The French and Indian War was fought between England and France in the mid-1700s over which nation would control North America. The consequences of that conflict led directly to the American Revolution.
It all started in the late 1600s when these two European powers began to compete for the tremendous resources found in the new world. While the French focused on furs, mostly obtained from the native tribes, the English worked to develop colonies that could harvest many of the natural gifts of the land and send these raw materials back to England.
By the middle of the 18th century, there were about 60,000 inhabitants of New France, largely based along the St. Lawrence River. In contrast, about 1.5 million Englishmen were living in colonial America, mostly along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts in the north to Georgia in the south.
As English settlements expanded west into the Ohio Valley, they ran into French fur traders and their trading posts. Naturally, the potential loss of income due to this new competition for the area’s resources was a problem for the French and they pushed back.
Eventually, the eyes of both sides turned to the Forks of the Ohio at present day Pittsburgh where the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers meet and begin their westward flow to the Mississippi. It was clear that this meeting of the waters was the key to controlling the Ohio Valley.
The real first fight to dominate this area occurred on May 28, 1754, known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen. It was a minor skirmish but importantly introduced a great man to the world stage as this fight was initiated by a 22-yearold Lieutenant Colonel of militia named George Washington. The years 1754-1758 were not good for the British cause. Year after year and battle after battle, the English suffered humiliating losses to the French who had committed more soldiers and better commanders to the North American continent. That changed in 1758 when William Pitt was named Prime Minister in England. This brilliant statesman resolved to commit the resources required to win the contest. Soon, a string of English victories forced the French to capitulate and ask for terms.
By 1760, fighting had essentially ended in North America with England in firm control. However, this conflict continued in the Caribbean and Europe where it had been raging since 1756. Finally, in 1763, tired of war and out of money, all parties had had enough.
The Treaty of Paris of 1763 (not to be confused with the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that ended the American Revolution) awarded the Ohio River Valley and present-day Canada to the English Empire. Additionally, Spain, a late entry to the war, gave up present-day Florida to England in exchange for the British giving Havana, Cuba, captured in 1762, back to Spain. Finally, France agreed to give Spain the territory of Louisiana and the port of New Orleans to compensate them for their losses.
Actions and decisions have consequences, and this war was no different.
France, the first European nation to exploit some of the resources of North America, was essentially finished on the continent.
Worse, their finances were in a shambles. The cost of this conflict, coupled with the expenses incurred fifteen years later in helping us win our independence, brought down the French monarchy. England’s treasury had not fared much better from the war. Consequently, Parliament needed to raise revenues, and, for the first time, they decided to tax their American colonists. The Stamp Act was enacted in 1765 and was met with swift condemnation from colonial leaders.
As is often the case, poor decisions by short-sighted and stubborn politicians led to further issues with the British colonies. Eventually, this prized possession that England had fought so hard to gain, was lost when we announced our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
WHY IT MATTERS So why should understanding the French and Indian War matter to us today?
In the 1750s, American colonists were happy to be part of the mighty British Empire, with no reason to go their own way. However, things changed after the French and Indian War.
Without the depleted treasury England had because of that conflict, Parliament probably would not have enacted the Stamp Act. Without that obnoxious revenue grab, there may not have been a catalyst to ignite the colonies’ movement towards independence.
Therefore, it could be argued that were it not for the French and Indian War, America would not have gained her independence from England. It seems like all Americans should know what started us on this path.
SUGGESTED READING: The Battle for North America is one of the great books on this conflict. It was written by Francis Parkman in 1889 but is available on-line in more modern editions.
The narrative is a bit lengthy but very interesting and well worth your
PLACES TO VISIT The Fort Pitt Museum https://www.heinzhistorycenter. org/fort-pitt/visit/ located in Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, PA is a great place to visit. It is a two-story building that tells the story of Western Pennsylvania’s role in the expansion of our great nation.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is a Ford Plantation resident and West Point alumus. He has a website, americanacorner.com. Check it out.