Historian Fred Anderson wrote a history of the Seven Years War and entitled his work, “The War that Made America.” This is an interesting thesis given that the war ended in 1763, 13 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. And yet, it is worth taking a look at the conflict with a critical eye since Anderson’s claims are not without merit. Although the conflict itself was not about independence, the consequences of the war certainly helped push American colonists into conflict with their mother country.
In terms of the legal end of the war, Britain won and the French surrendered, but the Treaty of Paris was on paper, and reality in America was quite different. British colonists, French Catholics who found themselves in the British Empire and millions of Native Americans all had participated in the conflict, and had to adjust to the shifting realities the war had brought on.
The war also created new heroes, among them a young George Washington.
So who won the war? Was it the British and their American colonists? Or perhaps the Empire won but the colonists lost out. Did the French Empire lose while the French colonists in Canada came out ahead? And what of the Native Americans?
This is what you will need to think about. Who won the Seven Years War?
About the same time John Smith and the Jamestown settlers were setting up camp in Virginia, France was building permanent settlements of their own. Samuel de Champlain led a group of French colonists through the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to found Quebec in 1608. The fur trade led fortune seekers deeper and deeper into North America. French Jesuit missionaries boldly penetrated the wilderness in the hopes of converting Native Americans to Catholicism. By 1700, France had laid claim to an expanse of territory that ranged from Newfoundland in the Northeast, down across the Great Lakes through the Ohio Valley, southward along the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, and as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
There were profound differences between the British colonies and New France. The English colonies, though much smaller in area, dwarfed the French colonies in population. Louis XIV was a devout Catholic and tolerated no other faiths within the French Empire. French Huguenots, the dominant religious minority, therefore found no haven in New France. Land was less of an issue in France than England, so French peasants had less economic incentive to leave. The French Crown was far more interested in its holdings in the Far East and the sugar islands of the Caribbean, so the French monarchs did little to sponsor emigration to North America.
Secondary Source: Map
Colonial North America.
Unlike the English colonies where self-rule had been pursued immediately, the people of New France had no such privileges. There were no elected assemblies. Decisions were made by local magistrates on behalf of the French king. Trial by jury did not exist, nor did a free press. The French citizenry depended directly on the Crown for guidance. The English colonists depended on themselves.
In the end, despite huge claims to North American lands, the French would be overwhelmed by more numerous, self-directed subjects of Britain.
CONFLICT IN OHIO
The was between the French and British that we now know as the Seven Years War, or sometimes as the French and Indian War, was perhaps the first world war, as it was a clash between Britain and France that raged on many continents. The conflict began, however in the Ohio Valley.
The war was fought primarily along the frontiers separating New France from the British colonies. The region at the heart of the dispute was known as Ohio, but it was much larger than the state that presently bares that name. It encompassed roughly the present-day states of Ohio, eastern Indiana, western Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia.
In the 1800s, the area north of the Ohio River had been occupied by the Algonquian-speaking Shawnee. Around 1660, during a conflict known as the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois seized control of the Ohio Country, driving out the Shawnee and conquering and absorbing the Erie tribe. The Ohio Country remained largely uninhabited for decades and was used primarily for hunting by the Iroquois.
In the 1720s, a number of American Indian groups began to migrate to the Ohio Country. By 1724, Delaware Indians had established the village of Kittanning on the Allegheny River in present-day western Pennsylvania. They migrating because of the expansion of European colonial settlement into their lands in eastern Pennsylvania. With them came those Shawnee who had settled in the East. Other bands of the scattered Shawnee tribe also began to return to Ohio. A number of Seneca and Iroquois also migrated to the Ohio Country, moving away from the French and British imperial rivalries south of Lake Ontario.
Ohio was claimed by both Great Britain and France, and both colonial powers sent merchants into the area to trade. It was considered central to both countries’ ambitions of further expansion and development in North America. At the same time, the Iroquois claimed the region by right of conquest. The rivalry between the two European nations, the Iroquois, and the Ohio natives for control of the region played an important part of the outbreak of the Seven Years War in the 1750s.
THE ALBANY CONGRESS
In 1754, the British government asked colonial representatives to meet in Albany, New York, to develop a treaty with Native Americans and plan the defense of the colonies against France. Exceeding these limited objectives, the assembly adopted a plan developed by Benjamin Franklin for a unified government of the colonies led by a central executive and a council of delegates.
