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26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
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
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
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.