Undeclared War

Despite General Edward Braddock’s massive failure and the unrest of the regiments at Fort Oswego, there was good news for the British in 1755. William Johnson’s troops had a surprising victory at Crown Point on Lake Champlain, taking Fort Frederick’s. Johnson, an Irish immigrant, emerged as the first hero of the war and set himself on a quick rise to fame and historical importance.

One of the reasons for Johnson’s success was due to his renowned ability to negotiate with the Indians. While George Washington had failed abysmally in his attempt to procure the help of tribes near Fort Necessity, Johnson recruited allies from the Mohawk and Iroquois to accompany his colonial troops. Included in his forces was Captain Robert Rogers, a 23-year-old recruit from New Hampshire who went on to lead the Rangers. Johnson’s forces approached Crown Point in early September. On September 8, the English forces surrounded the French and attacked from behind a breastwork of trees and overturned wagons. As the French advanced, the British climbed over the breastwork for hand-to-hand combat; the French fled in disarray. Johnson, who was wounded in the battle, performed a feat that was not to be repeated until 1758-defeating a French army with a colonial army unfortified by British professionals. Johnson received a baronetcy for his troubles.

All during the year of 1755 the British colonial forces suffered a lack of support (and, perhaps more importantly, funding) from both the colonies and the crown. The colonies were reluctant to provide funding for a war that they felt, perhaps rightly, was not their own. After all, it was Britain who had bullied the French for more territory. The British crown, meanwhile, was reluctant to send money to the colonies for war when catastrophes like Braddock’s continued to take place. A similar scenario took place on the French side, though with perhaps even more neglect. The French crown had less money to send their colonies, and France’s attention was in Europe, where Prussia was becoming increasingly antagonistic and was on the verge of invading Saxony in 1756, setting off the Seven Year’s War.

Declared War and French Dominance

The years 1756 and 1757 brought three things: the arrival of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, newly appointed commander-in-chief of the French forces in North America, declarations of war by the two mother countries, and a string of French victories in forts along the Northeast frontier.

While General Edward Braddock’s defeat at Fort Duquesne was offset by William Johnson’s victory at Crown Point, 1756 and 1757 brought nothing but bad news for the English. With the arrival of Montcalm in March 1756, an exceptionally talented strategist and warrior, the French forces gained a new level of professionalism, savvy, and strength. The British, meanwhile, were disorganized and fighting among themselves. Conflicts between British officers and colonial militiamen were common, culminating in the summer of 1756, when the regiments headed to Crown Point were upset by a small “mutiny.”

After almost two years of battles, England and France finally declared war on each other in May 1756. The declaration brought an influx of funding colonies and the arrival of even more British troops. The Earl of Loundoun was appointed commander-in-chief of the British troops in America, but he shortly proved himself as inept as Braddock in the all-important areas of Indian policy and frontier battle strategy. It was under Loundoun’s command that the “mutiny” of colonial militiamen exploded, and it was under his command that the British suffered some of the worst defeats of the war.

One of most devastating of these defeats was the fall of Fort Oswego on August 14, 1756. The loss of the fort shocked the British, though in hindsight it’s fall seems unsurprising. The fort was devastated by long periods of neglect. The surrounding tribes were already hostile to the British, and Montcalm swayed them further to the French side by spreading a rumor of plunder as a reward for all Indians who came to fight. The fort offered little resistance, and it fell to the French easily. This was an important strategic gain for the French, as it offered them control of Lake Ontario and access to all of the provisions and equipment that had been painfully transported to the fort.

The “mutiny” at Crown Point was another example of British failure to think clearly regarding colonial policy. Loundoun humiliated colonial officers by placing ceilings upon their rank, announcing that a regular British captain would outrank even the highest-ranking colonial. Loundoun caused further consternation by ordering that the troops be incorporated into a single body. His intention was clearly to fortify the colonial troops with British men; the colonial men did not take kindly to the implicit assumption of their inferiority. When Loundoun’s orders met with resistance, he denounced the colonials as mutinous and sent many of them home.

The Massacre at Fort William Henry

The fall of Fort William Henry and the ensuing “massacre” of the surrendered English on August 8, 1757 is one of the most famous incidents in American history. As dramatized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans , the fall of the fort was an incredible tragedy of epic proportions, an illustration of the nobility of the British and the savagery of both the French and the Indians, and an example of brutal primal rage. The real picture is more complicated.

On August 2, 1757 Major General Daniel Webb learned of a concentration of French forces preparing to attack Fort William Henry, which was on the southern end of Lake George along the route to Montreal. With the poor foresight typical among the British officers up to that point in the war, Webb decided to retreat, leaving Lieutenant Colonel George Munro in charge. When Munro, who was left to defend the fort with 2,300 men (only 1,600 of whom were fit for battle) learned that Louis-Joseph de Montcalm was preparing to attack the fort with over 7,000 men, he appealed to Webb for reinforcements. Though Webb had a good number of ready and able reinforcements at his side, he refused Munro’s request, and sent back a letter advising Munro to settle on the best possible terms. Amazingly, Munro held out against the French for four days. But the odds were virtually impossible, and he finally capitulated on August 9.

