at the start of the French and Indian War, the French claimed the center of the North American continent and sought to contain the English east of the Alleghenies
Source: Library of Congress, "Robertson's geographic-historical series illustrating the history of America and the United States: from 1492 to the present time," English, French and Spanish Possessions
France and Britain were international rivals seeking wealth and power, and this competition affected Virginia. England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and even Sweden fought each other overseas in North America and he Caribbean, without formally declaring war and risking invasion of the homelands in Europe.
The French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1755-63 by French and British forces (including colonial militia). The "Indian" part of the name s key to understanding the conflict. Native Americans chose to ally with either England or France. Competition for their trade and support created conflicts that extended far from the cities of Montreal and Quebec along the St. Lawrence River, and from the English settlements on the Fall Line.
The war was one of a continuing chain of English-French conflicts in North America, stretching back to the earliest settlements by the European rivals.
Starting in the 1580's, French ships traded for beaver and other skins at Tadoussac on the St. Lawrence River (downstream from modern Quebec). After 1608, one year after the English arrived at Jamestown, Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec.
The English and French soon chose to fight rather than trade. In 1613, Virginia colonists sailed north from Jamestown to destroy a French settlement on Mt. Desert Island, now part of Acadia National Park.1
the Virginia colonists sailed 650 miles north to destroy the French settlement on Mt. Desert Island in 1613
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Samuel de Champlain initially aligned with the Huron-Wendat, an Iroquoian-speaking tribe occupying lands west of Quebec and north of the Great Lakes. Champlain helped the Huron-Wendat fight their rivals, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy formed by five Iroquois tribes to the south.
After Jacques Cartier and Jean-François Roberval had tried to start French colonies in the St. Lawrence River valley in the 1540's, five tribes - Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca - formed an alliance called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy or Iroquois League. Inter-tribal negotiations, based on honoring the dead through condolence ceremonies rather than revenge attacks, largely replaced the population-draining blood feuds among the five nations. As a result, the Iroquois dominated the territory south of the St. Lawrence River and west of the Hudson River.2
Champlain may not have understood the relative strength of the different tribes, but he did understand topography and hydrography. The network of rivers on the north side of the St. Lawrence made it easier to obtain furs from inland sources, and the French preferred the quality of the furs from the north.
The French alliance with the Huron-Wendat started almost a century of French warfare with the Iroquois, especially the Mohawk who lived on the eastern edge next to the Hudson River.
The Dutch established Fort Nassau in 1614 and Fort Orange on the Hudson River in 1624. Those bases offered the Iroquois easy access to European weapons, in exchange for furs.
The Dutch and French competed for the Native American trade for nearly 50 years. When the English seized Fort Orange and renamed it Albany, they continued the competition. At the same time, Native American groups fought each other to control the fur trade with the French at Montreal and the Dutch/English at Albany.
To compete with Fort Orange, the French sought to place a trading fort closer to the furs coming from the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay watersheds. Montreal, located further up the St. Lawrence River from Quebec, was started in 1642.
Montreal quickly became the place for Native Americans to exchange furs for guns, clothing, and other trade goods. Though the colonists in New France tried to raise crops for their own subsistence, French colonial profits were based upon fur trading rather than agriculture. There was no equivalent in New France to the tobacco-growing economy in Virginia.
The Haudenosaunee won the "beaver wars" in 1649-51 and gained control over trade with the French. The five allied Iroquois nations destroyed the villages and dispersed the population of the Huron-Wendat, Neutrals, Nipissing, and Petun who lived north of the St. Lawrence River.
The Iroquois could have made a concerted effort to expel the French next; those colonists lacked the resources to win a long-term conflict. The English and the Dutch were supplying guns to the Haudenosaunee, and their continuing raids threatened to force the French to abandon the St. Lawrence River valley.3
the Iroquois defeated the Outaouacs (Ottawas) and other tribes north of the St. Lawrence River in the 1649-51 Beaver Wars, taking control of the territory where furs could be acquired for sale to the French in Montreal and the Dutch at Albany
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the British and French dominions in North America (John Mitchell, 1755)
The chief of the Onondaga, Garacontie, brokered an Iroquois-French peace in 1654 that ensured the survival of New France. The Iroquois had access to English and Dutch traders on the Hudson River, and Garacontie desired to preserve France's St. Lawrence River posts to provide competition. Even when the French goods were lower quality and more expensive, the Iroquois recognized that perpetuating European rivalries in North America would provide long-term benefits to the Native Americans.
