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The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

A Tenuous Peace (1760-63)

Battle of Quebec

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Summary

After the surrender of Canada in 1760, the war was effectively over in North America. Nonetheless, fighting continued in other parts of the world for the next two years and small skirmishes—especially Indian raids—occasionally broke out in the colonies and along the Canadian border.

Despite this, the French and Indian War ended French political influence on the North American continent, a fact underscored by the Treaty of Paris, signed at the end of the Seven Year's War, in February 1763. As part of the negotiations for this treaty, France regained its wealthy sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean that had been lost to the British during the fighting—Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia. With the exception of New Orleans, France surrendered all of its North American possessions east of the Mississippi to the British. All possessions west of the Mississippi were given to the Spanish.

Although the British won the war with the French, the British still faced pressing colonial problems that the Treaty of Paris only aggravated. The Indians in particular were angered by the provisions of peace that left little room for their concerns. One of the reasons they agreed to fight—on either side of the war—was to ensure that they would retain the sole rights to their land. Instead, the exhausted Indians were faced with the immediate encroachment of British speculators, traders, and settlers.

Disaffected and impoverished, a host of Indian nations organized in April 1763 under the leadership of an Ottawa chief named Pontiac. The forces included Ottawas, Chippewas, Potawatomis, Hurons, Shawnees, and Delawares. On May 9, 1763, the allies laid siege to Fort Detroit. That summer, they proceeded to destroy forts at Venango, LeBoeuf, and Presque Isle. They also attacked forts at Niagara and Pittsburgh.

The British reacted immediately and brutally. Their tactics included both ruthless bloodshed (Commander-in-chief of the British forces, Jeffrey Amherst, encouraged soldiers to "Put to death all that fall into your hands") and deception (the soldiers at Fort Pitt spread smallpox among the Delawares by presenting them with a "gift"—infected blankets from the hospital nearby). Their tactics weakened the Indians and forced Pontiac to capitulate Fort Detroit on October 31, 1763.

With the end of Pontiac's war, the fight for control over the North American empire east of the Mississippi was officially over, though small battles with the Indians continued for years. Their fear of "foreigners", both French and Indian, subsided, the British turned their attention to the colonies. Having spent so much time, money, men to keep the colonies, England was now determined to keep the colonies in line and make them as profitable as possible. To ensure that they attained these goals, the British gave up their longstanding policy of salutary neglect, and instituted harsh policies and high taxes for the colonials. England's harsh treatment of the colony's after 1763 had precisely the opposite of its desired result: instead of making the colony's profitable, it made them increasingly angry, and eventually ed to another uprising—the Revolutionary War, which exploded just thirteen years later.

Commentary

What really won the French and Indian War? On the surface, it seems that the British won out bulk rather than skill. It is certainly true that the French were more clever strategists and better at recruiting the Indians to their cause. But the British outnumbered them, and the British had greater material resources to devote to the war. In the end, what won the war was not the guerrilla warfare that dominated as the chief strategy of battle. It was the large battles—Louisbourg, Fort Duquesne, Quebec—that made all the difference. Even when the British lost major battles to the French, as they did at Ticonderoga and the first battle at Fort Duquesne, they killed French soldiers that were not easy to replace. By overwhelming the French with sheer numbers, the British weakened their overall fitness for war and managed to eventually exhaust French resources.

The Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War but not the issues that caused it: specifically, land encroachment. The only difference was the enemy that remained after the war ended. After the French had been removed from the North American continent, the British turned their attention to fighting the Indians for their lands. Like the French, the Indians fought back, but faced almost certain defeat because of their limited supplies, manpower, and the general lack of cohesion between Indian tribes.

The French and Indian War failed to solve another important problem: the growing estrangement between England and its colonies on the Atlantic. It was the hope of many that fighting a common enemy would pull England and its colonies together. But it did just the opposite. Living in close quarters with the British, subjected to constant humiliation and orders from British authorities, the colonials became even more aggravated at British arrogance and flagrant greed. After the war, the heavy taxes Britain levied on the colonies to pay for the war only made the colonials angrier.

And so the French and Indian War led to more wars, one with the Indians and one with the colonials. But it brought an imperialist conflict between France and Britain to an end and decided which country would have control over the North American continent, both in history and in cultural impact.

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