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In This Chapter
Conflict over the Ohio Valley.
Braddock’s defeat at Fort Duquesne.
Forbes’s victory at Fort Duquesne.
Wolfe’s takeover of Quebec.
Aftermath: Pontiac’s Rebellion.
The treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended King George’s War on October 18, 1748, brought no more than fleeting peace to the American frontier. On March 27, 1749, King George II granted huge wilderness tracts to a group of entrepreneurs called the Ohio Company, stipulating that, within seven years, the company must plant a settlement of 100 families and build a fort for their protection. The grant and the stipulation accompanying it rekindled the hostility of the French and their Indian allies, who feared an English invasion.
Their fears were valid. Throughout 1749, an influx of British traders penetrated territories that had been the exclusive trading province of the French. In response, on June 26, 1749, Roland-Michel Galissoniere, marquis de La Galissoniere, governor of New France, dispatched Captain Pierre-Joseph Celeron de Blainville with 213 men to the Ohio country. By November 20, 1749, Celeron had made a round trip of 3,000 miles, burying at intervals lead plates inscribed with France’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. The lines of battle were drawn.
The French and Indian War. La Galissoniere was replaced as governor by Jacques-Pierre de Jonquiere, marquis de La Jonquiere, in August 1749. He decided it would take more than buried lead plates to control North America, and he began to build forts. He also attacked the Shawnees, the most powerful of the Ohio country tribes who traded with the English. In the meantime, an English trader named Christopher Gist negotiated a treaty (1752) at Logstown (Ambridge), Pennsylvania, between Virginia and the Ohio Company, and the Six Iroquois Nations (plus the Delawares, Shawnees, and Wyandots). This treaty secured for Virginia and the Ohio Company deeds to the vast Ohio lands. However, French-allied Indians drove the English out of this wilderness country by 1752, and yet another governor of New France, Ange Duquesne de Menneville, marquis Duquesne, quickly built a string of forts through the Ohio country that ultimately stretched from New Orleans to Montreal. Lord Halifax, in England, pushed the British cabinet toward a declaration of war, arguing that the French, by trading throughout the Ohio Valley, had invaded Virginia.
First Blood for the Father of Our Country. In the heat of war fever, Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia secured authority from the crown to evict the French from territory under his jurisdiction. He commissioned 21-year-old Virginia militia captain George Washington to carry an ultimatum to the French interlopers: Get out or suffer attack. Washington set out from Williamsburg, Virginia’s capital, on October 3 1, 1753, and delivered the ultimatum to the commandant of Fort LeBoeuf (Waterford, Pennsylvania) on December 12, 1753. Captain Legardeur, 30 years older than Washington, politely but firmly declined to leave. In response, Governor Dinwiddie ordered the construction of a fort at the strategically critical “forks of Ohio,” the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, the site of present-day Pittsburgh.
In the meantime, up in Nova Scotia, British authorities demanded that the Acadians—French-speaking Roman Catholic farmers and fishermen who freely intermarried with the Micmac and Abnaki Indians—swear loyalty to the British crown. These people had the misfortune of living in the midst of the most important fishery in the world, waters coveted by all the nations of Europe. While the British threatened the Acadians with expulsion from Nova Scotia, the French threatened to turn their Indian allies against any Acadians who took the loyalty oath. Tensions mounted.
Back at the forks of the Ohio, the French, having patiently watched the construction of Dinwiddie’s fort, attacked. Badly outnumbered, Ensign Edward Ward, in command of the new outpost, surrendered on April 17, 1754, and was allowed to march off with his men the next day. The English stronghold was now christened Fort Duquesne and occupied by the French. Unaware of this takeover—and on the very day that the fort fell-Dinwiddie sent Washington (now promoted to lieutenant colonel) with 150 men to reinforce it. En route, on May 28, Washington surprised a 33-man French reconnaissance party. In the ensuing combat, 10 of the Frenchmen were killed, including Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, a French “ambassador.” This battle, then, was the first real battle of the French and Indian War.
