The Seven Years War was the first major world war and a critical part of American History. The war was fought in North America, Europe, and India, with Britain, Hanover, and Prussia fighting against France, Austria, Russia, and Spain. Britain and France struggled to gain land in these countries and fought for the ultimate world power. In North America, this war is referred to as the French and Indian War. As the wars in Europe, it was a major struggle between Britain and France to control land. Each country knew gaining the vast majority of the land in North America would attain the world dominance they were struggling to achieve. Each country also knew that gaining the support of the Native Americans to fight on their side would win them the war. The Natives had lived on the lands for hundreds of years before the new settlers came across the Atlantic; they knew the terrain well and were disciplined warriors.
Many small battles were fought during the 1740s between these two strong countries. Known as King George’s war, these territorial battles failed to cypher a dominant power, leading to the Seven Years War 1756-1763. In 1754, two years before the actual declaration of war, struggles began over the Ohio Territory. The French were setting up forts in the Ohio Valley, and upon hearing of this, Virginia sent George Washington, a Lieutenant at the time, to convince the French to leave. When France refused, Washington and his small army of men went to attack; they were quickly pushed back to Fort Necessity and surrendered shortly after. Washington’s clash with France began an all-out war in North America. In 1755 Britain then sent General Braddock to occupy Fort Duquesne. Braddock and his men were ambushed and killed by a group of French Canadians and Indians fighting together.
The success of these two battles helped the French and Native Americans keep the British from expanding westward from Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania for the time being. Although the war was not declared, the fighting was intense in North America; peace in Europe remained until 1756 when Britain finally declared war on France. The French tried to send reinforcements to North America across the Atlantic but were stopped short by the brute force of the Royal Navy. Even with their short supply of soldiers, the war looked good for France. The French and Native Americans captured Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario in 1756 and took Fort William Henry on Lake George in 1757.
In 1756 King George had assigned William Pitt as First Minister of Britain, knowing he would stop at nothing to capture America. The war looked bad for Britain, and they seemed to be getting crushed from all angles until two major turns of events happened. First, the Native Americans feared the French were gaining too much of an advantage in North America. At the treaty conference in Easton, PA, in 1758, they officially withdrew their support for the French. Pitt knew he did not have the workforce to send more troops to North America and deal with the colonists. He asked them to fight for the British army, and in return, Britain would accept the financial burden of the war. This increased Britain’s advantage of winning the war greatly.
Soon after the withdrawal of the Native Americans and the recruiting of Colonists, Britain captured Fort Duquesne, and after a long 2-month battle, they also captured Louisburg. The French were quickly becoming outnumbered now, with both the Colonists and the Natives fighting for Britain. The French were then also defeated at Quebec and Montreal. The fall of Montreal was the last straw for the French in North America. As the war continued in Europe, France made one final attempt to capture Newfoundland in June 1762 but failed again. France now realized that Britain was much too strong to defeat and began negotiations to end the war. The Treaty of Paris officially ended the Seven Years War in 1763. France gave up all its claims of land east of the Mississippi to Britain. They were able to keep New Orleans and negotiated their Florida territory to Spain.
At one point, France looked to be winning this war, but after losing the support of the Native Americans, they did not have a leg to stand on against powerful Britain. France ended up with only a few small islands off Newfoundland and several sugar-producing islands in the West Indies. Most Native Americans chose not to fight at all, but the ones that did fight for the British. This was a major turning point in the war for Britain; if not for the support of the Native Americans, they probably would not have won the war and the majority of the land in North America. After the war ended, British soldiers would tear through the Franco American villages across North America and force the French to swear loyalty to Britain. When the French refused, their homes and villages were burned, leaving no place to go and minimal personal belongings. Many of the French were sent to areas in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but most tried to move down to the Louisiana Territory.
The Native Americans did not realize when they fought alongside the British that soon after the war, they would take their own lands right out from under them. The Colonists also did not realize Britain would turn on them after the end of the war. Britain had agreed to take on the financial burden of the war in return for Colonial soldiers. Still, it soon after began imposing tariffs and taxes on the Colonists to regain some of the money they lost during the war. Fighting together during the war really pulled the Colonists, Native Americans, and the British together. Still, any gained camaraderie was quickly replaced by tensions and hostilities that arose shortly after the end of the war. These tensions and hostilities ultimately lead this country into the Revolutionary War, and the Colonists break away from British authority.
- Anderson, Fred
- The Crucible of War, The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America 1754-1766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)