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French and Indian War / Seven Years’ War

During the 18th century, land in North America was controlled by Spain, France and Britain, with Spain controlling Florida, France exerting its power in the northern and central areas and Britain controlling the east. All three nations knew they could not co-exist together peacefully in North America and that this situation which could only be settled by war.

The powerful European nations already were fighting each other for land and money all over the world. These small wars continued for more than one-hundred years and came to be known as King William's War (War of the League of Augsburg), Queen Anne's War, King George's War and the war known as the French and Indian War in America and the Seven Years’ War in Europe

The so-called “Ohio Company” had been founded as early as 1748, by Thomas Lee, Lawrence Washington, Augustine Washington and others, for the colonization of the western country.” A grant had been obtained, from the crown, of five hundred thousand acres of land in the region of the Ohio, and the efforts of this company to open up a road into the western valleys was a precipitating facator in the French and Indian war.

France and Britain engaged in a succession of wars in Europe and the Caribbean throughout the 18th century. Though Britain secured certain advantages — primarily in the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean — the struggles were generally indecisive, and France remained in a powerful position in North America. By 1754, France still had a strong relationship with a number of Native American tribes in Canada and along the Great Lakes. It controlled the Mississippi River and, by establishing a line of forts and trading posts, had marked out a great crescent-shaped empire stretching from Quebec to New Orleans. The British remained confined to the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains. Thus the French threatened not only the British Empire but also the American colonists themselves, for in holding the Mississippi Valley, France could limit their westward expansion.

The French and Indian War was fought to decide which of Britain or France would become the stronger power in North America, each side relying on its colonists and Indian allies to fight.

The war began with conflicts about land. French explorers had been the first Europeans in the areas around the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and France had sent traders and trappers to these territories and had established trading centers there.

Britain, however, claimed the same land. Land granted in North America by the British monarch was considered to extend from the east coast all the way to west coast, even though where the location of the west coast was unkown at the time. With the east coast becoming increasingly crowded, settlers began migrating westward, destroying in the process the local Indians' hunting areas. These, in turn, became increasingly worried that they would lose the use of their land.

The Indian tribes might have been able to resist the westward encroachment of European settlers had they been united, but internecine conflicts kept them apart. When conflict flared between Britain and France, Indians were divided over who to support with some helping the British and others helping the French.

French settlers lived mainly in what was then called New France, today a part of Canada. Settlers there were required to be French and belong to the Roman Catholic Church. As a consequence, numerous Frenchmen who belonged to Protestant churches resettled in the British colonies. Moreover, France was more interested in the fur trade than in settling the land, and thus did not appreciate the high prices paid by the British to the Indians for animal furs.

Where the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania lies today, the French had built one of their trading forts, called Fort Duquesne. Britain, however, claimed the fort was situated in Virginia on top of land belonging to them. In 1754, the governor of Virginia sent a twenty-one-year-old colonist named George Washington to demand the withdrawal of the French -- the same George Washington who would later become the first President of the United States. The French refused to leave and Washington, along with 150 men, tried to force them out, attacking a group of Fenchmen and killing ten of them, sparking the beginning of the French and Indian War.

The British government attempted to deal with the conflict by calling a meeting of representatives from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the New England colonies. From June 19 to July 10, 1754, the Albany Congress, as it came to be known, met with the Iroquois in Albany, New York, in order to improve relations with them and secure their loyalty to the British.

But the delegates also declared a union of the American colonies “absolutely necessary for their preservation” and adopted a proposal drafted by Benjamin Franklin. The Albany Plan of Union provided for a president appointed by the king and a grand council of delegates chosen by the assemblies, with each colony to be represented in proportion to its financial contributions to the general treasury. This body would have charge of defense, Native American relations, and trade and settlement of the west. Most importantly, it would have independent authority to levy taxes. But none of the colonies accepted the plan, since they were not prepared to surrender either the power of taxation or control over the development of the western lands to a central authority.

British troops under the command of General Edward Braddock joined George Washington at Fort Duquesne. The British general expected to fight the way battles were fought in Europe with troops lined up on open fields and firing their weapons as they marched toward each other. The French and their Indian allies refused to fight in this manner, preferring instead to hide in the woods, donning clothes that made them difficult to see and shooting at British troops from behind the cover of trees. Though the British outnumbered the French side, the French and Indians nevertheless won the battle of Fort Duquesne, killing in the process General Braddock.

The bulk of the fighting that occured durig the French and Indian War took place along lakes George and Champlain, in the state of New York state near the Canadian border. Lake Champlain is located north of Lake George and reaches almost all the way to the city of Montreal in Canada. Both of these lakes provided the best way to move troops and supplies as few roads existed in North America at that time. As such, these lakes were of vital strategic importance so that whichever military force controlled the lakes and rivers would in turn control much of North America.

French military bases were located in the cities of Quebec and Montreal while the British had military bases along New York's Hudson River. The area between them became the war's battle ground. Following the French defeat by the British near Lake George in the last months of 1755, fighting increased and the French attempted to consolidate their hold on Lake Champlain and its surrounding area by building a new military base on the lake's southern end and named it Fort Carillon. From this position, the French would be able to control both Lake Champlain and the area needed to reach the northern part of Lake George. Designed with providing a strong defense in mind, fortifications consisted of two big walls of logs, several meters apart, the area between the walls being filled with dirt. A strong stone front was latter added. The British troops did not remain idle and themselves built a similar fort at the southern end of Lake George which they called Fort William Henry.

France sent one of its best military commanders to take command of its troops in America, the Marquis de Montcalm. Upon arrival, Montcalm proceeded to attack several British forts in 1757, among which Fort William Henry. The British commander was forced to surrender on the condition that British troops would be treated fairly. That agreement was however reneged upon by the French's Indian allies proceeded to kill possibly more than 1,000 British soldiers and settlers alike.

