American colonists and the French waged undeclared warfare for two years until 1756, when London formally declared war against France. The conflict quickly spread to Europe and soon engulfed the Old World powers in another continental war (in Europe, the war was referred to as the Seven Years’ War).
For Britain and France, this expansion of the war shifted the war’s center from the Americas to Europe and thus transformed the struggle entirely. The fighting in North America became secondary, and both powers focused their attention and resources in Europe. However, despite the diversion of resources and manpower to Europe, many key battles in the war continued to be fought in the New World.
During the initial years of the war, the French maintained the upper hand, as they repeatedly dominated British forces. The most notorious British defeat in North America came in 1755, when British General Edward“Bulldog” Braddock and his aide George Washington chose to attack the French Fort Duquesne in the Ohio Valley. After hacking through endless wilderness, their forces were slaughtered by the French and their Native American allies. This seemingly easy victory encouraged Native American tribes throughout the frontier to attack the British settlers encroaching on their lands.
After Britain officially declared war on France in 1756, British troops—many of whom were American colonists—invaded French Canada and also assaulted French posts in the West Indies. Not until the “Great Commoner” statesman William Pitt took charge of operations in London did Britain begin to turn the tide against France. Pitt focused the war effort on achieving three goals: the capture of the French Canadian cities Louisbourg, Quebec, and Montreal. He succeeded: Louisbourg fell in 1758, Quebec in 1759, and Montreal in 1760, giving the British a victory.
The war ended formally with the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763. Under the terms of the agreement, France was effectively driven out of Canada, leaving Britain the dominant North American power.
Despite the signing of the peace treaty, unofficial fighting between white settlers and Native Americans in the West continued for another three years. In one incident, a group of Native Americans, under the leadership of Ottawa chief Pontiac and supported by bitter French traders, killed roughly 2,000 British settlers, lay seige to Detroit, and captured most of the British forts on the western frontier. Though the British army quickly squelched Pontiac’s Rebellion, Parliament, in order to appease Native Americans and to prevent further clashes, issued the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade British colonists from settling on Native American territory.