The French and Indian War (1754-1763) General Summary

Download 100.58 Kb.
Date conversion17.05.2016
Size100.58 Kb.
The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

General Summary

The French and Indian War, a colonial extension of the Seven Years War that ravaged Europe from 1756 to 1763, was the bloodiest American war in the 18th century. It took more lives than the American Revolution, involved people on three continents, including the Caribbean. The war was the product of an imperial struggle, a clash between the French and English over colonial territory and wealth. Within these global forces, the war can also be seen as a product of the localized rivalry between British and French colonists.

Tensions between the British and French in America had been rising for some time, as each side wanted to increase its land holdings. What is now considered the French and Indian War (though at the time the war was undeclared), began in November 1753, when the young Virginian major George Washington and a number of men headed out into the Ohio region with the mission to deliver a message to a French captain demanding that French troops withdraw from the territory. The demand was rejected. In 1754, Washington received authorization to build a fort near the present site of Pittsburgh. He was unsuccessful because of the strong French presence in the area. In May, Washington's troops clashed with local French forces, a skirmish that ultimately resulted in Washington having to surrender the meager fort he had managed to build just one month later. The incident set off a string of small battles. In 1755, The British sent General Edward Braddock to oversee the British Colonial forces, but on his way to oust the French from Fort Duquesne he was surprised by the French and badly routed, losing his life in the process.

After a year and a half of undeclared war, the French and the English formally declared war in May 1756. For the first three years of the war, the outnumbered French dominated the battlefield, soundly defeating the English in battles at Fort Oswego and Ticonderoga. Perhaps the most notorious battle of the war was the French victory at Fort William Henry, which ended in a massacre of British soldiers by Indians allied with the French. The battle and ensuing massacre was captured for history—though not accurately—by James Fenimore Cooper in his classic The Last of the Mohicans .

The tide turned for the British in 1758, as they began to make peace with important Indian allies and, under the direction of Lord William Pitt began adapting their war strategies to fit the territory and landscape of the American frontier. The British had a further stroke of good fortune when the French were abandoned by many of their Indian allies. Exhausted by years of battle, outnumbered and outgunned by the British, the French collapsed during the years 1758-59, climaxing with a massive defeat at Quebec in September 1759.

By September 1760, the British controlled all of the North American frontier; the war between the two countries was effectively over. The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which also ended the European Seven Years War, set the terms by which France would capitulate. Under the treaty, France was forced to surrender all of her American possessions to the British and the Spanish.

Although the war with the French ended in 1763, the British continued to fight with the Indians over the issue of land claims. "Pontiac's War" flared shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed, and many of the battlefields—including Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Niagara—were the same. The Indians, however, already exhausted by many years of war, quickly capitulated under the ferocious British retaliation; still, the issue remained a problem for many years to come.

The results of the war effectively ended French political and cultural influence in North America. England gained massive amounts of land and vastly strengthened its hold on the continent. The war, however, also had subtler results. It badly eroded the relationship between England and Native Americans; and, though the war seemed to strengthen England's hold on the colonies, the effects of the French and Indian War played a major role in the worsening relationship between England and its colonies that eventually led into the Revolutionary War.


The French and Indian War, a colonial manifestation of the same forces and tensions that erupted in the European Seven Years' War, was, quite simply, a war about imperialism. The French and the English were competing for land and trading rights in North America; these strivings resulted in a great deal of disputed land, particularly that of the rich Ohio Valley. Each nation saw this territory as vital in its effort to increase its own power and wealth while simultaneously limiting the strength of its rival. Although the war itself therefore stemmed from a fairly simple motivation, its consequences were far- reaching. The English victory in the war decided the colonial fate of North America, and yet at the same time sowed the seeds of the eventual colonial revolution. After the war, the British ended their century-long policy of salutary neglect, attempting to keep the colonials under a more watchful eye. The British also raised taxes in an effort to pay for the war. Both of these postwar policies resulted in massive colonial discontent and added to the budding nationalism that eventually exploded in the Revolutionary War.

The French and Indian War also had lasting (and devastating) effects for the Native American tribes of North America. The British took retribution against Native American nations that fought on the side of the French by cutting off their supplies and then forcibly compelling the tribes to obey the rules of the new mother country. Native Americans that had fought on the side of the British with the understanding that their cooperation would lead to an end to European encroachment on their land were unpleasantly surprised when many new settlers began to move in. Furthermore, with the French presence gone, there was little to distract the British government from focusing its stifling attention on whatever Native American tribes lay within its grasp. All of these factors played into the multinational Indian uprising called "Pontiac's War" that erupted directly following the end of the French and Indian War.

Before the French and Indian War broke out, the main issue facing the two colonial powers was division of the continent. The English were settled along the eastern seaboard, in Georgia, the Carolinas, and what is now the Northeastern United States. The French controlled Louisiana in the South and, to the far North, Acadia (Nova Scotia) and Northeast Canada. The Cherokee, Catawabas, Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws inhabited the mountainous region in between the two powers and attempted to maintain their autonomy by trading with both nations. Based primarily on the travels of the explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier de Salle in 1682, France regarded itself as possessor of all disputed lands in the west, including the Ohio Valley. The English needless to say, disputed the French claim. Although the French lay claim to far more territory than the English did, the French territory was sparsely populated. Often French territory was not marked by the existence of outposts or towns but simple forts manned by only a few men. English territory, by contrast, was rapidly being populated. The pressures of a growing population, the desire for expansion, and impatience to gain access to the profitable fur trade of the Great Lakes region impelled an intense English desire to extend westward during the 18th century.

