French and Indian Wars

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

French and Indian Wars

French and Indian Wars, 1689–1763, the name given by American historians to the North American colonial wars between Great Britain and France in the late 17th and the 18th cent. They were really campaigns in the worldwide struggle for empire and were roughly linked to wars of the European coalitions. At the time they were viewed in Europe as only an unimportant aspect of the struggle, and, although the stakes were Canada, the American West, and the West Indies, the fortunes of war in Europe had more effect in determining the winner than the fighting in the disputed territory itself.

To the settlers in America, however, the rivalry of the two powers was of immediate concern, for the fighting meant not only raids by the French or the British but also the horrors of tribal border warfare. The conflict may be looked on, from the American viewpoint, as a single war with interruptions. The ultimate aim—domination of the eastern part of the continent—was the same; and the methods—capture of the seaboard strongholds and the little Western forts and attacks on frontier settlements—were the same.

The wars helped to bring about important changes in the British colonies. In addition to the fact of their ocean-wide distance from the mother country, the colonies felt themselves less dependent militarily on the British by the end of the wars; they became most concerned with their own problems and put greater value on their own institutions. In other words, they began to think of themselves as American rather than British.

King William's War

The first of the wars, King William's War (1689–97), approximately corresponds to the European War of the Grand Alliance (1688–97). It was marked in America principally by frontier attacks on the British colonies and by the taking of Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, N.S.) by British colonial forces under Sir William Phips in 1690. (The French recaptured it the next year.) The British were unable to take Quebec, and the French commander, the comte de Frontenac, attacked the British coast. The peace that followed the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 was short-lived, and shortly the colonies were plunged into war again.

Queen Anne's War

Queen Anne's War (1702–13) corresponds to the War of the Spanish Succession. The frontier was again the scene of many bloody battles; the French and Native American raid (1704) on Deerfield, Mass., was especially notable. Another British attempt to take Quebec, this time by naval attack, failed. Port Royal, and with it Acadia, fell (1710) to an expedition under Francis Nicholson and was confirmed to the British in the Peace of Utrecht, as were Newfoundland and the fur-trading posts about Hudson Bay.

King George's War

Hostilities lapsed for years until trouble between England and Spain led to the so-called War of Jenkins's Ear (1739–41), which merged into the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). The American phase, King George's War, did not begin until 1744, when the French made an unsuccessful assault on Port Royal. The next year, a Massachusetts-planned expedition under William Pepperrell with a British fleet under Sir Peter Warren took Louisburg. Border warfare was severe but not conclusive. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) returned Louisburg to France, but the hostile feelings that had been aroused did not die.

The French and Indian War

Rivalry for the West, particularly for the valley of the upper Ohio, prepared the way for another war. In 1748 a group of Virginians interested in Western lands formed the Ohio Company, and at the same time the French were investigating possibilities of occupying the upper Ohio region. The French were first to act, moving S from Canada and founding two forts. Robert Dinwiddie, governor of Virginia, sent an emissary, young George Washington, to protest.

The contest between the Ohio Company and the French was now joined and hinged on possession of the spot where the Monongahela and the Allegheny join to form the Ohio (the site of Pittsburgh). The English started a fort there but were expelled by the French, who built Fort Duquesne in 1754. Dinwiddie, after attempting to get aid from the other colonies, sent out an expedition under Washington. He defeated a small force of French and Native Americans but had to withdraw and, building Fort Necessity, held his ground until forced to surrender (July, 1754). The British colonies, alarmed by French activities at their back door, attempted to coordinate their activities in the Albany Congress. War had thus broken out before fighting began in Europe in the Seven Years War (1756–63)

The American conflict, the last and by far the most important of the series, is usually called simply the French and Indian War. The British undertook to capture the French forts in the West—not only Duquesne, but also Fort Frontenac (see Kingston, Ont., Canada), Fort Niagara, and the posts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point. They also set out to take Louisburg and the French cities on the St. Lawrence, Quebec and Montreal. They at first failed in their attempts. The expedition led by Edward Braddock against Duquesne in 1755 was a costly fiasco, and the attempt by Admiral Boscawen to blockade Canada and the first expeditions against Niagara and Crown Point were fruitless.

After 1757, when the British ministry of the elder William Pitt was reconstituted, Pitt was able to supervise the war in America. Affairs then took a better turn for the British. Lord Amherst in 1758 took Louisburg, where James Wolfe distinguished himself. That same year Gen. John Forbes took Fort Duquesne (which became Fort Pitt).

The French Louis Joseph de Montcalm, one of the great commanders of his time, distinguished himself (1758) by repulsing the attack of James Abercromby on Ticonderoga. The next year that fort fell to Amherst. In the West, the hold of Sir William Johnson over the Iroquois and the activities of border troops under his general command—most spectacular, perhaps, were the exploits of the rangers under Robert Rogers—reduced French holdings and influence.

The war became a fight for the St. Lawrence, with Montcalm pitted against the brilliant Wolfe. The climax came in 1759 in the open battle on the Plains of Abraham (see Abraham, Plains of). Both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed, but Quebec fell to the British. In 1760, Montreal also fell, and the war was over. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 (see Paris, Treaty of) ended French control of Canada, which went to Great Britain.

Bibliography

The classic works in English on the conflict are those of Francis Parkman. See also W. Wood, The Passing of New France (1915); G. M. Wrong, The Conquest of New France (1918); L. H. Gipson, The British Empire before the American Revolution, Vol. IV–VIII (with individual titles, 1939–53); B. Connell, The Savage Years (1959); E. P. Hamilton, The French and Indian Wars (1962); H. Bird, Battle for a Continent (1965); G. Fregault, Canada: The War of the Conquest (1955, tr. 1969); F. Anderson, Crucible of War (2000); F. Anderson, The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War (2005).

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