UNITED STATES HISTORY
The Great Awakening and the French and Indian
*The Puritans believed they were building a City upon a Hill, but
they also believed in a declension model of history:
mankind's history was the history of his Fall, and things had
generally been getting worse since the expulsion from Eden.
Even in their Godly Commonwealth, the purity of their faith seemed
in decline and full church membership with it.
*Church membership was vital to the Puritan communities of New
England, as only (adult male) church members could vote and only
church members could have their children baptised and receive the
Lord's Supper. In such a religious society, to be outside
the church was, essentially, to be outside the entire community.
*Church membership began with infant baptism, but it did not end
there. To be admitted to full church membership, a person
had to testify to a conversion experience, a powerful moment when
he had experienced God's grace. For the first generation of
Puritans, neither of these things was hard: each had been
baptised as an infant in the Church of England, and each had
suffered persecution in England and made the sacrifices and
endured the hardships involved in travelling to the New World--in
those traumatic and emotional experiences, a person could find
evidence of some point when God's grace had been apparent and the
person had truly been converted into a visible saint.
*For the children of the first Puritans, though, it was harder to
find that miraculous moment. They had not grown up in a sink
of depravity that they had rejected nor had they suffered for
their beliefs or even made the perilous journey to the New World
to seek the freedom to worship as they saw fit. While they
had been baptised into the church by their parents, who were full
church members, many of them never were able to testify to their
own conversion, and were not full church members themselves even
though they believed in all the tenets of the Christian
faith--believing was not enough by itself, though: evidence
of salvation was required. They could attend church
services, but could not partake in the Lord's Supper, and when
they had children of their own whom they wished to have baptised,
the Puritan ministers found themselves in a quandary.
*Not only were the children of the first settlers were less likely
to have had conversion experiences, but more recent immigrants
faced the same problem, and many could not achieve full membership
in New England's churches either.
*Declining church membership (especially among men) endangered the
souls of the unredeemed as well as the stability of the community,
but admitting just anyone to the church would undermine its
purity. However, to exclude the infants of baptised but
unregenerate people seemed cruel, as well as counterproductive, as
declining church membership would lead to declining church
*As early as 1634, Pastor John Cotton allowed a grandfather to
present his grandchild for baptism on the condition that the
grandfather raise him. Later other ministers did (or
considered doing) the same thing, and a series of synods discussed
the issue, but did not reach a solution.
*In 1662, eighty ministers and laymen from most of the thirty-four
Massachusetts churches met in Boston. This synod could not
command the various congregations to obey its decisions, but they
could make strong recommendations, and their recommendation was
known as the Half-Way Covenant. Baptised non-members could
also have their children baptised (but still not receive the
Lord's Supper or vote), creating a large class of half-way church
members. It was hoped that being partial membership in the
church would eventually lead them to becoming full members, but
many of them had the same problem of demonstrating a true
conversion experience that their parents had.
*While some ministers and many older Puritans who had experienced
personal regeneration felt that this was watering down the church,
in time, church after church began to even allow full communion to
people who had not had an obvious moment of saving grace.
This kept the Puritan church large, active, and significant, but
less fervent and devout.
*In the late 1600s, many of the old standards of the Puritan
community seemed to be weakening, and even Massachusetts' own
independence was lost when it became a royal colony in 1691.
Preachers warned of the decline of society in fiery sermons of
doom known as Jeremiads. A growing merchant class also
seemed to be gaining power at the expense of small farmers, and in
general society seemed less equal and less cohesive. In the
midst of all this stress came a deadly accusation:
*Most people sincerely believed that witches did exist--they were
mentioned (and condemned to death) in the Bible, after all.
Although many educated people had doubts about how often or easily
they might be found, and were often sceptical of accusations of
witchcraft, not even they completely ruled it out, and there had
been witchcraft trials and executions in New England on a few
occasions throughout the 1600s.
*In February, 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, the daughter and niece
of Reverend Samuel Parris began to have fits, shake and scream
uncontrollably, and report that they felt like they were being
stabbed with pins. Later other young women in the village
began to show similar signs of torment.
