The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763

The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763

The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763

The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763


A truly continental history in both its geographic and political scope, The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763 investigates eighteenth-century diplomacy involving North America and links geographic ignorance about the American West to Europeans' grand geopolitical designs. Breaking from scholars' traditional focus on the Atlantic world, Paul W. Mapp demonstrates the centrality of hitherto understudied western regions to early American history and shows that a Pacific focus is crucial to understanding the causes, course, and consequences of the Seven Years' War.


Histories of the Seven Years’ War, especially those written in the United States, often begin with George Washington’s blunderings in the Ohio Valley in 1754. It’s a good place to start. Competing British, French, and Indian claims to lands west of the Appalachians formed one of the principal sources of international tension in the early 1750s, and when Washington’s Virginia Regiment and Indian allies made contact with a larger French and Indian force east of the Forks of the Ohio, the sparks thrown of by the collision helped ignite a global confagration. Later in life, when immersed in adversity, Washington enjoyed the inestimable advantage of having made and recovered from serious mistakes before. Examination of 1754 Ohio Valley events clarifes the causes of a major war and the career of a prominent fgure.

Beginning with Washington’s march toward the Ohio possesses other virtues as well. One of these concerns his direction of travel and disposition of mind. When not looking precariously down into Jumonville’s Glen or nervously up at the wooded slopes around Fort Necessity, Washington was one of those eighteenth-century Anglo-Americans most notably turning his eyes to the west. Informed in part by what he saw on his 1750s treks in the Ohio country, Washington then and later intuited the signifcance of the lands stretching boundlessly away from the Atlantic and Appalachians. He saw a site of youthful adventure and precocious recognition, a source of lands from which speculation could wring a coveted fortune, and a promising fIeld for Anglo-American expansion. Farsighted as he was, for the purposes of eighteenth-century American and imperial history, Washington didn’t see the half of it. His youthful journeys took him in the right direction but covered insuffcient distance. the case of another celebrated fIgure of Seven Years’ War history suggests why.

Accounts of the Seven Years’ War in North America sometimes fnish with Robert Rogers and his frustrated dream of finding a Northwest Passage. This is

1. the outstanding modern example of a Seven Years’ War history beginning in the Ohio Valley is Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: the Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766 (New York, 2001).

2. For a modern discussion of Washington’s western inclinations, see Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (New York, 2004), 154–156, 209–210.

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