George Washington during the French and Indian War (1756-1763)
America’s independence from Great Britain can be traced to an earlier conflict many Americans may not be familiar with. In the 1750’s, Britain and France had been at war with each other for centuries all over the world, including North America. An area of land in the upper Ohio River Valley proved the spark for another dispute between the two powers and led to what became the French and Indian War as it was known in the American colonies, also called the Seven Years’ War. The war was significant for two reasons. First, it introduced the colonies to a young soldier named George Washington. Secondly, as a result of the outcome of the war, a chain of events was set in motion that ultimately led to the American Revolution.
Many wars have been started by a dispute over land. The French and Indian War was no exception. Competing claims were being made by Britain and France over land west of the colonies and extending towards Canada whose ownership was not well defined. In order to strengthen their claim, France began building fortifications, triggering a response from the British. Both sides tried to ally with the Native Indian populations in order to achieve a military advantage and to gain important trade partners.
The war started poorly for the British, however after a new commitment of resources, events turned in their favor. The British were victorious in several important battles. The end result of the years of fighting proved disastrous for the French and their ally in the war, Spain. At the peace conference in 1763, Great Britain received all French territory east of the Mississippi River, including control of Canada, as well as Spanish controlled Florida. The map of North America was changed forever. France did not forget its defeat at the hands of the British and became an important American ally during the Revolutionary War.
The map of North America before and after the French and Indian War
One of the colonists who played an important role for the British was George Washington. Before he led the Continental army through many perilous times during the Revolution and became the first President of the United States, Washington was a young soldier in the Virginia militia. In 1753, three years before war was formally declared, Washington was named a British emissary to bring a message from Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie to the French telling them to leave the disputed territory. The French elected to stay.
Washington was tasked with re-capturing a former British fort the French had captured and renamed Fort Duquesne, near what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Washington built a new fort named Fort Necessity about 40 miles from the French. Initially, Washington was successful in defeating a detachment of about 30 French soldiers. However, a full force of French soldiers reacted and attacked Fort Necessity. Washington was forced to surrender the fort but was allowed to march back to Virginia.
After a brief period when George Washington had resigned his post, he rejoined the fight to become the an aid to British General Edward Braddock who had come to Virginia with a British army. Washington was part of a British force that attacked Fort Duquesne. The campaign ended with a British defeat and the death of General Braddock.
In August 1755, Washington was appointed the commander of all Virginia forces. In 1758, as British fortunes improved, he participated in another attack against Fort Duquesne with a Virginia regiment. This time, the French abandoned the fort before British and American forces arrived. The fort was renamed Fort Pitt.
George Washington resigned his commission with the honorary rank of brigadier general, as colonial officers were not considered part of the British army. He fought bravely and learned lessons of war that would help him in his later roles. When the time came in 1776 to appoint a commander of the Continental army, Washington was the choice.
The British spent large sums of money to fight the war in North America. It was their belief that the American colonists needed to contribute. The British proceeded to issue a series of unpopular taxes on the colonies. As British subjects, colonists of pre-revolutionary America enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world at the time. What was also true is that colonists had also developed an independent spirit and their own culture separate from their mother country. The idea of having taxes imposed on them from overseas by a parliament in which no colonists were members brought much consternation in the colonies. This is where the phrase, “no taxation without representation” has its origin.
The Boston Massacre, the publishing of Common Sense by Thomas Paine, as well as punitive measures taken by the British in response to growing unrest also played important roles on the road to revolution. However, Americans need to know that British and American actions in response to the French and Indian War started America towards independence.