Lesson Plans & Activities
Also known as the Seven Years War
The French and Indian War lasted 7 years. The name of this war is misleading. This war was fought between the French and the British in the New World. Each side was supported by troops sent to help them from their homeland. Each side was supported by various Indian tribes in the New World.
The French had claimed the territory we now call Canada. The British had claimed the territory along the Atlantic coast of the New World, the 13 colonies. The French wanted to expand south. The British wanted to expand west. They bumped into each other in the Ohio Valley near the Mississippi River. They fussed and they fussed, and finally war broke out.
It was George Washington who started the war. He didn't meant to. He was only 21 years old at the time, serving as an officer in the Virginia militia. He was on his way somewhere, with a band of men, when he ran into a group of armed French fighters. They had a battle. It was the first battle of the French and Indian War. No one actually won. They each disappeared into the woods. But that was the start of the 7 long years of fighting between the French and British in the New World, the French and Indian War.
The French had a great many allies among the Indian tribes. The Indians rallied to help them to defeat the British. The Indians showed them how to successfully fight battles in the New World using small skirmishes and surprise attacks, instead of the stiff formations that both the French and the British typically used to fight battles.
With the Indians help, for quite a while, the French were winning. The British were losing, and losing badly. Things changed when a new leader in the English Parliament took over control of the war. His name was William Pitt. He poured money into the British war effort, lots of money. He wanted the British to expand and claim land controlled by the French in the New World. He wanted the French to go home and go away. After seven long, expensive years, in 1763 the French gave up. They agreed the British had won. As the losers, the French agreed to give up all of their territory in North America. All of it. That agreement was called the Treaty of Paris.
Because of the French and Indian War, some very important things happened that would change the New World forever.
First, the British demanded the colonists help fight this war with them. As a result, the colonists beefed up their colonial militias. They got really organized. They had a common cause. They had a common enemy. The 13 colonies worked together. They gained confidence in their fighting abilities. Different Indian tribes were helping both sides, some helping the French, some helping the British. It was the Indians tribes who showed the colonists how to win battles by using the geography of the New World, using the forests as cover - with small skirmishes and surprise attacks, instead of fighting in formation.
Second, the British had spent heavily to fight this war. The British government believed the New World colonists should pay for some or all of the British costs. After all, they were fighting to keep the British colonies safe from France. It was not enough that the colonists had helped Britain win the war. The British government wanted money, lots of money. The British began to heavily tax the colonists in the New World. These were taxes on top of the heavy taxes they were already charging the colonists. The colonists had no say in this, not in the new taxes, and not in the old taxes. The colonists were not happy. The cry of "taxation without representation" sprang up everywhere in the colonies.
Third, as a result of the Treaty of Paris, the British gained control of all of the land in Canada and all the land east of the Mississippi River. The Spanish, who had helped the British win the war, gained all the land west of the Mississippi River. The various Native Americans who had helped the British win this war gained nothing.
Fourth, the colonists believed their prize for helping were the lands in the Ohio Valley. They built settlements. The British built forts to protect them. Native Americans in anger rose up in battle. The King of England issued the Proclamation of 1763 that prohibited white settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains. They told the settlers in that area to leave immediately. The settlers resented having land taken away from them that they felt they had earned by helping the British fight the French, and believed the British were trying to control them by pushing them back to the Atlantic coast.
Things were not happy. It seemed as if every decision made by the British Parliament to solve one problem in the American colonies created another problem that was much worse.
The stage was set. The French and Indian war ended in 1763. The shot heard round the world, the American Revolution began in 1775, 12 years later. Colonial rebellion against unreasonable British control was stirred in great part by the British government's actions during and after the French and Indian War. George Washington had gained valuable experience in fighting. Led by George Washington, and by other able officers, the colonists used their strengthened militia and battle strategy education to defeat the British during the American Revolution, even though they were greatly outnumbered. Not everyone in the colonies wanted to fight the British. But those who did, ultimately won.
That was the beginning of the United States of America.