A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.


A Brief History of the French and Indian War

For centuries England and France, two European neighbors divided only by the English Channel, were enemies. The struggle began as early as 1066 with the Norman conquest, when French forces subjugated the Anglo-Saxon population, and did not end until Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815. In the 17th and 18th centuries this conflict extended overseas as both nations carved empires from newly discovered lands. Nowhere was this competition more intense than in North America, where both French and English settlers had arrived in the early 17th century. For nearly one hundred years these rival states, each allied with different native North American nations, fought to extend their colonial borders at each other's expense. In four wars, each known by different names in Europe and America, the two superpowers fought for dominations; the last of these, the French and Indian War (or Seven Years War in Europe), persisted from 1754 to 1763. While the first three wars had ended in relative stalemates, the last proved decisive: France surrendered Canada to England. The victory vastly enlarged the British empire and paved the way for the American Revolution.

In all of these wars only a very few of the military and naval leaders who planned the movements of armies and fleets had ever been to North America. For their knowledge of this distant land they depended on reports from their subordinates and lines drawn on maps. Late in 1754, for example, the Duke of Newcastle asked his cabinet for ideas about how to defend Novia Scotia from a French attack. Advised to reinforce the garrison at Annapolis Royal, Newcastle nodded his head, but then whispered, "Annapolis, Annapolis. Where is Annapolis?" Only a map could tell him.