1754-1763 - French and Indian War

A War By Any Other Name

   In the early British America, wars were often named after the sitting British monarch, such as King William's War or Queen Anne's War. By this time, there had already been a King George's War in the 1740s, during the reign of King George II, so British colonists named this conflict after their opponents. Thus it became known as the French and Indian War (although Indians fought on both sides of the conflict).
   It also led into the Seven Years' War, which was a much larger conflict between France and Great Britain that was fought overseas, so did not involve the American colonies. While some historians connect the French and Indian War and the Seven Years' War overseas, most residents of the United States consider them as two separate conflicts, since only one of them involved the American colonies.
   Other less frequently used names for the war include: the Fourth Intercolonial War and the Great War for the Empire.

Mid 1700s - Border Disputes Between The British, French, and Natives

   At this time, North America east of the Mississippi River was largely claimed by either Great Britain or France. While the French population, of about 75,000, was heavily concentrated in modern Canada, a small number lived in the Southern areas of New Orleans, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and small settlements in the Illinois Country. French fur traders and trappers traded with local Native tribes and often created high-ranking unions by marrying the daughters of chiefs.

   The British settlers vastly outnumbered the French with a population of about 1.5 million, mostly residing along the Atlantic coast of the continent from Nova Scotia and the Colony of Newfoundland in the north to the Province of Georgia in the south. Much of the claimed lands of the older colonies extended arbitrarily far to the west, as the extent of the continent was unknown at the time when their provincial charters were granted. While their populations were centered along the coast, more settlements were growing into the interior.

   The Iroquois Confederation dominated much of upstate New York and the Ohio Country, while initially holding a stance of neutrality to ensure continued trade with both French and British. Maintaining this stance would prove difficult as the Iroquois Confederation tribes sided with French or British causes, depending on which side provided the most beneficial trade.

   The Southeast interior was dominated by Siouan-speaking Catawbas, Muskogee-speaking Creeks and Choctaw, and the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee tribes.

The Sparks of War

   Early on, the British colonists were supported by the Iroquois Six Nations and also by the Cherokees, but only until differences caused the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1758. In 1758, the Province of Pennsylvania negotiated the Treaty of Easton in which a number of tribes in the Ohio Country promised neutrality in exchange for land concessions and other considerations.

   When war broke out, the French used their trading and marriage connections to recruit fighters from tribes in the western portions of the Great Lakes region. These included the Hurons, Mississaugas, Ojibwas, Winnebagos, and Potawatomi. Most of the other northern tribes sided with the French, their primary trading partner and supplier of arms.

   The Cherokee were subject to diplomatic efforts from the British and French in order to gain their support or neutrality in the event of a conflict.

Spanish Florida and West Indies

   At this time, Spain claimed only the province of Florida in eastern America. It controlled Cuba and other territories in the West Indies that became military objectives in the Seven Years' War. Florida's European population was a few hundred, concentrated in St. Augustine.

Military Might or Lack Thereof

   At the onset of war, there were no French regular army troops stationed in America. New France was only defended by about 3,000 troupes de la marine and companies of colonial regulars, who were well experienced in woodland battles. The colonial government recruited militia support when needed.

   When hostilities began, the British colonial governments preferred operating independently of one another and of the government in London. This situation complicated negotiations with Indian tribes, whose territories often encompassed land claimed by multiple colonies. Having few troops, most of the British colonies simply mustered local militia companies to deal with the Indian threats. Thus they were generally ill trained and available only for short periods. However, the Colony of Virginia, by contrast, had a large frontier with several companies of British regulars.

   As the war progressed, the leaders of the British Army establishment tried to impose constraints and demands on the colonial administrations.

1747-1749 - France Lays Down the Law

   New France's Governor-General, Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, was concerned about the incursion and expanding influence of British colonial traders, such as George Croghan, into the Ohio Country. In June 1747, he ordered Pierre-Joseph Céloron to lead a military expedition through the area, whose objectives were: to reaffirm to their Indian allies that trading arrangements with colonists were exclusive to those authorized by New France; to confirm Indian assistance in asserting and maintaining the French claim to the territories; to discourage any alliances between Britain and local Indian tribes; and to impress the Indians with a French show of force against British colonial settler incursion, unauthorized trading expeditions, and general trespass against French claims.

   Céloron's force consisted of about 200 Troupes de la marine and 30 Indians, and they covered about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) between June and November 1749. At Pittsburgh, Céloron buried lead plates engraved with the French claim to the Ohio Country. Whenever he encountered British colonial merchants or fur-traders, he informed them of the French claims on the territory and told them to leave.

   Céloron's expedition arrived at Logstown where the Indians in the area informed him that they owned the Ohio Country and that they would trade with the British colonists regardless of the French. He continued south until his expedition reached the confluence of the Ohio and the Miami rivers, which lay just south of the village of Pickawillany, the home of the Miami chief known as "Old Briton". Céloron threatened Old Briton with severe consequences if he continued to trade with British colonists, but Old Briton ignored the warning. Céloron returned disappointedly to Montreal in November 1749.

   Céloron wrote an extensively detailed report. "All I can say is that the Natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French," he wrote, "and are entirely devoted to the English. I don't know in what way they could be brought back." Even before his return to Montreal, reports on the situation in the Ohio Country were making their way to London and Paris, each side proposing that action be taken. Massachusetts governor William Shirley was particularly forceful, stating that British colonists would not be safe as long as the French were present.

[Contributors: Jason Brown]

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