The French and Indian War

The long struggle for colonial supremacy between Britain and France culminated in a conflict that became a world war, fought on three continents — in Europe, India, and the American colonies. The war began in America in — 1754. Two years later, the Seven Years' War broke out in Europe. Before the war was over, Americans would take part in some of the greatest battles yet fought on the North American continent.

A False Start

The war began over British concerns about French expansion in the Ohio Valley. A probe led by a colonel of a Virginia militia named George Washington was repulsed in 1754. The next year a much larger expedition of British regulars and American militia led by General Edward Braddock was crushed, with the loss of more than 900 men.

For two years the British suffered one reversal after another. The able French commander Louis Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, advanced down Lake Champlain, the easiest invasion route between Canada and the British colonies, taking one fort after another. He repulsed a major British attack on Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758, but it would prove to be the last great French victory of the war.

The Turning of the Tide

The course of the war shifted in 1757, with a change in leadership in London. William Pitt entered the Ministry as Secretary of State for the Southern Department, the office responsible for the American colonies. He was convinced that Britain needed to focus its resources on attaining colonial supremacy. Pitt left the European war in the capable hands of Britain's ally Frederick the Great of Prussia. He poured troops, ships, and money into the war in America. Along with the rest, he sent two excellent generals, Jeffrey Amherst and James Wolfe.

The British soon went on the offensive. Supplemented by large numbers of provincial troops raised in the colonies, British forces began capturing important French strongpoints. In 1758, Amherst and Wolfe recaptured Louisbourg. Later that year, an army led by Brigadier General John Forbes took Fort Duquesne in the Ohio Valley and renamed it Fort Pitt.

The year 1759 was one of decision. Amherst marched up Lake Champlain, taking French fortresses. Wolfe besieged Montcalm and the main French army at the city of Quebec. On September 13, Wolfe won a decisive victory against the French on the Plains of Abraham outside the city. Both he and Montcalm lost their lives in the battle. The French soon surrendered Quebec. The next year Amherst took Montreal, extinguishing French rule in Canada.

General James Wolfe became a martyr of the British Empire at the moment of victory at Quebec. Mortally wounded, he heard his troops shouting in victory as they pursued the defeated French. “Now, God be praised,” he said, “I can die in peace.”

Pitt's American strategy had ended French hopes of an empire in North America. As the war continued, he directed his efforts against French possessions in the Caribbean and India. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the war in 1763, triumphantly vindicated Pitt's imperial strategy.

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