French and Indian War (1754-1763) III



British imperial and colonial forces had, by 1759, fulfilled most of the initial military objectives developed four years earlier; now they were to mount a direct attack on the heart of New France reminiscent of the failed attempts of 1690 and 1711, and the plans of 1746. A seaborne attack on Quebec was to be coordinated with another army’s advance up the Lake Champlain route to Montreal, thereby dividing the outnumbered defenders. The plan was pursued in 1759, but delayed by French resistance, by Amherst’s caution, and by changing Amerindian strategies.

The attack on Fort Niagara illustrated all of these factors. Fort Niagara was very peripheral to the conquest of New France, especially if invaders used the traditional two-pronged approach. However, the Six Nations wisely reconsidered the formal neutrality most of them had observed throughout the conflict, and declared an interest in joining the recently successful British. New France had built Fort Niagara on Seneca territory, and the Seneca now led the Iroquois confederacy’s opposition to that fort. If Amherst authorized something comparable to Forbes’s elimination of Fort Duquesne, he would have Six Nations support. Early in May 1759 Amherst approved a siege of this increasingly isolated and vulnerable fort, an initiative that fitted with Amherst’s thorough, dogged approach and offered the prospect of a third unencumbered route into New France, a route via the upper St. Lawrence River.

The Niagara campaign revealed Amerindian diplomatic dexterity. The French garrison at Fort Niagara, consisting of about 500 under the able leadership of engineer Captain Pierre Pouchot (1712-69), was surprised on July 7 by a besieging force of 2,000 British regulars and nearly 1,000 Iroquois. This surprise indicated that Six Nations informants had entirely abandoned New France. Six Nations legates were allowed to talk to the 30 Amerindians inside the fort, after which the Six Nations forces seemingly withdrew from the siege to establish a camp at nearby La Belle Famille. There they waited to intercept the reinforcements Pouchot expected from the Ohio. Some 600 French and Canadians arrived, together with nearly 1,000 Ohio Amerindians whom the Six Nations convinced to stay out of this white man’s conflict. On July 24 the 600 French and Canadian reinforcements, including numerous legendary irregulars, were ambushed on their way to the fort by an equal number of British regulars and New York provincial soldiers screened behind a log barricade and abattis. Nearly 350 were killed or captured either in the ambush or in its aftermath, when Six Nations warriors joined in the pursuit of scalps and prisoners. Pouchot, learning what had happened to his only hope for relief from a throttling conventional siege, surrendered two days later. By the terms of surrender, the defeated became prisoners of war, except for the 30 Amerindians, who were freed. The Amerindians had suffered few losses in the process of withdrawing from the losing side, or in moving from neutrality to support of the British.

It was Amerindians turning hostile to the British who began distracting British forces in the Carolinas in 1759. Some 10,000 Cherokee hunters and farmers lived in 40 villages in the valleys of the southern Appalachians. Although generally allied with the British, they were increasingly angered by South Carolina and Virginia frontiersmen encroaching on their lands. There were fatal skirmishes with Virginia militia in the summer of 1758, and subsequent murderous raids of revenge by both sides. In August of 1759 Governor William Lyttleton (1724-1808) of South Carolina halted arms and ammunition sales to the Cherokees. Attempts to force the Cherokee to surrender “murderers” escalated into a full-scale expedition by 1,500 men in the last three months of 1759. The expedition forced a group of Cherokee leaders to agree that the Carolinians could hold 22 Cherokee hostages in Fort Prince George until an equal number of unnamed Cherokee “murderers” were delivered. Although celebrated in Charleston, the expedition had done nothing but provoke the Cherokee and infect the garrison of this isolated fort with smallpox. An elaborate Cherokee ruse killed the garrison commander, leading to retaliatory killing of all the Cherokee hostages. Continuing raids on South Carolina frontiers prompted Lyttleton to seek help from Virginia and from General Amherst. Amherst sent 1,300 regulars from New York to Charleston in the spring of 1760. They burned five evacuated Cherokee towns and fought an inconclusive battle near Etchoe (near modern Otto, North Carolina) before claiming success and hurrying back to the war in the north. The unbowed Cherokee responded with the successful siege of Fort Loudoun, 200 hilly miles inside Cherokee territory. Major James Grant (1720- 1806) led 1,400 regulars and an equal number of provincial volunteers, rangers, and Amerindian guides in the 1761 expedition that burned 20 Cherokee towns, destroying crops and orchards as well. Harassed but still undefeated, the Cherokee negotiated a favorable peace that was ratified by the end of the year. Other Amerindians learned from the Cherokee war against British regulars, even though none had answered the Cherokee appeals for help. They were reacting cautiously in light of developments on another front, the British success in Canada.