Garacontie's 1654 peace deal also defined the Onondaga, not the Mohawk, as the dominant nation in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Mohawk were located closest to the Dutch/English trading post at Albany. Mohawk control over access to European trade there, and the "taxes" charged by the Mohawk, frustrated the other four nations. After the peace, the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca could do business directly with the Dutch traders at Fort Orange or with the French traders in Quebec and Montreal.4
The 1654 peace with the French reduced the power of the Mohawk nation. Afterwards, members of the Mohawk often sought to create incidents that would re-ignite warfare with the French. Renewed conflict might re-establish Mohawk control over trade for European goods and thus dominance within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Aggressive warriors within the Seneca, Oneida, and Cayuga tribes, and also with Garacontie's own Onondaga tribe, could join with Mohawk warriors despite the official peace. Those Iroquois who preferred to fight rather than trade could raid camps and attack small bands of traders, despite the official peace.
New France was still not an economic success when Louis XIV cancelled the monopoly of the Company of One Hundred Associates in 1663. In 1665, the king deepened his commitment to his royal colony by sending the Carignan-Salières regiment to Quebec.
The French troops invaded Mohawk territory and villages in a 1666 raid, which successfully rebalanced power between the French colonists and the Iroquois. Over the next 30 years, many of the Mohawk chose to convert to Catholicism and move north to live in the Montreal area, reducing the threat to New France from the "eastern door" of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Starting in the 1500's, the French had relied upon various Native American groups living within the interior of New France to hunt and process deer skins and furs, then exchange them with other tribes further east. Multiple negotiations and re-sales might occur until a final trade for French goods at Quebec and then Montreal; those goods were then exchanged in a series of re-sales until reaching as far west as the Hudson Bay or Lake Superior.
The unlicensed courier du bois, often children of French men and Native American women who could speak different languages and adapt to different cultural situations, facilitated trade in the backcountry and tried to bypass the Native American middlemen.5
After the peace deal with Garacontie in 1654, French officials sought to increase their control of trade and minimize conflicts between traders and different groups of Native Americans by setting up a series of backcountry posts. These ultimately stretched inland from Montreal, past the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River. The French effort to open trading posts in the Ohio River beginning in the 1740's, which led to the French and Indian War in the 1750's, was simply a continuation of a pattern established 150 years earlier.
the French built Fort Frontenac in 1673 to intercept Native American traders before they reached Albany and did business with the rival Dutch/English there
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
In 1664, the rivalry between the France and England in the St. Lawrence River watershed was altered when James, brother of Charles II, gained control of Albany and the Province of New York.
The Dutch had started trading on the Hudson River soon after Henry Hudson first explored that river in 1609. They sailed up the Hudson River to the mouth of the Mohawk River and bought furs from both the Algonquian-speaking Mahican who lived there and their neighbors/rivals, the Iroquoian-speaking Mohawk. When the two tribes created too much trouble by fighting with each other, the Dutch purchased land on the island of Manhattan to provide a more reliable site for doing business.
The Dutch built Fort Orange near the mouth of the Mohawk River in 1624, and the Mohawk/Mahican balance finally broke down. The local fur supply was exhausted, but the Mohawk refused to authorize the Mahican to acquire furs from other tribes to the west and north. By 1628, after several military victories, the Mohawk forced the Mahican to move east of the Hudson River. After that, the Mohawk carefully controlled access to trade at the mouth of the Mohawk River for 150 years.
the Dutch claim to New Amsterdam extended north to the St. Lawrence River, and included the Hudson River valley explored by Henry Hudson in 1609
Source: Library of Congress, Novi Belgii Novæque Angliæ : nec non partis Virginiæ tabula multis in locis emendat (1685)
After defeating the Mahican on the east, the Mohawk and their Haudenosaunee Confederacy allies expanded to the north as well. That expansion was facilitated by the English, who took temporary control of Quebec between 1629-1632.
During that short window, the French could not supply their allies and the Iroquois gained control over much of the St. Lawrence River valley. The Haudenosaunee and savvy leaders of other Native American nations took advantage of the rivalries between nations in Europe to acquire European-manufactured guns, to expand control over North American territory that supplied furs, and to dominate trade with those Europeans.6
European control of the mouth of the Mohawk River changed several times during the Anglo-Dutch wars. The English took control of Albany in 1664, though the Dutch briefly regained it. The expansion of English power into the interior of New York concerned the French based in Montreal.
