French and Indian War

The French and Indian War was the final major European conflict for control of North America before the American Revolution. Great Britain defeated France and its Native American allies to establish the dominance of the British Empire in the American northeast, but British economic dependence on the American colonies increased in the process.

Summary of Event

The French and Indian War was the North American part of a larger conflict fought between France and Great Britain for control of colonies in North America and India and for hegemony in Europe. The European phase of the conflict became known as the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)[Seven Years War] Both Great Britain and France claimed large territories in North America. In addition to the Thirteen Colonies Thirteen Colonies spread out along the Atlantic coast, the British British Canada claimed what is now northern Canada. The French French Canada claimed a huge section of the inner continent, stretching from New Orleans in the south to what is now Montana in the northwest and Quebec in the northeast. The French built a series of forts along the Mississippi River Mississippi River and its tributaries to defend their claims. One of these tributaries, the Ohio River, Ohio Country flowed southwest along the western frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Both French and British claimed this land. British colonists worried about a French invasion and resented the French presence, which limited western expansion. [kw]French and Indian War (May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763)
[kw]War, French and Indian (May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763)
[kw]Indian War, French and (May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763)
North America;European colonization
Colonization;Europeans of North America
French and Indian War (1754-1763)
[g]American colonies;May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763: French and Indian War[1410]
[g]Canada;May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763: French and Indian War[1410]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763: French and Indian War[1410]
[c]Colonization;May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763: French and Indian War[1410]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;May 28, 1754-Feb. 10, 1763: French and Indian War[1410]
Washington, George
[p]Washington, George;French and Indian War
Wolfe, James
Montcalm, Louis-Joseph
Pitt, William, the Elder
Pontiac (c. 1720-1769)

In 1754, 150 soldiers from Virginia, led by the twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, headed west to secure British claims by building a fort at the fork where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. When they arrived, they discovered that the French had built a fort there already, Fort Duquesne. Fort Duquesne, Pennsylvania Washington entrenched his forces at the hurriedly constructed British Fort Necessity. Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania He then attacked a small encampment of French soldiers on May 28, 1754, beginning the war. The French of Fort Duquesne struck back, and on July 3, 1754, Washington was forced to surrender Fort Necessity. He and his men were allowed to return to Virginia in return for releasing French prisoners and promising not to return to the disputed Ohio Valley territory for one year.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham saw the fall of Quebec, French Canada’s capital, on September 13, 1759, and its capture and control by the British. The battle effectively ended France’s stronghold in North America.

(Library of Congress)

As they struggled to expand their North American empires, the British and French did not consider the rights or needs of the people who had been living on the land for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. The only time Europeans took serious notice of the First Americans was when they needed allies in wartime. Both the French and the British sought and received support from some native peoples. For their part, Native Americans, by siding with one party or the other, could get access to European weapons and perhaps succeed in driving at least one group of invading Europeans from the land. Algonquians and Hurons allied themselves with the French, whom they had known mainly as fur traders over the past century and a half. The French seemed less intrusive and permanent than the British, who cleared the land for farming. The Algonquians Algonquians were, moreover, traditional rivals of those tribes allied with the Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Confederacy. By selling goods at low prices and exploiting traditional enmities, the British also were able to find native allies, including the Mohawks Mohawks, one of the most powerful Iroquois nations, who agreed to help the British against the French and Algonquians.

The war went poorly for the British at first. With thirteen separate colonial governments involved, decisions were difficult to make. Nor were British soldiers accustomed to the American landscape. In 1755, the British general Braddock, Edward Edward Braddock was badly defeated when he attacked the French at Fort Duquesne. The French and their Native American allies easily scouted out and ambushed Braddock’s troops, shooting from behind trees at the British soldiers, whose red coats made good targets. The French won a series of battles until 1757, when the tide changed.

The British had had some advantages from the beginning. There were twenty times as many British in North America as French, and the British had the most powerful navy in the world. Then, in 1757, a dynamic new leader, William Pitt the Elder, took over the British government. Pitt sent Britain’s best generals to lead the war against the French and motivated British colonists to support the war effort by offering high prices for supplies purchased in America.

A year later, the Lenni Lenapes Lenni Lenapes (Delawares), an Algonquian people living in Pennsylvania, withdrew their support from the French, leaving Fort Duquesne vulnerable to attack. The British attacked successfully and renamed the fort to honor their new leader. The city that grew on the site of the fort, Pittsburgh, still contains William Pitt’s name.

