Seven Years' War

The French and Indian War started off as a regional conflict between France and Great Britain that eventually escalated into the international Seven Years' War. The war began over land rights in the Ohio River Valley: did it belong to Great Britain or France? The answer was vital, as if it were part of the British Empire, it would be available for Virginian and Pennsylvanian colonists. There were settlers of English origin in the area, but the French had already monopolised exploration, trade, and alliances with indigenous peoples there.

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    The war ended in victory for Britain, and France was forced to cede large portions of land. However, the greater cost was arguably suffered by Great Britain since increased tensions between Britain and the American Colonists would eventually lead to American independence. How did a colonial conflict between British and French settlers in America spiral into a global conflict and indirectly lead to American independence? Let's look at the importance of North America in the global Seven Years' War.

    Causes of the Seven Years War

    While the direct cause of the war was the dispute over the Ohio River Valley, there were additional factors to the cause and aggravation of the war, including:

    • Iroquois Confederacy
    • Virginian Migration to the Ohio Valley
    • French Forts in the Ohio Valley
    • The Albany Plan
    • French and Indian War

    Iroquois Confederacy

    Many displaced indigenous people originally resided in the Ohio River Valley. While some tribes sided with the French and others with the British, the Iroquois Confederacy pitted both sides against each other to maximise their own benefits.

    Even though the Iroquois were allied with the British, they knew how to play the British and French off against each other, so to an extent, they were in it for themselves as well as the British. This added fuel to the fire, which was already throwing flames into the sky between the British and the French.

    The Iroquois Nation

    The Iroquois Confederacy was a powerful indigenous nation allied with Britain in the decades preceding the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). They were loyal to Britain until Britain gave away its land in treaties due to the Revolution, in breach of promises made to the nation.

    Before the Seven Years' War, they had held much of the territory around the area of New York and held great influence over trade and the actions of smaller indigenous nations. They traditionally brokered deals with both the French and the British, depending on what was most beneficial to them, and initially took a neutral stance when the war broke out. They eventually allied with the British when the French began to build forts on their land and capture both British and Iroquois peoples.

    The Iroquois would maintain their allegiance to the British throughout the War of Independence, which began in 1775. The Sullivan Expedition was ordered by George Washington in 1779 to break the Iroquois grip on power, destroying their villages, crops, and livelihoods.

    Seven Years War A Trader's Map of the Ohio Valley StudySmarterFig. 1 - Trader's Map of the Ohio Valley

    Virginian Migration to the Ohio Valley

    The British government allowed the Ohio Company of Virginia to move into land in the Ohio Valley to stimulate trade and growth there. The Ohio Company received its grant on the condition that it settled at least 100 families there and constructed buildings and a fort to protect them from any hostility.

    The Ohio Company

    A company which primarily existed to develop land and facilitate trade opportunities between the colonists and indigenous nations in the Ohio Valley.

    As well as riling up the French, who were furious at the colonists settling on land they thought was rightfully theirs, this move also caused internal struggles between Virginia and Pennsylvania, as the latter also wanted rights to settle and trade there.

    French Forts in the Ohio Valley

    In Spring 1753, the French began constructing forts in the Ohio Valley to protect the King's lands. Paul Marine de la Malgue, a prominent French general from Montréal, was given 2,000 men and a big pile of money to construct these forts and protect the French land.

    Seven Years War Fort Presque Ile in 1754 StudySmarterFig. 2 - Fort Le Boeuf

    The first to be constructed was Fort Presque Isle; the second was Fort le Boeuf. Both were near Lake Erie, in modern-day Pennsylvania. These were heavily armed forts, and Marin was able to capture or drive off many British troops as he moved south, constructing his forts. This worried the British and Iroquois, who stepped up preparations of their own - edging both sides nearer to full-scale war over the disputed territory in the Ohio Valley.

    French and Indian War

    The French and Indian War started on 28 May 1754 with the Battle of Jumonville Glen, when a group of Virginians and their indigenous allies, under a young George Washington, intercepted and ambushed a French band led by the Sieur de Jumonville, which had been scouting the Ohio Valley.

    The area was known afterwards as "Jumonville Glen". Jumonville died in the engagement, and Washington mistakenly signed a confession in which he admitted to "assassinating" Jumonville. This skirmish and Washington's "confession" led to an all-out war in North America between France and Great Britain.

