The fighting in North America is commonly called the French and Indian War and the fighting began in North America when a Virginia militia unit commanded by none other than George Washington ventured into French territory. The French and India War can be seen as part of the Seven Years War, but they are major differences. The Seven Years War was essentially a combined European War to limit the aggressions of Prussia's Frederick the Great. The French and Indian War was a war over colonial control of North America. They are related in that France was deeply involved in both wars and they occurred at roughly the same time. the French and India War was fought by Britain and its North American colonies against France and its Indian (Algonquian) allies. France's North American colonies had evolved differently than the British colonies. The more limited French emmigration and differing attitudes toward Native Americans enduced the Algonquians to fight on their side against the British.
The British and French claims to North America overlapped. They also persued very different colonial policies. The English planted largely agricultural settlments based on family settlement along a narrow coastal strip. The colonies were quite diverse, including religious disenters. They set up colonial legislatures and during the English Civil war essentially goverened themselves. New France from the beginning was strictly Catholic and goverened directly from Paris. The French moved into the interior, but with small numbers of mostly men seeking furs. La Salle explored the length of the Mississippi to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico (1682). This gave France a claim to a vast area of North America, but made no real effort to settle it. And few Frenchmen were motivated to settle the wilderness. At the same time, the much larger English population was huddled east of the Appalachians. It was thus only a matter of time before the two Empires came into conflict. And this conflict would come in the Ohio Valley.
Furs attracted both the English and French. French control of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes gave them access to a vast wealth of furs. Henry Hidson had layed claim to Hudson Bay in the far north. He had been looking fir the Northwest Passage. The British founded the Hudson Bay Colony (1670).
The French challenged the British claim and in a series of expeditions almost drove the English out. .
France and England fought Queen Anne's War (1702). This merged into a major European War--the War of the Spanish Secession (1701-14). The English captured Port Royal (1710). Relatively minor provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht ending the War involved North America (1713). France regonized English control of the Hudson Bay Territory, Newfoundland, and Acadia. France retained Cape Breton Island as well as the interior of North American. The French to secure what was left of New France began building a powerful fortress at Louisbourg on Cape Breton. The French at the time were the most skilled military engineers in Europe. Louisbourg was a major military based and positioned to guard the entrance to the St. Lawrence River--the gateway to New France. Louisbourg became the most powerful fortress in North America. Louisbourg was not only a defensive instalation, but became a sanctuary for French privateeers preying on shipping from the English colonies in New England. Sir William Pepperell led a force of New Englanders organized a force of 90 vessels and 4,000 men to attack Louisbourg (1745). After a 3-month seige, the French garison surrendered. France and Britain fought a relatively small war, King George's War. It was ended by the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle (1748). Louisbourg was returned to the French. The British decided to build its own Atlantic bastion. Britain dispatched a fleet and 2,500 new settlers to construct a city and fortress at Halifax on Nova Scotia (1749).
Control of North America became a contest between England, France, and Spain. This did not seem like a earth shaking matter in the 18th century when North America was a vast unsettled wilderness, but would determine the course of the 20th century. The British colonies by the mid-18th century had spredout from Virginia and MNassachusetts and extended from Maine south to Georgia. Theyh were much heavier populated than the French colobies, but were mostly contained along the eastern seabord, east of the Apalachins. The French have a much smaller population spraad out over a much larger territory extending inland along the St. Lawrence, across the Great Lakes, and down the Mississipi south to New Orleans. Except in Quebec/Ontario and New Orleans, the French populatiin was miniscule. In between thaere awas vast saths of land with scattred French outposts in land most inhabited by North Americans. On a map, the French teritory is imprssive and seems to envelop the English colonies. There were no clear dividing lines that separated New France from the British colonies so constant disagreements arose about who claimed what.
France began constructing forts along the Graet lakes, Mississippi, Ohio, and upper Hudson Rivers. American colonists relentlessly pushed west across the Apalanchins into territory also claimed by the French. North Aerican became a tender box which none other than Virginia militia Col. George Washington would set offin the Ohio Valley. Much of the war would be French efforts to contain the British/Americans. And the Royal Navy giving the British the mobility to strike in force and at times and point of their chosing.
