The French and Indian War was a struggle between Britain and France for control of the American continent. The two nations had been in a state of almost perpetual tension for the previous century; in this time they had fought three wars over matters of empire and politics. The outbreak of the French & Indian War, however, was about local rather than imperial issues. The British and the French had been competing for territory in the rich land to the west of the Appalachians; settlers from both nations built forts and laid claim to beaver-runs and waterways; each would regularly ignore the claims of the other. The British were especially paranoid about the actions of the French. Not only would French control of the western territory mean that the 13 colonies would be tightly hemmed in; it would also mean the consolidation and possible spread of ‘Papism’ [Catholicism] on the American continent. In 1754 a young Virginian major, George Washington, was sent to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the French about their encroachment onto British territory. Instead of negotiating Washington instigated a gunfight with the French, who subsequently captured his brigade and forced Washington to sign an embarrassing ‘admission of responsibility’ for the battle – even though the document was written in French, which Washington could not read. It was not an auspicious start to his military career.
Like most colonial wars of the time, the French and Indian War was a conflict concerned with the capture of forts in order to secure territory. The British shipped more than 10,000 regular soldiers to America in order to achieve this – but they also planned on receiving volunteer manpower, support and resources from the colonists. This was not always consistently given: many states provided only minimal assistance in the fight against the French, seeing the conflict as an ‘imperial matter’ rather than something which directly concerned them. Requests for colonial militias or labour were often rebuffed; so too were requests for quartering for British regulars. British officers were annoyed to find that many American traders were crossing the line of battle, fraternising and trading with the French. Colonists living closer to the conflict – in upstate Pennsylvania and New York, and along the frontier – had a greater interest in stopping the French advance, so many formed militias to assist where they could.
A historian’s view:
“In the mainland colonies people lit bonfires and staged parades to celebrate Britain’s victory and the safety of their own borders. [But] the war left scars, including memories of the British military’s arrogance toward provincial soldiers and lingering resentment over the quartering of British soldiers at colonial expense. The colonists were aware that the British had grounds for resentment also, particularly the profitable trade some Americans had carried on with the enemy, even in the midst of the war. Suspicion and resentment, a growing sense of difference, a tug of loyalties between the local community and the larger empire – these were the unexpected outcomes of a glorious victory.”
Carol Berkin, historian
The outcome of the war was a complete victory for the British. The Treaty of Paris (1763) placed all land east of the Mississippi River, as well as modern-day Canada, under the control of England; the French were removed as a political force in America, although thousands of their settlers had no choice but to remain. The war itself had no direct impact on bringing on revolution, however, it did shift the imperial balance by removing the French from British political focus, temporarily at least. With half of the American continent now under its control, the parliament in London took a much closer interest in colonial laws and policy; unchecked and unregulated expansion into the vacant western territories would lead to conflict with the natives and remnant French settlers. There was also the issue of how to make the American colonists more responsible for their own defence (the French and Indian War had left Britain with a sizeable 130 million pound deficit, and British regular soldiers would still be needed in American for the foreseeable future). The war changed the situation which required a change in policy; it would be this policy shift that would bring on a rebellion.