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Seven Years War (French & Indian War)
SEVEN YEARS WAR (French & Indian War) 




In the Upper Ohio Valley


   What follows is a summary of the events of this war, and the character and role of each major event within the larger scope of the larger war. The focus is on the consequences it had for the inhabitants of the Upper Ohio Valley frontier. In North America it has been (misleadingly) known as the French and Indian War. Because of its world-wide scope, including seven continents, Sir Winston Churchill called it “the first world war.”

   In October, 1753 Governor Dinwiddie chose the ambitious young adjutant, George Washington, with the diplomatic mission of demanding the French departure from what Virginia regarded as British territory in the Ohio Country. The demands of Dinwiddie’s letter and the negative response of the French would trigger the events that opened the war for empire in the region and which eventually spread to seven continents, justifying Sir Winston Churchill’s reference to it as “the first world war.” Washington’s character as a leader was first shaped by the events of his first public mission, including his narrow brush with death by an Indian gunshot and fall into the icy Allegheny River. These events served to trigger the war for empire between the French and the British over possession of the Ohio Country and through it the entire North American continent.

   In 1754 Washington was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of a militia of a mere132 unruly men. He left in early April with orders to either take prisoner or kill all who sought to prevent the Virginians’ under William Trent building of Fort Prince George at the Forks of the Ohio. After two months of travel Washington encamped at Great Meadows on May 27. Tanaghrisson and a small band of Mingos had found the French camp a few miles to the north. The next morning, apparently a French soldier fired his gun at a movement on the rocks above and Washington’s men, in return, fired a volley that wounded at least a dozen French troops. The Mingos killed and scalped the wounded. French soldiers. An overanxious Virginian shot Jumonville, but not mortally. Tanaghrisson dispatched him by planting a hatchet in his skull. 

   Washington took the French prisoners and returned to Great Meadows, quickly had a stockade built, appropriately named “Fort [of] Necessity,” and anxiously awaited reinforcements and instructions. Emboldened by the arrival of two hundred Virginia troops and one hundred British regulars from South Carolina, Washington set out to march on Fort Duquesne. But he and Tanaghrisson were unable to convince Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingos to join them to fight the French. Washington was informed that a large detachment had just departed Fort Duquesne under Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers, who intended to avenge the death of his half-brother, Jumonville, and his party. Outnumbered, Washington returned to Fort Necessity. Although he ordered the troops to “improve” the fort and dig earthworks, Washington had built the low-walled fort in a highly vulnerable location---in a meadow surrounded by wooded hills. Tanaghrisson rejected Washington as an incompetent leader, took his Indians with him, and the area. Washington and his men were vulnerable to the French and their Indian allies, and the drenching rain, and were forced to surrender. Unwittingly, he signed the terms of surrender with an acknowledgement that he had personally assassinated Jumonville. Washington returned to Virginia a defeated military leader, to the chagrin of governor Dinwiddie, and eventually, the king and his ministers in Great Britain.

   Although colonial officials had met in the early summer of 1754 at Albany, they reached no agreement on inter-colonial union to withstand the French threat. The fiasco at Fort Necessity was proof enough that British intervention would be required to remove the French from the Ohio Country and control the entire continent. The king and his ministers immediately approved a plan to send two regiments to North America. Major General Edward Braddock would command them and serve as commander-in-chief of all British military operations in North American, beginning with a march on Fort Duquesne in the spring of 1755, and after his undoubted victory there, would strengthen British control along the border of New France. Braddock was also given authority to requisition troops and supplies from the colonial assemblies. He would also appoint Sir William Johnson superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies and exclusive power to negotiate agreements with natives on behalf of the king in that region. But Braddock antagonized colonial governors and assemblies and alienated Ohio Indians who might have been the very allies to ensure his success. As a result the Indians became French allies against him.

   Braddock arrived on July 9 with the advance column some ten miles east of Fort Duquesne Dunbar’s largely baggage train and troops followed them at a distance. The French sent a force against them some 900 men, including 600 Indian allies and 150 colonial French militiamen. Massed together in formation, Braddock’s army of redcoats were a red target for the largely Great Lakes Indians who cut them down from atop the hills and behind the trees. Only after Braddock, who had several horses shot from under him, finally took a shot in the back and fell to the ground, did the troops—surprisingly under twenty-four year old provincial officer George Washington—begin to retreat. Washington too had several bullet holes in his coat and several horses shot under him, but escaped unhurt. Braddock later died and was buried. His defeat and the neglect of the Indians by Pennsylvania officials resulted in the Ohio Indians’ alliance with the French.

   The fall of that same year the warriors of predominantly Delaware’s, Shawnees, and Mingos began a two-year series of destructive raids against the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Pennsylvania authorities for the first and only time took action against the Indians. Governor Robert Morris declared war on the Ohio Indians as the pacifists Quakers left the Pennsylvania government in protest against the war. It took the Indians’ destruction of Fort Granville on the Juniata River and the town of Lebanon, a mere seventy-five miles from Philadelphia, to prompt the colony to make its counteroffensive effort. Colonel John Armstrong in August, 1756 marched a force of three hundred Pennsylvania militiamen against the Delaware Town “along the [Allegheny] river,” or Kittanning. They burned and blew up much of it due to French-stored gunpowder and killed some of its residents, including its war chief Captain Jacobs. Subsequently, warriors launched even more ferocious attacks on the same frontier regions as before.