The British troops were disarmed as a condition of surrender, and made to march from the fort. As the inhabitants of the fort streamed out, the Ottawa, Abenaki, and Potawatomi Indians who fought with the French fell upon the British. The massacre began with the helpless-the wounded and sick men that had been in the fort’s hospital and were carried out last. Women and children, most likely families of the soldiers, were also murdered. Other victims included black and mulatto servants, Indian allies of the British, and retreating soldiers who were in sight when order broke down.

While the Indians attacked, the French did nothing to stop the massacre or go to the assistance of those who were being slaughtered. Montcalm excused his behavior with the following words: “I have been obliged here to gratify the Indian nations, who will not leave without me, and am obliged to pass my time with them in ceremonies as tiresome as they are necessary.” Montcalm did attempt to restore hostages that the Indians carried off, and he was successful at rescuing many of them.

The number of casualties of the massacre continues to be disputed. It is certain that the French underestimated the death toll, and the English wildly overestimated it, both for propaganda purposes. Contemporary historians normally place the number at over 200, with over 300 captives taken.

British Ascension (1758)

In December 1756, William Pitt became the leader of the British ministry. He adopted aggressive new policies that had a crucial effect on the latter half of the war. One of those policies was, in October 1757, to recall the Earl of Loundoun as commander-in-chief of British forces in North America.

The first battle of 1758 was, nonetheless, a failure for the British. They failed to take the Fort at Ticonderoga, despite having a force of 16,000 men to the French’s 3,500 troops. The battle was a disaster, due mostly to a lack of British leadership. The only British allies to emerge from the battle with any credibility at all were Robert Rogers’ Rangers, who were rapidly gaining fame and success for their skill at scouting, spying, and employing guerrilla tactics against the French.

Pitt’s new tactics soon began to take hold, however, and, after Ticonderoga, things quickly began to change for the British. On July 26, 1758, the British finally captured Louisbourg after many attempts. This victory opened the route to Canada. Just a month later the British achieved another victory by taking Fort Frontenac on the shores of Lake Ontario, and thereby cutting off the ability of the French to communicate with their troops in the Ohio Valley. In November, the British captured Fort Duquesne, the site of Braddock’s disaster and death. Duquesne was renamed Fort Pitt, after the new English leader, and eventually became known as Pittsburgh, PA.

With Pitt at the helm, England finally began to take advantage of its huge advantage in supplies and manpower, and the tide of the war quickly turned. In May 1759, the British captured the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Guadeloupe was a wealthy, sugar-producing island and the French would certainly want it back in any peace negotiation-a chip the British planned to use for their advantage. They followed this victory with the seizure of Ticonderoga in June and Fort Niagara in July. The French abandoned their post at Crown Point shortly after, leaving the whole of the western frontier to the British.

Battle of Quebec

After the French abandoned Crown Point, the British controlled the western frontier. However, the French strongholds were further north, in Quebec and Montreal. These were also the French cities and forts that were most heavily supplied, funded, and protected.

William Pitt emphasized the importance of gaining Quebec in assuring outright British victory; he gave the assignment of conquering the city to famed general James Wolfe. Wolfe and Vice-admiral Charles Saunders organized a team of ships and infantry to besiege the city. The battle began in June 1759 and lasted for three months. The ships ascended the St. Lawrence flawlessly and held out against massive French assaults of fire and cannon.

Despite the romantic glaze that hangs over the Quebec campaign, it was a desperate struggle that frequently became brutal. Wolfe, like Montcalm, was not immune to terrorizing the civilian population, and one of his first orders to scouting parties was to “burn and lay waste the country.” Louis-Joseph de Montcalm responded with equal brutality, threatening the frightened civilians with “the savages” when they meekly appealed to him for surrender.

Because Quebec was so mighty and heavily fortified, Wolfe was forced to starve the French out for two and a half months. The British forces were not large enough to completely surround the city and cut off its supplies; though French food and materiel were rapidly dwindling they were still enough to keep the soldiers alive.

Finally, on September 13, Wolfe landed a small host of soldiers in the middle of the night at l’Anse au Foulon, upstream of the city. Sheer luck played as much a role as skill in this success-Wolfe was able to fool a sentry and a general by speaking French and gathered the rest of his troops for the invasion. Montcalm was so disoriented by this bizarre turn of events that he made many mistakes in defending the city. First, he gathered his troops at the wrong place-downstream of the city, in a place called Beaumont. When they finally caught up to the British, Montcalm ordered them to charge instead of waiting for reinforcements. The battle lasted only fifteen minutes and both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed.