The plan was submitted as a recommendation by the Albany Congress, but it was rejected by the legislatures of the individual colonies, as it would remove some of their existing powers. The plan was also rejected by the Colonial Office in London. Many in the British government, already wary of some of the strong-willed colonial assemblies, disliked the idea of consolidating additional power into the hands of the colonists. Instead, they preferred that the colonists’ focus remain on the forthcoming military campaign against the French and their Native American allies.
Although rejected by both the English and individual colonial governments, the Albany Plan became a useful guide for Americans who wanted to chart a path toward independence.
Primary Source: Editorial Cartoon
Benjamin Franklin’s famous illustration encouraging colonial unity at the Albany Congress.
GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE OUTBREAK OF WAR
Few figures loom as large in American history as George Washington. His powerful leadership, unflagging determination, and boundless patriotism would be essential to the winning of the Revolutionary War in the 1770s, the creation of the United States Constitution 1780s, and the establishment of a new government as the nation’s first president in the 1790s. His influence in history, however, begins much earlier.
As time has passed, Washington’s legend has grown. Honesty — he could not tell a lie, we are told. Strength — he could throw a coin across the Potomac, the legend declares. Humility — he was offered an American crown, but turned it down in the name of democracy. Time may have made great myths out of small truths, but the contributions this one man made to the creation of the American nation cannot be denied.
George Washington was born in Virginia in 1732 to a wealthy plantation owner. Of all the subjects he studied, he loved math the most. This prompted young George to apprentice as a surveyor of Virginia lands in his youth. Washington walked miles and miles through his home state surveying land. In the process, he learned about the natural environment and developed a deep passion for his native Virginia.
The Seven Years War began in May 1754. Twenty-two-year-old George Washington led a group of militiamen over the mountains to dislodge the French from a position they occupied on land the Virginians believed was their own.
Washington gave the command to fire on French soldiers near present-day Uniontown, Pennsylvania. His decision proved foolhardy, as the French and their Native American allies far outnumbered the Virginians and forced George Washington to retreat. They rushed to assemble a makeshift fort, which they quite appropriately named Fort Necessity. In the end, though, Washington and his men had no choice but to surrender.
The next year, the Britain dispatched General Edward Braddock to the colonies to take Fort Duquesne, the French garrison at the critical point where the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio.
The French, aided by Potawatomi, Ottawa, Shawnee, and Delaware warriors, ambushed the 1,500 British soldiers and Virginia militia before they reached the fort. The attack sent panic through the British force, and hundreds of British soldiers and militiamen died, including General Braddock. The young George Washington again led a retreat back to over the mountains out of Ohio.
The campaign of 1755 proved to be a disaster for the British. In fact, the only British victory that year was the capture of Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast of Canada. In 1756 and 1757, Britain suffered further defeats with the fall of Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry along the border between Quebec and New York.
THE TIDE TURNS
The war began to turn in favor of the British in 1758, due in large part to the efforts of William Pitt, a popular Member of Parliament. Pitt pledged huge sums of money and resources to defeating the hated Catholic French, and Great Britain spent part of the money on bounties paid to new young recruits in the colonies, helping invigorate the British forces. In 1758, the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee signed the Treaty of Easton, aligning themselves with the British in return for contested land in western Pennsylvania and Virginia. Between 1758 and 1760, the British military successfully penetrated the heart of New France, with Quebec falling in 1759 and Montreal finally falling in September 1760. The French empire in North America began to crumble.
Washington returned to Fort Duquesne, this time in triumph. The British burnt the fort to the ground and founded Fort Pitt, named after the man they believed led the British to success. The fort grew as a settlement, in large part due to its location at the confluence of three important rivers, and is now the modern city of Pittsburgh.
Secondary Source: Painting
The Death of General Wolfe is a well-known 1770 painting by Anglo-American artist Benjamin West. It depicts the Battle of Quebec, also known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, on September 13, 1759. This was a pivotal event in the Seven Years’ War and decided the fate of France’s colonies.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE WAR
After the fall of Quebec and Montreal, the war in American was effectively over. The British and the British Americans could enjoy the fruits of victory. Signed in 1763, the Treaty of Paris that formally ended the conflict was harsh for the French. All French territory on the mainland of North America was surrendered to Britain. The British received Quebec and the Ohio Valley. The port of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi were ceded to Spain for their efforts as a British ally.
It should have been a time to revel in the spoils of war. Instead, the victory that temporarily brought American colonists close to their British cousins would help tear them apart.