The first permanent English colony was founded in Vrginia (1609). Asecond at Plumouth in Massachusettes (1620). This was thevbeginning of what would be a sectional divide. The British colonies by the mid-18th century had spredout from Virginia and Massachusetts and extended from Maine south to Georgia. Partly because of the English Civil War, the Crown lost control over the colonies. As a result, colonial legislatures developed that made the colonies close to self governing. And the British Government did not limit immigration. As a result, they became much heavier populated than the French colonies, even though France had a larger pooulation. The English population was mostly contained along the eastern seabord, east of the Appalachins. And because of the Royal Navy as well as the British and coolonial merchant marine, they were closely tied into the British economy, much less isolated than New France. There was no north, south river unifying them, but this was more than made up by the extensive colonial merchant marine and Benjamin Franklin's publishing and postal work. All of the major cities were coastal ports, except Philadelphia which had riverine connections with th Chesapeake Bay. Thus while separate colonies, the English colonies developed close ties. The French threat would firmly bind all 13 comies to the Crown. The defeat of the French would leave the closely related colonies to begin to question the ties ith Britain.
The French settlers lived mainly in what was called New (Nouvelle) France. The popukation was centered in Quebec and Ontario. New France was different from the British colonies. There was no religious freedom. ThevRoyal Goverment were intent on ensuring no Protestants or Jews enteredthe colony. There were no colonial legislatures. The colony was governed by royal officials. The French weere more interssted in the fur trade than settling the land. There was competitiin fir furs, but mostly with the British Huson Bay colony to the north. .
The English wanting to participate in the valuable fur trade began establishing trading posts along the western shore of Hudson Bay. This was done by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). King Charles I granted the Hudson Bay Compamy a vast, poorly definded land grant. It became kniwn as Rupert's Lanf after Pribce Ruprt, the first govemor. From the begining, the French desiring a monopoly on trade with Native Americans, launched military expeditions to destroy the English trading posts. And they largely suceeded. Hudson Bay thus became an issue in the wars fought by England and France in Europe. It was an issue in the ending of the Nine Years' War (1697) and the ending of the War of the Spanish Succession (1713). The Treaty of Utrecht required France to relinquish all claims to the Hudson Bay, which became a British possession. The HBC built Prince of Wales Fort, a stone star fort at the mouth of the nearby Churchill River. The HBC exchanged wool blankets, called Hudson's Bay point blankets, for the beaver pelts trapped by the NativeAmerican hunters. Point blankets accounted for more than 60 percent of the trade.
The Hudson Valley played an important role played an important role in the development of the English colonies. It is no accident that New York, the largest colonial city and port, developed ay ythe mouth of the Hudson river. And it became a central role in the French and India War as it would in the Revolutionary War because to the north of the Huson River Valley is a natural network of waterways thar are nearly contiguous. The water way provided a rudimentary connection between New York City and Canada (Montreal ab Ontario). The route consisted of the Hudson River, Lake George, Lake Champlain, and the Richeliey and Saint Lawrence Rivers. This riverine connection was vital because the area was a wildernes with dence forewsts, saps, and bogs. Even in populated areas, roads were rudimentary. In this area they were non-existent. Smal war parties could transit it. Moving an army overland as Gen. Burgoyne would discover during the Revolutionary War was virtually impossible. As a result, bith the BVritish and French built forts along the waterway. The French forts were Saint Frederic/Crown Point and Fort Carillon/Ticonderoga (Lake Champlain). The British built William Henry (Lake George) and Edward (Hudson River). Opposite Fort Edward was Rogers Island named after Major Robert Rogers who founded Rogers' Rangers. Because of its strategic importance, important battles of the French and Indian War were fought here. One archeologist active in the area calls it 'The Great Warpath', in part because Native Americans played such an important role. [Starbuck].