“Who Would Have Thought It?” Realizing that the French would retaliate, Washington desperately sought reinforcement from his Indian allies. A grand total of 40 warriors answered the call. It was too late to retreat, so at Great Meadows, Pennsylvania, Washington built a makeshift stockade and christened it Fort Necessity. On July 3, Major Coulon de Villiers, brother of the man Washington’s small detachment had killed, led 900 French soldiers, Delawares, Ottawas, Wyandots, Algonquins, Nipissings, Abnakis, and French-allied Iroquois against Fort Necessity. When the outpost’s defenders had been reduced by half, on the 4th of July, Washington surrendered. He and the other survivors were permitted to leave, save for two hostages, who were taken back to Fort Duquesne.
With the loss of the Ohio fort and the defeat of Washington, it was the English rather than the French who had been evicted from the Ohio country. A desperate congress convened at Albany from June 19 to July 10, 1754, and produced a plan for colonial unity. The plan managed to please no one. In the meantime, from Fort Duquesne, the French and their many Indian allies raided freely throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Finally, in December 1754, the English crown authorized Massachusetts governor William Shirley to reactivate two colonial regiments.
These 2,000 men were joined by two of the British army’s absolutely worst regiments, commanded by one of its dullest officers, Major General Edward Braddock. The French responded by sending more troops as well, and British forces were expanded to 10,000 men. On April 14, 1755, Braddock convened a council of war and laid out a plan of attack. Brigadier General Robert Monckton would campaign against Nova Scotia, while Braddock himself would capture Forts Duquesne and Niagara. Governor Shirley would strengthen and reinforce Fort Oswego and then proceed to Fort Niagara—in the unlikely event that Braddock was detained at Fort Duquesne. Another colonial commander, William Johnson, was slated to take Fort Saint Frederic at Crown Point.
Monckton and John Winslow (a colonial commander) achieved early success in Nova Scotia, but General Braddock struggled to get his expedition under way to Fort Duquesne. Braddock managed to alienate would-be Indian allies, and even insulted the Delawares so profoundly that they went over to the French side. Braddock also alienated the “provincials,” of whom he was so thoroughly contemptuous that the colonial governors resisted collecting war levies and generally refused to cooperate with the general.
At long last, Braddock led two regiments of British regulars and a provincial detachment (under George Washington) out of Fort Cumberland, Maryland. It was an unwieldy force of 2,500 men loaded down with heavy equipment. Along the way, French-allied Indians sniped at the slow-moving column. Washington advised Braddock to detach a “flying column” of 1,500 men to make the initial attack on Fort Duquesne, which Braddock believed was defended by 800 French and Indians. By July 7, the flying column set up a camp 10 miles from their objective.
Spies out of Fort Duquesne made Braddock’s forces sound very impressive, and the fort’s commandant, Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecoeur, was prepared to surrender. But Captain Lienard de Beaujeu convinced him to take the initiative and attack. All he had available were 72 regulars of the French Marine, 146 Canadian militiamen, and 637 assorted Indians. These he threw against Braddock’s encampment on the morning of July 9, 1755. The result was panic among the British. Troops fired wildly—or at each other. It is said that many of the British regulars huddled in the road like flocks of sheep. Braddock, stupid but brave, had five horses shot from under him as he vainly tried to rally his troops. At last, mortally wounded, he continued to observe the disaster. Of 1,459 officers and men who had engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness, only 462 would return. (George Washington, though unhurt, had two horses shot from under him and his coat pierced by four bullets.) As he lay dying, Braddock said simply: “Who would have thought it?”
Panic, Retreat, Retrenchment. The defeat at the Battle of the Wilderness drove many more Indians into the camp of the French and laid English settlements along the length of the frontier open to attack. To make matters worse, the French had captured Braddock’s private papers, which contained his main war plan. French governor Vaudreuil had intended to move against Fort Oswego on the south shore of Lake Ontario; learning from Braddock’s abandoned papers that Forts Niagara and Saint Frederic would be the objects of attack, he reinforced these positions, using the very cannon the routed English had left behind.
While the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia frontiers were convulsed by Indian raids, William Johnson was victorious at the Battle of Lake George and built the strategically important Fort William Henry on the south end of the lake. Washington, returned from the Battle of the Wilderness, persuaded authorities to build more forts, extending from the Potomac and James and Roanoke rivers, down into South Carolina. These forts, Washington said, were the only effective means of combating the widespread Indian raids unleashed by the French.
