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The French and Indian War
European Colonization of North America
The war, that is called The French and Indian War, was actually the last of four wars between the British and the French in North America.
- 1689 – 1697 : King William's War
- 1702 – 1713 : Queen Anne's War
- 1744 – 1748 : King George's War
- 1754 – 1763 : The French and Indian War
The four wars took place over a period of seventy-four years, and concerned the economic dominance over the New World. They were not fought by regular armies, but by small European task forces and their allies, the colonists and the Indians.
The French and Indian War
The last of these wars, the French and Indian War (1754 - 1763), was different from the previous ones.
The British saw it as an all-out war for colonial supremacy and the creation of their empire. They wanted complete control over North America, the West Indies and India.
The final victory of the British royal family (George, William, Anne and George) stripped the French of their North American dream.
The Fur Trade with the Indians
In the new continent, the French lived at peace with the local Indian tribes, and they traded extensively with them.
They had virtually no military presence, and they sought no territorial expansion by force.
They concluded alliances with the Huron, the Algonquin and the Montagnais, and promised them support against their hereditary enemies, the powerful Iroquois.
The war began after the balancing act between French, British and Indians was broken.
The Iroquois Confederacy, who were formidable warriors, managed to pit the French and the British colonies against each other.
Thus, the Iroquois were able to keep control over the strategically important Ohio Valley.
However, in 1748, British traders managed to develop strong trade relationships with the tribes, that previously only traded with the French. Similarly, the Ohio Company, a real estate fund based in Virginia, founded a colony at the fork of the Ohio River (now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
These facts convinced the French Canadian governors that they also had to occupy the Ohio Valley with a military presence.
The Direct Motive
In 1753, the French began to build a chain of forts from Lake Erie to Ohio. In 1754, they built Fort Duquesne in Ohio.
These forts were a thorn in the side of Virginia's British Governor Robert Dinwiddie, since according to his interpretation of Virginia's charter, his colony went all the way to the Pacific Ocean...
As soon as in 1753, he warned the French against any intrusion into British territory, and in 1754 he sent troops under the command of 22-year old George Washington to dislodge them.
However, the French solidly trashed Washington in the Battle of Fort Nécessité (3 - 4 July 1754), and the French - Indian Wars had begun !
In 1755, the British General Edward Braddock was sent to America to conquer Fort Duquesne. In July, French and Indian warriors defeated the British soldiers and their colonial troops.
The British subsequently achieved a small victory in Nova Scotia, and they withstood an attack by the French in the Battle of Lake George, but those were their last successes until 1758.
Meanwhile, they tried to establish a central military command over the entire American continent, and they also tried to persuade the colonists to pay for the campaigns against Canada. These measures of course only served to alienate them from the colonists.
The string of defeats ended in 1757, when the politician William Pitt came to power. Pitt made a point of honor of the conquest of America, and started a series of well-coordinated campaigns. He also appointed competent commanders, instead of the traditional "well-connected" nobles.
Even more important, for the first time the colonists were treated as allies, rather than as subordinates. The result proved to be a complete turning point !
In 1758, Anglo-American forces conquered the Fort of Louisbourg, which was the key to the St. Lawrence River. They destroyed Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario, which cut off the supply lines to the Ohio forts, and they conquered Fort Duquesne.
An army led by General James Wolfe defeated the French army at Quebec in 1759.
General Jeffrey Amherst completed the conquest in 1760, with the surrender of the last Canadian troops in Montreal.
The Treaty of Paris (1763) ended the French control in Canada, that was ceded to Britain.
In addition, France had to cede all its territories east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain.
To compensate for the areas west of the Mississippi, which France had ceded to Spain one year earlier by secret treaty, Spain had to cede Florida to Great Britain.
Indirectly, these wars had still more, and dire consequences !
For Great Britain
To achieve military victory, the British government had almost doubled the national debt . Moreover, Britain suddenly received much more territory than it could actually handle.
British politicians tried to bend the empire's administration to their will, and they completely alienated the American colonists with all sorts of new taxes .
This laid the groundwork for the American Revolution !
The French royal family avenged its humiliating defeat, with a (very expensive ...) policy of strong support for the American rebels.
This in turn led them into a financial crisis , which in 1789 culminated in the French Revolution !