In 1758, a strong British force attacked Fort Carillon which was under the command of General Montcalm. Thanks to its fortifications, Fort Carillon able, despite the smaller size of its military contingent to defeat the bigger British force. The British withdrew, but renewed their attack the following year, under the command of General Jeffery Amhurst. This time, the British were successful and defeated the French. Fort Carillon was renamed Fort Ticonderoga and became an important military center in the French and Indian War. Fort Ticonderoga would later come to play an important role later America's War for Independence.

England’s superior strategic position and her competent leadership ultimately brought victory in the conflict with France. Only a modest portion of it was fought in the Western Hemisphere. With the defeat of the French in Quebec and the signing of a treaty in Paris in 1763, the French and Indian war officially came to an end. The British victorious, took control of land previously claimed by France and which stretched from the east coast of North America to the Mississippi River. Everything west of that river belonged to Spain with France giving all its western lands to Spain to keep the British out. Indians still retained control over most of the western lands, except for some Spanish colonies in Texas and New Mexico.

The end of the French and Indian War had resulted in large debt that the British Parliament decided would be repaid by a raise in taxes on the colonies, being as tehy were the primary beneficiary of the successful prosecution of the war. Taxes were imposed on a number of items, including legal documents and tea. Stamps were issued to be affixed onto the legal documents and newspapers. Beginning in 1765, protests at the taxes and stamps began to mount in the colonies.

Having triumphed over France, Britain was now compelled to face a problem that it had hitherto neglected, the governance of its empire. London thought it essential to organize its now vast possessions to facilitate defense, reconcile the divergent interests of different areas and peoples, and distribute more evenly the cost of imperial administration. In North America alone, British territories had more than doubled. A population that had been predominantly Protestant and English now included French-speaking Catholics from Quebec, and large numbers of partly Christianized Native Americans. Defense and administration of the new territories, as well as of the old, would require huge sums of money and increased personnel. The old colonial system was obviously inadequate to these tasks. Measures to establish a new one, however, would rouse the latent suspicions of colonials who increasingly would see Britain as no longer a protector of their rights, but rather a danger to them.

The Treaty of Paris which ended the French and Indian War changed the balance of power in North America. This led to changes in the American Indian trade policy that adversely affected the American Indians. Many of them united under Pontiac to fight the British as a result of these changes. Policy-makers in Great Britain were astonished at the number of American Indian victories. Without the threat of the French many British colonial settlers moved across the Allegheny Mountains. This broke an earlier treaty with the American Indians and caused conflict between the two groups. To settle troubles with the American Indians the British policy-makers in London decided to draw a line down the Appalachian Mountains and reserve the land between the line and the Mississippi River for the American Indians.

The king’s proclamation of 1763 forbade the colonial governors “to grant warrant of survey, or pass patents for any lands beyond the heads or sources of any of the rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the west or northwest,” all such territory being “for the present” reserved to the royal “sovereignty” for the use of the Indians. Without the king’s “special leave and licence,” under severe penalty private persons were prohibited from purchasing or settling on any of the lands so reserved; but “ if at any time any of the said Indians should be inclined to dispose of the said lands,” the same were to be purchased in the king’s name, at a public meeting of the Indians, by the governor or commander-in-chief of the colony in which they shall lie.

In 1772'the Earl of Hillsborough declared that the “two capital objects” of the proclamation were to confine the colonies to territory where they could be kept “in a due subjection to, and dependence upon, the mother country,” and where they would be “within the reach of the trade and commerce” of Great Britain. But there seems to be no good reason to doubt that it was really designed in good faith as a temporary expedient for securing the rights and quieting the minds of the Indians until a permanent arrangement should be made by treaty.

This action angered many British colonists, who were eager to colonize the lands west of the Alleghenies, but now faced the challenge of doing so without the protection of the British Army. Britain correctly concluded that freehold farmers west of the Alleghenies brought little revenue to the imperial coffers, and were a drain on imperial military resources. Land-hungry Americans correctly concluded that they could dispense with an empire that would not support their westward expansion. The seeds of the American Revolution were planted in the French and Indian War.

The 1992 movie "The Last of the Mohicans" provides a vision of early America, as it was during the French and Indian War, is captured in its utter brutality and beauty. Set in the 1750s during the French and Indian War, the story concerns Hawkeye [Fenimore Cooper's all purpose hero who has many names in many books], the European-born adopted son of Mohican scout Chingachgook. In the book, Cora’s mother was part “Negro,” which explains her dark complexion and raven hair. Munro accuses Heyward of racism because he prefers to marry blonde Alice over dark Cora. All this got air-brushed out of the movie. The British were recruiting colonial militia reinforcments against the French and their Indian allies. The British are arrogant and insist that the colonists owe it to their king to serve. The militia get a promise that if their homes are in danger, they will be allowed to leave, but they won’t.

Hawkeye: After seven years indentured service in Virginia, they headed out here 'cause the frontier's the only land available to poor people. Out here, they're beholden to none. Not living by another's leave.

Hawkeye: If English law cannot be trusted maybe these people would do better making their own peace with the French.

Duncan: And who empowered these colonials to pass judgement on England's policies, and to come and go without so much as a "by your leave"?

Cora Munro: They do not live their lives "by your leave"! They hack it out of the wilderness with their own two hands, bearing their children along the way!

Cora Munro: Justice? If that's justice than the sooner French guns blow the English out of America the better it will be for the people here!

Colonel Munro: You do not know what you're saying, girl!

Cora Munro: Yes I do, I know exactly what what I'm saying, and if it is sedition, than I am guilty of sedition too!

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Page last modified: 16-10-2017 12:41:14 ZULU