The French established a strong presence in the Great Lakes region as part of their pursuit of the fur trade. The Great Lakes allowed French fur traders to pentrate deep into the interior of North America while the British were still largely pinned to the Alatlanic Seaboard. Few Fench settlers, however, followed the fur traders. The French built a fort at Green Bay in modern Wisconsin (1717). It established their hold on the western Great Lakes. This was an area without any British presence, but they became embroiled in a series of wars with the Meskwaki (Fox) Nation. The fighting disrupted fur-trade routes along the critical Fox-Wisconsin waterway to the Mississippi. This would increase French interest in the Ohio Valley
The War of the Austrain Succession in Europe had been ended by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). The Treaty did not, however, settle outstanding colonia issues between France and Britain. Chief among them was title to the strategic Ohio Valley. France had colonies in Louisiana and Canada. Possession of the Ohio River, which flowed into the Mississippi, was needed to link Canada and Louisiana. The French in part because of the Fox Wars developed a new route along the Maumee, Wabash, and Ohio rivers to bypass the western Great Lakess. This new trade route brought the French into conflict with the British colonies. The colonists crosing the Apalachins were seeking to acquire land in the area. The British maintained that their colonies along the Atlantic coast validated a territorial claim 'from sea to sea' establish by royal land grants. This was the first legal exporession of Manifest Destiny. Notice how many eastern states states or layed out in a east-west orientation in contrast to the more square or rectanular western pattern. They include: Massachusettes, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The British and French vied for control by courting local Native nations, but neither side was able to secure the region. The appearance of a series of French forts in the area prompted the colonists to take action. The Royal governor of Virginia organized a militia force to secure the colony's western claim. Colonel George Washington led the Virginia militia force across the Appalachins to demand removal of the forts, setting off the North American powder keg.
French Louisiana was the southern administrative district of New France. It was named in honor of King Louis XIV, by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. It ncompased an expansive territory that included most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakessouth to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains. There were two regions, now known as Upper and Lower Louisiana, separated by the Arkansas River. French exploration of the Mississippi Basin region began during the reign of Louis XIV (1682), but was never greatly developed, due to both a lack of French financial resources and a colonial policy restricting emigration. Thus this huge area was never populated by a significant number of French settlers. Even New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi did not develop into a major city. The fact that there was no imporatnt settler population in the Mississippi Basin meant that the volume of trade going down the Mississipi in the 18th century was very small compared to the 19th century. North of the area around New Orleans, there were no major settlements, only a series of trading posts in a vast area inhabited by Native Americans. Because there were few settlers seeking land, realtions with the Native Americans were generally positive with mutual benefits from the fur trade. There were exceptions like the Fox Wars, but the Native American tribes in the Mississippi Basin would mostly support France in the French and Indian War.
Florida was a Spaish colony. The border between the southern British colony of Georgia and Spanish Florida was never clearly defined, as a result there were constant incursions of various strength. The Spanish to undermine the stability of the British slave-based plantation economy, encouraged slaves to escape and offered them freedom and refuge as long as they converted to Catholicism. This spread by word of mouth in the colonies of Georgia and South Carolina. Hundreds of slaves escaped and headed south. This the Underground Railway first ran south. The escaped slaves settled in a buffer community north of St. Augustine, called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé, the first settlement of free blacks in North America. [Landers] Spain did not participate in the French and Indian War, but it did participate in the Seven Years War in Europe As a result, Britain seized Havana. To gert Habana back, the Spanish would cede Florida to Britain.
The War began when a Virginia militia unit commanded by George Washington encountered a French force building a fort near what is now Brownsville Pennsylvania. The War at first went very badly for the British which suffered a string of defeats, especially in the interior where the power of the Royal Navy couild not be brought to bear.
The French began building a string of forts to stake their claimto the land west of the Appalachins. The most imprtant of these forts was the Ohio River fort, Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). Fort Duquesne was a particularly strategic location. There the Allegheny and Monongahela flow together forming the Ohio River. Remember that at this time that there were no real roads. Communications and trade in the interior was dependant on rivers. The Virginia House of Burgess dispatched militia unit commanded by George Washington to confront the French (1754). Virginia and Pennstlvania claimed much of the Ohio River Valley. Washington encountered a French force building a fort near what is now Brownsville, Pennsylvania.