*The first three people accused of witchcraft were a homeless
beggar named Sarah Good who did not show the Puritan ideals of
hard work and responsibility, Sarah Osborne who rarely attended
church and who had recently remarried an indentured servant, and a
slave named Tituba who was owned by Reverend Parris.
*Later other accusations were made, a total of 165, many of them
involving people who were social outcasts or involved in one of
the many feuds and lawsuits for which Salem was already infamous
as a quarrelsome town. However, as time passed, even
well-respected people were accused, undermining everyone's
confidence, for if even fully covenanted church members could be
witches, anyone could be a servant of the devil.
*Those accused of witchcraft were jailed and offered the chance to
confess. Some did confess, and even accused others of having
led them to the devil, but some refused to do so (and some who did
confess later recanted). During this time, hysteria grew.
*It took a while for a court to be held, and when it was held, no
physical evidence could be found of witchcraft. Reluctantly,
the court began to accept spectral evidence based on the testimony
of the afflicted girls about things visions they had seen or
things they had felt done to them invisibly. Although most
legal and religious authorities were sceptical or completely
opposed to this, it formed the basis of several convictions (and
when it was finally forbidden in further trials, the conviction
rate rapidly dropped).
*The trials ran until May, 1693, when enough religious and
political leaders had turned against it (particularly after the
governor's wife and sister were accused of witchcraft). In
total, nineteen people (and two dogs) were hanged and one man was
pressed to death with stones.
*To this day there are debates about the cause of the
accusations. Some people believe it was a subconscious
working out of social and political rivalries between the rich and
the poor or farmers and merchants (and accusations always seemed
to be made by members of one group against another, not against
members of one's own group). Others think it was a reaction
of fear and uncertainty as the old Puritan faith seemed to be in
decline. Some have suggested that it was briefly a way for
some young women to become the centre of attention and have the
power of life and death over an entire community. There was
once a theory, largely discredited today, that the girls had been
driven mad by eating bread made from wheat with a type of
hallucinogenic fungus growing called ergot on it. In any
event, it was probably not a conspiracy, but an hysterical
response to social, political, economic, and religious
tensions--or maybe there really were witches at work.
*A later response to the stagnation of the Puritan church, and of
religious communities across the English world, began in the 1720s
in England and spread to the colonies in the succeeding decades,
where it became the first experience that all the colonies had in
common. It was a new outburst of religious fervour known as
the Great Awakening.
*The Great Awakening began with the preaching of several
charismatic ministers who were able to reach out to people lacking
spiritual leadership. The official churches were often
sceptical of them, so they would preach outdoors, which simply
allowed even larger crowds to attend them. One of the first
and greatest of these preachers, George Whitefield, could
supposedly speak to at least 30,000 (and perhaps as many as
50,000) people before the invention of the microphone, based in
part on calculations done by Benjamin Franklin.
*The Great Awakening was a very individualistic revival, with its
great preachers proclaiming that each person must seek God's
salvation, repent of his sins, and depend entirely on God's grace
and love. Without those, humanity was doomed, but with them,
anyone could be saved.
*Jonathan Edwards warned his listeners that they were 'Sinners in
the Hands of an Angry God,' that 'God... holds you over the Pit of
Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over
the Fire... and is dreadfully provoked... and there is no other
Reason to be given why you have not dropped into Hell since you
arose in the Morning, but that God’s Hand has held you up.'
*Those who heard these great speakers felt enlivened and touched
by God. Many were overcome by the Holy Spirit and wept,
cried out, or even jerked their bodies or rolled around on the
ground. Thousands became deeply spiritual, regardless of
their denomination, although some groups, like the Baptists and
the Methodists were more open to emotionalism in their religious
expression. In fact, Methodism began as a branch of the
Church of England at this time, but eventually separated from it
and spread rapidly during the Great Awakening.
*The Congregationalists were split over the Great Awakening, with
strictly Calvinist 'Old Lights' being sceptical of the spontaneity
and emotionalism of this revival, while 'New Lights' welcomed a
revival of religious enthusiasm even if it suggested a measure of
Arminian free will.
