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French and Indian War (French America)

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French and Indian War (French America)
Location North America
Result Treaty of Paris; Britain cedes all mainland North American claims

The French and Indian War is the common U.S. name for the war between Great Britain and France in North America from 1754 to 1763. In 1756 the war erupted into the world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years' War and thus came to be regarded as the North American theater of that war. In Canada, it is usually just referred to as the Seven Years' War, although French speakers in Quebec often call it La guerre de la Conquête ("The War of Conquest"). In Europe, there is no specific name for the North American part of the war. The name refers to the two main enemies of the British colonists: the royal French forces and the various Native Americanforcesallied with them. The war was fought primarily along the frontiers between the British colonies from Virginia to Nova Scotia, and began with a dispute over the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The dispute resulted in the Battle of Jumonville Glen in May 1754. British attempts at expeditions in 1755, 1756, and 1757 in the frontier areas of Pennsylvania and New York all failed, due to a combination of poor management, internal divisions, and effective French and Indian offense. After the disastrous 1757 British campaigns (resulting in a failed expedition against Louisbourg and the Siege of Fort William Henry, which was followed by significant atrocities on British victims by Indians), the British government fell, and Britain was forced to surrender in North America. The Seven years war continued elsewhere and the British won in almost every other major theatre of war.

North America in the 1750s

North America east of the Mississippi River was largely claimed by either Great Britain or France, although significant portions of territory, especially that between the Mississippi and the Appalachian Mountains, were claimed by, and under the control of, native tribes. The French colonial presence was largest in the St. Lawrence River valley, with population also in Acadia (present-day New Brunswick), Île Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island), and New Orleans, which was the seat of the French province of Louisiana, whose claims encompassed most of the Mississippi River's drainage basin, including that of the Ohio river. The French maintained a network of fur traders that penetrated deeply into their claimed territories, but did not generally assert land claims against the tribes there. British colonies ranged along the eastern coast of the continent, from Georgia in the south to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the north. Many of the older colonies had land claims that extended arbitrarily far to the west, as the extent of the continent was unknown at the time their provincial charters were granted. While their population centers were close to the coast, they had growing populations, and British fur traders and settlements were expanding inland toward, and eventually across, the Appalachian Mountains. Nova Scotia, which had been captured from the French in Queen Anne's War in 1713, still had a significant French-speaking population, primarily based on the shores of the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait. Britain also claimed Rupert's Land, where settlements of the Hudson's Bay Company were established to trade with natives in that territory.

In between the French and the British, large areas were dominated by native tribes. To the north, the Mi'kmaq and the Abenaki still held sway in parts of Nova Scotia, Acadia, and the eastern portions of the province of Canada and present-day Maine. The Iroquois Confederation dominated upstate New York.

Events leading to war

Céloron's expedition

In June 1747, Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, the Governor-General of New France, ordered Pierre-Joseph Céloron to lead an expedition to the Ohio Country with the objective of removing British influence from the area. Céloron was also to confirm the allegiance of the Native Americans inhabiting the territory to the French crown. Céloron's expedition consisted of 213 soldiers of the Troupes de la marine (French Marines), who were transported by 23 canoes. The expedition left Lachine on June 15, 1749. The expedition went up the St. Lawrence, continued along the northern shore of Lake Ontario, crossed the portage at Niagara, and then followed the southern shoreline of Lake Erie. At the Chautauqua Portage (near present-day Barcelona, New York), the expedition moved inland to the Allegheny River, which it followed to the site of present-day Pittsburgh, where Céloron buried lead plates engraved with the French claim to the Ohio Country. Whenever he encountered British merchants or fur-traders, Céloron informed them of the French claims on the territory and told them to leave. When Céloron's expedition arrived at Logstown, the Native Americans in the area informed Céloron that they owned the Ohio Country and that they would trade with the British regardless of what the French told them to do. Céloron continued south until his expedition reached the confluence of the Ohio River and the Miami River, which lay just south of the village of Pickawillany, the home of the Miami chief known as "Old Briton". Céloron informed "Old Briton" that there would be "dire consequences" if the elderly chief continued to trade with the British. "Old Briton" ignored the warning. Céloron and his expedition went no further, and eventually returned to Montreal in November 1749. In his report, which extensively detailed the journey, Céloron wrote, "All I can say is that the Natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French, and are entirely devoted to the English. I don't know in what way they could be brought back." Reports of the situation to both London and Paris were accompanied by recommendations that action be taken. William Shirley, the expansionist governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, was particularly forceful, stating that British colonists would not be safe as long as the French were present.