    The French and Indian War (1754-)

    The French and Indian War was the first theatre of the global Seven Years' War. Traditionally, the British named their wars after the sitting monarch, but there had already been a "King George's War" under George II. Therefore, they named this war after their opponents - France, who had the support of various indigenous nations. At this point, it's important to note that the use of the term Indian to refer to Native Americans is now considered very derogatory and should be avoided. Today, French Canadians call it the Guerre de la Conquête, or The War of the Conquest. While the British also relied on indigenous peoples' support, the French, in particular, needed the support of the indigenous nations as they were heavily outnumbered by the British in some areas.

    The War lasted for around two years before it boiled over into the global Seven Years' War, but during this time, lots of land changed hands as a result of battles, land captures, and trades. For example, the French ceded Montreal and land around the Mississippi River to Britain, as well as French Louisiana to Spain. Spain had ceded Spanish Florida to Britain in return for Havana, Cuba. The British also pushed the French out of almost all their Caribbean territory.

    The Albany Plan

    The Albany Plan of 1754 was one of the earliest attempts to establish a unified central government to administer the Thirteen Colonies. Benjamin Franklin proposed the plan in July 1754 to coordinate Colonial responses and defence against the French in the war and secure the support of the Iroquois.

    Seven Years War Benjamin Franklin's Snake Allegory StudySmarterFig. 3 - Benjamin Franklin's "Join, or Die" Propaganda Poster

    Franklin used the image of a snake cut into segments to represent the Colonies as separate parts of a whole and that, under one umbrella government, they could be more powerful. His slogan was "join, or die". However, the colonial governments rejected the Albany Plan because it was thought that it would have taken away some of the Colonies' individual powers.

    Seven Years' War Combatants

    In August 1756, Great Britain's German ally Prussia invaded Saxony to outmanoeuvre France's ally Austria. This started the Seven Years' War. Prussia had won the region of Silesia from Austria in 1748, and Prussian King Friedrich III knew that the Austrians intended to retake the area with French support. The Seven Years' War was fought all around the world, in many different theatres, from the woodlands of Ohio to the Indian Ocean.

    French Success

    The first four years of the war in North America were characterised by French dominance. The British supplied some troops to the colonists but didn't really engage in fighting themselves. This meant that the Colonies were underpowered and no match for the French armies. Several British generals were captured or killed, and the French outclassed the British. For example, despite outnumbering the French by four to one in an attack on the French Fort Carillon (now Fort Ticonderoga) in 1758, the French defenders almost wiped out General James Abercrombie's army.

    Did you know? There was only one notable British success in North America during those first four years, which was capturing the French fort at Beauséjour in the north in June 1755.

    British Success

    After the string of French victories, William Pitt and the Duke of Newcastle took power in Britain in 1757. Pitt was a formidable statesman who had incredible oratory skill and clear, consistent views about British policy. He believed that British naval strength could be used to tie down France across the globe, not just in North America but in India and Africa, where both powers had colonies. This proved to be a winning strategy, with the "Annus Mirabilis" of 1759 turning the course of the war.

    The "Annus Mirabilis" (1759)

    1759 saw a series of pivotal British victories against the French around the world. British forces under General James Wolfe captured Quebec, the French were forced to abandon their siege of the British city of Madras in India, and a combined Anglo-German army defeated the French on land in the Battle of Minden.

    Most importantly, the French navy was soundly defeated in battles off the coast of Spain in August and Brittany, at Quiberon Bay, in November. These naval battles ended fears of a French invasion of Great Britain and allowed the Royal Navy to strike French overseas possessions with impunity.

    1759 became known in Britain as the "Annus Mirabilis", the "Wonderful Year", because of this string of victories.

    There were two major factors that aided Pitt's victory. Firstly, the superior British navy allowed them to dominate French merchantmen and warships. In doing so, the British effectively blocked the French from supplementing troops in Canada and receiving resources.Secondly, Great Britain had far greater financial and industrial resources available at its disposal. In contrast, France struggled with national bankruptcy and a food shortage after the blockade. The colonists had large quantities of food in the field that could feed armies, but the French faced almost famine conditions after British blockades of French ports.

    End of the War

    The climax of the French and Indian War was at the Battle of Quebec on 13 September 1759. In the aftermath, both the French and British commanders were fatally wounded. However, while the war dragged on for another year, on the 8 September 1760, the French governor-general surrendered not only his last stronghold of Montréal but also all of French Canada. This marked the end of the North American phase of the Seven Years' War.

    Did you know? The Seven Years' War officially ended in 1763.

    Effects of the Seven Years War

    So what were the effects of the Seven Years' War?

    Treaty of Paris

    On 10 February 1763, France, Spain, and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, which officially marked the war's end. Great Britain received Canada and the lands lying east of the Mississippi River from France. Spain joined French forces towards the end of the war and was forced by France's defeat to relinquish Florida to Great Britain. Britain returned Havana to Spain, which British troops had occupied since August 1762.

