The French and Indian War: Causes, Effects & Summary

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  • 0:06 French and Indian War
  • 2:12 France's Victories
  • 3:34 English Success
  • 5:16 Changes in the Colonies
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

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
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
Edward Braddock

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's Success

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.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts for the French and Indian War:

Letter Prompt 1:

Imagine that you are a French fur trader in North America in the 1750s. Write a letter to the French king that details the problems you are facing from British involvement in the Ohio Territory, and explaining why you need the French Army to make the area secure for your livelihood.

Letter Prompt 2:

Pretend you are an American colonist in Pennsylvania. You are alarmed by the growing presence of French fur traders in the area near your farm. Write a letter to the British king asking for permission to raise an army to deter the French encroachment.

Speech Prompt 1:

Imagine that you are a British delegate negotiating the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Write a speech that makes your case for why Britain should have control over Canada and the eastern part of Louisiana.

Diary Prompt 1:

Pretend that you are King George III in 1763. While you're happy that the war is finally over, you are worried about how much debt Britain accrued as a result of the war, and you wonder how feasible it will be to administer control over the huge North American territories you have just acquired. Write a passage in your diary expressing your concerns and anxieties, and also your solutions for paying off the war debt.

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