British and French Clash

While the British had been filling the Atlantic coastal area with snug farms, broad plantations, and busy towns, the French had been planting a different kind of dominion in the St. Lawrence Valley in eastern Canada. They had sent over fewer settlers, but more explorers, missionaries, and fur traders. They had taken possession also of the Mississippi River and steadily, by a line of forts and trading posts, marked out a great crescent-shaped empire, stretching from Quebec on the northeast to New Orleans in the south. Thus they tended to pin the British to the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains.

The British had long resisted what they considered "the encroachment of the French." As early as 1613, local clashes between French and English colonists occurred. There was even organized warfare which was the American counterpart of the larger conflict between England and France. Thus between 1689 and 1697, "King William's War" was fought as the American phase of the European "War of the Palatinate"; from 1701 to 1713, "Queen Anne's War" corresponded to the "War of the Spanish Succession"; and from 1744 to 1748, "King George's War" paralleled the "War of the Austrian Succession". Though England secured certain advantages through these wars, the struggles were generally indecisive and France remained in a very strong position on the American continent.

In the 1750's, the conflict was brought to a final phase. The French, after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, tightened their hold on the Mississippi Valley. At the same time, the movement of English colonists across the Alleghenies increased in tempo. Thus began a rate for physical possession of the same territory. An armed clash resulted in 1754, involving Virginia militia under the command of twenty-two-year-old George Washington and a band of French regulars. The ensuing "French and Indian War" -with the English and their Indian allies fighting the French and their Indian allies- was destined to determine once and for all whether the French or the English would be supreme in North America.

Never had there been greater need of action and unity in the British colonies. France's position threatened not just the British Empire, but the American colonists themselves. For France, in holding the Mississippi Valley, could check the westward expansion of the American settlers. To block this expansion would be to choke off the fountainhead of colonial strength and prosperity. The French government of Canada and Louisiana had not only increased in strength but had risen in prestige with the Indians. Even the Iroquois, the traditional allies of the British, were being won away from their old friends. With a new war, every British settler wise in Indian matters knew that drastic measures would be needed to ward off disaster.