some of the colonials that Britain was interfering illegally in their affairs. These feelings would be intensified once Great Britain began to administer its North American empire more intensively in the years ahead.

The British victory in the French and Indian war proved to be a disaster for the Native Americans who lived in the Ohio Valley. Most of them had allied themselves with the French during the conflict, and by doing so, they were now confronted with angry Englishmen. In the century before the war, the Iroquois Confederacy had carefully played the British and the French against each other, but in the war, they had gradually moved towards an alliance with Britain. The Iroquois alliance with the English broke down soon after the war's end, and the confederation itself began to disintegrate. The Ohio Valley tribes continued to struggle with both the British and Americans for control of the region for another half century. But, outnumbered and divided among themselves, they were rarely able to confront their European opponents on equal terms. In a sense, Tecumseh's defeat, fighting with the English against the Americans near Detroit in 1813, was the Indians last battle of the Seven Years War.


Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Knopf, 2000.

———. A People's Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

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

Nester, William R. The First Global War: Britain, France and the Fate of North America, 1756–1775. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2000.

Rogers, Alan. Empire and Liberty: American Resistance to British Authority, 1755–1763. Berkley: University of California Press, 1974.

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

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Regions, 1650–1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.


See alsoBraddock's Expedition ; French Frontier Forts ; Iroquois ; King George's War ; Louisburg Expedition ; New France ; Ohio Company of Virginia ; Quebec, Capture of .

French and Indian War

views updated May 17 2018

French and Indian War (1754–63).Three long‐standing contests came together again in the Seven Years' War, which British colonial Americans called the French and Indian War. The ancient Anglo‐French rivalry, which predated their colonization of America, became truly global, including unprecedented martial commitments to North America. Secondly, the war continued an equally epic battle between Indians and Europeans, a struggle that Indians could sustain best as allies of one European supplier and enemies of another. The third enduring contest pitted the North American colonists of Britain against those of France in a frequently brutal 150‐year‐old struggle for trade and land.

An intercolonial boundary dispute between British and French colonies sparked a war that became imperial as well as Indian. The Upper Ohio Valley had been an underpopulated borderland that, by 1748, had become home to Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo migrants from east of the Appalachians. Although long since denuded of valuable furs and peripheral to Canadian trade routes, this area gained strategic value with the arrival of Pennsylvania traders and Virginia land speculators. The government of New France responded with diplomacy; raids against British American traders and their protectors; and the building (1753) of three forts between Lake Erie and the forks of the Ohio River. Virginia's governor sent Col. George Washington on a futile mission to order the French out, and obtained formal British permission to use force to expel the French Canadians.

Fighting began when, on 28 May 1754, Washington's Virginia troops ambushed a Canadian reconnaissance party, killing ten and taking twenty‐one prisoners. Retaliation led to Washington's surrender of hastily fortified and aptly named Fort Necessity on 3 July. The French marked their victory by turning another unfinished Virginian fort into Fort Duquesne.

British government response to Washington's defeat proved uncharacteristically strong. While claiming to preserve the peace, the ministry sent two regular regiments to America under Gen. Edward Braddock with instructions to remove French “encroachments” from British‐claimed territory. What was to have been a series of attacks by a single army became, because of enthusiastic New England preparations, four simultaneous British and colonial expeditions against Forts Duquesne, Niagara, Ste. Frédéric, and Beauséjour in 1755. The British attack on Fort Duquesne ended in Braddock's defeat at the Monongahela River, nine miles from his destination, when Indians and Canadian irregulars exploited flanking woods and poor British scouting to surprise and slaughter much of his column. Another army under Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts failed to reach Fort Niagara. William Johnson led the British colonial army that failed to reach Fort Ste. Frédéric, but won a defensive victory at the Battle of Lake George. The only clear British success was by New Englanders, led by British colonel Robert Monckton, who easily took Forts Beauséjour and Gaspereau in Canada, and then expelled 6,000 French Acadian neutrals. The British sent more regulars to avenge Braddock and gave Commanders in Chief Shirley (1756) and John Campbell, earl of Loudoun (1756–58), powers that centralized the war effort and antagonized the colonies.

New France, United under Governor Pierre‐François de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil (1755–60), seized the military initiative. Indian raids launched from Fort Duquesne terrorized the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontiers, while other raiders destroyed New York outposts. General Louis‐Joseph, marquis de Montcalm, led well‐coordinated forces of French regulars, Canadians, and Indians to conquer Fort Oswego in August 1756 and Fort William Henry a year later.

