“A Prequel to The French and Indian War”
“A Prequel to The French and Indian War”
When we think of colonial America prior to the Revolutionary War, it is very hard to not think about the conflicts that eventually led to this monumental event. One of these conflicts was the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years War as known in Europe), a monumental affair that would solidify British rule in North America and see our first president gain prestige for his military service during the war. This war saw colonial forces drafted en masse against a French adversary that had secured critical alliances with several Native American tribes. Of course, most historians already know about the course of the war and how the war ended, but the causes and motivations for the war can still be examined. How could such a conflict occur in the colonies in the first place? This author argues that The French and Indian War was already set to happen as a variety of military and political factors had already taken hold in colonial North America, with the construction of fortifications, tensions between the British and French, and disputed colonial borders directly paving a path to war.
Prior to 1753, North America existed in a sort of “flux”, there were several areas of territory between the English colonies and the French colonies that were largely “disputed”. Both the French and British had territorial claims across the region, along with some very conflicting claims (some of which most notably being in the Ohio valley). To the British, the French occupation of such territories was a slight against the British Crown, while to the French, the British had no right to claim territories that were seen as “French”. This territorial dispute was one of many between the French and the British, as both nations had already been in a series of on-and-off conflicts between each other, with one of the more notable conflicts being the war of Spanish succession just a few years prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian War. Relations between the two were far from warm and both sides had quite a bit to lose in the Americas (particularly the French), such as the fur trade and other resources that needed to be protected.
For the 1700s onward in North America the French had worked with the Native Americans to exploit the fur trade. Unwilling to give concessions to the other side, the French began constructing a series of fortifications across disputed territories inside the Ohio valley to both protect this trade and clearly define French influence in the region. This of course drew the ire of the British, who were none too pleased with the presence of French fortifications in their territory. The colonial governors felt great unease with the presence of these fortifications; one of the more notable governors was Governor Horatio Sharpe of Maryland. “The French it seems claim to the very Fountain Heads of Monongahela, Youghyoghgyina & all the Streams flowing into Ohio or Mississippi, so that their Pretensions extend to a great number of Acres within this Province which I am afraid no Person will be prevailed on to take up till the French be obliged to relinquish the Forts they have already built on those Rivers. Pensilvania will lose a vast quantity of Land if their incroachments are not suppressed & prevented”.
These fortifications were a major issue for the British, and Governor Sharpe was not at all happy with their presence. The British had already laid claim to much of the areas in dispute, and the lure of the fur trade along with the other resources that could be exploited in the Ohio valley were areas of concern for the Crown. This, however, was just one factor behind the outbreak of the war. For much of the early 1700s the French had worked with the Native Americans in this region to exploit the fur trade, which at the time was an extremely profitable market for those European powers that had access to it. This had led to the French crafting alliances with native powers to ensure that their trade stayed undisturbed. The British recognized this, and as a counter effort to French influence, tried to form alliances with the Iroquois and other Native tribes that were against the French for a variety of reasons. A notable example of this at work can be found in Governor Dinwiddie’s correspondence to the Iroquois. The correspondence stated:
“I rec’d by the Hands of Mr. A. Mountour, the three Belts of W[ampum], w’ch You desired to be ret’d at the Congress at Albany. The French Invading Y’r hunting Grounds on the Ohio, took up all my Time to prevent their settling there, and agreeable to Y’r desire, to assist and protect Y’r F’ds and Allies on y’t river, w’ch I have to the utmost of my Power on this pres’t Invasion of the French and their Ind’s done, and [I] am always ready to help any of the Tribes of Ind’s y’t are in Amity and F’dship with You. I now return the above three Belts of Wampum, and desire to assure You y’t I shall, on all occasions, be glad to keep the Chain of F’dship between us bright, and to live in brotherly Love and F’dship with You, our Allies, while the Sun and Moon gives Us Light. In testimony of the Truth thereof, I present You with this Belt of Wampum.”.
By aligning themselves with friendly native peoples, both the French and British had access to groups of people that could prove to be vital allies should tensions erupt into conflict. Dinwiddie like many other leaders in the area pushed for Native cooperation. This only served to escalate tensions between the two powers. All these grievances combined would finally lead to the British sending an expedition to the French demanding their withdrawal, and a young George Washington was one of the few survivors of this tragic affair.
So, when we look at the fortifications mentioned in the previous paragraphs along with the trade competition (along with the less than amicable British response), it is pretty to see why exactly the British would send a force to eject the French from the contested Ohio valley. This would all finally lead to Colonel Washington receiving the following correspondence:
“WHEREAS, the Fr. have unjustly invaded H. M’y’s Lands on the Ohio, and have sent flying Parties of Fr. and Ind’s to rob and murder our back Settlers to the Westw’d, w’ch the Legislature of Y’s Dom’n hav’g seriously taken into their Considerat’n and voted Money for the Protect’n of our Frontiers and for conduct’g the necessary Expedit’n to drive the Fr. from the Ohio. In Consequence thereof I have granted Comissions for rais’g sixteen Compa’s of Men to be form’d into a Regim’t. The Com’d of w’ch Regim’t, together with all the Forces that now are or may be employ’d in the Co’try Service, being given to You. You are, as soon as possible, to use Y’r utmost Endeavours to compleat the s’d Regim’t by send’g the officers to recruit in the different Counties of y’s Dom’n, as You shall see most convenient, leav’g six to do Duty with the Men who remain at F’t Cumb’l’d…”
The British finally had enough with the French in the Ohio valley. Orders of mobilization had begun and General Edward Braddock’s army marched to demand that the French leave the region. Years of tensions seen in Europe were finally about to come to a head in the Americas, and from a colonial perspective the battle lines had already been drawn. Closing a chapter of colonial history and opening a new one, the French and Indian War began.
So, in conclusion, the path to war between the French and British in the colonies had already been laid out by a mixture of political and economic factors. The ambiguity as to who owned the disputed Ohio valley and other territories, along with the construction of fortifications and the declining relationship between the protestant British and the Catholic French set up what was to become the French and Indian War. By looking at “why” the war happened (in the colonies at least) we can finally gain a better understanding of the dynamics that led to the war between these two great powers.
 William Browne, Editor., Correspondence of Governor Horatio Sharpe, Volume I. 1753-1757 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society 1888)
 R.A. Brock, editor., The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Volume I. Pg. 312. (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1883)
 Jared Sparks, editor., The Writings of George Washington, Volume II. Pages 184-186. (Boston: Charles Tappan, 1846)
William Browne, Editor., Correspondence of Governor Horatio Sharpe, Volume I. 1753-1757 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society 1888)
R.A. Brock, editor., The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Volume I. Pg. 312. (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1883)
Jared Sparks, editor., The Writings of George Washington, Volume II. Pages 184-186. (Boston: Charles Tappan, 1846)
Anderson Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. London: Faber & Faber, 2000. Print.
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