General Edward Braddock moved a large British and colonial militia force into the Ohio Valley. Brddock was personally brave, but arrogant. He had low regard for colonia militias and Washington in particular was defeated and killed in an attempt to take one of the French Ohio River forts, Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) (July 1755). Braddock proved to be a military failure, but Col. Washington was very impressed by him. Pittsburgh was a particularly strategic location. There the Allegheny and Monongahela flow together forming the Ohio River. (Remember that at this time that there were no real roads. Communicationa and trade in the interior was dependant on rivers.) The British were more effective in coastal actions supported by the Royal Navy.
One of the best known tragedies of the War, largely because of a Longfellow poem, was the British expulsion of the Acadians (1755). The Acadian French refused to take the oath of allegiance demanded by the British. As a result, the British herded aboard transports and shipped them to the English colonies in the south where they would not be a threat. Some of their descendents would fight with General Andres Jackson to prevent the British seizing New Orleans several decaded later (1815).
Fort Edward was the first British emplacement on the Great Warpath, construction began within months of the first encounter in the Ohio River Valley. It was built on the Hudson River, 13 miles south of Lake George. In soon became the largest Britosh military encampment in North America. Some 15,000 British soldiers were garisoned there (1757-59). That made it the third largest British settlement in the colonies, only exceeded by New York and Philadelphia. No shots were fired at Fort Edward, but it was the supply and training base for the American and British forces fighting to the north. Just opposite Fort Edward was Rodger's Island where Rodger's Rangers were based.
William Pitt, the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, Viscount Pitt of Burton-Pynsent,referred to as The Great Commoner ws born in London (1708). He is one of the graet British statesman, twice leading parliament (1756–61, 1766–68). The term orime-minister was not yet used. It is during his premiership that Britain became an imperial power. After early reverses in the French and Indian War, Pitt was placed in complete charge of British foreign policy. He gave much greater priority to the colonial wars, both in North America and India. Britain had two great advantags in North America and Pitt capitalized on both. irst the Royal Navy provided superior movement and supply capabilities while impairing French resupply and reinforcements. Second the English had a much larger population in their Atlantic seaboard colonies. This apermitted them to both recruit militias to supply military formatiins. Pitt ordered competent military commanders (Jeffrey Amherst and James Wolfe) to America with a substantial army. They succeeded in taking the forts the French had builkt at critical locations: Louisberg, Frontenac, Duquesne, Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and Niagara which were turned into strategic British positions.
Robert Rogers was an American colonial figure who organized a mikitia copoany of New Hamshire frontier irregulars. He adopted fighting paractices of the Native Americans. His unit and fighting methods are commonly seen as the first special forces (ranger/commando) unit in modern warfare. He served as a British scout in King George’s War, but made his name in the French and Induan War. Rogers formed his unit of some 600 personally recruited men (1756). They wore green uniforms to blend into the forests. Rogers was actually not the originator of many of the fighting tactics he popularized, but he did systematize operations--"Rogers’ Ranging Rules". He set down 28 practical no-nonsense rules for frontier warfare. He subjected his men to intensive trainingrs, including exposure to live-fire exercises. He created a highly mobile force that could sustain itself for extended periods behind enemy lines living off the land. They were a constant thorn in the side of the French. The Rangers assisted British operations providing reconissance, unit cover for marching forces, and harassing French movements and supply routes. The British and French regualars did not approve of iregulkar atactics and tended to use thaeir Native American allies for such operations. The Native Americans, however, were not as relable or as disciplined as the Rangers.