During the first half of the 18th century, the British slowly moved to expand their land base. In 1727, they constructed a trading fort, Oswego, on the banks of Lake Ontario. In 1749, the Ohio Company, a consortium of Virginian speculators, successfully petitioned the English crown for lands in the Ohio region with the purpose of building a permanent settlement. That same year the French began sending diplomats to the British, demanding that Fort Oswego be abandoned and that England recognize French land boundaries. The next year a conference was held in Paris in an attempt to sort out some of the conflicting claims. No progress was made. In 1752, the Marquis Duquesne assumed the office of governor of New France, with specific instructions to secure possession of the Ohio Valley. All of these small agitations set the stage for the French and Indian War to explode.

While the War has often been portrayed as merely a fight between England and France, the many Indian nations that lived in these regions played a pivotal role in both the instigation and the outcome of the conflict. The fight for control of the continent was a fight between three nations, and until the late 18th century it was not at all certain which one would win. The Indians, especially the Five nations of the Iroquois, were exceptionally good at playing the French and the English against each other in order to maximize their own benefits. The French and Indian War was a guerrilla war of small skirmishes and surprise attacks. The terrain was unfamiliar to both the French and the English; the involvement of the Indian nations as allies in battle made an enormous difference. In fact, some historians have hypothesized that the turning point in the war came when many of the Indian nations changed their war policies and turned their backs on the French. Faced with the greater resources of the British and lacking the advantage of their Indian allies, the French were left with little hope, and soon lost the continent.

Important People and Places

British and Colonials

Earl of Loundoun  -  Appointed commander-in-chief of the British forces in 1756, Loundoun presided over, and caused, many devastating failures for the British.

Major General Edward Braddock  -  The first general to arrive from Britain. He was killed in 1755 at the first battle for Fort Duquesne.

Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie  -  The colonial leader of Virginia in 1754, Dinwiddie was concerned about French encroachment on the Virginia border. In late 1753, he sends a 21-year-old major in the Virginia military named George Washington to tell the French to back away from the border.

William Johnson  -  Johnson began his career as the Indian agent for the colony of New York. During this period he was one of the most successful negotiators with many Indian nations, especially the Iroquois. During the war he became a war hero as well, leading the British to victory at the Battle of Lake George in 1755.

Lieutenant Colonel George Munro  -  In history, Munro met defeat as the leader of Fort William Henry in 1757. In literary history, he is a central figure in James Fenimore Cooper's classic The Last of the Mohicans.

William Pitt  -  Pitt assumed leadership of the British ministry in December 1756. His aggressive new policies for the war were a crucial part of turning the tide in Britain's favor in the latter half of the war.

Captain Robert Rogers  -  Leader of the Rangers, a rough-and-tumble force of men from New Hampshire. Operated as spies and participated in guerrilla warfare against the French to great success throughout the war.

George Washington  -  Washington began his career as a brash and careless diplomat and military leader. After being asked to resign after the Fort Necessity fiasco, he returns as a volunteer under British authority. The French and Indian War is where Washington learned how to be a leader.

James Wolfe  -  Major British general who led the British to victory in the Battle of Quebec.

French and Colonials

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm  -  Beginning in 1756, Montcalm took over as commander-in-chief of the French forces in North America. He was a much-feared and respected general who lost his life at the Battle of Quebec.

Marquis de Vaudreuil  -  In 1755, he became the governor of Canada, replacing the Marquis Duquesne.

Forts and Places

Fort George/Fort Duquesne/Fort Pitt  -  This centrally located fort in what is now Pittsburgh, PA changed hands many times during the war. It was the site of England's first disastrous battle, in which Braddock lost his life.

Fort Necessity  -  This hastily constructed fort in Great Meadows, PA was the site of George Washington's first defeat in 1754. Later in American history, it oddly came to symbolize the rugged spirit of the colonials.

Fort William Henry  -  Site of the most notorious massacre in colonial history, this fort located near the Hudson River fell to the French in 1757.

Louisbourg  -  An important city on the east coast of Canada (in present-day Nova Scotia). It was a French stronghold of arms and supplies.

Ticonderoga  -  A major French fort and city north of Albany. The British failed repeatedly to seize it; they finally succeeded in 1759.


March 15, 1744-October 18, 1748: King George's War The warm-up to the French and Indain War between France and England, also fought for domination over North America. Ends with the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and no clear victor.

1752-1753: Agitation grows Tension grows between France and England over competing land and trading claims. Minor skirmishes break out, particularly in rural areas.

November-December 1753: The message George Washington carries Virginia's ultimatum over French encroachment to Captain Legardeur de Saint-Pierre at Riviere aux Boeufs. He rejects it.

May 28, 1754: The first battle Washington defeats the French in a surprise attack. His troops retreat to Great Meadows and build Fort Necessity.

July 3, 1754: The French take Fort Necessity

July 17, 1754: Washington's resignation Blamed for Fort Necessity, Washington resigns. He will later return as a volunteer under British authority.