By June 1756, British settlers in Virginia had withdrawn ISO miles from the prewar frontier. George Washington complained to Governor Dinwiddie: “the Bleu-Ridge is now our Frontier … there will not be a living creature left in Frederick-County: and how soon Fairfax, and Prince William may share its fate, is easily conceived.”
Seven Years of Bad Luck. For its first three years, the French and Indian War had been strictly a North American conflict. In 1756, it became a world war as Prussia invaded Saxony. The following year, the Holy Roman Empire (in effect, Austria) declared war on Prussia, which then invaded Bohemia. Through a complex of interests, intrigues, and alliances, the French, the British, the Spanish, and the Russians also joined the war, which eventually encompassed more than 30 major battles in Europe, India, Cuba, the Philippines, and North America. The world conflict was given the generic title of the Seven Years War.
Paths of Glory. As part of its commitment to an expanded war, France sent the dashing and highly capable Louis Joseph, marquis de Montcalm to take charge of Canadian forces on May 11, 1756. For their part, the British forces suffered defeat after defeat. At last, in December 1756, William Pitt became British secretary of state for the southern department, a post that put him in charge of American colonial affairs. He took command away from inept, politically chosen officers and gave it to those with genuine military skill-colonial commanders included. The result was a gradual reversal of Britain’s ill fortune.
Pitt chose Brigadier General John Forbes, one of his best commanders, to assault-for the third time in the war—Fort Duquesne. Despite many delays, mainly caused by the incompetence and corruption of the British quartermaster (supply) corps, an army of 5,000 provincials, 1,400 Highlanders, and an ever-diminishing number of Indian allies lumbered toward the stubborn objective at the forks of the Ohio. When the main force became bogged down in the mud not far from the fort, one of Forbes’s subordinates, Colonel Henry Bouquet, became impatient and, on September 11, hastily ordered 800 Highlanders to attack. They were cut down by French and Indians, who killed a third of their number.
This triumph, however, proved a Pyrrhic victory for the French. Losses among their Indian allies were so heavy that most of the Indians, after seizing plunder, deserted the cause. In the meantime, a treaty concluded at Easton, Pennsylvania, in October 1758 brought peace between the French-allied Delaware and the English. Colonel Bouquet, still reeling from defeat, proclaimed with relief that the Treaty of Easton had “knocked the French on the head.”
On November 24, Forbes was at last ready to make his advance on Fort Duquesne. Suddenly, a distant explosion was heard. Rather than allow the English to capture the fort, the French had blown it up. The heads of Bouquet’s Highlanders, captured earlier, had been skewered on upright stakes, the soldiers’ kilts tied below them. It was a grisly greeting, yet Forbes knew that the nation in control of the forks of the Ohio—the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio rivers—held the gateway to the West. And that gateway was now in British hands.
If the year 1758 marked the turning of the tide in favor of the British, 1759 was the year of French disaster, culminating in the siege, battle, and loss of Quebec on September 18, 1759. This loss effectively brought to an end French power in North America.
Although the war had been decided with the surrender of Quebec, the fighting did not stop. Montreal remained in French hands, and Quebec had to be held. For the next two years, however, the British steadily contracted the circle around French Canada. At last into the fray, during its waning months, came Spain, which sided with France. England declared war on the new combatant on January 2, 1762, and crushed the adversary with sea power alone. As it became clear to everyone involved that the war in America and in Europe was about to end, France rushed to conclude in secret the Treaty of San Ildefonso with Spain (November 3, 1762), in which it ceded to that country all of its territory west of the Mississippi and the Isle of Orleans in Louisiana. This offering was intended as compensation for the loss of Spain’s Caribbean holdings to the British. On February 10, 1763, the great Treaty of Paris followed, which officially ended hostilities in America and abroad.
The score? France ceded all of Louisiana to Spain and the rest of its North American holdings to Great Britain. Spain recovered Cuba (in compensation for the loss of territories in Florida and in the Caribbean), and France retained the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia.