Fort William Henry was a key British fort on the frontier between British and French North America. It was stategically placed on the souther coast of Lake George at the southeast base of the Adirondack Mountains in northeastern New York. It was garisoned by Lt. Col. George Monro's 35th Regiment of Foot (Spring 1757). The eaely British objective in the war was the important French fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. The French after seeing that the British had massed their forces for the assault on Louisbourg, decided on a counter stroke, seizing Fort William Henry. The French with their Native Amerian allies laid seige to the fort. Badly outnumbered, Monro decided he had to surrender. The terms of the surrender allowed Monro and his men safe passage south to Fort Edward, another British fortification. After Monro and his men marched out of the fort, the French were horrified as their Native American allies set upon the exposed British column (August 15, 1757). The attrocity resulted in outrage and change in British tactics. One historian writes, "Captain Israel Putnam could smell the dead long before he could see them. Advancing out of the encircling woodsn the thirty-nine-year-old from Salem, Massachusetts, was lost for words. Fort William Henry was charred ruin. The ground that ten thousand men had fought over just one week before was shrouded in silence, broken only by the occassional cry of squalling carrion birds. After tearing down the timbers and heaping the corses upon them, the French had set fire to the ruins, creating a great funeral pyre. Putnam thought the 'spectacle ... too diobolical ... to be endured." [Hughes] The battle would be imortalized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of he Mohiccans.
Fort Ticonderoga (formerly French Fort Carillon) was a large 18th-century star fort built by the French at a narrows and thus a portage near the south end of Lake Champlain. It was constructed by Canadian-born French military engineer Michel Chartier de Lotbinière, Marquis de Lotbinière (1755-57). It bwas major construction project in the middle of the wilderness. The fort controlled a river portage alongside the mouth of the rapids-infested La Chute River. Lakes Champlain and George were 3.5 miles (5.6 km) apart. It was thus strategically placed between the the British-controlled Hudson River Valley and the French-controlled Saint Lawrence River Valley. The terrain dictated the siting of the fort. The lakes and rivers in the Hudson River Corridor are long and narrow and oriented north–south. This conformed to the ridge lines of the Appalachian Mountains, which extended southall the way to Georgia. The mountains created nearly impassable terrains to the east and west of the Great Appalachian Valley that the site commanded. And any army moving north and south needed the fort. At the Battle of Carillon, 4,000 French defenders were able to repel an attack by 16,000 British troops (1758). The British returned and drove a token French garrison from the fort (1759). .
The French over the course of nearly three decades employed engineers to build a massive stone fort around the settlement of Louisbourg. It became perhaps the most formidable position in North America. It consisted of 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) of walls – measuring 30 feet high and 36 feet thick in the most heavily fortifoed positions. The French poued so much money into the project tht King Louis joked rhat he expected to see them from his Versailles palace. Howevering imposiong the walls, Louisbourg had one a critical weakness, The engineers were primarily concerned abput a Royal Navy seaborn assult. It was, however, less well defended against a land assault. Of course in the end, the major weakness was the superority of the Royal Navy and its ability to isolate the fort from sea born assistance. The British as they prepared to assault the planned just such a land attack. New England militia who saw Louisbourg the massive fortification as a forboding threat both to their homes, but lso the all important Grand Banks fishing grounds. They built siege batteries on the hills overlooking the fortress and began to bombrd the fort. The subsequent series of bombardments and assaults, forced the French to surrender (1745).
The British in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle to the horror of the New England colonists returned Louisbourg to the French (1748). It British built an impressive fort of their own at Halifax to ballance the French presence on Cape Breton. This set up the battles of the French and Indian Wars to control Nova Scotia. The French in Louisbourg fought off a British assault (1757). but the British took Louisbourg again the next year (1758). The British were determined to never have to face such a formisable fortress again. British engineers destroyed the town and dismantled the fortifications. Some of the stones from the fort were shipped to Boston where it was used tp to construct Louisbourg Square and other city buildings.
