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Overview of the French Indian Wars

by Lorine McGinnis Schulze

The French and Indian War (1754-1763)was the last of four North American wars waged from 1689 to 1763 between the British and the French, with their respective Native American and colonial allies, for domination in the New World.

Britain's victory relieved France of its North American empire, thus ending the series of conflicts, which were known collectively as the French and Indian Wars. Although the war began in America, it expanded (1756-1763) into Europe as the Seven Years' War, and into Asia as the Third Carnatic War.

The war originated in the breakdown of a three-way balance of power, in which the Iroquois Confederacy had occupied the middle ground between French and British colonies and had successfully kept both out of the Ohio Valley. This Valley was strategically important.

During the last years of King George's War (1744-1748), however, English traders had penetrated into the Ohio country and established relations with tribes that had previously traded only with the French. Also in the late 1740s, the Ohio Company began making efforts to found a settlement at the forks of the Ohio. These developments convinced the governors-general of Canada that in order to protect their own strategic interests in the American interior they would have to dominate the Ohio Valley militarily. In 1753 the French began building a chain of forts from Lake Erie to the forks of the Ohio, and there in 1754 they built Fort Duquesne. By resisting British expansion westward, France was in hopes of uniting, through this chain of forts, its Canadian empire with possessions as far south as New Orleans.

The building of French forts was something that Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia could not ignore. In 1753 he tried unsuccessfully to warn them of their intrusion into English territory; the next year he sent an armed force under the command of George Washington to expel them. The French defeated Washington's troops at the Battle of Fort Necessity (July 3-4, 1754) and sent them back to Virginia. The French and Indian War had begun.

The War

In 1755 the British general Edward Braddock was sent to America to take Fort Duquesne. In July, however, near the fort, a French and Native American force badly defeated Braddock's British regulars and colonial troops. The British won a small victory in Nova Scotia and repulsed an attack by French and Native American forces in New York at the Battle of Lake George in 1755, but these were their last victories until 1758. Meanwhile, the British government sought to impose central control on the war effort in America and to force the colonists to pay for the campaigns against Canada; these measures only alienated the Americans. The years 1755-1757 were distinguished by defeats and friction between British and colonial soldiers, while the French and their Native American allies won battle after battle.

England's poor performance ended when William Pitt came to power in 1757. During the first two years of the war, French and Native American forces had been victorious. In 1757, however, the British statesman William Pitt was given complete charge of British foreign policy and appointed the British general James Wolfe to command the troops in the New World. Pitt made victory in America his top priority and began a series of well-coordinated campaigns. Pitt also began treating the Americans as allies rather than subordinates. The result was a major reversal.

In 1758 Anglo-American forces seized the fortress of Louisbourg, the key to the Saint Lawrence River; destroyed Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario, severing the supply lines of the Ohio forts; and captured Fort Duquesne. A force under General James Wolfe defeated the French main army at Québec in 1759, and the following year General Jeffrey Amherst completed the conquest by forcing the surrender of the last defenders of Canada at Montréal.

Results of the War

The Treaty of Paris (1763) ended the French control in Canada, which went to Great Britain. France also ceded all its territories east of the Mississippi River to the British. In compensation for the territories west of the Mississippi given by France to Spain a year earlier in a secret treaty, Spain had to give Florida to the British. The war determined that English rather than French ideas and institutions would dominate North America.

In winning the war, however, the British government had doubled its national debt and acquired more territory than it could control. Attempts by British politicians to reform the administration of the empire and to raise revenue by taxing the colonies soon antagonized the colonists and eventually precipitated the American Revolution.

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Ancestry.com Databases

1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia
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The Naval Service of Canada: Its Official History
Ontarian families : genealogies of United-Empire loyalists and other pioneer families of Upper Canada
Rebellion of 1837, Upper Canada
War of 1812: Miscellaneous Canadian Records
Smith's Canadian gazetteer
The Canadian biographical dictionary

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Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead

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