June 17, 1755: The British seize Acadia (Nova Scotia)

July 9, 1755: The Battle of the Wilderness British General Braddock's forces are defeated near Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania, leaving the backwoods of British territory undefended.

September 9, 1755: The Battle of Lake George British Colonel William Johnson's forces win, making Johnson the first British hero of the war.

May 8-9, 1756: Declarations of War Great Britain declares war on France. France declares war on Great Britain.

August 14, 1756: Fort Oswego The French capture this fort on the banks of the Great Lakes.

August 8, 1757: Fort William Henry The commander-in-chief of the French forces, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm takes Fort William Henry. The infamous massacre occurs, later dramatized in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.

July 8, 1758: The French take Fort Ticonderoga

July 26, 1758: Louisbourg The British seize Louisbourg, opening the route to Canada.

August 27, 1758: Fort Frontenac The French surrender this fort on Lake Ontario, effectively destroying their ability to communicate with their troops in the Ohio Valley.

October 21, 1758: British/Indian Peace The British make peace with the Iroquois, Shawnee, and Delaware Indians.

November 26, 1758: The British recapture Fort Duquesne It is renamed "Pittsburgh."

May 1, 1759: The British capture the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean

June 26, 1759: The British take Fort Ticonderoga

July 25, 1759: A Slow Route to Victory The British take Fort Niagara; the French abandon Crown Point. After these two victories, the British control the entire western frontier.

September 13, 1759: Quebec The British win the decisive Battle of Quebec. Montcalm and Wolfe, the commanding generals of both armies, perish in battle.

May 16, 1760: French Siege of Quebec fails

September 8, 1760: Montreal Montreal falls to the British; letters are signed finishing the surrender of Canada.

(circa) September 15, 1760: The functional end of the war The British flag is raised over Detroit, effectively ending the war.

1761: The British make peace with the Cherokee Indians

September 18, 1762: French attempt to retake Newfoundland fails

February 10, 1763: Treaty of Paris All French possessions east of the Mississippi, except New Orleans, are given to the British. All French possessions west of the Mississippi are given to the Spanish. France regains Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia.

April 27, 1763: Indian Wars Pontiac, the Ottowa Chief, proposes a coalition of Ottowas, Potawatomies and Hurons for the purpose of attacking Detroit.

May 9, 1763: Battle of Detroit Pontiac's forces lay siege to Detroit. That summer, his allies destroy forts at Venango, Le Boeuf and Presque Isle.

July 1763: Smallpox Men of the garrison at Fort Pitt infect besieging chiefs with blankets from the smallpox hospital. Soon faced with an epidemic, the Indians retreat.

October 31, 1763: Pontiac capitulates at Detroit Indian power in the Ohio Valley is broken.

Early Battles and Fort Necessity


In 1753, French forces began to build a series of Forts along the Allegheny River in Ohio territory, impinging upon land claimed by Virginia in its charter of 1609. Robert Dinwiddie, the Virginia's Lieutenant Governor, sent George Washington, a 21-year-old major, to warn the French captain Legareur de Saint-Pierre of his troops' trespass. On his way to deliver Dinwiddie's message, Washington attempted to enlist the help of a large group of Ohio Indians, with no success. Once he did arrive, the message was ignored; the French refused to recognize the Virginia charter. Though he returned to Virginia with nothing to show for his trip, Washington was nonetheless promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and, in the spring of 1754, given the mission of removing the French from the Ohio region.

Because of the powerful presence of the French, who had completed their string of forts along the Allegheny, Washington was unsuccessful in is attempt to build a fort near Pittsburgh. Then, at dawn on May 28, 1754, a Mingo Indian named Tanaghrisson who had agreed to scout for Washington spotted a French patrol stalking Washington's men. Tanaghrisson showed Washington how to surprise the French; in the ensuing attack the French commander Jumonville was killed. That the French would retaliate was obvious, and Washington's men retreated to Great Meadows, PA, where, against the advice of their Indian guides, they hastily threw up a stockade, nicknamed Necessity. The Indians, disgusted, abandoned Washington and his small contingent of Virginia militiamen. Sure enough, the French outnumbered him and took the fort easily on July 4, 1754.

This battle proved a catalyst in the deteriorating relationship between the English and the French. In a famous affadivit, the French claimed that Jumonville had been "assassinated." The English insisted that this word be translated as Jumonville's "defeat." The battle thus precipitated a war of propaganda right along with the physical battles that were to follow.

Washington returned to Virginia on July 17 and gave an account of the battle at Great Meadows to the Virginia council. The council blamed him for most of the failure. Humiliated, Washington resigned his position, though he later returned to battle as a volunteer under General Edward Braddock.


In the years leading up to 1753, the English had far less territory than the French. English settlements clustered between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic coast, though many colonies had charters granting them land west of the mountains. French settlements, though more sparsely populated covered far more land, originating out of fur-trading outposts, extended through the interior of the continent, as far north as Quebec, as far south as New Orleans, and all the way to St. Louis in the west. The French hoped to keep the British pinned between the mountains and the ocean. The British, alternatively, desperately wanted to expand westward, as a speculative outlet for their growing population and because they wanted further access to the profitable fur trade. Competing land claims and disputes over encroachment had been going on between the French and the English for almost a hundred years and through three minor wars, by the early 1750s, tensions had begun to swell once more.