To intercept Native Americans who might bring western furs to trade with the English, the French established Fort Frontenac in 1673. That post was located on Lake Ontario at Cataracoui (now Kingston, Ontario). In 1679 the French also built a trading post at Niagara, directly on the trading path of the Seneca nation.
French settlements west of Quebec were located where they could intercept furs being carried to the competing trading fort at Albany
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The leaders of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy were reluctant to permit the French intrusions deep into their territory; the peace negotiated by Garacontie in 1654 was placed at risk by the French expansion. Forts/trading posts west of Montreal could undercut the Onondaga trading relationship with the Ottawa to the north and with other tribes.
However, the French presence on Lake Ontario might provide some protection for the far-western Seneca against the Susquehanna - and prices at Fort Frontenac were 100% higher than Albany prices. The inability of the French to compete on price or quality with the English traders left the Iroquois plenty of opportunity to make a profit, no matter where the French engaged in trade.7
After the Anglo-Dutch wars ended in 1674, New Amsterdam became New York, Albany became an English fort, and the Dutch withdrew from North America. For the Native Americans, the disappearance of the Dutch (and the previous loss of Sweden in 1655, when the Dutch seized New Sweden) meant the loss of a supplier. Reduced competition reduced leverage to bargain for weapons and gunpowder from rival Europeans - but the competition between the French and English continued until the 1760's.
after defeat of the Dutch, the New York colony claimed all the land between the North (Hudson) River and South or "R. du Sud" (Delaware) River
Map Source: Library of Congress, Amérique septentrionale
In 1676, King Philip's War erupted in New England. The Mohawk chose to ally with the English, and used the opportunity to eliminate rival Native American groups in the Connecticut River valley. In that same year, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy established a long-term "Covenant Chain" of peace and friendship with the English. It was so advantageous that the alliance lasted 75 years, until the outbreak of the French and Indian War caused the Mohawk to switch sides and ally with the French.
Over those 75 years, the Iroquois and their allies still harassed English settlers and traders. The colonists also created incidents with the Native Americans; murder in the backcountry was not uncommon. To prevent incidents from growing into a widespread warfare that was not in the interest of either side, the links of that Covenant Chain of friendship were brightened and renewed intermittently in conferences filled with promises. Maintaining the general peace, despite intermittent provocations, required Iroquois and the English to demonstrate political skills as well as a military capacity to inflict significant damage on the other side.
The French had to show the same diplomatic skill as the English to continue the peace first negotiated by Garacontie in 1654. The Native Americans may have been the most adept diplomats. They played the French against the English for 150 years in North America.
French officials provided gifts on a regular basis to maintain positive relations with leaders of different Native American nations, splinter groups, and fragments of defeated tribes. Importing those goods via the St. Lawrence River and transporting them to Native American towns was expensive, but peace and trade was more profitable than war.
Colonial English officials were less reliable with their gifts, but often sold at better prices the guns, cloth, iron knives, and other items desired by the Iroquois and other tribes. For many Native Americans south of the St. Lawrence River, the English trading posts were closer... until the French finally expanded into the Ohio River valley.
The Covenant Chain created in 1676 meant the Iroquois were allied simultaneously with the English and the French. With both European sides neutralized, the Iroquois chose to focus on conquering the Susquehannock nation to the south.
That Iroquoian-speaking tribe may have evolved from the same ancestral group as the Mohawk and Cayuga. The Susquehannock originally lived on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River north of modern-day Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sometime before 1570, they moved south to what later became Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
The Susquehannocks started trading with the Dutch at Manhattan as early as 1626, and obtained plentiful supplies of weapons from different European competitors. For many decades, the Susquehannocks were a serious threat to the Mohawks at the "eastern door" of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and even to the Seneca nation at the "western door."8
after the Europeans arrived, Native American nations sought to control access of their neighbors to furs and trade, disrupting the previous patterns of territory
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The Native American-European trade was based primarily on furs, and beaver and other animals were over-hunted in the valleys of the Hudson, Mohawk, Susquehanna, and Delaware rivers. The Native American nations trading with the Europeans became dependent upon manufactured goods, especially guns. To maintain the trade, those nations sought to expand their territory and acquire new hunting grounds while retaining control over access to locations where Europeans were trading.