   Meanwhile, the Quakers formed the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures. They sought to achieve peaceable relations with the Delaware Indians, first in the east, with the headman Teedyuscung, and later through him with the western Delawares on the Ohio. The old chief exploited the diplomatic overtures of the Quakers as an opportunity to get the colonial officials to concede that the Walking Purchase of 1737 was a fraud that deprived the Delawares of considerable land, for which they should be compensated by a grant of two million acres in the upper Susquehanna River Valley. In spite of strong resistance from Pennsylvania authorities, the Quakers supported Teedyscung and found in General John Forbes, who arrived in the spring of 1758, an ally in their cause. Forbes repudiated Braddock’s view of Indians and understood how important the Indians would be in British success in the west against the French. Hence he put pressure on Governor Denny to make concessions to Teedyuscung and to see him as a means of opening communications with the Delawares and Shawnees inthe west. 

   By the summer of 1758 some of Ohio Indians, especially certain Delaware chiefs, were becoming more open to considering improved relations with the British, especially as they learned of Forbes’ planned expedition to drive the French from the region. Many of them felt used by the French, weakly supplied, and unrewarded for their efforts. In the early fall of that year Pisquetomen, an influential headman, traveled with several counselors to Easton, Pennsylvania. At the same time, a large body of Ohio warriors accompanied French soldiers and routed about 850 British soldiers whose reconnaissance force was led by Major James Grant near Fort Duquesne. The Major had left Fort Ligonier, the final staging point for an attack on the French fort, without the permission of Forbes. Acting on the French success, the French commander Francois-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery, summoned about1200 men to make an assault on Fort Ligonier, only to be repulsed by the much larger army of Forbes. 

   In the west, the French defeat “caused the utmost consternation among the natives;” they returned home and burned and abandoned half a dozen town sites in the region of the Forks of the Ohio and removed their families to the west and north. In the east, the report of the French defeat reached Pisquetomen at the Easton conference, providing the final prompt for him to make peace with Pennsylvania. Governor Denny nullified Pennsylvania’s dubious purchase of lands at the Forks of the Ohio in 1754 and returned the lands west of the Alleghenies to the Indians. He also promised direct negotiations with the Ohio Indians rather than depend upon the mediation of the Iroquois. The most influential Delaware chiefs, Tamaqua, Shingas, and Pisquetomen abandoned the French alliance and adopted a neutral posture.

   As Forbes’ army approached the Forks of the Ohio, the French commander realized that he and his several hundred regulars could not defend the fort and had it burned and blown up, abandoning the region to the British. With the withdrawal of French troops from the Forks of the Ohio, the local Indians and British colonists would experience significant changes in the upper Ohio 

   Valley. Sir William Johnson and his deputy at Fort Pitt, George Croghan, sought to renew relations with the western Indians by distributing necessities to large groups of Indians at Fort Pitt and Fort Detroit. But General Jeffrey Amhearst, commander of British forces in North America, took a hard line toward the Indians and demanded the cessation of diplomacy by gifts due to the expense. In response, the Indians, inspired by their prophets (most notably Neolin), created two movements: a pro-French, pan-Indian alliance and the restoration of spiritual power to the western Indians, both of which were mutually reinforcing and shaped their responses to British intra-Indian crises in the west. In regard to the latter, the tensions and conflicts among the western Indians would eventually preclude a powerful pan-Indian alliance that would halt British encroachments. Nonetheless, in 1763 Indian uprisings (led by Pontiac, Kuyasutha, and others) did reveal the depth of Indian hostility toward the British that involved attacking the former French forts now garrisoned by British redcoats and renewing hostilities against settlers on the frontiers. With the Treaty of Paris bringing the Seven Years’ War to an end, a new era of British policy on Indian affairs in the west would be required, beginning with Amhearst’s recall to London.. British administrators were divided over how to maximize the potential benefits of having acquired nearly half a billion acres of land in the west, while minimizing the costs of regulating and managing it. 

   On October 6, the king created an official proclamation line along the Appalachian ridges to separate colonial and Indian domains, prevent the land fraud that Johnson and Stuart feared would occur, and impose regulations to control abuses in the Indian trade. The problem was enforcing it.

   The result was acrimony and confusion as elites on both sides of the Atlantic pressed for grants of land, and settlers already lived well past the Proclamation line before it had been established. Thousands of others were awaiting the crown to make lands west of the Appalachians available for agricultural development. Yet no system was established to administer justice on behalf of the civilian population that remained under military control. Especially was this true in cases involving violent competition among those (whites and Indians on both sides of the Proclamation Line) involved in the trade. Similarly, increasing grievances among settlers led to vigilantism (e.g. the Paxton Boys and the Black Boys) as governmental policies seemed to protect Indians from whites, but not colonists from Indians assaults.

   Backcountry residents distrusted their own colonial officials and farmers worried that elites in London and on the east coast were taking away their opportunities and freedom. Although it is premature to see in this what some term revolution, it was in essence at this stage an American colonial rebellion that would lead to a crisis of British authority. For the purposes of this study it is noteworthy that this crisis had its origins in the colonial challenge of backcountry administration and would eventually overwhelm British authority throughout the North American continent. Without this factor, it is a moot point whether the so-called French and Indian War “made America.” This requires an important place our in understanding the origins of the U.S.

The interpreters at Providence Plantation’s frontier history center provide autobiographical presentations of persons who experienced the events of the Seven Years’ War on the Upper Ohio Valley frontier. All the voices of the period---white, red, and black—are heard in rehearsing the events of this critical period of history in the making of the American and its relevance for today.