The experience of the Seven Years War did end up bringing the British and the Americans closer together. British troops looked down their noses at the colonials. They regarded the Americans as crude, lacking culture. The pious New Englanders found the British redcoats to be profane. New Englanders did not like taking orders. There was considerable resistance to helping the British at all until Pitt promised to reimburse the colonists. American smugglers continued to trade with the French and Spanish enemies throughout the war. There was considerable tension indeed.
The American colonists did feel closer to each other. Some of the intercolonial rivalry was broken down in the face of a common enemy. The first signs of a common national identity were seen when settlers from all thirteen colonies lay down their lives together in battle. Likewise, the joy of victory was an American triumph. All could share in the pride of success. In many ways, the Seven Years War was a coming of age for the English colonies. They had over a century of established history. They had a flourishing economy. The Americans proved they could work together to defeat a common foe. Before long, they would do so again.
For France, the military defeat and the financial burden of the war weakened the monarchy and contributed to the advent of the French Revolution in 1789. For many Native American populations, the elimination of French power in North America meant the disappearance of a strong ally and counterweight to British expansion, which over the following decades would lead to their ultimate dispossession.
Although the Spanish takeover of the Louisiana territory had only modest repercussions, the British takeover of Spanish Florida resulted in the westward migration of tribes that did not want to do business with the British and a rise in tensions between the Choctaw and the Creek, historic enemies whose divisions the British at times exploited. The change of control in Florida also prompted most of its Spanish Catholic population to leave.
In addition to vastly increasing Britain’s land in North America, the Seven Years’ War changed economic, political, and social relations between Britain and its colonies. It plunged Britain into debt, nearly doubling the national debt. The Crown, seeking sources of revenue to pay off the debt, chose to impose new taxes on its colonies. These taxes were met with increasingly stiff resistance, until troops were called in to ensure that representatives of the Crown could safely perform their duties of collecting taxes. Over the years, dissatisfaction over the high taxes would steadily rise among the colonists until eventually culminating in the American Revolutionary War.
France returned to the North American stage in 1778 to support American colonists against Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. For France, the military defeat and the financial burden of the Seven Years’ War weakened the monarchy and eventually contributed to the advent of the French Revolution in 1789.
Primary Source: Government Document
A copy of the Proclamation of 1763 from the Canadian Archives.
THE PROCLAMATION OF 1763
From the perspective of the story of the United States, the most important result of the Seven Years War was the Proclamation of 1763.
The Treaty of Paris granted Britain a great deal of valuable North American land, especially the Ohio Territory, but the new land also gave rise to a plethora of problems. Despite the acquisition of Ohio, land that the American colonists had longed to take possession of, the British government tried to discourage American colonists from moving west. The British already had difficulty administering the settled areas east of the Appalachians. Americans moving west would stretch British administrative resources thin.
The Native Americans, who had allied themselves with the French during the Seven Years’ War, continued to fight after the peace had been reached. Moreover, just because the French government had legally yielded its territory to Britain did not mean the Ohio Valley’s French inhabitants would readily give up their claims to land or trade routes. Scattered pockets of French settlers made the British fearful of another prolonged conflict. The war had dragged on long enough, and the British public was weary of footing the bill. The last thing the British government wanted were hordes of American colonists crossing the Appalachians fueling French and Native American resentment.
British fears were realized when Native Americans rose up in a coordinated effort to expel British settlers and troops from area around the Great Lakes. Led by Ottawa Chief Pontiac, the uprising, sometimes called Pontiac’s Rebellion, lasted for two years and resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. The Native Americans even laid siege to Fort Pitt, albeit unsuccessfully.
The solution to the problem of the cost of administering their empire, and also to avoiding mounting conflicts with the Native American inhabitants of Ohio seemed simple. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued, which declared the boundaries of settlement for inhabitants of the 13 colonies to be the spine of the Appalachian Mountains.
For the American colonists, the Proclamation was an insult. The colonies had already begun to set their sights on expanding their western boundaries. Why restrict their appetites to expand? Surely, this was be a plot to keep the American colonists under the imperial thumb and east of the mountains, where they could be watched.
Consequently, the law was observed with the same reverence the colonists reserved for the mercantile laws. Scores of wagons headed westward. The British could not possibly enforce their decree and the Proclamation of 1763 merely became part of the long list of events in which the intent and actions of one side was misunderstood or disregarded by the other.