Virginia was a particularly crowded territory and could not expand, since it was hemmed in on all three sides by French territory and natural obstacles. Robert Dinwiddie had no illusions about the circumstances his colony faced: he expected his message to the French to meet with the failure that it did. He did not, however, anticipate Washington's tremendous miscalculation the following spring.

Though George Washington later gained fame as a war hero, he cut his teeth during the French and Indian War—and, like most newcomers, he failed miserably. It was his difficult experience during the French and Indian, some argue, that helped to make him the general he eventually became. Interestingly enough, though, even Washington's early failures have come to take on a heroic cast in American history. After Washington's great success in the Revolutionary War, Fort Necessity came to stand as a metaphor for the rugged colonial spirit. That metaphor persists even today, although historians have proven that the fort was little more than a few logs lashed together to surround Washington's hapless army.

The Failure of General Braddock


Soon after the capitulation of Fort Necessity, the British crown and Parliament learned that 78 French troops had been deployed to attack the British fort Oswego in Canada. Parliament responded by allocating more money to the colonies for the purpose of funding an expanded militia. They also sent British regiments to the colonies. In February 1755, the first British general to ever set foot in the colonies, Edward Braddock, arrived in Virginia.

Braddock was a general in the tradition of British generals, well versed in European warfare and completely ignorant of the possibilities and necessities of New World warfare. Soon after reaching shore, Braddock crafted a three-pronged strategy for defeating the French. The Massachusetts regiments were sent to reinforce the defenses at Oswego, with the expectation that they would then go on to capture Fort Niagara on the south shore of Lake Erie. Colonel William Johnson was assigned to capture Fort Frederick at Crown Point, on the banks of Lake Champlain. Braddock himself was to take Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania.

The first battle after arrival of Braddock actually had nothing to do with Braddock's plan. In May and June of 1755, about 2,000 militiamen moved into French controlled Acadia (now Nova Scotia), and quite easily brought about the fall of the region in May and June of 1755. Many of the battles were small and almost uncontested, as the region was sparsely occupied. Some of the forts were won after a few days of musket fire, without any direct conflict between the troops. The governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, sent about 6,000 Acadians, some half of those living in the region, to the colonies after the battle. Quite a few of these Acadians settled in New Orleans, where they became known as "Cajuns" and created an earthy, rich culture of their own in the United States. For the French, the loss of Acadia certainly stung, but it was no great tragedy; Acadia had little strategic value.

The first significant battle of 1755 was Braddock's battle for Fort Duquesne. Despite the fact that the British outnumbered the French by two to one, 2,200 men to 1,000 men, the French won in a colossal rout. In approaching the fort, Braddock arranged his men to cross the Monongahela River in columns, thereby allowing the French to easily ambush the British forces while using the surrounding trees as cover. In all, the British lost 977 men to the French's 9. Braddock was also killed. The British disaster would have been even worse had the French, shocked by their easy victory, decided to pursue the retreating army.

When news of Braddock's defeat reached the regiments approaching Fort Oswego, morale sank and there were many desertions. The attack on Fort Niagara was deferred until the next year, and the troops reinforcing Oswego were left with the prospect of facing an invigorated and more-experienced French army. The loss at Fort Duquesne sent the British forces into a tailspin from which they did not quickly recover; a three-year period the British termed "the years of losing."


The story of General Edward Braddock's defeat can be interpreted as a lack of cultural knowledge. Braddock's fighting style was suited to the plains of England and Europe, where columns of men in red jackets marching in an intimidating line towards the enemy was designed to create the image of an impenetrable force. In Europe, this strategy worked. However, the regions in which the French and Indian War took place were not plains; the battles of the war took place in mountains, forests, and fierce wildernesses. Trees, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and hills twisted the landscape, making straight-on combat virtually impossible and highly unlikely. The type of battle most suited to this natural landscape was not Braddock's style, but rather sniping gunfire from the cover of trees, ambushes, surprise attacks, and guerrilla warfare. One of the primary reasons the French were able to hold an advantage in the war for four years despite being outnumbered and underfunded, was their tactical understanding of the landscape, and their ability and willingness to act on that tactical understanding. The French owed a great deal of their understanding to their Indian allies, who taught them invaluable things about fighting in the American landscape.

he example of Braddock demonstrates how far the British were in the early stages of the war from comprehending the realities of warfare in the colonies. It was only after Lord Pitt took charge of the army and reorganized it according to the necessities of the colonies that the British began to turn the tide of the war.

Undeclared War


Despite General Edward Braddock's massive failure and the unrest of the regiments at Fort Oswego, there was good news for the British in 1755. William Johnson's troops had a surprising victory at Crown Point on Lake Champlain, taking Fort Frederick's. Johnson, an Irish immigrant, emerged as the first hero of the war and set himself on a quick rise to fame and historical importance.

One of the reasons for Johnson's success was due to his renowned ability to negotiate with the Indians. While George Washington had failed abysmally in his attempt to procure the help of tribes near Fort Necessity, Johnson recruited allies from the Mohawk and Iroquois to accompany his colonial troops. Included in his forces was Captain Robert Rogers, a 23-year-old recruit from New Hampshire who went on to lead the Rangers. Johnson's forces approached Crown Point in early September. On September 8, the English forces surrounded the French and attacked from behind a breastwork of trees and overturned wagons. As the French advanced, the British climbed over the breastwork for hand-to-hand combat; the French fled in disarray. Johnson, who was wounded in the battle, performed a feat that was not to be repeated until 1758—defeating a French army with a colonial army unfortified by British professionals. Johnson received a baronetcy for his troubles.

