The Seven Years War (see pages 175 to 181)


The Seven Years War was fundamentally an imperial contest between England and France. With England's victory, Britain emerged as the world's leading colonial power and, after two centuries of development, France's North American empire was wiped out.

Conflicts between the English and the French for the domination of North America began in the 17th century with King William's War (1689-1697). After two more wars in the 18th century (Queen Anne's War & King George's War), colonial America's French and Indian War (1754-1763) would be the last of the British and French contests for North America.

The French and Indian War in 18th century America was the beginning of what would become the world’s first global war: the Seven Years War.

By 1740, it was not England or Spain but France who held most of America. France's land claim stretched from Canada to the Great Lakes and all along the Mississippi River to Louisiana - this vast territory ran strategically right through the middle of the North American continent. The French were much more sucessful at forging stable and respectful relationships with Native American peoples than the English or the Spanish, but in terms of the French population in the Americas, France lagged way behind England and Spain. For example, Canada had 50,000 inhabitants in 1740 while the population of the English colonies in North America was approaching one million. The French Louisiana colony was home to 6000 Native Americans, 4000 African Americans, and only 3000 French.

The English, wanting to expand, often moved into land claimed by the French. English encroachment forced the French to build several forts along frontier. The French, who had a centuries long history of fighting with the English back in Europe, sent their Indian allies to raid the English in retaliation for raids conducted by the Indians allied with the English, who claimed that their raids were in retaliation for those made by the French. It didn't matter which side was correct, the main object wasn't to retaliate, but rather for the French to keep the English in their place, and for the English to irritate the French as much as possible until they moved out.

With tensions already high, the French began to build yet another fort downriver from their Fort Duquesne, near Lake Erie. The English at this time claimed this land as theirs. After some debate, the English decided to send a 21 year old Major George Washington to Fort Duquesne and evict the French. Washington headed a small party through the woods and came upon a party of Frenchmen. Washington gave the order to fire, and in the battle that ensued 10 French were killed, 22 were captured. This was at a time of official peace. The French accused Washington of leading an assassination of those French men and tricked Washington into signing a document that, he thought, said that he had attacked the French party. In fact, the document he signed stated that he had assassinated rather than attacked the party.

The world took note. In early 1755 England sent two regiments to the colonies "to protect the colonies from the Indian invasions." The King of France, still hoping peace could be retained, sent several regiments of his own to New France: "To defend their frontiers."

At first the French succeeded in overpowering the English in several North American battles, but the British ultimately defeated the French when they took Quebec and, finally, Montreal in Canada.

In addition to North America, the war between England and France was fought in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The British conquered French posts in India, took French Senegal on the coast of West Africa, and seized Martinique and Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean. When Spain came to France's aid in 1762, British forces captured the Philippines and the Cuban city of Havana. (Jones p. 180)

In 1763 the Treaty of Paris signalled the end of the Seven Years War. British victories had redrawn the imperial map of the European powers and the Treaty of Paris shifted these possession around once again. The French gave Louisiana to Spain. Spain gave East Florida to the English in return for getting back Havana and the Philippines. France gave England its former holdings between the Appalachians and the Mississippi and parts of Canada in exchange for its Caribbean sugar islands Martinique and Guadeloupe.


The Impact of the Seven Years War on the American Revolution

1) As is always the case with war, the Seven Years War created a large amount of debt. England tried to recoup these debts with increased taxation in the colonies. These increased taxes and the ways in which the English crown tried to deal with the colonies' finances generated tensions between the colonists and the crown.

2) Before the Seven Years War, the English colonists relied on England to provide protection from the French. Now that the French were out of North America, the British colonists no longer needed England for protection from France.

3) The French and Indian War served as a kind of military training school for the American colonists who fought under the command of the British.

Ironically, the Seven Years War signalled BOTH Britain's rise to dominance as the strongest colonial power in the world AND, in many ways, helped to bring England's control of her North American colonies to an end.