In late-May of 1754, 21-year old George Washington was a newly commissioned British lieutenant colonel. He and other British troops had started westward from Alexandria with part of a newly recruited regiment of Virginians.
They were to build a road to the Monongahela River at Redstone Creek, present day Brownsville, Pennsylvania. He was then to help defend the English fort on the Ohio.
Soon after he arrived, he received word that a party of French soldiers was camped in a ravine not far from his position. On the stormy night of May 27, 1754, Washington and about 40 men began an all-night march to confront the French and learn their intentions.
A shot was fired, no one really knows by whom, and soon the peaceful glen was filled with the crash of musketry and the smell of powder. The skirmish lasted about 15 minutes. When it was over, 13 Frenchmen were dead and 21 captured. One escaped and made his way back to Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio. Washington’s casualties were one man killed and two or three wounded.
The battle in the summer of 1754 was the opening action of the French and Indian War. This war was a clash of British, French and American Indian cultures. It ended with the removal of French power from North America. The stage was set for the American Revolution. (NPS)
The French and Indian War started as a struggle for control of the land west of the Allegheny Mountains in the Ohio River Valley. As the conflict spread, European powers began to fight in their colonies throughout the world. It became a war fought on four continents: North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. (The European portion of the broader war was referred to as the Seven Years War.)
What They Were Fighting For
The Ohio River Valley Indians wanted to maintain their land, their lifestyle, and control of their future. They sought to trade with the Europeans but prevent settlement.
As the British colonists settled that land, the Indians moved west. The Shawnee and Delaware in the Ohio River Valley were under the political influence of the Iroquois Confederacy. They didn’t like this and wanted to speak for themselves. The Iroquois Confederacy wanted to maintain control of the Ohio River Valley to improve its negotiating position with the French and British.
The French depended on the Indian trade as the basis of their economy. They were upset when Pennsylvania and Virginia started trading with the Ohio River Valley Indians. This area was on the eastern edge of their main trading routes, and they did not want to lose control of any of the trade.
Also, they used the Ohio River Valley and its river systems as a transportation route. They wanted their traders, priests, and soldiers to be able to travel freely through the region. The French were not interested in settling the area. However, they were determined to maintain authority over it. By the 1750s British colonial settlement had reached the eastern base of the Allegheny Mountains.
The war in North America settled into a stalemate for the next several years, while in Europe the French scored an important naval victory and captured the British possession of Minorca in the Mediterranean in 1756. However, after 1757 the war began to turn in favor of Great Britain. British forces defeated French forces in India, and in 1759 British armies invaded and conquered Canada.
Facing defeat in North America and a tenuous position in Europe, the French Government attempted to engage the British in peace negotiations. After these negotiations failed, Spanish King Charles III offered to come to the aid of his cousin, French King Louis XV, and their representatives signed an alliance known as the Family Compact on August 15, 1761.
The terms of the agreement stated that Spain would declare war on Great Britain if the war did not end before May 1, 1762. Originally intended to pressure the British into a peace agreement, the Family Compact ultimately reinvigorated the French will to continue the war, and caused the British Government to declare war on Spain on January 4, 1762, after bitter infighting among King George III’s ministers.
Despite facing such a formidable alliance, British naval strength and Spanish ineffectiveness led to British success. British forces seized French Caribbean islands, Spanish Cuba, and the Philippines. Fighting in Europe ended after a failed Spanish invasion of British ally Portugal.
By 1763, French and Spanish diplomats began to seek peace. In the resulting Treaty of Paris (1763), Great Britain secured significant territorial gains in North America, including all French territory east of the Mississippi river, as well as Spanish Florida, although the treaty returned Cuba to Spain.
Unfortunately for the British, the fruits of victory brought seeds of trouble with Great Britain’s American colonies.
The war had been enormously expensive, and the British government’s attempts to impose taxes on colonists to help cover these expenses resulted in increasing colonial resentment of British attempts to expand imperial authority in the colonies.
British attempts to limit western expansion by colonists and inadvertent provocation of a major Indian war further angered the British subjects living in the American colonies. These disputes ultimately spurred colonial rebellion, which eventually developed into a full-scale war for independence.
Click the following link to a general summary about the French and Indian War: