In the mid-1700s, the Seven Years' War involved all of the world's major colonial powers on five continents. The biggest fight was between France and Great Britain, and the victor would come away with control of North America.
The Start of the French and Indian War
Both the British and French wanted to extend their colonies into the Ohio Territory
No sooner had New World colonization began than the world's imperial powers were at war over territory, resources and trade routes. The most significant of these conflicts involving America started in present-day Pennsylvania in 1753. But what began as a squabble between colonial governors turned into world war. Within two years, the Seven Years' War involved all of the European powers, with battles or territory at stake in Europe, Africa, India, North America, South America and the Philippines. The colonists called it the French and Indian War, and it permanently shifted the global balance of power.
By the mid-18th century, both the British and French wanted to extend their North American colonies into the land west of the Appalachian Mountains, known then as the Ohio Territory. Each side already had fur traders doing business with Native Americans there and pioneers living on the frontier. A group of wealthy English colonists had even formed an investment company to sell farmland in Ohio. The French believed they had exclusive rights to the land since their explorers had been there first. They tried to force the English out by capturing several of their trading posts and destroying an Indian village that supported English traders in 1752.
For years, the American colonists had been asking for permission to raise an army and end the French threat once and for all. The king had been suspicious of their motives and denied their requests, but when the French built Fort Duquesne near present-day Pittsburg, he relented. The Virginia militia, under the command of Major George Washington, was mobilized to ask the French to vacate the Ohio territory peaceably. They refused, but Washington didn't have a large enough force to overpower Fort Duquesne. Now-Colonel Washington returned the following year with more men and proceeded to build his own stockade nearby, called Fort Necessity. The French captured the new fort, and when word reached England, King George II declared war. The year was 1756.
France's Early Victories
Britain hoped Braddock would strengthen their militia, but he was killed before his first battle
Though New France had a sparse population, they also had a series of fortifications throughout the territory and formidable Indian allies who were fighting on their behalf. Britain decided that the colonial militia needed more experienced leadership, and dispatched General Edward Braddock with an aggressive 3-pronged battle plan. En route to his first battle, General Braddock was killed in a surprise attack, and France continued to win victories on the battlefields for three years, including the infamous 1757 massacre at Fort William Henry. The residents of the fort had surrendered to the French, but during their retreat as prisoners of war, they were attacked by France's Indian allies. In spite of the French commander's attempt to stop them, the Indians scalped hundreds of British soldiers, and carried off another 200 women, children and servants as slaves.
England's only significant early victory in the French and Indian War was capturing a small French outpost that supplied the much larger Ft. Louisbourg. England already had control of the surrounding territory, known as Acadia, and in order to further isolate Ft. Louisbourg, England deported all of the French-speaking residents in the area. Many of these Acadiens relocated to Louisiana, where they became known as the 'Cajuns.'
England didn't gain the upper hand until 1758. A new battle plan organized by the British Prime Minister called for a significant troop surge, new strategy that better suited the frontier, a naval blockade and an alliance with some Native American tribes. This plan coincided with an outbreak of smallpox among France's Indian allies that year. Finally, British forces captured a series of forts - including Ticonderoga, which became an important target for colonial forces a few years later in the American Revolution. Quebec finally fell, and by 1760, England controlled all of New France. The battle for America was over, and France had lost.
Since hostilities continued in other theaters for a few years, the French and Indian War, technically, didn't end until 1763. In the Treaty of Paris, France had to give England all of Canada and the eastern half of Louisiana. In exchange, they retained control of a few Caribbean sugar islands and two fishing islands along the Canadian coast. Spain gained control of the western half of the Louisiana Territory. Spain also traded Florida in exchange for Cuba. The Mississippi River was left open to all of the nations.
France had to give England all of Canada and the eastern half of Louisiana
The War's Effect on the Colonists
Though France was clearly the loser in the Seven Years' War, the financial cost of the fighting had saddled England with enormous debt. After making such a huge and expensive and deadly effort to keep America safe from France and its Indian allies, King George III and Parliament felt it was only fair that the colonists help pay for the war through a series of new taxes. The colonists felt differently. When all was said and done, it seemed to the Americans like they were worse off than before.
The colonists suffered heavy casualties, even higher than the Revolution a few years later. Worse yet, even though Britain now controlled all the land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, the King's Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains - the very reason the war had started in the first place. And though many colonists gained valuable military experience, they chaffed at their treatment by English officers and the difference in their pay from 'British Regular' soldiers. They resented the new taxes, which the colonial assemblies hadn't authorized. Then, British Regulars returned to the colonies to enforce the new taxes and the Proclamation line, making the colonists feel even more like second-class citizens. In the end, the most significant effect of the French and Indian War may have been the changed relationship between the colonies and England.
Let's review. In the 1750's, English and French colonies were both expanding into the land west of the Appalachian Mountains, known as the Ohio Territory. When the French attacked a series of trading posts and then built a new fort in western Pennsylvania, the British government finally took action, sending George Washington to request that the French clear out. They refused. Unable to capture the French fort, Washington built his own, which the French army swiftly overtook. The French army and their Indian allies dominated the battlefields of the French and Indian War for three years until a change in British leadership, paired with an outbreak of smallpox among the Indians, gave the English the upper hand.
By 1760, British soldiers controlled all of New France. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, giving England control of Canada and the eastern half of the Louisiana Territory. They also traded the island of Cuba to Spain in exchange for Florida. Finally, Spain controlled the western half of the Louisiana Territory. French colonization of North America ended permanently.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand the causes of the French and Indian War and why Britain finally allowed the formation of the Virginia militia
- Explain how the colonists and Britain fared in the early years of the war and how the tide turned in the later years
- Describe the effects of the war both on the New World territories and on America's relationship with Britain