Study Guide

The French & Indian War Analysis

  • War

    General Edward Braddock

    History has proven Edward Braddock, the officer sent to re-establish Britain's position in the Ohio Valley in 1755, to have been a terribly poor choice. Headstrong and arrogant, he'd earned a reputation as a tough commander in suppressing a rebellion among Scottish highlanders in 1746. But in America, those same traits would hurt the British cause and ultimately cost Braddock his life.

    Braddock's first mistake was to believe that the 2,400 men he led toward the Forks of the Ohio River in 1755 were enough to drive out the French. He rejected, therefore, an overture from the Ohio Indians (Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingos) to join his forces. 

    Tanaghrisson, the Iroquois representative, had warned Braddock that the Ohio Indians were negotiating with the French—and he was right. But they were interested only in securing their independence, and they were willing to join whichever European power acknowledged this ambition. 

    But Braddock wasn't interested. His British Regulars needed no help from these "savage" warriors, he said. His rejection of their offer of alliance drove the Ohio Indians more fully into the camp of the French.

    Braddock's second mistake was to split his forces in half as he marched toward the Ohio Forks. Impatient with the progress of his 2,400-man army, complete with cannons and camp followers, he led an advance force of 1,200 men toward the Forks while the remainder slogged behind with the supplies and artillery. His forward column met little resistance, and therefore, he assumed that he'd almost walk into an abandoned French fort.

    But he was wrong. 

    On July 9th, a few miles outside Fort Duquesne, he was ambushed by a French force of about 1,000 fighters. Roughly two-thirds of these were North American Indians—Ottawas who'd traveled from Canada with the French, plus the Ohio Indians that had joined the French after Braddock rejected them. 

    The British troops, hemmed in on a narrow road and taking fire from all sides from enemies hidden in the surrounding trees, fell back in confusion. When Braddock was shot from his horse, the British fled. In this disastrous "Battle of the Wilderness" (also known as the Battle of the Monongahela), the British suffered more than 900 casualties. Braddock died of his wounds just a few days later.

    "General" William Shirley

    While Braddock blundered in the Ohio Valley, other problems doomed British efforts elsewhere during the first year of the war.

    William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts, was named general and ordered to lead an army of provincial militia against Fort Niagara. Guarding the river linking Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, the French fort protected the flow of supplies to French settlements and forts in western Canada.

    But Shirley was no real general and his militiamen weren't real soldiers either. During the march toward Canada, Shirley's men deserted by the dozens. When Shirley failed to adequately arrange supplies, hunger and disease further decimated his army. By the time they reached the Great Lakes, his army of 2,500 men had been reduced to 1,700, and they were forced to hunker down for the winter at Fort Oswego on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario and await the spring thaw before resuming the campaign.

    Loss of the Mohawks

    In New York, British commander William Johnson, ordered to capture Crown Point at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, experienced greater success. 

    As Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the northern colonies, he'd built a solid relationship with the Mohawks—perhaps the most powerful of the six nations of the Iroquois League—and he drew upon them now in a building his army. At the Battle of Lake George, he scored a victory of sorts when his force of Mohawks and provincials drove the French Army from the field. He next built Fort William Henry at the base of Lake George, guarding access to the Hudson River. But he never reached Crown Point, failing to achieve his primary objective. 

    And of greater importance, in the aftermath of the Battle of Lake George, his Mohawk allies abandoned the campaign. In their first encounter with the French forces, they'd discovered that their Canadian cousins were fighting on the other side and resolved to avoid further killing of their own people. 

    The loss of these critical allies would hinder British military efforts in the region for the next several years.

    More British Problems

    The first year of the war also revealed that in many respects, Britain's North American subjects were more of a liability than an asset to the war effort. 

    The colonists proved unreliable soldiers, and their widely dispersed settlements were difficult to defend. Moreover, failures on the battlefield were more than matched by problems of finance, supply, and politics in the colonial capitals. America's colonial assemblies had, over the course of the 18th century, won control over all legislation relating to money in the colonies. While the British government in London appointed the colonial governors, with significant powers, these powers were largely neutralized by the locally elected assemblies' control over taxes and spending. 

    And these assemblies weren't about to be told how to spend their money now, even if the British officers and soldiers making the requests were guarding American frontiers from French and Native American incursion.

