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French and Indian Wars


1/3 Prelude to War

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The war that raged in North America through the late 1750's and early 1760's was but one part of the larger struggle between England and France for dominance in world trade and naval power. The British victory in that struggle, known in Europe as the Seven Years' War , ended the long struggle among the three principal powers in northeastern North America: The English, the French, and the Iroquois Confederacy, it confirmed England's commercial supremacy and cemented its control of the settled regions of North America.

The French and the English had coexisted relatively peacefully in North America for nearly a century. But by the 1750's, as both English and French settlements expanded, religious and commercial tensions began to produce new frictions and new conflicts. The French had explored and claimed a vast region of the continental interior, ranging from Louisiana in the South to the Great Lakes in the North. To secure their hold on these enourmous claims, they founded a whole string of communities, missions, trading posts, and fortresses. The region was enclosed by the four major cities: Montreal, Detroit, New Orleans, and Quebec, the center of the French empire in North America.

The English, meanwhile, were preparing for the great population leap accross the Appalachians into Ohio and beyond. In 1749 a group of Virginian businessmen secured a grant of 500,000 acres of Ohio valley land for settlement purposes. They were not impressed by Joseph Celeron who in the same year had claimed that region for France. This prompted the French, in an effort to keep the English from expansion into French lands, to construct new fortresses in the Ohio valley. This, in turn, caused the english, interpreting the French activity as a threat to their western settlements, to begin making military preparations and building fortresses of their own.

For the next five years, tensions between the English and the French increased, until in the summer of 1754 the governor of Virginia sent a militia force (under the command of an inexperienced young colonel named George Washington) into the Ohio valley to challenge French expansion. Washington built a crude stockade (Fort Necessity) and staged an unsuccessful attack on a French detachment. The French countered with an assault on Fort Necessity, trapping Washington and his soldiers inside. After a third of them died in the fighting, Washington surrendered. This clash marked the beginning of the French and Indian War.

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