The British recovered the offensive in 1758, as the eloquent and efficient secretary of state, William Pitt, took control of the war effort. Pitt reassured British voters and creditors while spending massively on war in both Europe and America. He cut the power of his new commander in chief and negotiated a “subsidy plan” with colonial governments that was generous enough to promote unprecedented levels of imperial cooperation in supply, transport, and recruitment. British regulars, recruited in Europe and America, now constituted a majority of the much larger forces available. Britain's North American initiatives for 1758, against fortress Louisbourg and Forts Carillon, Frontenac, and Duquesne, paralleled the strategy of 1755, but met with more success. In July, 13,000 British regulars under Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Amherst besieged and captured Louisbourg. Gen. James Abercromby's hurried assault against Montcalm's entrenched defenders at Ticonderoga (Carillon) failed disastrously, increasing Montcalm's influence over military strategy for New France. Abercromby then authorized an expedition by 3,600 colonial volunteers that took Fort Frontenac. Seven thousand men under Brig. Gen. John Forbes constructed a military road across Pennsylvania to Fort Duquesne, which the French destroyed and evacuated on 25 November 1758.

British intent to capture the core of New France in 1759 met such determined French and Canadian resistance that Amherst countered cautiously, and met shifts in Indian diplomacy that proved diversionary. By early 1759, the Delaware and Shawnee had made peace overtures, and the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederation were reconsidering their uneasy neutrality. The siege of increasingly isolated Fort Niagara in July 1759 reflected Amherst's caution, impressed the Six Nations by clearing the French from their territory, and afforded some Ohio Indians an opportunity to change sides decisively. While these Indians strengthened the British side, the Cherokee in the South moved from their traditional alliance to open war with the British colonies between 1759 and 1761. Annual punitive expeditions, the first by South Carolina volunteers and the other two by British regulars, burned abandoned Cherokee towns, provoked retaliation, and may have helped bring a negotiated peace by the end of 1761.

Conquest of New France was not completed in 1759, but the capture of Fort Niagara and the French evacuation of Fort Ste. Frédéric and reoccupied Fort Frontenac represented British success on two of the three prongs of that attack. The third prong, a nearly three‐month amphibious campaign led by Brig. Gen. James Wolfe against the walled city of Québec, stalled until a well‐exploited gamble in the Battle of Québec gave the British victory on 13 September 1759, and control of the city four days later. Control of these areas remained precarious during a successful French counteroffensive that ended only with the arrival of British warships in May 1760. On 8 September, with 17,000 British and American soldiers surrounding Montréal, which was defended by some 3,000 French, Governor Vaudreuil surrendered New France. British and American colonial troops reported the conquest to the interior posts without meeting resistance and mounted major campaigns in the French West Indies that captured Guadeloupe (1759) and Martinique (1762). The Peace of Paris ended the war 10 February 1763, confirmed the conquest of New France, and ceded to the British all lands east of the Mississippi.

The war decided only one of the three long‐standing contests. The Anglo‐French duel would resume regularly for another half century, and the equally long‐lived military struggle between Indians and Europeans reopened immediately with Pontiac's Rebellion. However, the struggle between the British and French North American colonies had been decided. Some Americans opposed the way Britain integrated both New France and “Indian country” into its empire; many more resisted imperial taxation imposed to help pay for the war and for the regular army garrisons of the peace. The war that had unified the British Atlantic empire to an unprecendented degree thus, not surprisingly, helped produce the American Revolutionary War for Independence a decade later.
[See also Native American Wars: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans; Québec, Battle of; Revolutionary War: Causes.]


Lawrence H. Gipson , The British Empire Before the American Revolution, 15 vols., 1936–70, Vols. 2–9.
Fred Anderson , A People's Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War, 1984.
Richard Middleton , The Bells of Victory: The Pitt‐Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War, 1757–1762, 1985.
W. J. Eccles , Essays on New France, 1987.
Francis Jennings , Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies and Tribes in the Seven Years' War in America, 1988.
Ian K. Steele , Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the “Massacre,” 1990.

Ian K. Steele

French and Indian War

views updated May 21 2018

French and Indian War

The French and Indian War (1754–63) was fought in America between England and France from 1754 to 1763. It was one war in a long and complicated history of conflicts between the two countries. Having both laid claim to territories in present-day Ohio , the two countries fought a long and costly war in the New World to settle the dispute. Both sides were joined in the fighting by colonists and Native Americans.