All during the year of 1755 the British colonial forces suffered a lack of support (and, perhaps more importantly, funding) from both the colonies and the crown. The colonies were reluctant to provide funding for a war that they felt, perhaps rightly, was not their own. After all, it was Britain who had bullied the French for more territory. The British crown, meanwhile, was reluctant to send money to the colonies for war when catastrophes like Braddock's continued to take place. A similar scenario took place on the French side, though with perhaps even more neglect. The French crown had less money to send their colonies, and France's attention was in Europe, where Prussia was becoming increasingly antagonistic and was on the verge of invading Saxony in 1756, setting off the Seven Year's War.


William Johnson's role as an Indian leader made a crucial difference in both his ability to recruit allies and his ability to lead a successful battle against the French. Without a doubt, Britain had a more difficult time crafting successful Indian policy and getting the Indians to cooperate as allies in war than did the French. This can be attributed, in large part, to a difference in colonial policy on behalf of the French and the English. In general, the British policy towards the Indians was to make them into Englishmen, to "reduce them to civility." The British thought the Indians were hopelessly arrogant, savage, and pagan. These beliefs led to a general feeling of cultural superiority that affected all of their relations with the Indians. They were eager to convert the Indians to Protestant Christianity, change their customs, and induct them into the British way of life. Often they were so adamant about the superiority of the British way of life that they did not listen to the Indians on practical matters, like fighting the French in the American wilderness.

Though the French were no more humane towards the Indians, they were traditionally much less interested in altering the history and cultures of the peoples they encountered. (This can also be seen in comparisons of French and British colonial history around the world.) They certainly believed in the superiority of the French way of life, and they did all they could to convert the Indians to Catholicism, but in their relations with the Indians they left room for a sort of cultural blending to take place. For example, if the Indians were more likely to believe in Catholicism when they could also worship their own idols as "saints," the French were happy to encourage them. As such, the French were usually more successful at making Indian allies and negotiating with the Indians. This lent them a crucial advantage in war.

Declared War and French Dominance


The years 1756 and 1757 brought three things: the arrival of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, newly appointed commander-in-chief of the French forces in North America, declarations of war by the two mother countries, and a string of French victories in forts along the Northeast frontier.

While General Edward Braddock's defeat at Fort Duquesne was offset by William Johnson's victory at Crown Point, 1756 and 1757 brought nothing but bad news for the English. With the arrival of Montcalm in March 1756, an exceptionally talented strategist and warrior, the French forces gained a new level of professionalism, savvy, and strength. The British, meanwhile, were disorganized and fighting among themselves. Conflicts between British officers and colonial militiamen were common, culminating in the summer of 1756, when the regiments headed to Crown Point were upset by a small "mutiny."

After almost two years of battles, England and France finally declared war on each other in May 1756. The declaration brought an influx of funding colonies and the arrival of even more British troops. The Earl of Loundoun was appointed commander-in-chief of the British troops in America, but he shortly proved himself as inept as Braddock in the all-important areas of Indian policy and frontier battle strategy. It was under Loundoun's command that the "mutiny" of colonial militiamen exploded, and it was under his command that the British suffered some of the worst defeats of the war.

One of most devastating of these defeats was the fall of Fort Oswego on August 14, 1756. The loss of the fort shocked the British, though in hindsight it's fall seems unsurprising. The fort was devastated by long periods of neglect. The surrounding tribes were already hostile to the British, and Montcalm swayed them further to the French side by spreading a rumor of plunder as a reward for all Indians who came to fight. The fort offered little resistance, and it fell to the French easily. This was an important strategic gain for the French, as it offered them control of Lake Ontario and access to all of the provisions and equipment that had been painfully transported to the fort.

The "mutiny" at Crown Point was another example of British failure to think clearly regarding colonial policy. Loundoun humiliated colonial officers by placing ceilings upon their rank, announcing that a regular British captain would outrank even the highest-ranking colonial. Loundoun caused further consternation by ordering that the troops be incorporated into a single body. His intention was clearly to fortify the colonial troops with British men; the colonial men did not take kindly to the implicit assumption of their inferiority. When Loundoun's orders met with resistance, he denounced the colonials as mutinous and sent many of them home.


Both England and France resisted declaring war on each other for as long as possible. To the mother countries, war meant expense, and colonies were meant to be pure profit—a declaration of war would cut into their budgets and make the colonies less profitable, possibly for years to come. The French and English were willing to wage an undeclared and even partially neglected war in North America. However, when Prussia invaded Saxony in 1756, triggering a European war, called the Seven Year's War in which France, Sweden, Russia, and Austria-Hungary sided against the Prussians and English, the pressure became too great: France and England declared war on each other. The Seven Year's War has been called the first modern world war: it encompassed several continents and three separate names. There were campaigns not just in North America (The French and Indian War), but Europe (Seven Year's War), India (Third Carnatic War), Africa, and the Caribbean. Other European countries, including Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Spain were also drawn into the conflict.

