ADVANCED PLACEMENT AMERICAN HISTORY

The French and Indian War

 

*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.  New Netherland was captured as part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and 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). 

 

*No land changed hands in America, but it was the first of many wars in which the Iroquois Confederation fought as an ally of Britain, shortly after the beginning of the Covenant Chain agreement, a long alliance between the British (primarily in New York) and the Iroquois, maintained through a regular stream of gifts to the Indians.

 

*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, particularly since the most likely heirs were the already-powerful rulers of France or Austria.  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 Cajuns.

 

*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 conflict.

 

*One of the few memorable outcomes of the war is that Lawrence Washington, half-brother of George, served under Admiral Vernon in the Caribbean and named his estate after his commander.  George Washington later inherited Mount Vernon.

 

*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.

 

*This was a memorable war.  At Dettingen in 1743, King George II became the last British king to lead troops in battle—and he won!  In 1744 the British anthem, ‘God Save the King’ was performed for the first time.  In 1745 the Scottish rose in rebellion and were crushed at Culloden the next year, and in Canada, 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.

 

*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 Appalachian Mountains.

 

*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 Louisiana.

 

*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 Washington.

 

*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 Pennsylvania.

 

*When Washington returned to Virginia he was sent back with more militia to re-enforce another expedition already in the Ohio Country.   They approached Fort Duquesne in May 1754, ambushed a group of French soldiers sent out to order Washington back to Virginia, and defeated them.  After the battle, one of Washington’s Indian allies killed the officer in command of the French party.

 

*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 the Cherokee) against the French and their allies (such as the Huron and the Ottawa).

 

*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.  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 Canada.

 

 

*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 knew about these preparations thanks to British spies and friendly Delaware Indians, and he tried to bring many heavy artillery pieces (including some removed from Royal Navy ships) with him through the wilderness.  This involved cutting a road 110 miles long from western Maryland through the Allegheny Mountains into western Pennsylvania.

 

*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.

 

*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, Braddock was leading about 1,300 of his men in a column (the rest were further behind with the baggage) when 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 poorly.

 

*When Braddock’s foremost forces were surprised and began to retreat (leaving behind two small cannon that the French soon captured and turned against them), Braddock did not have his other soldiers wait until he knew the situation, but had them march forward, so the two groups collided.  Soon they were tangled in confusion and the French and Indians surrounded them and slaughtered them.

 

*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 May 1756, Britain and France officially went to war, and soon their allies and colonies did as well.  In Europe, this was known as the Seven Years’ War.

 

*In some ways, though, it was the first world war--the two sides fought in Europe, but also in their colonies in North America (where it had begun), 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.

 

*In New France, the new commander-in-chief was the Marquis de Montcalm.  However, he always had to deal with lack of support from France (where King Louis XV was focused on the fighting in Europe) and conflict with the governor of New France, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, who also wanted to be commander-in-chief.

 

*The British in America had seemed to be in nearly the same indecisive position, as 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 Prime Minister of Great Britain.  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 the 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 felt forced to surrender.  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 change.

 

*Pitt planned a three-pronged attack on New France for 1758.  Louisbourg would be re-taken, Fort Carillon (which the British called Ticonderoga) at the southern end of Lake Champlain would be captured, allowing British forces to move up the lake into Canada, and another British army would march down Braddock’s Road to Fort Duquesne.

 

*However, instead of sending two regiments of regulars to America this time and raising a few local militia, Pitt called for 20,000 regulars and 22,000 American militia.  Pitt also had another advantage that he probably did not even know he had:  New France was literally starving, due to its relatively few farms, a short, poor growing season, and diminishing support from France.

 

*The first stage was the attack on Fort Louisbourg.  Not only did the British, particularly the colonists in New England, resent its return at the end of King George’s War, but it posed a constant threat to British shipping and even the colonies.  Furthermore, if the British could control it, the Royal Navy could cut off French shipping down the Saint Lawrence, starving Canada further.

 

*In June, 1758, about 12,000 British soldiers under the command of Jeffrey Amherst arrived at Cape Breton Island.  The first wave of British boats was led by General James Wolfe, a weaseley-looking, sickly fellow, but bold and daring and possibly insane—legend has it that when King George II was told that Wolfe was mad, he said, ‘I hoped he will bite some of my other generals.’

 

*Louisbourg was an impressive fortification.  However, the British, with over 12,000 soldiers badly outnumbered the 7,000 French inside the fort.  Furthermore, the defenders soon began to run out of food.  On 26 July, 1758, the French commander surrendered. 

 

*Fort Louisbourg would now serve as a staging point for attacks down the St Lawrence River on the major cities of Canada:  Quebec and Montreal.  After that campaign had begun, Fort Louisbourg was destroyed by the British Army, just in case they had to give it back to France again.

 

*To secure Lake Champlain, Pitt chose General James Abercromby to march on Fort Carillon (which the British called Ticonderoga) at the southern end of Lake Champlain with about 6,000 regulars and between 9,000 and 12,000 militia and Indians.  The French forces there were commanded by the Marquis de Montcalm, who had captured Fort William Henry the year before, but he only had about 3,600 regulars, militia, and Indians and low supplies.

 

*The French dug earthworks in rough ground outside their fort and built abatis in front of them.  Most of the soldiers who advanced on the French line were shot dead before reaching the abatis.  Those who reached it got caught in it and were shot dead there.  The very few who made it to the French earthworks were bayoneted attempting to get over them.

