Last Updated: 6 years The French and Indian War (called the Seven Years’ War in Europe) was fought from 1754-1763. The French and Indian War was the last of four major colonial wars between the British, the French, and their Native American allies for control of North America.
It was the first North American global war, fought in North America, India, Prussia, Austria and other European countries, Russia, and West Africa. During the fighting that occurred on North American soil, both sides often had Indian allies. Sometimes factions of one tribe fought on both sides. Here is a brief explanation of who fought on what side.
The war was primarily a contest between imperial France and Britain for control over lucrative colonies in North America. Quebec and the Ohio River Valley were at the heart of the competition — and were the primary battlegrounds.
French and British forces didn’t fight any major battles south of the Ohio River Valley. But the southern arena had strategic importance, because it lay between the valley and the French colony of Louisiana. Raids by native forces allied with the British complicated French resupply efforts from the south. Thus, France not only had difficulty equipping its troops, but often lacked sufficient trade goods for securing Native American alliances.
After an early string of French victories, the war turned in Britain’s favor after 1757, when William Pitt the Elder became Britain’s secretary of state. Determined to expand the British Empire, Pitt began borrowing heavily to finance the war effort in North America. He paid Prussia to tie down French forces in Europe — just as Native American war parties were harassing French forces in America.
The British turned the tide in North America with victories at Louisbourg, Fort Frontenac and the French-Canadian stronghold of Quebec.
Native American Conflicts of Interest
In Canada, Britain enlisted support from the Iroquois, while France attracted the Huron Confederacy. The Huron had enjoyed profitable trade ties with the French since the mid-16th century. Equally important, however, was the Huron’s centuries-old enmity with the Iroquois.
Whichever European partner the Iroquois chose, the Huron would inevitably choose the opposing side.The same dynamic initially impacted the Chickasaw and Choctaw, similarly historic rivals.
The Choctaw had been trading amicably with the French for decades. Chickasaw-French relations were considerably less amicable. After Chickasaw fighters blockaded French commerce on the Mississippi River in the 1730s, France countered with a military offensive – and suffered its worst defeat ever at the hands of Native Americans.
The Trade Factor
Decades before the war, manufactured goods from Europe became essential to the economy of Native America. European goods had symbolic, as well as intrinsic value – they were signs of affluence among chiefs and a means of buying allies.
Via its multiple colonies along the Eastern Seaboard, Britain was a highly reliable source of trade goods. This was not the case with France, relying primarily on Louisiana ports. Such economic realities prompted far more Indian nations (especially in the future United States) to support the British.
Today, the French-Indian War is glossed over in many history books. It’s not as popular as the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, so our children learn less about it, despite its massive importance in securing our future as an English-speaking nation.
Allies of the French
A French leader, Samuel de Champlain, wanted to ally with the Algonquin, Huron, and Montagnais tribes before the English did because of their desired fur trading. The Algonquin, Huron and Montagnais tribes were already allies at this time and would only agree to ally with the French in exchange for their help in defeating the Mohawk tribe. The alliance became final in the year 1609. This was over one hundred years before the war, but the simple treaty, binding the French and Indians together as a team, later became one opposing force of the English in the French and Indian war.
Algonquin tribes colonized New France along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Examples include the Shawnee, Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, and Sauk and Fox, later known as the Meskwaki. These people lived in what is currently called New England, Quebec and the Maritimes. They were dependable to the French and felt threatened by the British and British colonists expanding onto their land.
The Abenaki peoples were right in middle of the French and Indian War. They were used by both the French and British in encounters. The French converted many to Catholicism. Then the British formed an Alliance with their enemies, the Iroquois confederacy. Some of the Western Abanaki moved their families to the wilderness area of Vermont and Canada. They saw how the British tended to seize other tribes’ homelands for farms.
The Ottowa and Chief Pontiac had made agreements with the French, but the British were not agreeable for trading goods with his nation. The British felt the land was theirs to expand, and did not ask permission to build their farms or forts. Chief Pontiac was upset by this. The tribe launched Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763. These people were of present day SW Michigan.
The Delaware tribes could be found in present day New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley, the north shore of Delaware, and the Hudson Valley of Southern New York, as well as around New York Harbor. These Iroquoian-speaking Native Americans were traditional Lenape enemies, and English fraud dispossessed them, so they sided with the French.
Wabanaki peoples allied with the French were located in Acadia, which is now most of Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, plus some of Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River.
Huron allies of the French could be found in Ontario.
Shawnee allies of the French could be found in present day Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, W. Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.
Francis Jennings has categorized France’s wartime Indian allies in terms of their reliability. So-called “domesticated” Indians, who converted to Catholicism, left their tribes, and settled in French missions, were considered the most reliable. Potawatomis, Ojibwas, Ottawas, and other Indian groups who traveled long distances to join the fight were perceived as the next most reliable, as they could be counted on to remain after a battle and hold newly won territory rather than embark right away on the long trip home.
During the first four years of the war, however, Indian allies from the Ohio Valley region, most prominently the Delawares and Shawnees, became France’s most important allies.