Montcalm and Loundoun had incredibly different approaches to war, and this explains the general pattern of French success and English failure over the first two years of declared conflict. Montcalm was flexible enough to adapt his own strategies to the North American continent, wise enough to sway Indian nations over to the French cause, and brutal enough to use campaigns of terror and massacre on both civilians and militias. Loundoun, on the other hand, was loutish and unwilling to budge on important issues like Indian policy and battle strategy. His openly condescending behavior toward the colonial troops shows how far out of touch most of the British were with life in the colonies, and underlines conflicts to come between the mother country and its American colonies.

The Massacre at Fort William Henry


The fall of Fort William Henry and the ensuing "massacre" of the surrendered English on August 8, 1757 is one of the most famous incidents in American history. As dramatized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans , the fall of the fort was an incredible tragedy of epic proportions, an illustration of the nobility of the British and the savagery of both the French and the Indians, and an example of brutal primal rage. The real picture is more complicated.

On August 2, 1757 Major General Daniel Webb learned of a concentration of French forces preparing to attack Fort William Henry, which was on the southern end of Lake George along the route to Montreal. With the poor foresight typical among the British officers up to that point in the war, Webb decided to retreat, leaving Lieutenant Colonel George Munro in charge. When Munro, who was left to defend the fort with 2,300 men (only 1,600 of whom were fit for battle) learned that Louis-Joseph de Montcalm was preparing to attack the fort with over 7,000 men, he appealed to Webb for reinforcements. Though Webb had a good number of ready and able reinforcements at his side, he refused Munro's request, and sent back a letter advising Munro to settle on the best possible terms. Amazingly, Munro held out against the French for four days. But the odds were virtually impossible, and he finally capitulated on August 9.

The British troops were disarmed as a condition of surrender, and made to march from the fort. As the inhabitants of the fort streamed out, the Ottawa, Abenaki, and Potawatomi Indians who fought with the French fell upon the British. The massacre began with the helpless—the wounded and sick men that had been in the fort's hospital and were carried out last. Women and children, most likely families of the soldiers, were also murdered. Other victims included black and mulatto servants, Indian allies of the British, and retreating soldiers who were in sight when order broke down.

While the Indians attacked, the French did nothing to stop the massacre or go to the assistance of those who were being slaughtered. Montcalm excused his behavior with the following words: "I have been obliged here to gratify the Indian nations, who will not leave without me, and am obliged to pass my time with them in ceremonies as tiresome as they are necessary." Montcalm did attempt to restore hostages that the Indians carried off, and he was successful at rescuing many of them.

The number of casualties of the massacre continues to be disputed. It is certain that the French underestimated the death toll, and the English wildly overestimated it, both for propaganda purposes. Contemporary historians normally place the number at over 200, with over 300 captives taken.


The massacre at Fort William Henry became a vital part of American history, though Hawthorne's version often took precedence over the real facts. The massacre also became a cornerstone of colonial propaganda against the Indians, much the way the Battle of the Alamo was used to justify the ##Mexican War# {history/american/mexicanwar}# in 1846. While the massacre at Fort William Henry is less problematic than the Alamo, the "villains" of Fort William Henry had clear reasons for their behavior.

When the French recruited the Ottowas, Potowatomis and Abenakis to fight in the battle for the fort, they promised them the opportunity to plunder the fort after the battle was won. This clause was crucial to the Indians because a number of devastating forces—-including smallpox and starvation brought on by the disruptions of European settlers and the war—made every opportunity to get food, supplies, and money crucial for their survival. Indians were not usually paid by either the British or the French, except in gifts of rum, blankets, clothing, and trade goods. Depending on the Indian nation, "plunder" might be interpreted as including the opportunity to gather scalps from the enemy. As they had at Oswego, the French usually turned their backs while the Indians engaged in their scalping.

But at Fort William Henry, the French made other plans. In their negotiations with the British as to rights of surrender, they allowed the British to remove most of their personal belongings and goods from the fort. No Indians were present at these negotiations. As the troops filed out of the fort with all of their supplies, the Indians grew infuriated. The British were leaving with their only spoils of war, and it appeared as though the French had deceived them. The Indians reacted violently, by attacking the helpless sick and wounded at the end of the train, and chaos quickly broke out.

The Indians who seized scalps from the sick at the back of the train were indeed punished brutally for their actions—the scalps were infected with smallpox, which was transferred to the Indians and their communities, further weakening the Indians. But both the British and colonials used the massacre for years after the war as an example of the "savagery" of the Indians and a justification for seizing their lands. The truth, unfortunately, isn't quite so simple.

British Ascension (1758)


In December 1756, William Pitt became the leader of the British ministry. He adopted aggressive new policies that had a crucial effect on the latter half of the war. One of those policies was, in October 1757, to recall the Earl of Loundoun as commander-in-chief of British forces in North America.

The first battle of 1758 was, nonetheless, a failure for the British. They failed to take the Fort at Ticonderoga, despite having a force of 16,000 men to the French's 3,500 troops. The battle was a disaster, due mostly to a lack of British leadership. The only British allies to emerge from the battle with any credibility at all were Robert Rogers' Rangers, who were rapidly gaining fame and success for their skill at scouting, spying, and employing guerrilla tactics against the French.