*Some historians have even suggested that the Great Awakening's
emphasis on the individual and a certain rejection of traditional
religious leadership may have been an influence on the American
Revolution, by promoting individualism, personal decision-making,
a declining respect for authority, and as a unifying experience as
Whitefield and others preached up and down the colonies.
*In the mid-1700s, the colonies would also find a unifying
experience in a massive war with the French and the Indians.
*The English colonists in America fought against the Indians from
time to time in the 1600s, and as the Seventeenth Century drew to
a close, they were increasingly drawn into European wars.
*In 1689 the War of the League of Augsburg spread to North America
where it was known as King William’s War (after King William III,
then king of England).
*In 1701 war began in Europe over who would inherit the throne of
Spain when the deeply inbred king of Spain died without any heirs
and the great powers of Europe fought over who would control the
vast Spanish Empire. In 1702 the war spread to America,
where it was called Queen Anne’s War. The Spanish attacked
Charleston in 1703, providing some of the impetus for the later
foundation of the buffer colony of Georgia.
*On 29 February, 1704, French soldiers and their Indian allies
attacked the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Snow had
drifted up against the wooden stockade built around the town, and
the French and Indians climbed up these drifts to get over the
walls in the dead of night. 56 English men, women, and
children were killed in the Deerfield Massacre, and over 100 more
were taken captive and driven on a forced march through the snow
to Canada, where those who survived were made prisoners of the
Indians. Some were killed, some were ransomed back by their
community, and some chose to stay with the Indians.
*At the end of Queen Anne’s War, the British gained Acadia from
France and renamed it Nova Scotia. During later wars between
Britain and France the British would treat the French-speaking
Acadians badly and eventually force many of them into exile.
Many of them went to Louisiana, where Acadians became known as
*The treaty that ended Queen Anne’s War did not really satisfy
anyone in Europe, particularly because the British continued to
smuggle goods into Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. In
1731, a Spanish coastguard captain boarded the ship Rebecca,
searched it for contraband, and, upon finding it, cut off the ear
of the ship’s captain, Robert Jenkins. Seven years later,
Jenkins took the ear (which he had pickled and saved in a bottle)
to Parliament, where Prime Minister Robert Walpole supposedly
fainted upon seeing it. England was already mad at Spain, so
they declared war—the War of Jenkins’s Ear, which in and of itself
did not solve anything, because it soon became part of a larger
*In December 1740, much of Europe went to war over whether a woman
could rule an empire, when Maria Theresa of Austria inherited the
throne from her father. Britain (and many other countries)
went to war to support her against Prussia and its many
allies. When the fighting spread to America in 1744, it was
known as King George’s War.
*During the war, in 1745, New England militia besieged and
captured Fortress Louisbourg, which guarded the entrance to the
Gulf of St Lawrence and was a major base for French fishing fleets
and potentially the French navy.
*The capture of Louisbourg was a great victory for the New
Englanders, and should have been a great strategic gain for the
British Empire, but in 1748 the British government returned it to
France in the treaty that ended the war. From the point of
view of many Americans, they had fought and won a great victory
for nothing, leading to resentment against Britain.
*By the mid-1700s the British colonists in North America were
increasingly jealous of the French, and the French were
increasingly worried about the British.
*The British colonies in North America had grown rapidly since
their foundation in the early 1600s, and by 1750 they had about
1,500,000 people in them. However, they were confined to the
eastern seaboard, with no settlement and little trade west of the
*In the 1600s and 1700s the French government had done little to
encourage settlement in the New World, and had often placed many
restrictions on it. By 1750 there were about 50,000 French
settlers in North America, mostly in a few large cities such as
Quebec, Montreal, and New Orleans. The rest were traders,
trappers, and missionaries. On the whole, though, they got
along much better with the American Indians and, although few in
number, laid claim to the vast territories of New France and
*British colonists increasingly coveted France’s possessions,
particularly the rich lands of the Ohio River valley, which were
also claimed by New York and Virginia.
*Not only did this area have rich farmland and good rivers for
trade, but it was rich in furs, one of the most lucrative trade
goods in America. Furs were made into coats and other
garments, or into felt that could be made into hats.
*Aware of Britain’s desire for land in the Ohio Country, the
French began building forts in the Ohio River Valley.