Pontiac’s Rebellion. In far-off Paris, pens had been put to paper. Within a few days of the Treaty of Paris, on April 27, 1.763, Pontiac (ca. 1720-69), war chief of the Ottawa Indians, called a grand council of Ottawa and other tribes-most notably the Delaware, Seneca (as well as elements of other Iroquois tribes), and the Shawnee. The chief pushed for an attack on Detroit. This decision ignited a series of bloody assaults on the western outposts that the French had just officially surrendered to the English. Although many Indian war leaders participated, this coda to the French and Indian War would be called Pontiac’s Rebellion.
Pontiac had been moved to war by British general Jeffrey Amherst’s refusal to continue the French custom of giving presents to the Indians, especially gifts of ammunition, on which the tribes had come to depend for hunting. This outrage, combined with the bellicose pronouncements of an Indian mystic named Neolin—better known to the whites as the Delaware Prophet-fanned the flames. Neolin, Pontiac, and others urged action against the English now, before they became too numerous to drive from the land.
Pontiac’s Rebellion tore the white frontier apart, as Indian warriors tortured, mutilated, and killed with exuberance. Amherst, in desperation, decided to wage total war, giving orders to take no prisoners, but to kill all belligerents. He even instituted biological warfare, directing one of his officers deliberately to infect the tribes with smallpox. Although this plan was officially abandoned for fear of spreading the infection among the white settlements, Simon Ecuyer, a Swiss mercenary temporarily acting as commander of the besieged Fort Pitt (the former French Fort Duquesne), called a peace conference with his Delaware attackers. As a token of esteem, he presented them with two blankets and a handkerchief. They had been provided by Captain William Trent from the fort’s smallpox hospital. “I hope they will have the desired effect,” Trent remarked to Ecuyer.
They did. An epidemic swept through the Delaware, and this misfortune, along with the Indians’ realization that the supply of English settlers was apparently inexhaustible, brought Pontiac to the peace table at the end of 1763. By the following year, other disaffected tribal leaders had also surrendered—but not before a band of renegade white settlers had gone on their own rampage.
On December 14, 1763, a mob of 57 Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from Paxton and Donegal, settlements in the heart of the raid-racked Pennsylvania frontier, butchered a party of six Conestoga Indians, notwithstanding the fact that the Conestogas were and had always been peaceful. Despite Governor John Penn’s call for the arrest of the “Paxton Boys,” frontier Pennsylvania approved of their action and encouraged more. The magistrates of Lancaster County gathered the remaining Conestogas into a public workhouse for their protection. The Paxton Boys raided the building on December 27, killing 14 Indians as they knelt in prayer. The survivors—again, for their “protection”—were once more removed, this time to a barren island in the middle of the windswept Delaware River. Safe from the Paxton Boys, the Indians were ravaged by the elements of a brutal winter. Fiftysix Indians sickened and died.
This sordid end to a brutal period of war would prove but a prelude to yet another, even more momentous, struggle in the wilderness.
The Least You Need to Know
The French and Indian War was the American phase of the Seven Years War, which historians consider the first “world” war.
Although the English had more colonists, the French had more Indian allies and were far better at wilderness combat tactics than the inflexible British regulars.
Pontiac attempted to unite several tribes in a campaign to stem the tide of English immigration into the Ohio Valley.
Word for the Day. Most of the colonial-Indian conflicts of the 17th and early 18th century (King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, and King George’s War) are collectively called the French and Indian Wars. The cataclysmic North American war of 1754-63 is the French and Indian War.
Main Event. One of the best-loved poems in American literature is Evangeline published in 1849 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem takes as its subject the separation of lovers brought about by an incident of the French and Indian War. In July 1755, the Acadians of Nova Scotia refused to submit to the loyalty oath the victorious British demanded. On July 28, 1755, Governor Charles Lawrence ordered the Acadians’ deportation, and on October 13, 1,100 Acadians were sent into exile. Many others followed—6,000 to 7,000 in all—resettling throughout the colonies, but especially in Louisiana, where, through a contraction of the word Acadians, they became Cajuns.
Main Event. The British so hated and feared the Indians that, on April 10, 1756, the colonial council of Pennsylvania began to offer a “scalp bounty” on Delawares: $50 for a woman’s scalp; $130 for the scalp of each man above ten years of age. How officials were supposed to determine sex and age, let alone tribe, based on the appearance of the scalps was not specified.