    The British cause was further weakened by arguments between British Regulars and provincial troops over rank and comparative performance. British military rule placed all British Regulars above provincial officers. That meant even a lowly ensign in the British Army outranked a provincial colonel. Provincial officers and the men they commanded were offended—especially since they believed that provincial troops in the field performed as well, if not better, than their professional British counterparts.

    The French Strategy: Benefits and Risks

    In other words, the British military effort was a multifaceted mess by 1756. 

    In the meantime, the French had developed strategies far better suited to their resources and ambitions. Most important, the French proved more skilled in using Native American allies. The Governor-General of New France, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, quickly embraced the Native American tribes Braddock had spurned. 

    By turning loose the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo, along with the Ottawa from Canada, to attack frontier settlements, Vaudreuil was able to preserve his French soldiers for campaigns against the most critical British posts. 

    The wisdom of this approach was illustrated most dramatically in 1756, when French and Native American forces attacked the depleted provincial forces under Governor-General Shirley at Fort Oswego. After enduring a four-day siege in August, the British surrendered the fort—their only stronghold on the Great Lakes—and were forced to retreat to Albany.

    But there were also risks inherent in the French approach, and these were also illustrated at Oswego. Native American allies slaughtered the wounded British soldiers they found in the fort infirmary and plundered the British corpses left dead on the field. In addition, they seized a number of British troops and carried them off for ransom. Vaudreuil accepted all this as price worth paying for the manpower, and the terror, these Native American allies represented. But many of the other French officers were disgusted by these unconventional practices, especially General Montcalm, newly arrived to assume command of all French forces in North America. 

    Montcalm therefore convinced the French government to join the British in paying large ransoms to redeem these hostages. And he began lobbying for the removal of Vaudreuil from his position as governor-general.

    The Massacre at Fort William Henry

    The benefits and risks inherent in the French approach were even more powerfully illustrated the following year in the French attack on Fort William Henry. 

    The fort lay at the north end of the Hudson River, at the base of Lake George. It served as a critical gatekeeper for the flow of troops between Albany and the Saint Lawrence River. The British realized this and therefore stationed a well-provisioned force of 2,400 men within its reinforced walls. 

    But the French also recognized the fort's importance. In the summer of 1757, Vaudreuil ordered Montcalm to seize it.

    Montcalm marched an army of 8,500 French soldiers and Canadian militia from Fort Carillon to Fort William Henry in July 1757. More than 2,000 Native Americans joined the war party as well. Throughout Canada, word had spread of the high ransoms paid for British captives taken at Oswego, encouraging more Native American warriors to join the fight in hopes of capturing valuable hostages. 

    It was consequently a mighty—but in Montcalm's eyes, also unnerving—coalition he positioned outside the walls of the British fort on August 3rd. Montcalm skillfully employed the classic strategies of siege warfare. By August 6th, his trenches were close enough to the fort's walls that he could begin an effective artillery assault. By August 9th, realizing that their situation was hopeless, the British surrendered. 

    After pledging not to fight for 18 months, the British soldiers were allowed to keep their small arms and leave the fort unharmed. But Montcalm's Native American allies had a different agenda. As a column of British soldiers and miscellaneous civilians marched out of the fort on August 10th, the Native Americans attacked, killing more than 150 and taking 500 captives.

    It was both the war's high point and the beginning of the end for the French. 

    With Fort William Henry captured, France now controlled a perimeter stretching from Lake George to Fort Duquesne. But the French-Indian coalition that had made this success possible was about to unravel. The Native Americans returned to their villages loaded with plunder and captives that could be richly ransomed. 

    At the same time, however, they carried home with them the smallpox that had been ravaging the fort, leading to disastrous outbreaks of the deadly disease. They wouldn't return to the field in significant numbers for more than two years. Nor would the French try very hard to recruit them. In the aftermath of the massacre outside Fort William Henry, Montcalm complained further to his king of Vaudreuil's unorthodox use of Native American allies. 

    Consequently, in 1759, Montcalm was given complete control over all military operations in New France and he soon de-emphasized the role of Native American fighters in his strategy.

    The Tide Turns

    Other factors would converge to shift the tide of the war by 1758. For starters, in 1756, the traditional European alliances were reversed when Britain signed a pact with Prussia, and France signed a defensive agreement with Austria. After luring Austria away from its former alliance with Britain, France felt strong enough to attack British holdings in the Mediterranean. One of the most important of these was the island of Minorca, which France captured on June 28th.