Failed negotiations

The War of the Austrian Succession (whose North American theater is also known as King George's War) formally ended in 1748 with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The treaty was primarily focused on resolving issues in Europe, and the issues of conflicting territorial claims between British and French colonies in North America were turned over to a commission to resolve. Britain assigned Governor Shirley and the Earl of Albemarle, the governor of the Province of Virginia, whose western border was one of the sources of conflict between the two powers, to the commission. Albemarle also served as ambassador to France. King Louis XV appointed Galissonière and other equally hard-line members to the French membership of the commission. The commission met in Paris in the summer of 1750, with the predictable result that nothing was agreed to, given the positions of the negotiators. Frontiers between Nova Scotia and Acadia in the north, to the Ohio Country in the south were claimed by both sides. The disputes also extended into the Atlantic, where both powers wanted access to the rich fisheries of the Grand Banks.

Attack on Pickawillany

On March 17, 1752, the Governor-General of New France, Marquis de la Jonquière died, and was temporarily replaced by Charles le Moyne de Longueuil. It was not until July 1, 1752 that his permanent replacement, Ange Duquesne de Menneville, arrived in New France to take over the post. Longueuil dispatched an expedition to the Ohio River area under the command of Charles Michel de Langlade, an officer in the Troupes de la Marine. Langlade was given 300 men comprising members of the Ottawa and French-Canadians. His objective was to punish the Miami people of Pickawillany for not following Céloron's orders to cease trading with the British. On June 21, the French war party attacked the trading centre at Pickawillany, killing fourteen people of the Miami nation, including Old Briton, who was reportedly ritually cannibalized by some aboriginal members of the expedition.

Marin's expedition

In the spring of 1753, Paul Marin de la Malgue was given command of a 2,000 man force of Troupes de la Marine and Indians. His orders were to protect the King's land in the Ohio Valley from the British. Marin followed the route that Céloron had mapped out four years earlier, but where Céloron had limited the record of French claims to the burial of lead plates, Marin constructed and garrisoned forts. The first fort constructed by Paul Marin was Fort Presque Isle (near present-day Erie, Pennsylvania) on Lake Erie's south shore. He then had a road built to the headwaters of LeBoeuf Creek. Marin then constructed a second fort at Fort Le Boeuf (present-day Waterford, Pennsylvania), designed to guard the headwaters of LeBoeuf Creek. As he moved south, he drove off or captured British traders, alarming both the British and the Iroquois. Tanaghrisson, a chief of the Mingo with an intense dislike for the French (whom he accused of killing and eating his father), went to Fort Le Boeuf, where he threatened action against them, which Marin contemptuously dismissed. The Iroquois sent runners to William Johnson's manor in upstate New York. Johnson, known to the Iroquois as "Warraghiggey", meaning "He who does big business", had become a respected member of the Iroquois Confederacy in the area. In 1746, Johnson was made a colonel of the Iroquois, and later a colonel of the Western New York Militia. They met at Albany, New York with Governor Clinton and officials from some of the other American colonies. Chief Hendrick insisted that the British abide by their obligations and block French expansion. When an unsatisfactory response was offered by Clinton, Chief Hendrick proclaimed that the "Covenant Chain", a long-standing friendly relationship between the Iroquois Confederacy and the British Crown, was broken.

Dinwiddie's reaction

Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia found himself in a predicament. Many merchants had invested heavily in fur trading in the Ohio Country. If the French made good on their claim to the Ohio Country and drove out the British, then the Virginian merchants would lose a lot of money. To counter the French military presence in Ohio, in October 1753 Dinwiddie ordered Major George Washington of the Virginia militia to deliver a message to the French, warning them to leave Virginia territory. Washington, along with his interpreter Jacob Van Braam and several other men, left for Fort Le Boeuf on October 31. A few days later, they arrived at Wills Creek Wills Creek (near present-day Cumberland, Maryland). Here Washington enlisted the help of Christopher Gist, a surveyor who was familiar with the area. Washington and his party arrived at Logstown on November 24. At Logstown, Washington met with Tanaghrisson, and convinced him to accompany his small group to Fort Le Boeuf.

On December 12, Washington and his men reached Fort Le Boeuf. Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, who replaced Marin as commander of the French forces after the latter died on October 29, invited Washington to dine with him that evening. Over dinner, Washington presented Saint-Pierre with the letter from Dinwiddie that demanded an immediate French withdrawal from the Ohio Country. Saint-Pierre was quite civil in his response, saying, "As to the Summons you send me to retire, I do not think myself obliged to obey it. He explained to Washington that France's claim to the region was superior to that of the British, since René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle had explored the Ohio Country nearly a century earlier, His Excellency George Washington, Washington's party left Fort Le Boeuf early on December 16, arriving back in Williamsburg on January 16, 1754. In his report, Washington stated, "The French had swept south detailing the steps they had taken to fortify the area, and communicating their intention to fortify the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.

