As the English colonies grew and their population increased, the Americans expanded – moving towards the western frontier of the colonies. Here, they came in contact with the French. Both the French and English claimed the valuable Ohio River Valley and by 1754, these conflicting claims led to war. The way the war was fought and the decisions made during the war by the British would have long-term consequences for the American colonies. The French and Indian War in the 1750’s is one of the root causes of the American Revolution in the 1770’s.
The people living in the English colonies are 2 inches taller than their European counterparts. They live longer, have lower infant mortality rates and thus, have bigger families (8 children, on average). What is driving the better health, compared to Europe? More room in American towns and cities – people aren’t (yet) packed in together as tightly as they are in Europe. Almost every family has access to land to plant gardens and this means better food (and more of it). North America is full of wildlife – more meat for the colonist’s tables. More food, better living conditions translates into better health for the colonists. As the population of the colonies increases, the colonists will need more land – and they begin to look westward, to the disputed Ohio River area, claimed by both England and France to find the land they need.
A quick word on statistics: the normal distribution or “bell curve” describes how almost every biological attribute is distributed. When we say that the colonists were two inches taller on average than their English counterparts, we mean the middle of that bell curve is shifted two inches to the right. One thing to watch out for when talking about “averages” – in a normal distribution, the numerical average (the mean) is equal to the most common result (the mode) – but if a distribution is not normal, then the mean and the mode are not equal. For example, when speaking of average life expectancy, the high infant mortality rates of colonial times skews that distribution and makes the average lifespan much lower than the most common lifespan.
The real goal is who will control Europe and Britain and France are the two main nations trying to dominate and control Europe. To accomplish this goal, they fight wars – and wars cost money. That money comes from their colonies. For the British, the money comes from things like Virginia tobacco. For the French, it comes from beaver pelts. The more colonial land Britain or France control, the more money they will have to fight their wars and the better chance they will have of controlling Europe. Every time Britain and France fight in Europe, their colonists in North America also fight, to try to take valuable land away from the other.
The primary area of dispute between the British and French in North America was over the Ohio River Valley (also known as the “Ohio River Basin”). This area comprises the modern states of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and western Pennsylvania. The soil there is very rich and ideal for growing many crops, so farming families in the British colonies wanted to move out there and settle. The various rivers and creeks were also home to millions of beavers, which made this territory valuable to the French fur traders. So both Britain and France claimed the land. But it was truly controlled by the Natives who already lived there.
Britain and France had different ways of dealing with the Native occupants of the Ohio River Valley. Because the French were so few in number, they focused on building friendships and alliances with the Natives. Their main goal was the fur trade so they didn’t need lots of people on the ground to accomplish that. The American colonists wanted the land for permanent farms. For them, the Natives were an obstacle that needed to be eliminated. The American colonists started wars with the Natives that would grow until the British Army had to come in to defend the Americans against the Natives.
This is a painting of a French trading post in North America. Note the Natives who are trading in stacks of beaver pelts and other furs in exchange for French technology like guns. This trading relationship between the French and the Natives was very popular with the Natives because they got access to European technology but still got to control their own territory and live their own lives, without any interference from the French.
Here we see another painting, showing Natives in the Ohio River Valley reacting to a new English settlement. The English didn’t come to trade, they came to farm. They wanted control over the Native lands. They weren’t interested in trading with the Natives – they saw the Natives as a nuisance and a danger. For the Natives, the arrival of the English meant the end of their way of life. Natives naturally supported the French and fought against the English on the North American frontier.
Benjamin Franklin was in his mid-forties and was seen as a national leader by the American colonists. Each colony sent representatives to a meeting held in Albany, New York – a meeting designed to address the problem of French interference and Native attacks on the American frontier, especially in the Ohio River Valley. Franklin’s idea was for each colony to contribute money towards a national government, which could create an American army to help deal with the French and the Natives. The plan was rejected by those colonies that were far away from the Ohio River, who didn’t want to see their hard-earned money going to help other colonies. Why should New Jersey, for example, help pay for an army that is going to protect the interests of Virginia in the Ohio River Valley?
Ben Franklin created and published this famous cartoon in 1754 to help persuade American colonists to approve his Albany Plan, which would have created a national government. This is an early example of what will become a big theme in American history – the conflict between a national government and the state governments.
Fort Duquesne (pronounced “Doo-kane”) was built by the French at the headwaters of the Ohio River, in what is now Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. The French build this fort to protect their claims on the Ohio River Valley. George Washington is 22 years old and an officer in the British military. He comes from (or rather, has married into) wealthy Virginia families who are hoping to survey, develop and make money from the Ohio River Valley lands. Thus, Washington is sent to kick the French out of Fort Duquesne. In a series of battles that begin in 1754, Washington is unsuccessful. The French defeat Washington and his troops and Washington retreats back to Virginia. But with shots fired and blood spilled, the French and Indian War has begun.