    This began the "Seven Years' War"—the European extension and expansion of the French and Indian War. In addition to seizing Minorca, France mobilized thousands of troops along the English Channel. But it never intended an invasion of Britain—it only sought to frighten the British into territorial concessions in North America, the Caribbean, and India. 

    What France didn't anticipate was Prussia's invasion of Saxony—a protectorate of Austria's Queen Maria Theresa—triggering the treaty obligations of both Britain and France to commit military resources to the European mainland.

    The fall of Minorca, new commitments on the continent, and the mobilization of French troops along the English Channel terrified Britain's government and public. King George II had to respond, so in June 1757, he dissolved the current government and accepted a new ministry that included his old enemy, William Pitt, as Secretary of State.

    William Pitt's Free Spending Approach

    Pitt immediately set about imposing greater discipline—and spending far more money—on the war effort in America and in Europe. He provided millions of pounds worth of assistance to Britain's ally, Frederick of Prussia, to strengthen his army so that it could tie down more French troops on the continent. 

    Next, Pitt rapidly expanded his navy and increased its presence at Gibraltar. By controlling this gateway to the Atlantic, Britain could create supply problems for French forces in North America. Pitt also asked the colonies to raise an additional 23,000 provincial troops. And more importantly, he announced that these new provincials would be paid directly by the crown. London would foot the bill for these new soldiers, and the uncooperative colonial assemblies wouldn't be asked for a dime. 

    American assemblies, and the taxpayers they represented, were understandably pleased—and even more so when all these new troops needed to be outfitted. Pitt again proved generous in awarding lucrative contracts to American suppliers.

    Pitt's policies had an immediate impact on American attitudes toward the war. Bickering over finance and supply were eliminated, and the morale-draining quarrels between Parliament and American provincial assemblies came to an end. To strengthen the growing spirit of cooperation, Pitt further announced that provincial officers would no longer be treated as inferiors in rank. A British colonel would still outrank a provincial colonel, but the American colonel would outrank all junior British officers. 

    British Regulars were displeased, but Pitt defended the decision by arguing that the war in America was an all-British endeavor—that Englishmen and Americans were engaged in shared enterprise on behalf of the British Empire. And Americans responded enthusiastically to the more inclusive vision. They enlisted in provincial militias in record numbers. By the summer of 1758, there were about 50,000 British and provincial troops in the field in North America—a number equal to the entire white population of New France.

    Pitt's Impact on the Battlefield

    While successful in improving American morale, Pitt's strategy didn't bear fruit immediately on the battlefield. In fact, despite outnumbering the French by more than four to one, the British suffered a humiliating defeat at Fort Carrillon on July 8th, 1758. 

    The French commander Montcalm joined his men in felling trees to construct a 50-yard tangle of logs and branches outside the walls of the forts. And the British, rather stupidly, tried to storm the barricade rather than waiting to destroy it with canon fire. As a result, British infantry were mowed down by Montcalm's men, firing from the fort. Almost 2,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded before the attack was called off, leaving Montcalm to celebrate a famous victory.

    But in the following months, the British rebounded by scoring major victories at Louisbourg (on Nova Scotia) and Fort Frontenac (at the northwest end of Lake Ontario). The first gave Britain increased control over French supply lines down the Saint Lawrence River. The second made French resupply of their forts deep in the interior all but impossible.

    Britain's greatest victory, however, occurred at Fort Duquesne—where it all began. More careful planning ensured that Braddock's arrogant disaster of 1755 wouldn't be repeated. This time, roughly twice the number of troops (5,000) would be dispatched under General John Forbes, and the Ohio Indians—primarily Delaware and Shawnee—would be courted rather than dismissed. A series of negotiations between British officials in Pennsylvania and the Ohio Indians, and eventually the Iroquois as well, culminated in the signing of a treaty at Easton in October 1758. 

    In the treaty, the Ohio Indians, formerly allied with the French, pledged peace in return for a series of British concessions. These included a promise from Pennsylvania officials to renegotiate the terms of the Walking Purchase, through which the Iroquois had ceded over 750,000 acres of Delaware land to Pennsylvania in 1737. The British also agreed that there would be no permanent settlement west of the Alleghenies. A trading post would be allowed at the Forks, but white farmers would be banned from the region.

