War and Conflict

French and Indian War

What was the French and Indian War?

The French and Indian War (1754–63) was the last major conflict in North America before the Revolutionary War (1775–83). During colonial times, both Britain and France had steadily expanded their territories into the Ohio River valley. Since the fur trade prospered in this region, both countries wished to control it. But as the French encroached on their territory, the British colonists sent an ultimatum to them. This message was delivered by none other than George Washington (1732–1799), who had been sent by the British governor. But the French made it clear that they did not intend to back down. So in 1754 Washington (now a lieutenant colonel) and 150 troops established a British outpost at present-day Pittsburgh, not far from where the French had installed themselves at Fort Duquesne. That spring and summer fighting broke out.

Washington met the French, and though he and his troops mustered a strong resistance, there were early losses for the British. But a reinvigorated British force, under the leadership of Britain’s secretary of state William Pitt (1759–1806), took French forts along the Allegheny River in western Pennsylvania and met French troops in battle at Quebec. In 1755 Washington was made colonel and led the Virginia troops in defending the frontier from French and Indian attacks. Though the British finally succeeded in occupying Fort Duquesne in 1758 (at which time Washington temporarily retired to his farm in Virginia), fighting continued until 1763 when the Treaty of Paris ended the war.

The British won the spoils, gaining control of all French lands in Canada as well as French territories east of the Mississippi River, with the exception of New Orleans. (The city was ceded to Spain, along with its holdings west of the Mississippi; Spain had become an ally to France late in the war, in 1762.) In exchange for Havana, Cuba, Spain turned over Florida to the British. France, which had once controlled a vast region of America, retained only two small islands off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and the two Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.


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