Pitt's new tactics soon began to take hold, however, and, after Ticonderoga, things quickly began to change for the British. On July 26, 1758, the British finally captured Louisbourg after many attempts. This victory opened the route to Canada. Just a month later the British achieved another victory by taking Fort Frontenac on the shores of Lake Ontario, and thereby cutting off the ability of the French to communicate with their troops in the Ohio Valley. In November, the British captured Fort Duquesne, the site of Braddock's disaster and death. Duquesne was renamed Fort Pitt, after the new English leader, and eventually became known as Pittsburgh, PA.

With Pitt at the helm, England finally began to take advantage of its huge advantage in supplies and manpower, and the tide of the war quickly turned. In May 1759, the British captured the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Guadeloupe was a wealthy, sugar-producing island and the French would certainly want it back in any peace negotiation—a chip the British planned to use for their advantage. They followed this victory with the seizure of Ticonderoga in June and Fort Niagara in July. The French abandoned their post at Crown Point shortly after, leaving the whole of the western frontier to the British.


Unlike previous British generals and rulers, William Pitt did not attempt to force the colonies to comply with British policy by waving the rights of the mother country in their faces. Instead, he asked for their cooperation, and he got it. He also made it clear in court that the way to win the war was not merely by defending the British's existing territory, but by striking at the heart of the French empire and attacking the possessions the French held most dear.

Pitt's policies were aided by a change of heart among a number of the Indian nations. Many abandoned their alliances with the French; some of them going so far as to fight against the French. In October 1758, the British made peace with the Shawnees, the Delaware, and the enormous Iroquois nation. Both the British and the French had for years coveted making an alliance with these three powerful Indian nations. Although all three refused to take an integral role in the fighting, their favor surely boosted the profile of the English with other Indian nations

Battle of Quebec


After the French abandoned Crown Point, the British controlled the western frontier. However, the French strongholds were further north, in Quebec and Montreal. These were also the French cities and forts that were most heavily supplied, funded, and protected.

William Pitt emphasized the importance of gaining Quebec in assuring outright British victory; he gave the assignment of conquering the city to famed general James Wolfe. Wolfe and Vice-admiral Charles Saunders organized a team of ships and infantry to besiege the city. The battle began in June 1759 and lasted for three months. The ships ascended the St. Lawrence flawlessly and held out against massive French assaults of fire and cannon.

Despite the romantic glaze that hangs over the Quebec campaign, it was a desperate struggle that frequently became brutal. Wolfe, like Montcalm, was not immune to terrorizing the civilian population, and one of his first orders to scouting parties was to "burn and lay waste the country." Louis-Joseph de Montcalm responded with equal brutality, threatening the frightened civilians with "the savages" when they meekly appealed to him for surrender.

Because Quebec was so mighty and heavily fortified, Wolfe was forced to starve the French out for two and a half months. The British forces were not large enough to completely surround the city and cut off its supplies; though French food and materiel were rapidly dwindling they were still enough to keep the soldiers alive.

Finally, on September 13, Wolfe landed a small host of soldiers in the middle of the night at l'Anse au Foulon, upstream of the city. Sheer luck played as much a role as skill in this success—Wolfe was able to fool a sentry and a general by speaking French and gathered the rest of his troops for the invasion. Montcalm was so disoriented by this bizarre turn of events that he made many mistakes in defending the city. First, he gathered his troops at the wrong place—downstream of the city, in a place called Beaumont. When they finally caught up to the British, Montcalm ordered them to charge instead of waiting for reinforcements. The battle lasted only fifteen minutes and both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed.

After the capture of Quebec, the rest of Canada quickly fell. The French attempted a brief counter-siege from May 11-16, 1760, but quickly gave up. Montreal capitulated in September 1760, and the British General Amherst and the French Marquise de Vaudreuil signed letters of capitulation that finished the surrender of Canada. On or around September 15, the British flag was hoisted over the city of Detroit, effectively ending the war.


The victory at Quebec can be attributed to many factors. Although Quebec was heavily defended, the overall position of the French was extremely weak. They had lost many of their Indian allies. The army was strained to the limit after years of fighting against the greater resources of the British. British victories at Fort Duquesne and Niagara cut off French communication with the west, leaving the forces at Quebec without reinforcements of either men or supplies. All of this combined with James Wolfe's tactics of terror made the siege brutally effective.

It helped that Quebec's landscape was not twisted and wild like America's. The British soldiers could exercise their disciplined techniques of columns and volley fire without the threat of sniping and ambush that had worked so well for the French in the American colonies. Wolfe was also fortunate to be aided by several unflappable and highly skilled officers, including Saunders, who held up the pillars of the final battle.

After the fall of Quebec, the rest of the war was almost an afterthought. The French forces had been completely demoralized by a string of defeats, and the British were in position to dominate both the West and Canada. After a feeble attempt to win back Quebec, and a brave attempt to hold out against the British at Montreal, the French capitulated and turned their attention to gaining the best treaty possible.

A Tenuous Peace (1760-63)


After the surrender of Canada in 1760, the war was effectively over in North America. Nonetheless, fighting continued in other parts of the world for the next two years and small skirmishes—especially Indian raids—occasionally broke out in the colonies and along the Canadian border.

Despite this, the French and Indian War ended French political influence on the North American continent, a fact underscored by the Treaty of Paris, signed at the end of the Seven Year's War, in February 1763. As part of the negotiations for this treaty, France regained its wealthy sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean that had been lost to the British during the fighting—Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia. With the exception of New Orleans, France surrendered all of its North American possessions east of the Mississippi to the British. All possessions west of the Mississippi were given to the Spanish.

