The French and Indian War
The French and Indian War
The French and Indian War came about because France and Britain did not agree on the western boundaries of the British colonies. Britain’s colonists believed—in many cases their royal charters explicitly stated—that they were entitled to spread out as far as they needed to. In practice, this effort to expand borders to the west meant that Britain was encroaching on territory claimed by France.
The Ohio River Valley became the first bone of contention between the two European powers. In 1749, King George II of England had given a group of settlers known as the Ohio Company a large land grant in this area. The French claimed the same land. When they built Fort Duquesne at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in 1754, the governor of Virginia appointed 19-year-old George Washington to lead troops to Fort Duquesne and warn the French to leave British territory. Washington was made a lieutenant colonel and authorized to use force if the French ignored the warning.
When Washington handed the French a letter warning them to leave the area, they laughed in his face, telling him that their claim to the land was as good as the British claim. Washington assigned some of his men to build a fort, and left with others to bring back supplies. When he returned, he found that the French had taken the fort. Undaunted, the British troops built a new fort, which they named Necessity. In the ensuing fighting, the British side was defeated.
Both Britain and France saw this skirmish as a perfect opportunity to prevent the enemy from further Colonial expansion, and both sent professional troops to the colonies. At that time, the British colonies had no standing army and no trained military leaders. Washington’s troops had lost the battle of Fort Duquesne because Washington had not learned the guerrilla-style warfare practiced by the Indians. Instead, he fought in the style he had read about in military histories, in which two opposing armies faced one another on open ground. The tribes had briefly allied themselves with the British, but Washington’s first failure convinced them that he was a fool and that the French were better fighters. Seeing no reason to ally themselves with the side that was bound to lose, the Indians ranged themselves in support of the French.
British generals Edward Braddock and William Johnson decided to attack the French in three places: at Fort Duquesne, at Fort Niagara, and on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. Braddock was killed in the charge against Fort Duquesne; George Washington took over and led the retreat to safety. The British expelled the French from Nova Scotia and claimed it for England. At Fort Niagara, the British won a great victory in September 1755 under General Johnson.
On May 8, 1756, the Marquis de Montcalm led the French troops against the British garrison at Oswego on the Great Lakes. Canadians and Indians attacked the small British frontier towns and settlements in western New York and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the British and Colonial forces blocked the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, which was a lifeline for the cities of Quebec and Montreal, and attacked tribal villages in the Ohio River Valley.
France gained the advantage with a successful siege of Fort William Henry on the shores of Lake George. In August of 1757, Montcalm and his troops, with their Indian allies, destroyed the fort and killed the remaining British troops. The British lost control of the St. Lawrence River when a storm destroyed many of their ships.
Because they had received better treatment from the French, the Indians allied with them through most of the war. However, experience had made them mistrustful of both sides, and they were determined to act only in their own best interests. When the tide of war turned in favor of the British in the summer of 1758, the Iroquois went over to the British side.
When reinforcements arrived, the British took back the St. Lawrence, captured Fort Frontenac in Quebec, then mounted a determined assault on Fort Duquesne. The French eventually burned the fort rather than cede it to the enemy. The English built a new fort nearby, which they named Fort Pitt in honor of British Prime Minister William Pitt. Pitt was something of a hero to the colonists, for as soon as he became prime minister, he concentrated his efforts—and the British treasury—on winning the war in the colonies.
Under the command of General James Wolfe, the British laid siege to Quebec in 1759. After a battle on the Plains of Abraham outside the city, in which both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed, the English emerged victorious. The victory was largely due to the fact that the British army had cannon and the French army had none. The French surrendered formally on September 18, 1759.
The fighting in North America ended in 1761. The 1763 Treaty of Paris granted England all of Canada and all French holdings east of the Mississippi River except New Orleans. To prevent England from gaining total control over the North American continent, France had ceded the vast Louisiana territory to Spain in the 1762 Treaty of Fontainebleau.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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