So, the British armies won on the battlefield, so it can easily be said that the British Empire won the war. The English colonists in America participated in the war, so they were technically on the winning side, but the outcome of the war, especially the Proclamation of 1763 was not a positive outcome from their perspective. Then again, the Americans ignored the Proclamation so perhaps it was their government, and not the colonists, who lost?
And what about the Native Americans? Did any of them win? And the French colonists, now part of the British Empire, but protected from the English-speaking Protestants of the 13 colonies by the Proclamation line?
What do you think? Who won the Seven Years War?
BIG IDEA: The Seven Years War was a global conflict that was also fought in America. English settlers participated and felt that their sacrifice and support was not appreciated by their government back in England. This was the start of the movement for independence.
New France was the French empire’s territory in North America. It stretched from what is now Canada, down through the Great Lakes region, through the Ohio River Valley and extended down the Mississippi River to Louisiana and the port city of New Orleans. Unlike the British colonies along the Atlantic Coast, very few French colonists actually lived in New France. Mostly, the French were fur trappers, trading with Native Americans for beaver furs.
The primary point of conflict between the French and British in America was the Ohio River area. American settlers from Virginia wanted to cross over the Appalachian Mountains into what is now Kentucky and western Pennsylvania but were opposed by Native Americans who did not want to lose their land and their French allies.
The Albany Congress was the first time leaders from many colonies gathered to talk about their mutual concerns. Ben Franklin proposed that they coordinate defense against the French and Native Americans, but it turned out to be too early for the colonies to work together and the plan was rejected.
George Washington played a part in the start of the Seven Years War. He led a group of Virginia militiamen across the Appalachian Mountains and fought with French troops. They were defeated. Later, Washington joined a larger force from the British army to return to what is now the city of Pittsburgh to fight the French. Again, the British and Americans were defeated, and Washington had to lead the retreat when the British general was killed.
The Seven Years War was a global struggle between Great Britain and France. In North America, most of the fighting took place in upstate New York along the border between the British Colonies and French Canada. In the end, the British won in North America by capturing Montreal and won the global war as well.
The Treaty of Paris 1763 that concluded the war gave Britain all of the French territory in North America including Canada and the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains as far as the Mississippi River.
After the war, American settlers wanted to cross the mountains into newly won territory in the Ohio River Valley. The British government did not want to have to provide military protection for these settlers against Native American attack and issued the Proclamation of 1763 banning such settlement. This made Americans who had fought in the war angry and proved to be the starting point for disagreements that led to American independence.
New France: The French colonies in America extending from the St. Lawrence River area in modern Quebec province of Canada, to the Great Lakes Region, and down the Mississippi River to Louisiana.
Ohio Valley: The region around the Ohio River including most of the modern states of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and (western) Pennsylvania
Fort Necessity: Makeshift fort build by Washington’s men after defeat by the French and Native Americans. The French build Fort Duquesne in its place and it is now the site of the city of Pittsburg.
Fort Duquesne: French fort built at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegany Rivers where they meet to form the Ohio River.
Fort Pitt: British name given to the captured French Fort Duquesne. It is now the site of Pittsburg.
PEOPLE AND GROUPS
Samuel de Champlain: French explorer who founded Quebec.
Huguenots: French Protestants
George Washington: Virginia planter, surveyor, officer in the Seven Years War, leader of the Continental Army in the Revolution, President of the Constitutional Congress and First President of the United States.
Surveyor: A person who measures land to define official boundaries
Edward Braddock: British general who led the failed attack on Fort Duquesne. He died in the battle.
William Pitt: British member of parliament who led Britain to victory in the Seven Years War.
Redcoats: Nickname for British soldiers.
Smugglers: People who illegally imported or exported products. In the colonial era this was done to avoid paying import duties and mercantilist laws.
Albany Congress: A gathering of colonial leaders in 1754 to plan coordinated defense against Native American and French attack during the Seven Years War. Some delegates, especially Benjamin Franklin, argued for a unified government for all 13 colonies, but this plan was rejected.
Fall of Montreal: Conclusive battle of the Seven Years War in America. General Wolfe’s daring attack successfully surprised the defenses of the Marquis de Montcalm at the Plains of Abraham.
TREATIES & LAWS
Treaty of Paris of 1763: Treaty that ended the Seven Years War. France gave all of its mainland North American territory to Britain including Canada and all the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
Proclamation of 1763: Royal order which forbade American colonists from moving over the Appalachian Mountains. It was passed in order to avoid conflict with Native Americans but was widely ignored