The final intercolonial war between France and Great Britain, the French and Indian War (1754–1763), like the three wars before it, had European roots. Called the Seven Years' War in Europe, the French and Indian War actually began two years earlier than its European counterpart. The three prior French–English conflicts in America were largely centered in the Northeast, but the French and Indian War shifted to the Ohio River Valley, an area that had become increasingly important as European interests began to reach west beyond the Appalachians.
The French, who sought a corridor of trade to connect the Mississippi River and Louisiana with their outposts on the Great Lakes and beyond, built a series of forts in the Ohio Valley, the most important being Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). At the same time, the British crown, with a continuing eye toward colonization, had offered large land grants there for settlement. Under the circumstances, it was inevitable that the two powers would collide.
The opening stages of the war saw the advantage go to the French. As early as 1754, a young Virginian named George Washington was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Fort Duquesne. The next year, a second, more determined effort ended ignominiously. A column of British regulars under the command of General Edward Braddock was ambushed and routed by the French and their Indian allies in July 1755. British casualties were heavy; Braddock himself was mortally wounded. Humiliated and devastated, the British column was forced to withdraw. The Ohio Valley Indians, concerned with the growing threat of European-American invasion, viewed Braddock's defeat as an opportunity to strike a further blow against the English. In the following year, thousands of European-American immigrants from Virginia and Pennsylvania to South Carolina felt the fury of Indian attacks.
The British position continued to deteriorate. Increasingly, Indian nations and tribes, some from as far west as the Great Lakes, threw their support behind the French; they saw an opportunity not only to drive back the hated white settlers but to plunder as well. Despite the efforts of Sir William Johnson, Indian agent, the British, who had seen the powerful Delaware and Shawnee nations ally with the French, feared that the Iroquois might also join the enemy.
In August 1756, a combined French and Indian force captured Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario and the following year took Fort William Henry, situated at the foot of New York's Lake George. Following the capture of Fort William Henry, immortalized in James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, many of the British garrison, including women and children, were massacred by Indian allies of the French as they marched out of the fort, despite the customary assurances of honorable treatment as prisoners of war. The French, mortified at the slaughter, were unable to control their allies.
The 1757 appointment of the controversial William Pitt the Elder as British prime minister was perhaps the turning point in the French and Indian War. One of Pitt's first steps was to strengthen the British forces in North America and to appoint able commanders to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion. He also instituted a stronger policy regarding the employment of Indian allies. No less important, particularly in the area of Indian relations, was the work of Sir William Johnson, whose tireless efforts to convince the Iroquois to remain neutral at last bore fruit. The Iroquois, in turn, persuaded the Delawares to cease warfare against the British. The tide was beginning to turn.
During the summer of 1758, a strong British force failed to take Fort Ticonderoga (Fort Carillon to the French), but that failure was offset by the capture of Fort Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island, and Fort Frontenanc, both located in Ontario. British fortunes were also improving in the south, where General John Forbes cut a new trail through the Pennsylvania wilderness in yet another effort to take Fort Duquesne.
Forbes's strategy produced the Treaty of Easton, in which the British managed to enlist strong Indian support for their effort to take Fort Duquesne, which many of the Indians were anxious to see abandoned—regardless of whom it belonged to. In return for the Indians' support, the British provided certain financial considerations and their promise to withdraw from the Ohio River country. Surrounded and unable to be supplied, the French abandoned Fort Duquesne, which Forbes promptly occupied and renamed Fort Pitt.
A year later, in 1759, a mixed force of British regulars and Iroquois allies took Fort Niagara. Sensing the vulnerability of their position, the French then abandoned Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) and Crown Point and withdrew to Canada. In September 1759, British General James Wolfe's defeat of the French Army, commanded by Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, on the Plains of Abraham resulted in the surrender of Quebec. The deaths of the two generals, Wolfe and Montcalm, made the British victory one of the epic stories of history. For all intents and purposes, the British victory at Quebec marked the end of the French and Indian War, although some historians believe France had privately conceded victory to the British.
The Treaty of Paris (1763) officially ended the intercolonial wars between England and France. The conclusion of the French and Indian War was a watershed event that marked the end of French power in North America. As a result of the treaty, England acquired Canada and all of Spanish Florida. For the next two decades, England would be the sole, dominant power in North America.
Hurt, R. Douglas. 1996. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720–1830. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.; Leach, Douglas, 1973. Arms for Empire: A Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607–1763, New York: Macmillan.; Steele, Ian K. 1994. Warpaths: Invasions of North America. New York: Oxford University Press.