Winston Churchill considered the Seven Years War to be the first true “World War” because the British and the French and their various allies were fighting each other at locations spread all over the world, including North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and India. The winner will control some of the richest territories (remember that in 1500, most of the world’s wealth was in China and India). It is also a conflict between Protestant Britain and Catholic France – between the Divine Right of Kings as represented by the absolute monarchy of the French and the Consent of the Governed, as represented by the limited monarchy in Britain. The stakes are high - whoever wins, Britain or France, will control most of the world’s wealth for the foreseeable future.
In Great Britain, the leader of the dominant political party in Parliament became known as the “Prime Minister”. This person led a “cabinet” of other ministers who were in charge of seeing that the laws of Great Britain were enforced. During the Seven Years War, Pitt is Prime Minister and Pitt decides to borrow money from European banks and spend as much money as is needed to win the war. A lot of the money goes to various small states in what s now Germany, to basically bribe them to fight for the English and against the French. It also goes to build more ships and buy more guns. By 1759, it starts to have real impacts, as the British begin defeating the French all over the world in what is known as the “Annus Mirabilis” – the Year of Miracles. Soon, France is asking Great Britain to negotiate a peace treaty. The Seven Years War will end with the British as the winners.
From this point on, the British Empire is worldwide, encompassing some of the richest territories on all the continents. Thus, the “sun never sets” on the British Empire. The Treaty ends French claims to any part of North America. After 1763, the British and the Spanish split North America down the middle, with the Mississippi River being the dividing line. All that rich Ohio River valley farmland now legally belongs to the English. French settlers in a part of Canada known as “Acadia” are forced to leave Canada and are relocated to Louisiana. These displaced Acadians, victims of what we would now call “ethnic cleansing”, become known to us as the Cajuns.
Recall that the French were friendly with the Natives and only wanted to trade with them for furs. Usually, the French would give gifts to each tribe they wanted to trade with, respecting the customs and beliefs of each tribe they encountered. After the French and Indian War, as the British Army moved into what had been New France, to take things over, they did not give these gifts to the tribes, they instead treated the Natives like a conquered people and demanded things from them (land especially). The British did not respect the customs and beliefs of the tribes in the Ohio River Valley. Soon, these conflicts resulted in open warfare between the Natives and the British Army. One of the Native leaders was named Pontiac and the conflict became known as “Pontiac’s Rebellion”. The British Army defeated the Natives but at a high cost in terms of men killed and money spent.
The land-hungry colonists had been expanding westward before the French and Indian War. The various colonial governments were also claiming land in the Ohio River Valley (recall that back in 1754, George Washington had been sent there to protect the land claims of Virginia against the French). This proclamation by the King of England George III made it illegal for the colonists to settle or claim lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. This land instead belonged to the King and he would distribute it as he saw fit. The Proclamation Line was designed to make sure the King (and only the King) could benefit from the lands won from the French during the war. It also helped to keep peace among the Natives, who now had less to fear from colonial expansion into their territory. But it deeply angered the American colonists, who felt they were being cheated out of the prize (the rich Ohio lands) they had fought for during the French and Indian War.
For the American colonists, the French and Indian War was frustrating. They fought the French and their Native allies, but because of the Proclamation Line, they were unable to benefit from the British victory. The colonists were also resentful that they lacked any representation in Parliament and thus, had no input on any decisions made regarding their colonies. The British felt the colonists were being ungrateful. After all, the British had gone into debt to win the War and save the colonists from the French and from the Natives. Why shouldn't the colonists have to pay their fair share of the war debt? Finally, many colonists got to see first-hand how certain Native tactics worked well against the British. Ambushes, snipers, night attacks – all part of what we now call “guerilla” (meaning “little war”) tactics. These tactics would come in handy in the late 1770’s when the colonists themselves would be fighting the British during the American Revolution.
The British Parliament had been growing more powerful since the Glorious Revolution of 1689. By the 1760’s, they were determined that laws made by Parliament should supersede and over-rule any laws made by the colonial assemblies. If the early 1700’s was characterized by Parliament basically leaving the colonies alone (what we call “salutary neglect”), then the 1760’s will be a time of parliamentary sovereignty – a time in which Parliament will attempt to take control over the colonies. The big problem with this idea, from the perspective of the colonists, is that the colonies have no representatives in Parliament, no say in how they are being governed.
blog comments powered by Disqus