They “unenthusiastically came to terms with the French,” Richard White relates, when war began between the two European empires and especially after English General Edward Braddock failed to capture Fort Duquesne at present-day Pittsburgh.
In that battle, most of France’s Indian allies were Ottawas, Mississaugas, Wyandots, and Potawatomis fighting for captives and booty, according to Fred Anderson.
After Braddock’s defeat, the Ohio Indians, rebuffed by the arrogance of the British and fearing attack by the other tribes allied with the French, joined the latter in large numbers.
Until they reached a separate peace with England in 1758, these Ohio Indians conducted devastating raids on frontier settlements in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.The Delawares and Shawnees became France’s most important allies.
Shawnees and Delawares, originally “dependents” of the Iroquois, had migrated from Pennsylvania to the upper Ohio Valley during the second quarter of the 18th century as did numerous Indian peoples from other areas. Unlike the others, however, the groups arriving from the east came as “village fragments, families, even individual hunters,” White notes, rather than as whole villages or tribes.
They formed multiethnic villages, what White calls “the first republics,” in lands claimed by both England and France, and were “trying to establish some basis for collective identity and action for the first time as the events of the war began to unfold,” Eric Hinderaker relates.
The Ohio Indians sought to “use the French to defeat the British,” White contends, with the understanding that afterward, in the words of a Delaware, “we can drive away the French when we please.”
In October 1758, the Ohio Indians reached a peace agreement with England stipulating that the British would relinquish claims to their lands on the Ohio, an agreement on which the British subsequently reneged. Without the support of the Ohio Indians, the French abandoned Fort Duquesne to the British, “a pivotal moment in American history,” James H. Merrell has written.
The Catholic Indians of the St. Lawrence missions remained allies of the French as the war continued, until the late summer of 1760, when the mission Indians ended their support of the French, and the latter shortly thereafter surrendered to the British. War between France and England, concluded in North America, continued elsewhere until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763.
The Ojibwas or Chippewa, also known as the “The Far Indians” – (meaning further west than this war occurred) were allies of the French. These people were known as the Council of the Three Fires and could be found in present day Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Allies of the British
The French counterparts, south of Canada, consisted of the Choctaw, Kickapoo, Sandusky, Seneca, Shawnee and Wea. And even the Choctaw eventually saw greater economic advantage with the British.
Thw Cherokee and the British were allies in the Tuscarora War 1711-15 and were allies at the beginning of the French and Indian War. 700 Cherokee and Cataba warriors joined the attack on Fort Duquense but many had deserted before the battle.
In 1755 the British sought Cherokee assistance against the French and Indian allies. These British had information the French intended to build forts in Cherokee territory, such as at Great Salt Lick on Cumberland, Ft. Toulouse, of Alabama territory, Ft. Rosalie at Natchez, Mississippi, Ft. St. Pierre and Ft. TomBeckbe on the Tombigbee River. The Cherokee agreed, and the British built forts in the Cherokee land such as Ft. Prince George in South Carolina colony, and Ft. Loudoun on Tellico River. The Cherokee did take part in the Ft Duquesne second battle.
Returning home, they took some horses they felt were theirs. Virginians then killed 30-40 Cherokees as a result, but claimed the scalps to be of Shawnees.
There was another Cherokee incident in 1758 and the English Fort Loudon garrison was killed by Cherokees.
The Erie, Susquehannock, Huron (Wendat) and Wyandot Confederacy spoke the Iroquoian languages, but were enemies of the Iroquois during this time. These peoples sided with the British against the French and their allies during the French and Indian War.
William Johnson, a fur trader who owned a chain of 30 trading posts from Detroit to Albany, convinced the Iroquois League to support the British.
The British were invading the Indians’ land and killing their soldiers, so the Algonquins decided to end the weakening treaty between them and the French. The Algonquin and eight other former French allies met with a British representative, Sir William Johnson, and signed a treaty in which they agreed to remain neutral in future wars between the British and French.
The British needed the Mohawk support in the French and Indian War. To secure the Mohawk as allies, a meeting known as “The Albany Congress of 1754” was held. This was to repair poor relations by the British in the past. The relationship between the upper New York state Mohawks and the British were also strengthened by Sir William Johnson of New York for the British and additionally Conrad Weiser for the Pennsylvania colony together with Hendrick Theyanoguin (Mohawk).
Britain’s allies also included the Seneca, Montauk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Creek, Tuscarora and Chickasaw.
Allies of the American Colonists
Chief Tanaghrisson guided Major George Washington to the location of 35 French soldiers and Canadian Militiamen who were camped in a hollow in May, 1754.
In 1755, the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Cherokees had received munitions from British traders based at Fort Augusta. The British Navy placed a blockade of France, rendering it impossible to supply pro-French Native American armies in the Southeast.
- Francis Jennings, Empire Of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies & Tribes in the Seven Years War in America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), 217-8.
- Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 188, 241-2, 245.
- Eric Hinderaker, Cultures in Conflict: The Seven Years’ War in North America (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefied, 2007), 106.
- Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 404, 406-7.
- James H. Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 209.
- Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774 (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1992).
- Benson J. Lossing, Our Country: A Household History For All Readers, volume 1 (New York: Johnson Wilson, 1875), 566.”