The Europeans did not cooperate in maintaining Native American monopolies. Instead, the French and English built forts deeper and deeper in the backcountry, to acquire better furs and to bypass various Native American groups that served as intermediaries.
in 1645, the French, English, and Spanish colonies in North America were separated from each other
Source: Banque d'images en univers social, Carte de la Nouvelle-France vers 1645
In the 1630's William Claiborne set up a fur-trading station at Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay. That location made it easy for the Susquehannocks to obtain prestige goods, tools, guns, ammunition, and gunpowder from the Virginia colony to the south.
When Claiborne first occupied Kent Island, it was located within the boundaries of the Virginia colony based at Jamestown. He continued to trade with the Susquehannocks despite the creation of a new Maryland colony in 1632 and the arrival in 1634 of Governor Cecil Calvert with permanent settlers on the Ark and Dove.
The Marylanders soon displaced various Native American groups along the Potomac River and gained control over the towns of the Piscataway confederacy. Lord Calvert evicted William Claiborne from Kent Island in 1638, though that Virginian continued to disrupt relations within the colony and with his Susquehannock fur-trading allies.
Kent Island was part of Virginia until 1632
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Also in 1638, Swedish traders built Fort Christina at the site of modern Wilmington, Delaware. The Swedes joined in the regional competition for furs, but lacked influence with Native American groups already doing business with the French, Dutch, and English. To compensate, the Swedes were willing to sell more ammunition and gunpowder to Native Americans than the other European groups. The other Europeans had sold guns widely, but controlled sales of ammunition/gunpowder to limit the military capacity of the Native Americans. Thanks to the unlimited arms sales by the Swedes, Maryland officials could not defeat the Susquehannocks in the 1640's.9
Both Maryland and the Susquehannocks finally chose the alternative to fighting and conquest: trading. The Calverts were temporarily displaced during the English Civil War, and in the early 1650's William Claiborne and his allies took control of the colony.
At that time, the Mohawks were raiding to the south and threatening the rival tribes along the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers. Jesuit missionaries were forced to abandon their mission at Piscataway Creek in 1642. Claiborne could negotiate with the Susquehannocks, his Native American partners in the fur trade, in ways the Calverts could/would not. Both sides agreed to a peace in 1652.
The Susquehannock nation needed peace in 1652 in order to focus on the Mohawk threat from the north. From the colonists' point of view, peace always increased opportunities to gain wealth by trading furs and to harvest tobacco/corn crops without disturbance. Fortified Susquehannock towns could be a useful barrier for the colonists against raids by the "Seneca" (used as a common shorthand to describe any of the five nations in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy), Nanticokes (Delaware), and other groups.
Peace also reduced the risk that the Susquehannock nation would be incentivized by the Swedes/Dutch on the Delaware River to attack English settlements. Maryland could not depend reliably upon Virginia to come to its aid if attacked, reflecting the competition between the two colonies for land along the upper Chesapeake Bay and the objections in Virginia to a Catholic settlement in the region.10
The threat from the Delaware River changed after Dutch seized New Sweden in 1655, then surrendered their colony of New Netherland to the English in 1664. The brother of King Charles II, James (Duke of York), claimed all the Dutch settlements as part of his colony of New York. In 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch briefly recaptured their settlements on the Delaware River.
To counter that threat and the risk of Mohawk attack, the Maryland General Assembly passed a special tax in 1673 to provide gunpowder to the Susquehannocks. With supplies from Maryland, the Susquehannocks raided to the north of the future New York-Pennsylvania boundary and came close to defeating the Five Nations.11
the willingness of Dutch settlers at New Flanders ("La Novvelle Flandre") to sell weapons helped the Susquehannock, Iroquois, and other Native American groups bargain with the English nearby and the French at Montreal
Source: University of Ottawa, Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française, Carte de la Nouvelle-France (c. 1641)
In 1674 the Dutch were forced to surrender their North American settlements in 1674. The Calvert's claim to lands on the eastern edge of the Maryland colony remained threatened by the officials in New York. That colony was controlled by James, the Duke of York and brother of King Charles II. To assert more control over the Susquehannocks (and possibly prepare for seizure of the lands along the Delaware River), Gov. Charles Calvert convinced the Susquehannocks to move closer to the Potomac River.
