French & Indian War: Timeline & Facts

Instructor: Douglas Rich

Douglas has taught high school History and has a master's degree in Education and Business Administration.

In this lesson, we will learn the timeline of the French and Indian War and it's importance to colonialism in the North American continent. Understand the key figures and pivotal battles of the war that led to an eventual British victory.

Boundaries Defined

The French and Indian War (1756-1763), or often referred to as the Seven Years' War, was a territorial dispute between Great Britain and France, along with the French allies. The war was to end the aggression between the two countries over disputed lands in North America, and would eventually help settle the boundaries of the known territory. The many Native American tribes that inhabited the area prior to colonization would also join in the war to help fight for their own ancestral lands.

Great Britain in North America

The British control of eastern North America began with an expedition in 1607 that led to the Jamestown colony in present-day Virginia. Although the colony was ultimately a failure, the British authorities believed in the land's potential to generate massive profits due to the possibility of gold, and other valuable minerals, along with vast amounts of land for producing crops. The discovery of tobacco in the colonies, and the popularity of the crop with British citizens, ensured that Great Britain would not give up on the continent despite the failure of several expeditions.

Great Britain was not the only empire with aspirations to have control of territory in North America. Countries such as Portugal, France, Spain, and several other nations were present in the area that expands from present-day Canada to Florida (and also into the Caribbean). Tobacco, corn, cotton, and sugar cane were cash crops that helped trigger the race for control of the continent.

The Ohio River Valley was of great importance for the French, Native Americans, and the British. Control of the Ohio River Valley also provided access to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. The country that controlled the Ohio River Valley would have access to the highly profitable fur trade of the area, and ultimate control of the shipping that would occur from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The race for control of the continent would eventually lead to war between Great Britain and France (along with their allies), in what became known as the French and Indian War.

War Begins

In 1754, a young General George Washington attempted a surprise attack on the French Fort Duquesne, near present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The attack was a failure that led to the capture of many British soldiers, and was the start of many disastrous results for the British at the start of the conflict.

The British commander of forces in North America, Edward Braddock, failed to secure alliances with Native American tribes, which in turn, allowed French generals to secure those desired alliances. Braddock was killed during the raid on Fort Duquesne and command was given to William Shirley of Massachusetts. French forces also won a decisive battle near present-day Philadelphia in 1755 to further dishearten the spirits of the American residents.

War with France was formally declared by Great Britain in 1756, and a new leader of the British forces in North America was chosen. William Pitt would assume command of British forces as Secretary of State of the Southern Department. Losses by the British continued, and British citizens became more lethargic toward the war and it's growing expense. Pitt would devote a new energy to the war by assigning younger generals and more resources to forces in North America.

The first major victory for the British came in 1758 when they captured Louisbourg at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, a vital shipping route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. The next great victory came that same year when British forces captured Fort Frontenac, also on the St. Lawrence River. British forces had the major port of Montreal as their next major target. Then General James Wolfe won a decisive victory over the French at the Plains of Abraham outside of Montreal, though General Wolfe was killed during the battle. British forces were able to capture Montreal in September of 1759, and the French lost their last position in Canada with the British having full control of the territory.

Death of General Wolfe
General Wolfe

Spain entered the war on France's side in 1761 with the Family Compact. The British declared war on Spain in 1762, but Spain's entry was not able to help France turn the tide of the war. British forces focused on the overseas territories of both Spain and France, which included the Philippines and West Indies. Peace talks between Great Britain, French and Spanish forces began in 1763, and concluded with the Treaty of Paris that same year.

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