 

*About 1,000 British soldiers were killed and over 1,500 were wounded.  100 Frenchmen were killed and about 500 wounded.  With over 3,000 men killed or wounded on both sides, this was the bloodiest battle of the French and Indian War, and a great victory for the outnumbered, poorly supplied French.  However, in 1759, the British returned and captured the fort after Montcalm had pulled most of his men back to defend Quebec and Montreal.

 

*The third prong in Pitt’s plan was an attack on Fort Duquesne, to which he assigned 1,400 regulars and 5,000 militia and Indians under the command of General Forbes.  He cut a new road through the forests to Fort Duquesne, but attempted to train his men for fighting in the woods and dealing with ambushes.

 

*On 24 November, 1758, the French surrendered, burning Fort Duquesne before they left.  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.

 

*The City of Quebec stood on a rocky outcropping where the Saint Charles River runs into the Saint Lawrence.  Three sides of the city were protected by water and the landward side by a massive wall.  Beyond the wall was an open field known as the Plains of Abraham.  The Plains of Abraham fell down steep cliffs to the Saint Lawrence River, making them almost impossible to reach from the water as well.

 

*In the spring of 1759 the British Navy sailed up the Saint Lawrence and completely blocked Quebec off from any re-supply from Europe.  It also brought General James Wolfe and about 9,000 troops.  They soon put cannon atop the hills across the river from Quebec and began to bombard the city where Montcalm had command of about 14,000 soldiers (including Militia and Indian allies), although many of them were spread out for about five miles both east and west of Quebec and not actually in the city itself.

 

*After many skirmishes around Quebec, Wolfe was finally ready to attack the city on 13 September because he had discovered a way up the cliffs from the St Lawrence to the Plains of Abraham.

 

*Although the cliffs were steep, there was a place where they could be climbed, and Wolfe began moving men and supplies upriver to prepare for an attack at this spot.

 

*Under the cover of darkness, Wolfe’s men floated down the river in little boats, where they disembarked at 4 AM on 13 September, 1759, and climbed the cliffs.  By the time Montcalm was made aware of the attack and convinced it was real, Wolfe had over 4,000 men on the Plains of Abraham, while Montcalm was able to muster about 4,500.

 

*Montcalm chose to attack.  The French regulars and militia advanced towards the British lines, firing as they came, and hitting Wolfe in the wrist.  The British held their fire until the French were within 60 yards or closer, and then all fired at once.  This stopped the French cold.  The British reloaded, fired again, and the French began to run.

 

*Wolfe ordered a bayonet charge, and was shot twice more, in his chest and his intestines.  Montcalm was also wounded, with his leg and abdomen torn open by grapeshot.  At this point, French reinforcements arrived, but seeing they were too late, retreated to safety.  Had Montcalm waited for them, they might have surrounded and trapped Wolfe, but he did not, and the British captured Quebec, capital of New France.

 

*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.

 

*Almost exactly a year later, on 8 September, after a few days of negotiation, Governor Vaudreuil surrendered Montreal and all of Canada rather than force his people to endure a few weeks or months of starvation before their inevitable defeat.

 

*Although French Canadians were allowed to keep their homes and continue practising the Catholic faith, all French soldiers had to return to Europe and promise not to fight again in Europe or America.

 

*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?’

 

*The French still held Louisiana though, including forts in what is now Alabama, such as Toulouse and Mobile.  They and their Creek allies still threatened the southern colonies and their principal ally, the Cherokee.

 

*For protection against the Creek and the French, the Cherokee asked the British to build a fort for their people.  In exchange for promises of assistance against the French, the British agreed, and between 1756 and 1757 built Fort Loudoun on the Little Tennessee River near the mouth of the Tellico River.

 

*Some of the Cherokee who went to help the British participated in the capture of Fort Duquesne, but did not feel their help was appreciated or rewarded properly, and they went home.  Other Cherokee working alongside Virginia militia ended up fighting with them, and stole some of their horses on the way home and the Virginians killed 15 of the Cherokee in return.

 

*In return, the Cherokee attacked white settlements and killed 20 people.  Some leaders, such as Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter), wanted peace, but many more, such as Oconostota (Little Carpenter’s cousin), wanted war.  In March 1760, the Cherokee laid siege to Fort Loudoun.  On 6 August, 1760, the British surrendered.  The inhabitants (including women) were promised safe passage back to Virginia or South Carolina.

 

*They left the fort on the 9th and made camp after marching 15 miles.  Early the next morning, the Cherokee attacked.  All the officers except for John Stuart, a personal friend of Attakullakulla (who paid his ransom), several private soldiers, and a few women were killed.  The 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 to you.’

 

*In response, more British soldiers were sent to slaughter the Cherokee and burn their crops, eventually forcing them to sign a peace treaty.  The Cherokee requested that John Stuart, the only surviving officer of the Fort Loudoun Massacre, be made the king’s agent to them.

 

*By 1761 the war was nearly over in America when the new king of Spain, Charles III, a distant cousin of King Louis XV of France, agreed to enter the war on the side of France.

 

*With Spain suddenly in the war, the British colonies had to worry about attacks on North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and the Caribbean.  However, Spain had to worry about its colonies, too.  The British captured Havana and Manila.  Britain also captured French colonies in the Caribbean.

 

*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.

 

*France got back the 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 22 August, 2015.
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