The 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham is widely regarded as the decisive battle of the French and Indian War, though it was anticipated by the major British successes of 1758 and challenged by an effective French campaign early in 1760. A British fleet of 141 warships and transports delivered nearly 9,000 troops, under the command of General James Wolfe (1727-59), to Quebec by early June 1759. There they confronted 16,000 French regulars, Canadian militia, and Amerindian irregulars whom Montcalm had deployed to strengthen defenses. Montcalm’s position was strong, because those attacking fortified positions expected to succeed only if they outnumbered defenders by at least three to one. Wolfe’s first two months were spent in futile efforts to gain a military foothold anywhere near the fortress on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. He also failed to lure defenders out of their entrenched positions, though 40 cannon pounded the city mercilessly from the south shore, and farms were also being systematically destroyed. The invaders had accomplished very little by early September, except that British ships were escaping damage while passing the city, forcing Montcalm to deploy sizable forces to shadow them up the river.

An increasingly frustrated Wolfe accepted a risky plan suggested by his brigadiers. A night landing at Anse de Foulon, on the north shore above the city, was followed by scaling 150-foot cliffs, deceiving and overpowering French pickets, and assembling 4,400 men and two field cannon on the Plains of Abraham by daylight on September 13. Montcalm, assuming that the attackers were not yet established on the heights, acted with uncharacteristic haste. Without waiting for field cannon or for reinforcements that could have doubled his force, Montcalm led 4,500 regulars and militia who attacked in three columns. Six battalions of British regulars used disciplined musket volleys to halt the charge, then advanced with bayonets and broadswords. When the half-hour battle was over, the British controlled the field, though the French still held the city. Each side had casualties of 15 percent (658 English and 644 French), with Wolfe among the dead and Montcalm among the dying. Before succumbing four days later, Montcalm surrendered the city to the British.

Whatever is claimed for the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the Franco-Canadian army had not surrendered or been separated from its local supply bases. A battle to regain Quebec, the Battle of Sainte-Foy on April 28, 1760, demonstrated the continuing strength of New France. Lévis was now commanding an army of nearly 7,000, half of them French regulars; Brigadier General James Murray (1725-94) led the British winter garrison at Quebec, consisting of fewer than 3,900 men. Murray, like Montcalm the previous year, ventured his forces out of their defenses. The battle was bloodier than its predecessor (1,104 English and 833 French casualties) and the victorious French captured the abandoned British field guns. However, Murray retreated back into the walled city and withstood a siege that suffered from a severe shortage of gunpowder. The British Royal Navy, having won decisive engagements over the French off Portugal’s Lagos Bay in August 1759 and off Brittany’s Quiberon Bay that November, not only prevented a modest French supply squadron from reaching Quebec but also arrived in strength in the second week of May 1760, forcing Lévis to abandon the siege.

Most Canadians and Amerindians considered the war as lost thereafter, but 2,000 French regulars and nearly 1,000 Canadian militia assembled to defend Montreal despite increasing shortage of provisions and supplies. Amherst’s cautious, thorough, and logistically impressive coup de grace was delivered at Montreal in September. Three well-supplied British armies, totaling 17,000 men, arrived within 48 hours of each other: Murray’s army sailed unopposed up from Quebec; Lieutenant Colonel William Haviland (fl. 18th century) brought another down the now-defenseless Richelieu River; and Amherst led his army down the St. Lawrence, overrunning the last opposition. An infuriated Lévis still wanted to fight for more honorable terms but, on September 8, 1760, Vaudreuil wisely agreed to surrender the town and the colony. Although the century-long Anglo-French intercolonial struggle had featured various combinations of Amerindian and European military methods, it was concluded by a decisive contest dominated by the latest European military personnel, methods, and values.

