OVERVIEW / U.S. History I
18th Century Colonial America
Part 3: Rivals for Empire
England was not the only country with territorial claims in North America. While Florida and vast stretches of the southwest from present‐day Texas to California were under Spanish control, Spain did not pose a serious threat to English primacy. The only possible area of contention was in the southeast, and Georgia proved to be an effective buffer. France was another matter, however. The French controlled much of the land west of the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains and south from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The handful of settlers from the colonies who ventured beyond the Appalachians quickly came into contact with French trappers and their Indian allies.
THE EXPANSION OF FRANCE IN NORTH AMERICA
From their settlements in Canada (New France), the French expanded throughout the Great Lakes and into the Mississippi Valley in the late seventeenth century. In 1673, the Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette and the fur trader Louis Joliet traveled by land and canoe from what is today Wisconsin down the Mississippi River to its juncture with the Arkansas River. Nine years later, La Salle reached the Illinois River from Lake Michigan, followed it to its confluence with the Mississippi River, and from there explored the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the territory for France, naming the millions of acres that composed the Mississippi River watershed Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV. French settlement of their newly claimed lands, however, did not begin in earnest until the eighteenth century. New Orleans was founded in 1718 as the capital of a colony that became a royal province in 1732, and French forts were established throughout the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio river valleys.
Marquette and Joliet reflected the principal motives behind French exploration and settlement: bringing Catholicism to the native tribes and expanding the fur trade. Neither motive was intended to bring large numbers of colonists to North America. Royal policy was an inhibiting factor to settlement as well. Louis XIV opened the French territory to only French Catholics; no place was made for French Huguenots, who had helped settle South Carolina, nor were there proprietors like William Penn who throughout Europe actively promoted the colonization of his land grant. As a result, the population of New France and Louisiana was quite small compared to that of the English colonies in the eighteenth century. Another important difference between the two was their relationship with the Indians. In the English colonies, disease, war, and slavery sum up the experience of the native tribes. French trappers, on the other hand, adopted Indian ways and often married Indian women. Although conversion was certainly the ultimate goal, even the Jesuit missionaries respected Indian culture. Most important, the size of the French presence posed no immediate threat to either the Indians' way of life or their lands. The Indians proved to be valuable allies of France in its conflicts with England.
THE WARS BETWEEN ENGLAND & FRANCE
Between 1689 and 1763, England and France fought four wars. The causes of each one, with the notable exception of the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War, 1754–63), lay in European dynastic politics, and North America was a minor theater of operations.
While the outcome of King William's War (War of the League of Augsburg, 1689–97) was inconclusive, England acquired longdisputed territory in Canada through the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended Queen Anne's War (War of the Spanish Succession, 1702–13). Newfoundland, Acadia (which was later renamed Nova Scotia), and the fur‐rich Hudson Bay were ceded to Great Britain. (Great Britain became the official name of England, Scotland, and Wales following their union in 1707.) The impact of the wars on the colonies, particularly New England, which supplied the bulk of the troops for the Canadian raids, was significant in loss of life, increased taxes, and debt. The third conflict between England and France, King George's War (War of the Austrian Succession, 1744–48), involved only minor border raids and skirmishes between the two countries and their Indian allies, without any meaningful results.
During the 1740s, fur traders from Pennsylvania and Virginia began to move into the Ohio River Valley; Virginia was also interested in land for its large and growing population, and several land companies received sizable grants from the Crown in 1749. The French responded by building a string of forts in the disputed territory, including Fort Duquesne near Pittsburgh. Hostilities began in 1754. George Washington, then a young officer in the Virginia militia, experienced his first defeat in the Pennsylvania backcountry at the hands of the French. When France and Great Britain decided to commit troops, the conflict on the frontier became a contest for the control of North America that soon had even wider international ramifications.
THE FRENCH & INDIAN WAR
The first few years of the French and Indian War did not go well for the British. Despite their inferior numbers, the French had success relying on their considerable Indian support. The colonists and the British, on the other hand, were unable to persuade the Six Nations—a confederation of the Mohawk, Onandaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes—which had fought alongside them in previous conflicts, to end its neutrality. British commanders were ineffective, not understanding that tactics used on European battlefields were not effective in the wilderness. In hope of turning the tide, War Minister William Pitt mobilized the British army and navy for action in the colonies, despite the spread of the war to Europe (1756), and he agreed to reimburse the colonial legislatures for the cost of more American troops. The strategy worked. Fort Duquesne fell and the Iroquois joined the British in a series of successful campaigns along the northern New York frontier. The decisive battle in North America was at Quebec in 1759, where the fighting was so fierce that the opposing generals—Wolfe for the British and Montcalm for the French—were both killed. Montreal, the last important French stronghold in North America, was captured in 1760.
Although the war continued for another three years in the Caribbean and the Pacific, the outcome was never in doubt. Through the Treaty of Paris (1763), Britain acquired all French territory east of the Mississippi River and French Canada, with the exception of a few islands off the coast of Newfoundland. Spain, which had entered the war in 1761 on the side of France and had lost Cuba in the process, ceded Florida to the British to get the island back. France compensated Spain for the loss of Florida by giving up all its lands west of the Mississippi River, known as the Louisiana Territory.