*This was a problem for many prominent Virginians who had invested
in the Ohio Company, which had been created for the purpose of
claiming, selling, and settling the land of the Ohio River
Valley. Among the leaders of the Ohio Company were
Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie and Lawrence and Augustine
*In 1753, the Ohio Company sent Lawrence and Augustine’s little
half-brother George to investigate the French presence and tell
them to leave. He travelled to Fort Le Boeuf, just south of
Lake Erie and demanded the French leave. They refused and
began construction of Fort Duquesne in what is now South-western
*When Washington returned to Virginia he was sent back with more
militia. They approached Fort Duquesne in May 1754,
ambushed a group of French soldiers sent out to order Washington
back to Virginia, and defeated them.
*Knowing that many more French soldiers were stationed nearby in
Fort Duquesne, Washington ordered his men to build a stockade that
they named Fort Necessity. The French (who outnumbered
Washington about 600 to 400) attacked on 3 July, 1754, and on July
4th, Washington surrendered after losing a third of his men.
*Although Washington was defeated and sent back to Virginia, he
showed such bravery under fire (and was one of the few Virginians
to have fought the French at all) that his reputation continued to
grow, and as the war continued, he led Virginia militia in defence
of the frontier against the Indians. However, he bore a
grudge against the British who refused to recognise his colonial
rank of colonel. Many other American leaders also felt
slighted by regular British officers (who, in turn, considered
their own forces to be more professional).
*This was the beginning of the French and Indian War, which pitted
the English and their Indian allies (such as the Iroquois and
sometimes the Cherokee) against the French and their Indian allies
(such as the Huron and the Ottawa).
*In some ways, though, it was the first world war--the two sides
eventually fought in Europe (where it was called the Seven Years
War and most European countries became involved), in their
colonies in North America, in the Caribbean, and in Asia,
particularly India, where the British truly began to consolidate
their power—and it all began over furs in the Ohio River Valley.
*While Washington was building Fort Necessity, colonial leaders
from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were
meeting in the Albany Conference. Their initial purpose was
to negotiate with the Iroquois and give them gifts to make sure
they continued their alliance with Britain, or at least remained
neutral. Thirty wagonloads of presents accomplished this.
*However, while at the Conference, the delegates from the
different colonies also discussed creating a government to unify
the colonies under one President-General who would be in charge of
Indian affairs, military matters, and some aspects of finance and
trade. Benjamin Franklin was the main designer of the plan,
which was inspired in part by the Iroquois Confederation, in which
each tribe had control of its own towns while working with the
other tribes when dealing with outsiders. Franklin also
promoted the plan with what may be the first political cartoon in
American History, Join or Die. In the end, though, none of
the colonies wanted to give up any power even to be better able to
defend against the French and the Indians.
*In 1755, the British government sent Edward Braddock with two
regiments of regulars to America. When the French became
aware of these plans, they sent 3,000 French regulars to defend
*Braddock planned to return to Fort Duquesne and capture or
destroy it. The French, meanwhile, had strengthened the fort
and stationed more men there.
*Braddock led about 2,000 men, many of whom were or later became
famous. One of his wagon drivers was Daniel Boone and a
number of future British and American officers during the
Revolutionary War served with Braddock, including George
Washington. They began cutting a road 110 miles long from western
Maryland through the Allegheny Mountains into western
*Braddock’s large, slow-moving force attracted a lot of attention,
and his men in their bright red uniforms were clearly visible in
the woods. On 9 July, 1755, they encountered a force of
about 800 French and Indians (primarily Indians).
*This may have been a deliberate ambush, or it may have been a
chance meeting that the French handled well and Braddock handled
*Braddock was wounded and carried off the field. Washington
and other officers tried to rally the men, but the army was forced
to retreat. At least 500 British soldiers were killed and
left to rot—their bleached bones were still visible to other
armies passing through five years later. At least as many
more British soldiers were wounded. Fewer than 40 French and
Indians were killed or wounded.
*Braddock died four days after the battle and was buried in the
middle of the road his men had worked so hard to build (to make
sure the Indians did not dig up his body and desecrate it).
