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26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Introductory Remarks
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


The three colonial wars between the French and English, which we have described, arose from events taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, and were nearly fruitless in results, so far as America was concerned. The bloodshed, torture, and other horrors which accompanied them might all have been spared, since neither of the them might all have been spared, since neither of the contestants gained any important advantages from them. The war which we have yet to describe differed from the others in both the particulars mentioned. It had its origin in America, and it ended in a very decided change in the relative positions of the contestants.

The progress of the colonies had by the middle of the eighteenth century aroused conflicting claims to territory which could scarcely fail to result in a struggle. The treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle had endeavored to adjust the relative claims to North American territory by the three powers of England, France, and Spain. But as yet these powers occupied only a narrow strip along the Atlantic coast, and though they claimed, by their charters, the whole country from ocean to ocean, yet their ignorance of the vast region thus appropriated on paper was very sure to bring them into disputes concerning boundaries. The English claimed the whole sea-coast from Newfoundland to Florida, in virtue of the discovery by the Cabots, and their grants of territory were assumed as extending westward to the Pacific. This claim to the interior was partly based on treaties with the Iroquois Indians, who, on the pretence that they had at some former time conquered all the territory from the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, ceded this territory to the English, without heed to the rights of the tribes actually occupying it.

The French, on the other hand, based their claims to the Mississippi region on actual discovery and exploration. In their view, the half of New York, and the greater portion of New England, fell within the limits of New France and Acadia; while their western provinces of Upper and Lower Louisiana were held to include the entire valley of the Mississippi and its tributaries.

The original basis of the war which now arose between the French and the English was a dispute as to the ownership of the territory bordering on the Ohio. The first step towards it was a grant from the English government to a company of merchants, called the Ohio Company. The movements of this company towards a settlement of the territory assigned them at once roused the apprehensions of the French that the English were seeking to deprive them of their trade with the western Indians and to sever their line of communication between Canada and Louisiana. They immediately took active measures to secure their claim to this territory.

As for the aboriginal owners of the land, not the slightest attention was paid to their rights of possession. Two sachems sent a messenger to Mr. Gist, an agent sent out by the Ohio Company, to inquire of him "where the Indians' land lay, for the French claimed all the land on one side of the Ohio River, and the English on the other." This pertinent question forcibly shows the real merits of the case, and that neither of the colonial contestants had the slightest claim in equity to the territory.

Yet, disregarding all Indian rights, the pioneer settlers of the two nations proceeded to make good their claims. The first act of hostility was committed by the French, in 1753. Three British traders, who had advanced into the disputed territory, were seized by a party of French and Indians and carried prisoners to Presque Isle, on Lake Erie, where the French were then erecting a fort. In reprisal, the Twightwees, a tribe in alliance with the English, seized several French traders, whom they sent to Pennsylvania.

These evident hostilities between the whites aroused the Indians, ever ready for war and bloodshed. Instigated, as is supposed, by French emissaries, they began inroads upon the borders. The settlers of the Shenandoah Valley, who were suffering from these savage raids, called upon Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, for aid. A messenger was sent out to ascertain the temper of the Indians and the intentions of the French. He returned in alarm at the hostility discovered. Orders now arrived from the British ministry to the governor of Virginia, directing him to build two forts near the Ohio, intended to hold in check the Indians and to prevent French encroachments. The orders arrived too late. The French had already taken possession of the territory, and were securing it by the erection of forts.

Such were the instigating causes of the Seven Years' War in America, a conflict which continued for several years before any declaration of hostilities was made by the mother-countries, and which resulted in a radical change in the relations of the colonists of America.

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