The War

Dinwiddie, even before Washington returned, sent a group of 50 men under William Trent to that point, where in February 1754 they constructed a small stockaded fort. Governor Duquesne recalled Legardeur, but sent another 600 troupes de la Marine under Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecoeur to the area. Contrecoeur arrived at the forks in mid-April, where he allowed Trent and his company to withdraw, and then began construction of Fort Duquesne. After Washington returned to Williamsburg with his report, Dinwiddie ordered him to lead a larger force to assist Trent in his work. While en route, he learned of Trent's retreat. Since Tanaghrisson had promised him support, he continued toward Fort Duquesne, and met with the Mingo leader. Learning of a French scouting party in the area, Washington took some of his men, and with Tanaghrisson and his party, surprised the French on May 28. Many of the French were massacred, among them their commanding officer, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, whose head was split open by Tanaghrisson. Historian Fred Anderson puts forward the reason for Tanaghrisson's act (which was followed up by one of Tanaghrisson's men informing Contrecoeur that Jumonville had been killed by British musket fire) as one of desperate need to win the support of the British in an effort to regain authority over his people, who were more inclined to support the French. Following the massacre, Washington pulled back several miles and established Fort Necessity, which the French then attacked on July 3. The engagement led to Washington's surrender; he negotiated a withdrawal under arms. One of Washington's men reported that the French force was accompanied by Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo—just those Tanaghrisson was seeking to influence. When news of the two battles reached England in August, the government of the Duke of Newcastle, after several months of negotiations, decided to send an army expedition the following year to dislodge the French. Major General Edward Braddock was chosen to lead the expedition. Word of the British military plans leaked to France well before Braddock's departure for North America, and King Louis XV dispatched a much larger body of troops to Canada in 1755. The British, intending to blockade French ports, sent out their fleet in February 1755, but the French fleet had already sailed. Admiral Edward Hawke detached a fast squadron to North America in an attempt to intercept the French. In a second British act of aggression, Admiral Edward Boscawen fired on the French ship Alcide on June 9, 1755, capturing her and two troop ships.[1] The British harassed French shipping throughout 1755, seizing ships and capturing seamen, contributing to the eventual formal declarations of war in spring 1756.

British campaigns, 1755

The British formed an aggressive plan of operations for 1755. General Braddock was to lead the expedition to Fort Duquesne, while Massachusetts provincial governor William Shirley was given the task of fortifying Fort Oswego and attacking Fort Niagara, Sir William Johnson was to capture Fort St. Frédéric (at present-day Crown Point, New York), and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Monckton was to capture Fort Beauséjour on the frontier between Nova ScotiaandAcadia. Braddock led about 2,000 army troops and provincial militia on an expedition in June 1755 to take Fort Duquesne. The expedition was a disaster. At the battle of the Monongahela, Braddock was mortally wounded. Two future opponents in the American Revolutionary War, Washington and Thomas Gage, played key roles in organizing the retreat. One consequence of the debacle was that the French acquired a copy of the British war plans, including the activities of Shirley and Johnson. Shirley's efforts to fortify Oswego were bogged down in logistical difficulties and magnified by Shirley's inexperience in managing large expeditions. When it was clear he would not have time to mount an expedition across Lake Ontario to Fort Ontario, Shirley left garrisons at Oswego, Fort Bull, and Fort Williams (the latter two located on the Oneida Carry between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek at present-day Rome, New York). Supplies for use in the projected attack on Niagara were cached at Fort Bull. Johnson's expedition was better organized than Shirley's, something that did not escape the attention of New France's governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil. He had primarily been concerned about the extended supply line to the forts on the Ohio, and had sent Baron Dieskau to lead the defenses at Frontenac against Shirley's expected attack. When Johnson was seen as the larger threat, Vaudreuil sent Dieskau to Fort St. Frédéric to meet that threat. Dieskau planned to attack the British encampment at Fort Edward at the upper end of navigation on the Hudson River, but Johnson had strongly fortified it, and Dieskau's Indian support was reluctant to attack. The two forces finally met in the bloody Battle of Lake George between Fort Edward and Fort William Henry. The battle ended inconclusively, with both sides withdrawing from the field. Johnson's advance stopped at Fort William Henry, and the French withdrew to Ticonderoga point, where they began the construction of Fort Carillon (later renamed Fort Ticonderoga after British capture in 1759). Colonel Monckton, in the only real British success that year, successfully captured Fort Beauséjour in June 1755, cutting the French fortress at Louisbourg off from land-based reinforcements. The victory was tarnished by the decision of Nova Scotia's Governor Charles Lawrence afterwards to order the deportation of the French-speaking Acadian population from the area. Monckton's forces, including companies of Rogers' Rangers, forcibly removed thousands of Acadians, chasing down many who resisted, and sometimes committing atrocities. The Acadian resistance, in concert with native allies, including the Mi'kmaq, was sometimes quite stiff, with ongoing frontier raids. The only clash of any size was the 1757 Battle of Bloody Creek near Annapolis Royal.