The invitation was for the Susquehannocks to settle near Little Falls/Great Falls, upstream of modern Washington DC. New York-based traders would have less influence there, and a fortified Susquehannock town on the Potomac River would serve as a barrier between the Iroquois and Maryland's settlers.12
That move was disastrous for the Susquehannock nation, and ultimately for Virginia's long-serving governor William Berkeley.
Major Edmund Andros, the governor of New York, was an ally of the Iroquois according to the Covenant Chain. Once the Susquehannock moved, he converted the Delaware (Lenni-Lenape) into allies of the New York colony. That increased New York's claim to the land that later became the state of Delaware, and undercut the previous support provided by the Delaware to the Susquehannocks.
The Susquehannocks ignored the invitation to locate near Little Falls/Great Falls, and instead built a fortified town at the mouth of Piscataway Creek. It is not clear if the Piscataways who already lived in the area welcomed or opposed the relocation, but the could not block it.
the Susquehannocks settled on Piscataway Creek, after the Maryland colony convinced them to move west to the Potomac River
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The Susquehannock fort was across the Potomac River from land patented by Col. John Washington (property that later became George Washington's Mount Vernon). The Virginians were expanding up the Potomac River, displacing the Dogue and other Native Americans who had traditionally used the lands north of the Rappahannock River. Augustine Herrman's 1670 map shows that at least a portion of the Dogue had relocated to the Rappahannock River, downstream from the Fall Line.
The map also shows nearby communities of the Portobaco and Chingwateick. They may have been refugees from Maryland who were unhappy with the 1666 "articles of peace and amity" signed by Gov. Calvert with 12 separate Native American groups, and the planned reservation (which would exclude visits from "forreign Indians" such as the Iroquois) surveyed between Mattawoman and Piscataway creeks in 1669. The governor's efforts to establish more control may have initiated the shift of the Anacostin upstream from the confluence of the Anacostia/Potomac rivers to Anacostin Island, even though the new location was more exposed to attack by the Iroquois.13
In 1675, members of the Dogue tribe felt cheated by a Virginia colonist and took hogs from Thomas Mathews. In a series of incidents, Virginian and Dogue retaliation grew into a borderland war that involved the Susquehannock. Col. John Washington led a Virginia raiding party across the Potomac River into Maryland and attacked the Susquehannock fort at Piscataway Creek, claiming the Dogue were being sheltered there. Instead of protecting the Susquehannock, who had been invited to move to the Potomac River, Maryland's colonial officials joined with the Virginians in the assault on the fort.
In a truce during the assault, Susquehannock emissaries were murdered without cause. The six-week siege of the fort ended when the Susquehannock escaped. They ceased any pretense of being allies with the Maryland and Virginia colonies. Instead, the Susquehannock retaliated against their harsh treatment by raiding isolated Virginia settlements along the Fall Line, which was the edge of colonial occupation at the time.14
Gov. William Berkeley failed to respond to demands for military protection, so the colonists living near the Fall Line initiated what became Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. Gov. Berkeley was forced to flee to the Eastern Shore, the colonial capital of Jamestown was burned to the ground, and homes of the gentry were plundered by the rebels. For the first time, British officials sent two regiments of the army to Virginia to restore the official government and to protect the colonists.15
The Virginians did not seek out and fight the Susquehannocks, who were still perceived as powerful warriors. During Bacon's Rebellion, his forces attacked peaceful Native American tribes allied with the Virginia government, including the Rappahannock, Pamunkey and Occaneechee.
The Iroquois took advantage of the situation. They quickly conquered the scattered Susquehannocks, once their old enemies were left without a fortified base and forced to wander through the Piedmont:16
The Susquehannocks lost their independence and agreed to be subordinate to the Iroquois in a 1677 treaty negotiated by New York Governor Andros at Shackamaxon.17
The Piscataway had allied with Maryland's forces against the Susquehannocks. Governor Calvert relocated the Piscataway in 1780 from their old base on Piscataway Creek to Zekiah Swamp, which the governor controlled personally as a proprietary manor in Charles County.18
In the Great Peace of 1701, the Mohawk and other members of the Five Nations (the Tuscarora did not join until the 1720's) agreed to stop fighting the French on their norther border. This freed up the Iroquois to combat the Mahican on the east, their rivals for trade with the Dutch fort at Albany. Peace with New France also allowed the Iroquois to focus on conquering the Susquehanna and Delaware to the south, plus westward expansion to establish Five Nations hegemony over tribes living in the Ohio River valley.