Although the British won the war with the French, the British still faced pressing colonial problems that the Treaty of Paris only aggravated. The Indians in particular were angered by the provisions of peace that left little room for their concerns. One of the reasons they agreed to fight—on either side of the war—was to ensure that they would retain the sole rights to their land. Instead, the exhausted Indians were faced with the immediate encroachment of British speculators, traders, and settlers.

Disaffected and impoverished, a host of Indian nations organized in April 1763 under the leadership of an Ottawa chief named Pontiac. The forces included Ottawas, Chippewas, Potawatomis, Hurons, Shawnees, and Delawares. On May 9, 1763, the allies laid siege to Fort Detroit. That summer, they proceeded to destroy forts at Venango, LeBoeuf, and Presque Isle. They also attacked forts at Niagara and Pittsburgh.

The British reacted immediately and brutally. Their tactics included both ruthless bloodshed (Commander-in-chief of the British forces, Jeffrey Amherst, encouraged soldiers to "Put to death all that fall into your hands") and deception (the soldiers at Fort Pitt spread smallpox among the Delawares by presenting them with a "gift"—infected blankets from the hospital nearby). Their tactics weakened the Indians and forced Pontiac to capitulate Fort Detroit on October 31, 1763.

With the end of Pontiac's war, the fight for control over the North American empire east of the Mississippi was officially over, though small battles with the Indians continued for years. Their fear of "foreigners", both French and Indian, subsided, the British turned their attention to the colonies. Having spent so much time, money, men to keep the colonies, England was now determined to keep the colonies in line and make them as profitable as possible. To ensure that they attained these goals, the British gave up their longstanding policy of salutary neglect, and instituted harsh policies and high taxes for the colonials. England's harsh treatment of the colony's after 1763 had precisely the opposite of its desired result: instead of making the colony's profitable, it made them increasingly angry, and eventually ed to another uprising—the Revolutionary War, which exploded just thirteen years later.


What really won the French and Indian War? On the surface, it seems that the British won out bulk rather than skill. It is certainly true that the French were more clever strategists and better at recruiting the Indians to their cause. But the British outnumbered them, and the British had greater material resources to devote to the war. In the end, what won the war was not the guerrilla warfare that dominated as the chief strategy of battle. It was the large battles—Louisbourg, Fort Duquesne, Quebec—that made all the difference. Even when the British lost major battles to the French, as they did at Ticonderoga and the first battle at Fort Duquesne, they killed French soldiers that were not easy to replace. By overwhelming the French with sheer numbers, the British weakened their overall fitness for war and managed to eventually exhaust French resources.

The Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War but not the issues that caused it: specifically, land encroachment. The only difference was the enemy that remained after the war ended. After the French had been removed from the North American continent, the British turned their attention to fighting the Indians for their lands. Like the French, the Indians fought back, but faced almost certain defeat because of their limited supplies, manpower, and the general lack of cohesion between Indian tribes.

The French and Indian War failed to solve another important problem: the growing estrangement between England and its colonies on the Atlantic. It was the hope of many that fighting a common enemy would pull England and its colonies together. But it did just the opposite. Living in close quarters with the British, subjected to constant humiliation and orders from British authorities, the colonials became even more aggravated at British arrogance and flagrant greed. After the war, the heavy taxes Britain levied on the colonies to pay for the war only made the colonials angrier.

And so the French and Indian War led to more wars, one with the Indians and one with the colonials. But it brought an imperialist conflict between France and Britain to an end and decided which country would have control over the North American continent, both in history and in cultural impact.

Study Questions

1) Discuss the importance of Indian policy in regards to the French and Indian War. How did alliances with the Indians alter the course of the war?

Answer for Study Question 1

Indians played a crucial war in both battle and the overall course of the war. Their assistance was the main reason why the outnumbered French were able to win so many early battles and hold out against the English for seven years. When they abandoned the French over inter-allied conflicts, the French defenses quickly collapsed.

2) How did the French and Indian War prepare the colonists for the American Revolution?

Answer for Study Question 2

Serving in the British forces during the French and Indian War had a twofold effect on the colonists: it trained many of their future leaders, including George Washington, and it heightened the conflict between the British and the colonists by making their differences clear.

3) What were the land pressures that led to the French and Indian War?

Answer for Study Question 3

The British population was rapidly growing and finding it difficult to remain in the colonies on the Atlantic coast. In addition, for reasons of speculation, power, and immediate wealth, both the French and the English were eager to expand their territory into the Ohio Valley.

Discuss the importance of landscape in crafting battle strategy for both the French and the English.

What was the significance of the Battle of Quebec, both in terms of securing victory for the British and for demoralizing the French forces?

How did the French and Indian War heighten the conflict between Britain and the American colonies?

Discuss the effects of "Pontiac's War" and its implications for further conflict between the British and the Indians.

Why were the British unable to attract and retain Indian allies for much of the war?

What was the significance of the "massacre" at Fort William Henry? How was this event used by the British and the American colonists to justify brutality against the Indians?

Discuss the elements of successful (and unsuccessful) policy among different English leaders: Braddock, Wolfe, the Earl of Loundoun, Pitt. What worked and what didn't work?

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page