The Whosie-Whatsit War – How the French and Indian War Shaped US History

The Whosie-Whatsit War – How the French and Indian War Shaped US History

To call the French and Indian War America’s “forgotten war” would be misleading, since that doesn’t leave any good nicknames for the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, or the Korean War. Otherwise, the title fits; the hugely influential French and Indian war, fought between Britain, France, several Native American nations, and the colonials, is responsible for the fact that, among other things, the US is down here and French Canada is way up there.

Up until the war started in 1754, Britain’s then-small strip of North American colonies was hemmed in on all sides by the Atlantic, the French to the north and west, and the Spanish down in Florida and parts of Georgia and Alabama. In fact, more territory in what is now the US had been claimed by France than by Britain. Imagine a French modern-day Missouri. Or Kentucky. Or Minnesota, don’tcha know. In the meantime, the Native Americans remaining in the areas had been forced to take sides – though many groups, such as the Iroquois League, made the most of the encroachment by negotiating secret agreements with both parties.

The trouble all started when a dispute arose over the Ohio Valley area. In 1753, at just 21 years of age, George Washington was assigned by the British governor of Virginia to go tell the French to skedaddle. With no military training or prior experience, he led his men through 500 miles of wilderness to complete his mission – only to be rebuffed by the French. Within a year, he was ordered to return to the Forks of the Ohio to build a competing British fort, only this time, he would be accompanied by Tanaghrisson, governor of the Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingos of the Ohio Valley. Along the way, Washington entered into a skirmish with the French just outside of modern-day Pittsburgh. The British won and everything went swimmingly until Tanaghrisson decided to slaughter the captured French officer and his wounded soldiers during negotiations.

Thus (unofficially) began the French and Indian War, which would ultimately result in the British takeover of all French territory in North America. The Brits fared horribly for the first few years due to an arrogant unwillingness to align themselves with natives and an overall snootiness toward their “inferior” colonial subjects. (Note to self: ranking colonial officers below British infantry is not a morale booster.) Actually, Britain’s decisive victory couldn’t have been achieved without the fact that Prussia happened to invade the Austrian protectorate of Saxony in 1756.

Before you start getting any wild ideas about Chaos Theory, keep in mind that Britain and France were engaged in the Seven Years’ War back in Europe, and that Prussia and Austria were British and French allies, respectively. Prussia’s invasion therefore forced Britain and France to commit themselves to fighting on the European mainland, giving their colonial subjects more freedom to duke it out amongst themselves. By 1758, after Britain had done some serious rethinking of how to treat its colonials, so many eager North American troops had enlisted that Britain’s forces swelled to 50,000 – which was roughly equal to the entire white population of the French territories. That, plus a little help from their ole friend smallpox, allowed the British to handily defeat its French and native rivals, winning Canada and all the land east of the Mississippi in the process.

In exchange for restoring Cuba to French-allied Spain, Britain also received the Spanish holdings in the Florida area. But according to Britain’s Proclamation of 1763, all land west of the Appalachians was to be preserved as Native American soil. The British had hoped to stem the westward tide of colonial settlers, but instead, the Proclamation just pissed everyone off. Fortunately for the colonials, the French were pretty bitter about their North American defeat, which came in mighty handy when the American Revolution rolled around just over a decade later. And thanks to George Washington’s intensive wilderness training, the rest was US history.