Unlike the previous wars between European powers in the 1700s, the French and Indian War was begun in North America—in the heartland of the Ohio Valley, where both France and Britain held claims to land and trading rights. Westward-moving British colonists were particularly aggressive in their desire for new tracts of wilderness. The French, in order to prevent further British encroachment on what they believed to be French lands, began to construct a series of forts along the Ohio River. Eventually, the two sides came into conflict when a young lieutenant colonel from Virginia named George Washington attacked French troops with his small militia force and established Fort Necessity. Washington eventually surrendered after the French returned in greater numbers.
The opportunity to serve side by side with British regulars during the war gave many Americans a sense of pride and confidence. It is estimated that some 20,000 Americans fought with the British against the French and Native American opposition. Washington, though he was defeated more than once during the war, was one of many colonists who gained valuable military and leadership skills that later proved useful during the Revolutionary War.
At the same time, though military service gave colonists a sense of pride, it also made many realize how different they were from the British regulars with whom they fought. Many British regulars disliked the colonists they were fighting to protect, and many British commanders refused to acknowledge the authority of high-ranking colonial militia officers.
Furthermore, the British never managed to gain colonial support for the conflict. Many colonists, especially those living on the eastern seaboard far from the conflict, didn’t particularly feel like fighting Britain’s wars. Many colonial legislatures refused to support the war wholeheartedly until leading British statesman William Pitt offered to pay them for their expenses. Some colonial shippers were so disinterested in British policy that they actually shipped food to the French and its European allies during the conflict. In short, there was little colonial support for the war, but much colonial unity that was subversive to British war aims.
To bolster more colonial support for the French and Indian War, Britain called for an intercolonial congress to meet in Albany, New York, in 1754. To promote the Albany Congress, Philadelphia printer Benjamin Franklin created his now-famous political cartoon of a snake with the caption “Join or Die.”
Despite Franklin’s efforts, delegates from only seven of the thirteen colonies chose to attend. The delegates at the Albany conference agreed to support the war and also reaffirmed their military alliance with the Iroquois against the French and their Native American allies. But somewhat surprisingly, the delegates at Albany also sent Parliament recommendations for increased colonial unity and a degree of home rule. British ministers in London—as well as the delegates’ own colonial legislatures—balked at the idea.