The French built Fort Detroit in 1701, extending their trading network further to the west. It was located on territory that Virginia had claimed since 1609, and included within Illinois County in 1778.
Governor Spotswood viewed new French forts in the Ohio River and Mississippi River as encroachment into Virginia's territory
Source: John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, A new chart of the English Empire in North America (by Cyprian Southack, 1717)
Virginia's claim to the Ohio Country westward to the Mississippi River and beyond was based its Second Charter, which granted:19
the French built forts at Frontenac in 1673, Niagara in 1679, and Detroit in 1701 to extend their trading network deeper into the backcounry - but in 1718, geographic knowledge of the Ohio River watershed was very thin
Source: University of Georgia, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, La France occidentale dans l'Ame´rique Septentrional ou le cours de la rivie`re de St. Laurens aux environs de la quelle se trouvent le Canada, l'Acadie, et la Gaspasie les Esquimaux, les Hurons, les Iroquois, les Illinois & la Virginie, la Marie-Lande, la Pensilvanie, le Nouveau Jersay, la Nouvelle Yorck, la Nouvelle Angleterre et l'isle de Terre-Neuve (1718)
In contrast, English colonies in North America were based on agriculture, especially tobacco in Virginia and Maryland. English colonists displaced Native American tribes, occupying their land and preventing traditional hunting practices.
Taxes on tobacco generated a profit for the government on London, and sale of tobacco to customers in Europe generated profits for business leaders in London. The price of tobacco grown in the Middle Atlantic coloniesvaried based on supply, demand, and manipulation of the market by London businessmen, but land speculation fueled the growth of a wealthy gentry class in Virginia.
That gentry dominated colonial government in Virginia, and the colony's economy was based on a ever-growing population continuously buying western lands. The colonial government in Williamsburg (after 1699) granted those lands at low cost to a select group of powerful families, who profited by displacing Native Americans and selling parcels to new farmers. Land speculation was more profitable than selling tobacco.
Land speculation by Virginians, more than any other colony, was the fundamental cause of the French and Indian War. Full-scale conflict in the New World between England and France had been delayed 200 years, in part because the two countries initially separated their colonies by great distances. However, as English settlement expanded into the trading backcountry that fed furs to Montreal and Quebec, competition for trade with Native American tribes increased.
land speculation efforts by the Virginians in the area west of the Ohio River triggered the French and Indian War
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the British and French dominions in North America (John Mitchell, 1755)
The efforts of the Ohio Company to occupy lands at the Forks of the Ohio River finally triggered the war which determined which European power would control the interior of North America, east of the Mississippi River.
There was a long tradition of warfare between French colonists and Native Americans, pre-dating the settlement at Quebec in 1608. Warfare between English colonists and Native Americans started in the first days of Jamestown. Various groups of Native Americans resisted efforts by colonists to convert their towns and hunting territories into farms.
The paramount chiefdom of Powhatan was disrupted despite uprisings in 1622 and 1644, and most of the Native Americans forced to leave the Coastal Plain. In the 1670's, Virginia colonists intruded into the territory claimed by the Dogue at the same time the Susquehanna moved closer to the Potomac River. Resistance by those two tribes in 1676 helped spark Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia. That same year, King Philip's War in New England devastated 17 towns and damaged the economy severely:20
Throughout the first half of the 1700's, conflicts between France and England in Europe overlapped with European and Native American rivalries for control of land and trade in North America. Iroquois expansionism, fueled in part by skillful negotiation of alliances with colonial representatives of France and England, forced the Susquehanna and Delaware out of their traditional territories and made them dependent upon the Six Nations.
in the 1750's the British claimed sovereignty over lands west of the Susquehanna River which the Iroquois had been conquered
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements (John Mitchell, 1755)
West of the Ohio River, the Shawnee were the most willing to assert their independence of the Iroquois. The Erie, Mingo, Wyandot, Ottawa, and other tribes were forced to acknowledge the power of the Six Nations. In negotiations, dependent tribes were forced to accept arrangements acceptable to the Iroquois, and leaders of subordinate tribes were designated as only "half kings."
The Ohio Company's disruption of relationships in the backcountry of the Ohio River valley started in the late 1740's. Speculative land claims by that company was just one of many disputes between France and England; the conflict could have become just another minor event in a long pattern of conflicts. The overlapping territorial claims by the French based on the St. Lawrence River, and by the English speculators based in Virginia, grew into a decisive world war because the buffer of undisputed land between New France and the English colonies finally had been exhausted.