    Did you know? France also gave Louisiana (including New Orleans!) to Spain for compensation. New Orleans was critical as it was (and remains) the principal entry point for trade up the Mississippi River.

    Consequently, while France had dominated North America before the conflict, after the Treaty of Paris was signed France's presence had almost disappeared from the continent. On the other hand, the British's land now stretched all along the Atlantic seaboard and now had no serious colonial rival in that area.

    Seven Years War vs American Revolution

    Great Britain inherited large swathes of North American land from the war. While it would seem like the British Empire would determine the future of North America for generations to come, in reality, Great Britain struggled to manage this territory. The colonists felt that instead of being advantageous, their relationship with Britain would now only bring obligations to prop up the motherland - the cracks were beginning to show.

    The colonists realised that Britain could make all the proclamations it wanted about what the colonists could do, but they didn't have the military strength to enforce them. When Parliament attempted to levy taxes on the colonists to alleviate the debt that was amassed from the war, friction developed and further weakened the relationship, as the colonists believed they had already paid their fair share through armed support. The war and Britain's subsequent larger territory only planted the seeds for the American Revolution. Revolutionary ideas soon spawned in 1765, and the American Revolutionary War erupted from 1775-1783.

    Seven Years' War - Key takeaways

    • The war started over land rights in the Ohio River Valley - the French and British both claimed that various treaties up to that point had conferred the right to settle there on them.

    • While France initially dominated the war, Britain was ultimately able to win thanks to Pitt's leadership, its superior navy, and because Britain had more resources at its disposal.

    • The Treaty of Paris resulted in France virtually disappearing from the North American continent as a political and military power.

    • In contrast, Great Britain had no rival along the Atlantic seaboard but now had large swathes of land that it didn't have the necessary resources to administer. It also had an incredible amount of debt.

    • When Great Britain tried levying taxes on the colonies to alleviate its debt, the colonists responded that they had already paid their part of the debt through their aid to Great Britain during the war.

    • Colonists began viewing their relationship with Great Britain as a burden and resented the taxes applied to them by a British government in which they had no say.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Seven Years' War

    Who fought in the Seven Years' War?

    The Seven Years' War was a global conflict, fought primarily between Great Britain, France, and their allies/colonies. The combatants included: Great Britain, France, Saxony, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Hanover and involved many overseas colonies such as India, Africa, the Caribbean, and the North American colonies.

    How did the Seven Years' War affect the American colonies?

    Before the Seven Years' War, France had dominated much of North America but after the Treaty of Paris (1763), France was practically eradicated from the territory and Great Britain held sway over the long stretch of the Atlantic seaboard. 
    With Britain presiding over much of North America, they attempted to levy taxes to recuperate the costs of the war from the Thirteen Colonies. The Colonists refused, having played significant parts in the Seven Years' War and British victory. This put further strain on the relationship, and ultimately led to the American Revolution.

    How did the Seven Years' War lead to the American Revolution?

    Following the Seven Years' War, Great Britain attempted to levy taxes against the American colonies in order to recuperate the debts they had accrued during the conflict. The American colonists, having fought in the Seven Years' War, believed they had paid enough of a price for Great Britain and so frictions developed. Britain struggled to maintain control of North America, especially with a weakened military. As such, seeds were planted of resentment of British stewardship over the American colonies, and this led to the American Revolution. Revolutionary ideas began in 1765, and the American Revolutionary War soon followed from 1775-1783.

    Why is the French and Indian War important?

    The French and Indian War began on 28 May 1754 and saw American colonists attack French troops in the Ohio Valley. George Washington led the American forces, and unknowingly confessed to the assassination of French commander Sieur de Jumonville. Upon hearing of this confession, France and Great Britain declared war in North America. This conflict eventually turned into all-out global warfare when British ally Prussia invaded France's ally Austria - this hence led to the Seven Years' War.

    What were the effects of the French and Indian War?

    Both France and Great Britain relied on alliances made with indigenous peoples of North America throughout the war, leading to the moniker of "French and Indian War" - although Indian is a derogatory term today.
    The main effect of the French and Indian War was that two major European powers were at war, and once their allies became embroiled in the conflict, the war turned global, becoming the Seven Years' War.

    After the French and Indian War, many territories were reorganised in North America due to battles, land captures, and trades. For example, the French ceded Montreal and land around the Mississippi River to Britain, as well as French Louisiana to Spain. Spain had ceded Spanish Florida to Britain in return for Havana, Cuba. The British also pushed the French out of almost all their Caribbean territory.

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