The culminating battle of the War was fought at Quebec, the primary British objective. This was the nerve center of New France and best defended position. Set well inland from the Atalanyic on the St. Larence, the Royal Navy couls provide less support than possioble with the cmpaign to take Louisburg. The French forces at Quebec were commanded by Louis Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, marquis de St-Veran. Montcalm constructed a ring of strong points commanding the possible attack routes to Quebec. The route east from Lake Ontario along the St. Lawrence was closed at Oswegoand. The route north along the Richelieu was clsed by Fort Ticonderoga. The British could not use the Royal Navy to support either if these inlnd routes. The route inland from the Atlantic, however, could be supported by the Royal Navy. Here the powerful fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton guarded the invasion route. The British landed a substantial fore on Cape Breton Island (1758). After some tough fighting, the British took Louisbourg for the second time. This opened up the invasion route down the St. Lawrence. The following year, the most powerful force Britain assembled in North American began the assault on Quebec (1759). General James Wolfe led 140 ships carrying 9,000 trops up the St. Larence. Montcalm held a strong position because of the natural defenses of the city. That summer, Wolfe probed the defenses looking for a weakness. Wolfe finally decided on a night landing that that permitted him to assemble his army on the Plains of Abraham by the morning. There the superior English force was able to defeat the French as thre was no longer a natural barrier between the two armies. Both commanders, Wolfe and Montcalm, were mortally wounded in the ensuing bttle. The next year the British moved on Montreal. With the British controlling the St. Larence, Montreal was cut off. And unlike Quebec did not benefit from natural defenses. Thus Montreal fell the next year (1760). This essentially gave the British control of not only Canada, but North America. This ended the fighting in North America, although the peace treaty was not signed until 1763, as part of the general European peace ending the Seven Years War.
The outbreak of hostilities in the Ohio Valley merged into amuch larger European War--The Seven Years War. This war drew in all of the major European powers. British participation in the War was largely restricted to the colonial struggles in North America, the Caribbean, and India. The struggle in Europe proved to be one of the major European conflicts before the advent if the French Revolution at the end of the century. Frederick the Great emerged as one of the great Eyropean leaders, although had it not been for tthe death of the Russian Emperess Elizabeth, the outcome might have been very different.
Althought not understood at the time by Europeans, the outcome in North America was the most significan result of the Seven Years War. In Europe, the the fight was essentilly over one small polish provimce--Silesia. Overseas the fight was not only over a continent--North Amnerica and the sub-continent of India.
Several factors explain the British victory. First was the superority of the British Royal Navy, Second was the much larger British colonial population in North America. On both accounts, the Crowns supressiin of the Huguenots weighed against France. Third was Frederick II of Prussia who created the most efficient army in Europe during the 18th century. Frederick's Army fought against against France and its allies (Austria and Russia). Frederick should have been easily defeeated, but brilliantly fought againsr the superior forces of the coalition deployed agianst him. Just as the allis weee abourt to deliver the coup d'grace. Russian Emperess Elizabeth died. Tsar Peter who came to power was maentally impaired. hne admired Frrderick and pulled Russia out of the alliance. Frederick had tied up so much of the French Army and needed finances that only limited forces could be deployed for the colonial wars in North America and India.
In North America the issue of who would domiante the continent was resolved. North America would be an English-speaking extension of Europe. This was in the 20th century to have profound consequences for Europe in the 20th century. (Ironocally France would be resucued by English-speaking North America in two great world wars.) The British were also affected in that the War changed the relationship with their colonies, at the time the primary overseas colonies. The expulsion of France from North America had the unintended impact of making the English colonists feel, less dependent on the Britain for security. In addition the struggle had shown many colonists the inadequacies of British colonial administration, the effectivness of colonial militias, and the need for cooperation among colonies. The colonies cooperated to some extent in dealing with the Native American tribes. The links established would be useful as the indepndence movement began to grow. The British failed to understand these developments, feeling that the colonists should be gratful that they had been saved from the French. The War had been costly and the British began to devise was of taxing the Americans to support the cost of the colonial administration. These taxes established without any consent by the Americans helped to fuel anti-British feeling. The American Revolution was to break out a little more than 10 years after the signing of the Peace of Paris. Ironically the only part of North America to remain loyal was still largely French Canada.
Hughes, Ben. The Seige of Fort William Henry: A Year on the Northeastern Frontier (2011).
Landers, Jane. "Spanish sanctuary: Fugitives in Florida, 1687-1790.," The Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 62, No. 3, (January 1984), pp. 296–313.
Starbuck, David. Plymouth State University.
Urbanus, Jason. "Exploring the Great Warpath," Archeology (September-October 2019), pp. 55-57, 60, 62-64.
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