Continuing disagreements between England and France led to other conflicts in other parts of the world in what is known as the Seven Years' War (1756–63). The conclusion of war in 1763 marked the end of the French presence in North America and the beginning of English domination of the continent. It also led to problems between England and its colonies that resulted in the American Revolution (1775–83).

Settlement in the New World

Throughout three wars from 1689 to 1748, the French and the British struggled for control of the lands west of the British colonies in America. Although the British settlements were mostly confined along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida , some of the English colonies had claims west of the Appalachian Mountains, according to their original charters. Most of these areas were still unsettled by the 1740s, but many English colonists were interested in the land.

The French had established a lucrative fur trade in the region west of the Appalachians. Although there were few permanent settlements, the French had established missions, trading posts, and relationships with Native Americans there, and they wanted to protect these interests and establish permanent settlements. England, too, and France attempted to gain control by peacefully establishing settlements in the area.

Tensions rise

In the 1740s, British traders began to enter areas close to French posts and to compete for trade relationships with the local Indians. British goods often were cheaper and of better quality than French wares, so many Indians chose to break ties with the French to trade with the British. The French responded by constructing a series of forts stretching from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

The last, southernmost of the forts encroached on territory claimed by the British colony of Virginia . In November 1753, its governor, Robert Dinwiddie (1693–1770), sent General George Washington (1732–1799) to warn the French that they were trespassing. Overwhelming French forces pushed Washington back, forcing him to return to Virginia.

In 1754, the Virginia governor commanded that a fort be built to counter the French at the Forks of the Ohio River (present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ). On April 17, 1754, a large number of French soldiers surrrounded the British sent to build the fort, forcing them back to Virginia, and then proceeded to build a French fort instead, Fort Duquesne. When Washington reached the area on May 28, he and a band of 150 reinforcements surprised a group of French soldiers at Jumonville Glen, killing ten in battle and then slaughtering all but one of their prisoners. This incident marked the beginning of the French and Indian War. France and England, however, did not formally declare war until May 1756, with the beginning of conflicts in Europe in the Seven Years' War.

The war in America

The first four years of the French and Indian War were dominated by the French and their Indian allies. The French had superior advantages: Their movements of troops and supplies were helped by access to the St. Lawrence River, and their Native American allies provided warriors and skillful knowledge of the lands.

In contrast, British forces struggled with inadequate leadership and difficulty maneuvering men and supplies across dense, unsettled land. They also failed to gain adequate support from the colonists. Many colonial businessmen resented the trade problems caused by the war, and colonists recruited to serve under English forces resented the strict discipline, harsh punishment, and unfair treatment they received.

In December 1756, William Pitt (1708–1778) became leader of the House of Commons (a house of Parliament) of Great Britain. His dynamic leadership led to important changes for the English troops in America. More financial and military support from England helped the troops create a network of roads, supply stations, and colonial manpower to transport necessities to the British front lines. Thus reinforced, the British began to make strong advances into French territory.

In October 1758, a new treaty brought many of France's Indian allies onto the British side of the war. By July 1759, the British managed to cut off the French from the St. Lawrence River, and in doing so, they cut French supply lines and crippled the French army. In September, the British captured Quebec, and Montreal fell the next year, in September 1760. The war in America was then effectively over, but the two countries continued to fight in Europe and elsewhere. The Treaty of Paris , which they signed in 1763, finally ended the wars and ceded French land in Canada to the British Empire.


The French and Indian War was a difficult struggle for England that depleted the financial resources in the British treasury. As a result, Parliament began to pass measures to raise funds through taxes on the American colonies. These measures angered the colonists and soured their relationship with England. A little more than a decade later, the colonists' resentment ignited the American Revolution.

French and Indian War

views updated May 17 2018

French and Indian War

FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR. Although this term can be used literally to mean all four of the conflicts between the British and French colonists in North America between 1689 and 1763 (King William's War, Queen Anne's War, King George's War, and the final French and Indian war), the term applies more precisely to the last of the colonial wars (1756–1763), which in Europe is called the Seven Years' War. The historian Lawrence Henry Gipson rechristened the final French and Indian war "the Great War for the Empire," but that name is not in common usage.

SEE ALSO Colonial Wars.

                        revised by Harold E. Selesky

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