French victories, 1756–1757

Following the death of Braddock, William Shirley assumed command of British forces in North America. At a meeting in Albany in December 1755 he laid out his plans for 1756. In addition to renewing the efforts to capture Niagara, Crown Point and Duquesne, he proposed attacks on Fort Frontenac on the north shore of Lake Ontario and an expedition through the wilderness of the District of Maine and down the Chaudière River to attack the city of Quebec. Bogged down by disagreements and disputes with others, including William Johnson and New York's Governor Sir Charles Hardy, Shirley's plan had little support, and Newcastle replaced him in January 1756 with Lord Loudoun, with Major General James Abercrombie as his second in command. Neither of these men had as much campaign experience as the trio of officers France sent to North America. French regular army reinforcements arrived in New France in May 1756, led by Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and seconded by the Chevalier de Lévier and Colonel François-Charles de Bourlamaque, all experienced veterans from the War of the Austrian Succession. Governor Vaudreuil, who harboured ambitions to become the French commander in chief (in addition to his role as governor), acted during the winter of 1756 before those reinforcements arrived. Scouts had reported the weakness of the British supply chain, so he ordered an attack against the forts Shirley had erected at the Oneida Carry. In the March Battle of Fort Bull, French forces destroyed the fort and large quantities of supplies, including 45,000 pounds of gunpowder, effectively setting back any British hopes for campaigns on Lake Ontario, and endangering the Oswego garrison, which was already short on supplies. French forces in the Ohio valley also continued to intrigue with Indians throughout the area, encouraging them to raid frontier settlements. This led to ongoing alarms along the western frontiers, with streams of refugees returning east to get away from the action. The new British command was not in place until July. Abercrombie, when he arrived in Albany, refused to take any significant actions until Loudoun approved them. His inaction was met by Montcalm with bold action. Building on Vaudreuil's work harassing the Oswego garrison, Montcalm executed a strategic feint by moving his headquarters to Ticonderoga, as if to presage another attack along Lake George. With Abercrombie pinned down at Albany, Montcalm slipped away and led the successful attack on Oswego in August. In the aftermath, Montcalm and the Indians under his command disagreed about the disposition of prisoners' personal effects. These sorts of items were not prizes in European warfare, but Indians were angered by the fact that the French troops prevented them from stripping the prisoners of their valuables. Loudoun, a capable administrator but a cautious field commander, planned only one major operation for 1757: an attack on New France's capital, Quebec. Leaving a sizable force at Fort William Henry to distract Montcalm, he began organizing for the expedition to Quebec, only to be ordered by William Pitt, the Secretary of State responsible for the colonies, to attack Louisbourg first. Beset by delays of all kinds, the expedition was ready to sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia in early August. However, French ships had managed to escape the British blockade of the French coast, and a fleet outnumbering the British one awaited them at Louisbourg. Faced with this strength Loudoun returned to New York amid news that a massacre had occurred at Fort William Henry. French irregular forces (Canadian scouts and Indians) harassed Fort William Henry throughout the first half of 1757. In January they ambushed British rangers near Ticonderoga. In February they launched a daring raid against the position across the frozen Lake George, destroying storehouses and buildings outside the main fortification. In early August, Montcalm and 7,000 troops besieged the fort, which capitulated with an agreement to withdraw under parole.

End of the War, 1757

After the Massacre at Fort William Henry, the British took it upon themselves to protect their citizens from further harm, and one by one surrendered to France. First New York surrendered, due mostly to the proximity of the battle to its major population centers. Soon after, Pennsylvania surrendered. The last of the British Colonies to surrender was south Carolina, officially doing so three days after Georgia.

In somewhat of a reward for their quick surrender, they were given lenient terms and permitted to keep their legislatures, something unheard of in any French colony and uncommon in Metropolitan France even. This would later feed the fires of the American Revolution, since that the legislatures had no power of the purse, but the colonies were not exempt from paying royal taxes.

The Structure of Quebec, Louisiana, or any part of New France remained unchanged, though they would later receive semi-democratically elected assemblies on the eve of the French Revolution.


  1. Fowler, pp. 74–75.

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