    These were major concessions—but concessions consistent with the approach of William Pitt, who'd committed to winning the war at all costs. And the strategy worked.

    In November 1758, Fort Duquesne was abandoned. With their supply lines cut, and without the support of their Native American allies, the French position became hopeless. With 5,000 British and provincial troops en route, the French commander ordered the great fort at the Forks demolished before retreating northwest to Fort Machault.

    After the British victories at Louisbourg, Frontenac, and Duquesne, the French position in North America quickly collapsed. On July 26th, 1759, the French were driven from Fort Niagara at the west end of Lake Ontario by an army led by British General John Prideaux. 

    The Ohio Valley was now completely beyond French reach—the few posts they retained south of Lake Erie were isolated. On the same day, the French were forced to abandon Fort Carrillon on Lake Champlain. A week later, with British General Jeffery Amherst in pursuit, the retreating French also destroyed their fort at Crown Point.

    The Iroquois Return

    Critical to the British victory at Fort Niagara was the participation of the Iroquois. 

    After the Battle of Lake George in 1755, the Mohawk and most other members of the League had adopted a stance of neutrality. 

    But now, with the war's outcome increasingly apparent, they sought to reestablish themselves as allies of the British. Perhaps as many as 1,000 warriors joined Prideaux's forces in the field. Just as important, they convinced many tribes attached to the French to abandon their alliance.

    On to Quebec

    By the end of the summer of 1759, the once-mighty French Empire was reduced to a couple of positions along the Saint Lawrence River in Canada. The most formidable of these was Quebec. 

    There, Montcalm had 15,000 men tucked behind the city's well-fortified walls. British Brigadier General James Wolfe, sent to take the city, led a larger army of 22,000. But unless he could force Montcalm out from behind the city walls, his numerical advantage would prove worthless. And if Montcalm held out until winter, Wolfe would have to retreat or face starvation once the Saint Lawrence froze over.

    The story of Wolfe's victory, and the brilliant stratagem that made it possible, will be told soon enough. For now, we'll note only that on September 13th, 1759, the French were forced to abandon the city and retreat to their last stronghold of Montreal.

    Surrender at Montreal

    The British launched the final campaign of the war with every advantage on their side. The French were isolated at Montreal, their supply lines were cut, the British controlled access to the city from all directions, and the Iroquois were offering both military and diplomatic support. 

    During the summer of 1760, a British army of 3,000 moved west up the Saint Lawrence from Quebec. Another army of 3,500 marched north from Lake Champlain, while a third army of 11,000 sailed down the river from Lake Ontario. 

    They met relatively little resistance, as the Iroquois traveled in advance of the British, convincing the Canadian Indians to abandon their alliance with the French. Governor-General Vaudreuil recognized that the situation was hopeless, so he surrendered the city without firing a shot on September 8th, 1760.

    The Treaty of Paris

    Britain's war against France would drag on for another two years in Europe, and there would also be further fighting in India, the Pacific, and the West Indies. 

    But on the North American continent, the war was over—and the vast majority of the continent now belonged to Britain. The Treaty of Paris, ratified in 1763, awarded Britain Canada and all territory east of the Mississippi River. France retained only the city of New Orleans, plus the unsettled lands west of the Mississippi. 

    In the same treaty, Spain, France's ally, ceded Florida to Britain in exchange for the restoration of Cuba, which had been seized by Britain during the war. The treaty left Britain facing no significant European challenge to its control of North America.

  • Race

    The Native Americans' Parchment Victory

    On paper, there were actually two victors in the French and Indian War. The Treaty of Paris had conferred all land east of the Mississippi River, as well as Canada, to Great Britain. Britain's hold on North America was now secure. 

    But the Delaware Indians of the Ohio Valley had also secured an important territorial concession. In the Treaty of Easton, signed in 1758, Great Britain had promised to renegotiate the Walking Purchase of 1737 through which 750,000 acres of Delaware land had been deeded to Pennsylvania by the Iroquois. In addition, the British had pledged to forbid white settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, preserving the Ohio Valley as a Native American homeland.

    But the Delawares' parchment victory was quickly proven worthless by events. White settlers poured into the Ohio Valley almost as soon as the French were driven from Fort Duquesne. And contrary to wartime promises, the British rebuilt and occupied the forts in the region that had been recently abandoned by the French. On the Forks of the Ohio River, Fort Pitt was built on the ruins of Fort Duquesne, a statement of British ambitions that infuriated the Native Americans, who believed they'd been promised regional independence.