The decisive battle came in 1759, when Pitt sent General James Wolfe to attack the city of Quebec, Quebec, Battle of (1759) the French capital. If the British could take this city, they would win the war. Quebec, located at the top of a high cliff that rose steeply from the banks of the St. Lawrence River, St. Lawrence River, Canada[Saint Lawrence River] was easier to defend than to attack. The French general in charge, the Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Montcalm, Louis-Joseph de was an experienced leader, but even he was taken by surprise when Wolfe moved four thousand troops across the St. Lawrence River in small boats, found ways to scale the cliffs, and attacked in the early hours of the morning. Both generals were killed in the battle, but news of the British victory reached Wolfe before he died. This Plains of Abraham, Battle of the (1759) Battle of the Plains of Abraham was the turning point for the French, effectively ending their stronghold in North America.

When the British took Montreal, Siege of (1760) Montreal in 1760, fighting ended in North America. There was no formal peace treaty until the war between France and Prussia, Great Britain’s ally in central Europe, finally ground to a halt three years later.

Then, in the Paris, Peace of (1763) Peace of Paris (February 10, 1763), the French ceded Canada and all French lands east of the Mississippi to Great Britain. France retained the land it claimed west of the Mississippi, including the key port of New Orleans. New Orleans, Louisiana Spain, which had allied itself with France against Great Britain, was forced to give up Florida. The rights of the indigenous nations that had prior claim to all of this land were not considered.


The French and Indian War had important consequences for the early development of American history. It increased Great Britain’s needs for its North American colonies but had the opposite effect on the colonists’ needs for Great Britain. With the French gone, the need for the protection of the British military began to disappear as well. To some colonists, it seemed that the redcoats were starting to get in the way. The British Proclamation of 1763 Proclamation of 1763 forbade colonists to settle land west of a line drawn along the Appalachian Mountains. Welcomed by the followers of the Ottawa chief Pontiac, who earlier that year had brought many American Indian nations together to defend their lands against European invasion, the proclamation disappointed those colonists who had expected to benefit from land opened up by the French defeat. In effect, the proclamation had little effect in preserving Western lands for their Indian inhabitants as colonists began to push west anyway.

The war brought the colonies closer together. There had been a first effort, called the Plan of Union (1754) Plan of Union, to unite the colonies under one government. Although the Plan of Union, discussed by representatives Albany Congress (1754) of several colonies in Albany, New York, in 1754, was unsuccessful—the individual colonial governments being hesitant to give up any power—the fact that some sort of union was even discussed reflected a growing tendency to see the colonies as a unified entity distinct from the mother country, England.

Seven years of fighting on three continents and all the world’s oceans had exhausted British resources as well. War debts forced the British government to increase tax rates drastically. These rates, however, only applied to British citizens in Great Britain. British citizens in North America continued to pay relatively low taxes. To many British, it seemed only fair that the British in the colonies pay their share for the war that had made their homes safe from invasion.

The self-confidence of the colonists had grown as they helped fight a successful war. They believed they had the same rights to representative government as British citizens in Great Britain. One of these was the right to send representatives to the body of government that levies taxes. Colonists accepted taxes levied by colonial governments, where they were represented, but rejected taxes levied by the British parliament, to which they were not allowed to send representatives. British efforts to tax the colonies, despite colonial protest, thus became one of the causes for the outbreak of the American Revolution.

Further Reading

  • Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Random House, 2000. Definitive, meticulously researched, 932-page account. Anderson explains the significance of the Seven Years’ War in North America, concluding that Americans had to remove the French from their colonies before they could develop the concepts of democracy needed to eventually defy the British. Includes one hundred landscapes, portraits, maps, and charts.
  • _______. A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. This illustrated regional study reveals how average colonists experienced and affected the war.
  • Auth, Stephen F. The Ten Years War: Indian-White Relations in Pennsylvania, 1755-1765. New York: Garland, 1989. Includes Native American perspectives missing in many studies. Final chapter shows the war’s implications for later treatment of Native Americans.
  • Fowler, William M., Jr. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763. New York: Walker, 2005. Narrative account of the war, describing its causes, the incident that touched off the conflict in 1754, and the battles. Places the war in a wider European context.
  • Hamilton, Edward P. The French and Indian Wars: The Story of Battles and Forts in the Wilderness. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. The first chapters of this narrative history discuss the role played by George Washington.
  • Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years’ War in America. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. A comprehensive study by a major scholar; offers easily accessible information on all aspects of the war. Illustrations, maps, and indices.
  • Marston, Daniel. The French-Indian War, 1754-1769. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2002. Military history, focusing on the battles in the war. Traces the development of the British army and the military reforms that ultimately led Great Britain to victory.
  • Schwartz, Seymoor. The French and Indian War, 1754-1763: The Imperial Struggle for North America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. A concise and well-illustrated study that provides a thoughtful, readable overview.

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