The Ohio Company intended to occupy the backcountry of the French traders and block their economic opportunity. The French refused to concede the valley of La Belle Rivière, and maneuvered to dominate the Native Americans who lived there. The traders from Pennsylvania sought to have Native American groups interfere with traders from Virginia and vice-versa. The colonial governors failed to work together to implement a common negotiation strategy with Native American tribes.
Choosing a time for the start of the French and Indian War requires assessing the events that preceded official declaration of war in 1756. King George's War started in 1744, and ended in 1748 with only a temporary peace.
In 1754, open conflict re-started in North America at the Forks of the Ohio. In 1756 the two countries started the Seven Years War in Europe. That led Great Britain to send enough military forces from Europe to North America to tip the balance, and in 1763 France was forced to abandon North America.
the expansive English claim to the Ohio River watershed was portrayed in John Mitchell's 1755 map
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements
John Mitchell's 1755 map of English claims in North America displayed the location of Kuskusky and Logstown (and demonstrated the old adage that "all interesting places are located at the edge of separate map sheets...")
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the British and French dominions in North America (John Mitchell, 1755)
In 1753, the French established military bases on the southern edge of Lake Ontario and in what today is northern Pennsylvania. In late 1753, Lord Dinwiddie sent George Washington to notify Legardeur de St. Pierre at Fort de la Rivière au Boeuf that the French had encroached into territory claimed by the English. Part of the English claim to the Ohio River territory was based on the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster. After the Iroquois supposedly "sold" their claim to that land, the Ohio Company obtained a land grant to much of what is modern-day Ohio.
After Lord Dinwiddie gave Washington the assignment to travel to Fort Le Boeuf, Washington hired Christopher Gist to serve as his guide. Together with Indian allies, the two Virginians reached the French headquarters near Lake Erie (modern-day New Waterford, Pennsylvania) despite the November snow and ice.
the French moved south from Canada through Lake Erie, down the Allegheny River to the Forks of the Ohio, and forced the Ohio Company to abandon their incomplete fort
Source: Library of Congress, Captain Snow's scetch of the country by himself, and the best accounts he could receive from the Indian traders
Washington was treated well by the French at Fort Le Boeuf. The officers must have appreciated the opportunity to converse with a "gentleman" in the middle of nowhere - but they rejected Dinwiddie's claim that the Ohio River was British territory. Washington's tiny party in 1753 was clearly inadequate for anything more than a brief scouting expedition, and to the French any military threat from Williamsburg must have seemed minor. The French were more concerned with the Native American allies that accompanied Washington and Gist, and worked hard to shift the Native American loyalties to the French.
Washington hurried back to Williamsburg from Fort Le Boeuf in order to alert Dinwiddie as fast as possible, surviving a dunking in an ice-filled river and an attempt to kill him by a Native American in his traveling party. Washington submitted a written report to Lord Dinwiddie, who sent it to London. The report was published as The Journal of Major George Washington, and the 21-year old Virginian gained his first recognition in Europe through that report from the frontier.
George Washington traveled to Fort Le Boeuf in the winter of November 1753, crossing icy rivers in harsh winter conditions and surviving an attempted murder on the return trip
Source: Library of Congress, George Washington's map, accompanying his "journal to the Ohio", 1754
In 1754, the Virginia colony sent reinforcements to a fort that colonists were building at the Forks of the Ohio, to protect it from the French. However, before the Virginians arrived, the French captured the fort and renamed it Fort Duquesne, one of several they planned along the Ohio River to connect "New France" in Canada with their holdings in Louisiana. Colonel Joshua Fry was the leader of the Virginia expedition, but Fry died before getting to Pennsylvania. The second-in-command, George Washington, assumed leadership of the military force - and led it into a debacle.
After learning the fort had been captured and the Virginia colonists evicted, Washington attacked a group of Frenchmen in late May, 1754 while they slept. The site of the attack is now called Jumonville Glen, named after the French leader who died in the British ambush. After the Virginians had captured or killed all the Frenchmen, one of Washington's Native American allies took a hatchet and bashed out the brains of de Jumonville. This murder of the French leader, after he had surrendered, guaranteed continued hostilities between the Europeans trying to occupy the Ohio River valley.
