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Europeans and Indians - Conflict and Alliance

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Europeans and Indians: Conflict and Alliance

By the mid-1700s, France had claimed eastern Canada and a large central portion of the present United States. Control of the Mississippi River was key to the French fur-trading industry. The French had built the cities of Quebec and Montreal in Canada, but for the most part they had been content to build trading posts along the Mississippi and other temporary settlements wherever they were needed. The bulk of the Mississippi Valley was left to the Indians.

Three factors created a degree of friendship between the French and the Indians. The first was that, except in eastern Canada, the French had not tried to seize Indian lands or build permanent towns and cities. Second, the fur trade brought the tribes financial profits and the means of acquiring weapons and modern tools. Third, many French had followed Samuel de Champlain’s example of learning Indian languages and customs.

In the fur trade, the Indians helped the French by keeping them supplied; they were much better than the French at hunting and trapping fur-bearing animals along the trails that were so familiar to them. The French helped the in return by trading items the Indians could not manufacture—weapons, horses, and sophisticated metal tools—in exchange for the pelts./p>

However, conflict lay ahead. Playing an active role in the fur trade caused two problems for the tribes. First, hunting and trapping for fur took time away from other essential chores, particularly cultivating or hunting for food. Indians suddenly found themselves having to trade for or purchase food, when for centuries they had been self-sufficient. Second, participating in the fur trade forced formerly stationary tribes to migrate. When they had decimated the fur-bearing animal population in one area, they had to move on—often into territory claimed by another tribe. This meant unprecedented contact and competition among the tribes and nations. The Iroquois Confederacy managed these issues to some extent, often brokering trades between the tribes and Europeans.

Britain, France, and Spain fought over Colonial territory just as they fought over their territorial boundaries in Europe. Spain had established itself in Mexico, Florida, California, and the Southwest; Britain along the Atlantic coast; and France over the rest of the continent. All three nations recognized that the Indians would make valuable allies. They were familiar with the land and were fierce, uncompromising fighters. They had learned to combine European weapons with guerrilla-style fighting, making themselves into a formidable enemy and a desirable ally. However, the Indians did not ally themselves with any particular group of colonists. They felt they should support whichever side best furthered their own interests.

On their first arrival, the British colonists had established cordial relations with the Indians. However, these did not last. As the Colonial population grew, the colonists needed more land. The land that was there was tribal land, but the colonists had no hesitation about taking it. Because they were stronger and better organized, they were usually successful. The Indians retaliated by fight- ing back—ambushing, killing, and kidnapping settlers whenever they could.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The French and Indian War Practice Test

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