After the capture of Quebec, the rest of Canada quickly fell. The French attempted a brief countersiege from May 11-16, 1760, but quickly gave up. Montreal capitulated in September 1760, and the British General Amherst and the French Marquise de Vaudreuil signed letters of capitulation that finished the surrender of Canada. On or around September 15, the British flag was hoisted over the city of Detroit, effectively ending the war.

A Tenuous Peace (1760-63)

After the surrender of Canada in 1760, the war was effectively over in North America. Nonetheless, fighting continued in other parts of the world for the next two years and small skirmishes specially Indian raids occasionally broke out in the colonies and along the Canadian border.

Despite this, the French and Indian War ended French political influence on the North American continent, a fact underscored by the Treaty of Paris, signed at the end of the Seven Year’s War, in February 1763. As part of the negotiations for this treaty, France regained its wealthy sugar producing islands in the Caribbean that had been lost to the British during the fighting- Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia. With the exception of New Orleans, France surrendered all of its North American possessions east of the Mississippi to the British. All possessions west of the Mississippi were given to the Spanish.

Although the British won the war with the French, the British still faced pressing colonial problems that the Treaty of Paris only aggravated. The Indians in particular were angered by the provisions of peace that left little room for their concerns. One of the reasons they agreed to fight-on either side of the war-was to ensure that they would retain the sole rights to their land. Instead, the exhausted Indians were faced with the immediate encroachment of British speculators, traders, and settlers.

Disaffected and impoverished, a host of Indian nations organized in April 1763 under the leadership of an Ottawa chief named Pontiac. The forces included Ottawas, Chippewas, Potawatomis, Hurons, Shawnees, and Delawares. On May 9, 1763, the allies laid siege to Fort Detroit. That summer, they proceeded to destroy forts at Venango, LeBoeuf, and Presque Isle. They also attacked forts at Niagara and Pittsburgh.

The British reacted immediately and brutally. Their tactics included both ruthless bloodshed (Commander-in-chief of the British forces, Jeffrey Amherst, encouraged soldiers to “Put to death all that fall into your hands”) and deception (the soldiers at Fort Pitt spread smallpox among the Delawares by presenting them with a “gift” infected blankets from the hospital nearby). Their tactics weakened the Indians and forced Pontiac to capitulate Fort Detroit on October 31, 1763.

With the end of Pontiac’s war, the fight for control over the North American empire east of the Mississippi was officially over, though small battles with the Indians continued for years. Their fear of “foreigners”, both French and Indian, subsided, the British turned their attention to the colonies. Having spent so much time, money, men to keep the colonies, England was now determined to keep the colonies in line and make them as profitable as possible. To ensure that they attained these goals, the British gave up their longstanding policy of salutary neglect, and instituted harsh policies and high taxes for the colonials. England’s harsh treatment of the colony’s after 1763 had precisely the opposite of its desired result: instead of making the colony’s profitable, it made them increasingly angry, and eventually ed to another uprising-the Revolutionary War, which exploded just thirteen years later.

Though most of the North American fighting ended on September 8, 1760, when the Marquis de Vaudreuil surrendered Montreal-and effectively all of Canada-to Britain, the French and Indian War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. The treaty resulted in France’s loss of all its North American possessions east of the Mississippi (all of Canada was ceded to Britain) except Saint Pierre and Miquelon, two small islands off of Newfoundland, marking the beginning of an era of British dominance outside Europe.

Britain also gained control of French Canada, a colony containing approximately 65,000 Frenchspeaking, Roman Catholic residents. Early in the war, in 1755, the British had expelled French settlers from Acadia, some of whom eventually fled to Louisiana. Now at peace and eager to secure control of its hard-won colony, Great Britain found itself obliged to make concessions to its newly conquered subjects.

The European theatre of the war was settled by the Treaty of Hubertusburg on February 15, 1763. The war changed economic, political, and social relations between Britain and its colonies. It plunged Britain into debt, which the Crown chose to pay off with tax money from its colonies. These taxes contributed to the beginning the American Revolutionary War.

The war changed economic, political, governmental, and social relations between Britain, France, and Spain, their colonies and colonists, and the natives that inhabited the territories they claimed. France and Britain both suffered financially because of the war, with significant long-term consequences.

The Seven Years’ War nearly doubled Britain’s national debt. The Crown, seeking sources of revenue to pay off the debt, attempted to impose new taxes on its colonies. These attempts were met with increasingly stiff resistance, until troops were called in to ensure that representatives of the Crown could safely perform their duties. These acts ultimately led to the start of the American Revolutionary War. For France, the military defeat and the financial burden of the war weakened the monarchy and contributed to the advent of the French Revolution in 1789.

France returned to North America in 1778 with the establishment of a Franco-American alliance against Great Britain in the American War of Independence.


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