The French responded by sending troops and Native American allies from Fort Duquesne to confront Washington's small force. Washington failed to maintain good relations with his Native American allies, and they deserted the Virginians. Washington built a small fort with a palisade around it in an open field, called Fort Necessity, but was forced to surrender after less than one day of fighting. Washington signed a surrender document, written in French, in which he admitted to "assassinating" the French ambassador who had travelled from Fort Duquesne to meet with the Virginians.
the French moved forces and supplies from Lake Erie in order to build Fort Duquesne, where the Allegheny and Monogohela rivers join to form the Ohio River
Source: Library of Congress, Copy of a sketch of the Monongahela, with the field of battle
Today we know George Washington grew up to be rich and famous, the "Father of the Country" and the "Indispensable Man" without whom the United States may have failed to coalesce into one united country. In 1755, however, Washington appears to have been an idealistic but unhappy young man who thought he had made a bad personal decision to go to Fort de la Rivière au Boeuf, then fight the French in 1754 (when he surrendered at Fort Necessity) and 1755 (when he was with General Braddock, and the British forces were defeated before reaching Fort Duquesne):21
What today we call the French and Indian War may have been inevitable, once two European powers sought control over the same Ohio River land. The war was triggered by the actions of the military force led by Washington in 1754, but had Washington not been in charge of the Virginia response to the French incursion then a war would have been triggered by some other incident in the 1750's.
The war was inevitable... but the role of the Virginians was not. Why were the Virginians fighting the French so far from the boundaries of the Virginia colony? Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, and Pittsburg (Fort Duquesne/Fort Pitt) are all in Pennsylvania - why didn't the Pennsylvanians fight the initial battles?
the contest between France and England for control of lands west of the Allegheny Mountains led to the French and Indian War, triggered by George Washington's "assassination" of a French official at Jumonville Glen in 1754
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the province of Pensilvania (1756)
Land-hungry Virginians in the General Assembly and on the governor's Council launched the Ohio Company in 1748. The average Virginian without a massive land grant shared the hunger for land, and was willing to fight Native Americans, the French, or even Pennsylvanians to obtain cheap land. The Quaker-led assembly in Pennsylvania lacked the avarice and willingness to fight for land. The Virginians saw an opportunity to gain control over the Ohio territory, and had no qualms about citing the colonial charters as the basis for their land claims or raising an army to fight for that land.
When Lord Braddock arrived in 1755 to lead the British army to the capture of Fort Duquesne, he established his base of operations in Alexandria - not Philadelphia. Farmers bringing crops and other supplies to Braddock created "Braddocks Road" in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, but Braddock marched up modern Route 7 and through Maryland to what is today Cumberland, Maryland.
From Cumberland the English cut a road through the wilderness to Fort Duquesne. However, Braddock was killed and the British defeated in a surprise assault by the French and their Native American allies near the fort. Much to the dismay of the Virginians, however, the British forces moved to Philadelphia after Braddock's defeat and went into "winter quarters" in mid-summer of 1755.
Even worse, the British determined to attack Fort Duquesne by building a road through the Pennsylvania wilderness, enhancing the economic link between Philadelphia and the Ohio River in the process. After the British captured Fort Duquesne and renamed it Fort Pitt, the Virginia investment in fighting the French ended up providing advantages to the Pennsylvania colony rather than to Virginia. The Virginians even dropped their claims to the land in southwestern Pennsylvania, though the land claims already established by Virginia colonists were confirmed by the Pennsylvanians.
General Braddock led an English army from Alexandria across the Monongahela River, but died in the defeat near Fort Duquesne
Source: Library of Congress, A sketch of the field of battle with the disposition of the troops in the beginning of the engagement of the 9th of July on the Monongahela 7 miles from Fort Du Quesne.
with support from Virginians who wanted better access to the Ohio River, Braddock directed his army to cut a road from Fort Cumberland (now Cumberland, Maryland) to Fort Duquesne
Source: Library of Congress, "Robertson's geographic-historical series illustrating the history of America and the United States: from 1492 to the present time," Braddock's Defeat
General Braddock knew the details of Fort Duquesne, thanks to a diagram and report smuggled out by an English hostage retained after the surrender of Fort Necessity
Source: University of Pittsburgh, Robert Stobo to Colonel Innes, July 28, 1754
The Journal of Major George Washington (1754)
Source: University of Nebraska, Digital Commons
the English planned to seize four major forts in the 1755 campaign, isolating Quebec and Montreal
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online