Digital History

18th Century

The Seven Years’ War Previous Next
Digital History ID 3592



Half a century of conflict between Britain and France over North America culminated in the French and Indian War. When the war began, there were more than about 2 million British colonists in America and about 65,000 French in Canada.

Unlike the three previous Anglo-French wars, which were outgrowths of European conflicts, this one began with colonial initiatives. Fur traders from Pennsylvania and Virginia were eager to trade with Indians in the Ohio River Valley. Leading Virginia planters, who were interested in developing the region, had formed the Ohio Company, and with support of London merchants, had received a royal grant of 200,000 acres in the Ohio River valley in 1749.

The French, determined to secure the territory against encroaching British and American traders and land speculators, built a chain of forts along Pennsylvania's Allegheny River. The British ministry ordered colonial governors to repel the French advance, "by force" if necessary.

In 1753, Virginia's Governor Robert Dinwiddie, an investor in the Ohio Company, sent George Washington, a 21-year old major in the Virginia militia, to Pennsylvania to demand a French withdrawal from the forts. The French refused. In the spring of 1754, Washington returned to Pennsylvania with about 160 men. The French defeated Washington at Fort Necessity, the first battle of the French and Indian War.

Meanwhile, representatives of seven colonies met in Albany, New York, with representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy. The goal of the Albany Congress was to solidify friendship with the Iroquois in light of the approaching war with France and to discuss the possibility of an inter-colonial union. Benjamin Franklin presented a "plan of union" at the conference which would establish a Grand Council which would be able to levy taxes, raise troops, and regulate trade with the Indians. The delegates at the congress approved the plan, but the colonies refused to ratify it, since it threatened their power of taxation.

Following the surrender of Fort Necessity, Britain ordered 60-year-old Major General Edward Braddock and a combined force of 3,000 redcoats and colonial militia to attack the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne at the site of present-day Pittsburgh. French and Indian forces ambushed the expedition eight miles from the fort, killing Braddock and leaving two-thirds of his soldiers dead or wounded.

In 1756, William Pitt became the king's new chief minister. Viewing America as the place "where England and Europe are to be fought for," Pitt let Prussia bear the brunt of the Seven Years' War in Europe, while concentrating British military resources in America. He united the previously divided colonies by guaranteeing payment for military services and supplies. He also installed younger and more capable officers.

Pitt's strategy worked. In 1758, the British, with colonial forces assisting, seized Louisbourg, a French fortress guarding the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. In 1759, British forces sailed up the river, laid siege to the city of Québec for three months, and defeated French forces in September. The next year, Montreal also surrendered to the British, ending the fighting in America.

The war came to an official end in 1763, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The treaty gave Britain all French land in Canada except for two tiny fishing islands south of Newfoundland. To the south, the treaty gave Britain all of France's holdings east of the Mississippi river, which now became the boundary between the British colonies and Louisiana, which Spain received from France before ceding Florida to Britain. In effect, triumphant Britain chose to keep Canada rather than the conquered Caribbean slave colonies Guadeloupe and Martinique, which were returned to France.

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