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The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

Undeclared War

The Failure of General Braddock

Declared War and French Dominance

Summary

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.

Commentary

William Johnson's role as an Indian leader made a crucial difference in both his ability to recruit allies and his ability to lead a successful battle against the French. Without a doubt, Britain had a more difficult time crafting successful Indian policy and getting the Indians to cooperate as allies in war than did the French. This can be attributed, in large part, to a difference in colonial policy on behalf of the French and the English. In general, the British policy towards the Indians was to make them into Englishmen, to "reduce them to civility." The British thought the Indians were hopelessly arrogant, savage, and pagan. These beliefs led to a general feeling of cultural superiority that affected all of their relations with the Indians. They were eager to convert the Indians to Protestant Christianity, change their customs, and induct them into the British way of life. Often they were so adamant about the superiority of the British way of life that they did not listen to the Indians on practical matters, like fighting the French in the American wilderness.

Though the French were no more humane towards the Indians, they were traditionally much less interested in altering the history and cultures of the peoples they encountered. (This can also be seen in comparisons of French and British colonial history around the world.) They certainly believed in the superiority of the French way of life, and they did all they could to convert the Indians to Catholicism, but in their relations with the Indians they left room for a sort of cultural blending to take place. For example, if the Indians were more likely to believe in Catholicism when they could also worship their own idols as "saints," the French were happy to encourage them. As such, the French were usually more successful at making Indian allies and negotiating with the Indians. This lent them a crucial advantage in war.

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