*In New France, the commander-in-chief was the Marquis de
*At first the British government vacillated between trying to
fight a limited war or a global one and could not decide what part
of the globe to focus on. That changed in 1757 when William
Pitt became Secretary of State for the Southern Department, a
powerful office that included supervision of Britain’s
colonies. He believed that the war could best be won by
focusing Britain’s energies on America. It would take a
while, though, before his efforts would pay off.
*As 1757 began, the French seemed to have all the
advantages. They had stopped almost all British advances
into French territory and had even captured some territory from
the British around the Great Lakes. Their Indian allies
raided settlements all along the frontier, killing, looting, and
taking captives, some of whom were later killed, some adopted,
some enslaved, and some tortured to death—to the Indians, torture
was both a form of public entertainment and an opportunity for a
prisoner to exhibit his bravery.
*Although the British made plans to attack Canada, they were slow
getting underway and ended up leaving the New York frontier poorly
defended in the process. One of the under-manned forts on
the frontier was Fort William Henry on the shores of Lake George
(just south of Lake Champlain).
*Fort William Henry held about 600 British regulars and 1,200
militia when Montcalm’s forces and their Indian allies (about
8,000 men in total) laid siege to it in the summer of 1757.
*After a long siege, the British surrendered. They were
given very generous treatment, allowed to march out with their
regimental colours and personal possessions, and promised safe
passage to Fort Edward.
*The next day, as the British marched south, they were attacked by
Montcalm’s Indian allies. At least 700 British soldiers and
militia were killed, wounded, or missing. Those who were
killed or wounded were typically knocked in the head with
tomahawks and war clubs or scalped.
*1757 ended badly for the British with the Massacre of Fort
William Henry. However, under William Pitt, things began to
*Pitt planned a major attack on New France for 1758.
*Fort Louisbourg was re-taken on 26 July, 1758.
*On 24 November, 1758, with the British approaching, the French
burnt Fort Duquesne and abandoned it. After its capture, the
fort was rebuilt, and renamed Fort Pitt, and later Pittsburgh.
*Having secured the colonial frontier and cut off the Saint
Lawrence River with the capture of Louisbourg, the British were
ready to strike at the heart of New France: Quebec.
*After many skirmishes around Quebec, General James Wolfe was
finally ready to attack the city on 13 September, 1759 because he
had discovered a way up the cliffs from the St Lawrence to the
Plains of Abraham that lay in front of Quebec, and in the battle
that followed, the French under Montcalm were defeated.
*Wolfe died on the field of battle. Montcalm died the next
day of his wounds. The British lost about 60 men killed and
600 wounded, the French lost 200 killed and 1,200 wounded.
Furthermore, although some battles remained, the war was
essentially over—Montreal surrendered without a fight almost
exactly a year later, on 8 September, 1760.
*Some officials back in France were shocked that Montreal had been
surrendered without a shot being fired, but King Louis XV, more
interested in the fighting in Europe anyway, was cheered up by the
philosopher Voltaire, who said, ‘After all, Sire, what have we
lost—a few acres of snow?’
*A few battles were fought in the South, too, including at Fort
Loudoun (south of modern Knoxville), which surrendered after a
long siege by the Cherokee, who promised safe passage to the
surrendering soldiers, then massacred them on their way home on 10
September, 1760. The British commander, Paul Demere, was
scalped, forced to dance, beaten with sticks, and finally had his
arms and legs chopped off. As he lay dying, they stuffed his
mouth with dirt and said, ‘You English want land, we will give it
*In response, more British soldiers were sent to slaughter the
Cherokee and burn their crops, eventually forcing them to sign a
*Finally, in 1763, the Peace of Paris ended the French and Indian
War and the Seven Years’ War.
*Britain gained Canada from France and Florida from Spain (who had
allied with France because their royal families were related).
*France got back sugar islands it lost in the Caribbean (it got to
choose between those or Canada).
*France gave New Orleans and Louisiana to Spain to make up for the
loss of Florida.
*Britain also gave Havana and Manila back to Spain.
*No borders in Europe changed.
*Britain was now master of North America, but as Britain became
more involved in the lives of the American colonists, the effects
of the War would drive them apart.
This page last updated 8 July, 2020.