Britain became much more interested in making peace in the two eventful years between the surrender at Montreal and its confirmation in the Peace of Paris. British king George II, who had been resistant to any peace that did not fulfill his ambitions for his native German principality of Hanover, died in 1760, making peace possible. William Pitt, who had insisted upon British retention of its rapidly increasing colonial conquests, did not gain the ear of 22-year-old George III (1738-1820), who joined his advisers and a war-weary English public in wanting peace and an end to the astronomical military spending. Meanwhile, British armies and navies continued to impound French imperial possessions in the West Indies, West Africa, and India.

Spain belatedly joined the French, only to provide additional targets, including Manila, captured in 1762. Some North American troops were involved in Britain’s major success of 1762, the capture of Havana. Approximately 2,000 Americans volunteered to join an equal number of regulars from the North American command in a contingent that arrived to witness the storming of El Moro. They participated in the last few days of skirmishing and in two months of unhealthy garrison duty after the surrender.

France lost the war but won the peace. Recognizing that the French could not be forced to surrender Louisbourg, Pitt had it detonated. George III’s negotiators were so anxious for peace that the continuing British victories were discounted. France retained fishing rights off Newfoundland, and the nearby islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. There was debate, which has continued, about Britain’s keeping Canada rather than the French West Indian sugar island of Guadeloupe. British West Indian sugar planters, not wishing for more competition in their monopoly of British markets, joined British North Americans in urging that the less profitable colony of Canada be kept. This was accomplished, together with a presumed British sovereignty over all Amerindian lands east of the Mississippi River, because French negotiators made concessions that protected France’s major imperial commercial interests. Spain, too, did well at the peace; Britain returned Manila and exchanged Havana for the much less valuable colonies of East and West Florida. Having humiliated France in war, Britain alienated its European allies in making a generous separate peace that did not limit France’s interest in, or capacity for, revenge.

Amerindians were quicker than the colonials to react violently to the consequences of the Peace of Paris. Although Amerindian resistance to British colonial encroachment had been persistent, and a new Amerindian spiritual nativism had grown out of the Delaware dispersal of the 1730s, the rapid spread of intertribal Amerindian resistance after 1760 was attributable to the outcome of the French and Indian War. The negotiated boundaries between Amerindian and European settlement, restated in the Proclamation Line of 1763, were completely overrun by British colonial settlers and deerskin hunters after 1760. Renewed British colonial trade into the Ohio Valley focused on liquor, despite ineffective British bans that succeeded only in irritating traders and customers. British army administrators, assuming their recent victories made Amerindians into subjects rather than allies, suspended the entire system of annual presents. This false economy reduced Amerindian access to gunpowder and supplies while European hunters and settlers were reducing the deer populations that might have funded Amerindian trading. Suspending the presents that allowed chiefs most loyal to Britain to distribute supplies, and thereby enhance their own and British prestige, was a political and diplomatic blunder. The final Peace of Paris, in which France presumed to give Britain Amerindian lands that Britain presumed to take, was the trigger for two years of intense warfare erroneously called PONTIAC’S REBELLION of 1763-65.

Colonial British Americans initially received the Peace of Paris with rejoicing, as they had the accession of George III and news of British victories. Statues of the king and of William Pitt were erected by public subscription in Boston, New York, and other centers; names of new counties and towns on colonial frontiers celebrated British administrators and soldiers. The victory had been prayed for by a wide variety of Christian congregations in King George III’s Protestant empire. Despite tensions between imperial and colonial politicians and soldiers, the war had integrated eastern North America into the British Empire as never before.

Expectations of both the British and the Americans proved too high, as did the costs of the war. British ministries expected grateful Americans to shoulder the costs of the 7,500 troops left to ensure French and Amerindian acceptance of the peace, particularly in the light of the mother country’s unprecedented £157 million war debt and generous reimbursement for colonial war costs. Americans expected peace to bring lower taxes and more prosperity, not new imperial taxes and a postwar slump followed by a British credit squeeze. Although the elimination of the French and Spanish made British ministries confident that they could impose more on the colonists, the same situation made Americans willing to tolerate less.


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