The Seven Years’ War was a conflict between France and Great Britain that began in 1754 as a dispute over North American land claims in the region around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This conflict eventually spread into other parts of world, including Europe, Africa, and Asia. When the Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1763, France ceded Canada to Britain and India became dominated by British interests.1
From 1748 to 1754, England and France had sustained a truce.2 France maintained trade relations with the Iroquois confederation and claimed Canada and the Great Lakes as French territory. They began pressing south during this time from the Great Lakes to prevent the English from moving west. English settlers were moving westward, even as England was making promises to the first nations in North America that English subjects would not move past the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains. Virginia’s Governor Dinwiddie sent a representative, the young and eager Lt. Colonel George Washington, to the French urging them to back off their claim of the region around the confluence of the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers, near modern-day Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Events in the Pennsylvania backcountry would draw England and France into open conflict.3
Washington, with a small group of Virginia militia, traveled to Fort Duquesne to deliver the message. The French were unimpressed and dismissed Washington after making him wait three days for a response. On the journey back to Williamsburg, in the upper Ohio River Valley, his company discovered an encampment of French soldiers. Someone fired a shot and the short skirmish resulted in the death of a French officer, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. When his company returned to their base camp, Washington knew that the French would answer and hastily constructed defense fortifications in a low-lying watery meadow. He named the site Fort Necessity, and waited for the French to appear. After three days of fighting, Washington was offered terms of surrender. He and his men would be permitted to march back to Williamsburg to make a report to the Governor that sent him out. These were the only terms of surrender that Washington ever signed.4
Reacting to this incident, British officials decided that local militias were not adequate to challenge the French. They sent General Edward Braddock to reclaim the Ohio River valley and to push the French back into Canada.5 George Washington volunteered to serve in his company. Braddock ordered a road built to carry heavy artillery into the area. Soldiers slowly carved over several months from northern Virginia into southwestern Pennsylvania. They were near Fort Necessity when a band of French and Indian warriors struck Braddock’s column. Thus, the North American theatre of the Seven Years’ War became the French and Indian War.6
Braddock was mortally wounded and Washington organized the retreat, saving lives in the process and gaining acclaim as a leader of men.7 When Braddock died, Washington ordered him buried hastily. Fearing desecration of the General’s remains, he ordered wagons and horses to walk over it to disguise the location. The location of the grave was discovered in the early nineteenth century during a road-building project, and he was reburied nearby.8
Much of the French and Indian War fighting occurred in the wilderness around the Great Lakes and Canada. Sent to Winchester, Virginia, Washington found the process of impressing troops and building forts quite frustrating.9 Shawnee nation warriors, taking advantage of the British focus north of Virginia, took advantage of the absence of militia to raid homesteads and the poorly protected forts in the western mountains, causing a flood of refugees eastward over the mountains into northern Virginia.10
The English Crown took on massive amounts of debt to underwrite the expenses related to deploying their army and navy around the world. Parliament needed new sources of revenue. They looked at the King’s North American colonies and determined that, since they had benefitted from the expending of British blood and treasure, the colonies would be taxed to recover some of the treasure. This sort of taxation was a new phenomenon to the colonies, as each colony’s governing council had set tax rates previously. The Colonies stoutly resisted these taxes, and Parliament eventually repealed them. The taxes set up political conditions under which, a little more than a decade later, the colonies would declare their independence.11
Laverne Y. Smith
1. Howard H. Peckham, The Colonial Wars 1689-1762 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 208.
2. Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (New York: Norton, 2016), 41-43.
3. Frederick Fausz, "'Engaged in Enterprises Pregnant with Terror': George Washington's Formative Years Among the Indians," Washington and the Virginia Backcountry, ed. Warren Hofstra (Madison, WI: Madison House, 1998), 115-155.
4. Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 109-112.
5. Taylor, 43.
6. Fausz, 131; Taylor, 44; Matthew Ward, Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years’ War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765(Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), 40-45.
7. John E. Ferling, “School for Command: Young George Washington and the Virginia Regiment,”George Washington and the Virginia Backcountry, 200-201.
8. Fred Anderson, The Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America 1754-1766 (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 104-105; David Preston, Braddock’s Defeat, The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 253-260, 270-273.
9. Warren R. Hofstra, “’A Parcel of Barbarian’s and an Uncouth Set of People’: Settlers and Settlements of the Shenandoah Valley,” , in George Washington and the Virginia Backcountry, 103-108.
10. Anderson, 109; Chester Young, “The Effects of the French and Indian War on Civilian Life in the Frontier Counties of Virginia, 1754-1763” (PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 1970), 155-161.
11. Nick Bunker, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), Kindle location 330; Taylor, 120ff.