    Individual acts of violence soon compounded the Native Americans' sense of betrayal. In April 1763, Teedyuscung, the chief who'd negotiated for the Delawares at Easton in 1758, was killed when his cabin was burned by arsonists. Many believed that thugs from the Connecticut-based Susquehanna Company, busily selling lands to white settlers along the Susquehanna River, were responsible.

    In the same month, a Native American woman was publicly hanged by white authorities after being charged with complicity in the murder of a white man.

    A growing sense of injustice found religious and ideological direction in the preaching of the Delaware mystic Neolin. He relayed a message from the Master of Life, preaching that prosperity would return only when the Native Americans cut off all ties to the white man. And Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, placed this message at the center of his call for a united North American Indian assault against British occupation in the spring of 1763.

    Pontiac's Rebellion

    The British fort at Detroit was the first to be attacked. But the rebellion spread quickly. Led by the Ottawas and Ojibwas in the north, and the Delaware and Shawnee in the Ohio Valley, North American Indians attacked virtually every British fort west of the Appalachians. 

    By the fall of 1763, only Forts Detroit, Pitt, and Niagara were still in British hands.

    The scope and speed of the North American Indian success was striking. Some of the North American Indians' victories came because the British forts weren't heavily manned after the end of the French and Indian War. But the British also badly underestimated the depth of North American Indian discontent, and in some locations, even believed that they were on good relations with their neighbors. 

    At Fort Michilimackinac, a band of Ottawa and Ojibwa warriors was admitted to the fort to retrieve the ball they lost while playing lacrosse outside the walls. Once inside, they drew guns hidden beneath their clothing and killed or captured the entire British garrison.

    But Pontiac's Rebellion collapsed almost as quickly as it began. Disease took its toll on some tribes. At Fort Pitt, British officers deliberately distributed smallpox-infested blankets to a party of Delawares, and within weeks, an epidemic was racing through the surrounding North American Indian villages. 

    Other tribes abandoned the rebellion after being pressured by the Seven Nations of Canada. This confederation of Mohawks, Hurons, Onondagas, Abenakis, and Algonquins argued that continuing the war would only bring worse problems—a cessation of all trade and the permanent hostility of the British. Pontiac called off his siege of Fort Detroit at the end of October, after failing to convince the French—the Ottawas' old ally—to renew their war against the British.

    Britain's New North American Indian Policy

    Still, Pontiac's Rebellion—what one historian has provocatively labeled America's "first war of independence"—was far from a failure.blank">very familiar. It was just another battle between white men—a battle that would force them to make another series of difficult choices about which side to support, and what battles they must fight if they were to hang on to any portion of the continent east of the Mississippi River.

  • Culture

    The Death of General Wolfe

    In 1771, amid great fanfare, Benjamin West's painting, The Death of General Wolfe, was unveiled in London. For weeks following, the gallery of the Royal Academy of Art filled with people anxious to view the painting of the fallen hero of Quebec. Not all of the critics were pleased with the work, though. Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy, thought the painting was too specific in its historical details. 

    But King George III loved it—so much so that he named West the official history painter of the royal court.

    It was perhaps West's greatest moment. Born in Pennsylvania, he went to Europe in 1760 and then settled in London in 1763. There were just too few opportunities for an artist in colonial America—no art schools of significance and very few generous patrons. For a time, he'd made a living at home as a limner, a commercial portrait painter. But like most aspiring American artists of the period, he quickly concluded that greater opportunities lay in abroad.

    The Death of General Wolfe wasn't West's first historical painting, but it was his most original to date. His earlier works reflected the classical theories advanced by the Royal Academy, where Reynolds taught his students that in commemorating historical moments, they should expose the transcendent truths that lay behind a specific moment in time rather than specific historical details. The particularities of the moment should be ignored in pursuit of the greater message. So, details of dress and setting were unimportant, even distracting. What mattered were the timeless truths underlying the moment—nobility, virtue, honor, and sacrifice—and it was these that should be captured.

    For most artists, this meant that historical events, no matter when or where they occurred, should be presented in classical forms— heroes dressed in ancient togas, or statesmen placed before the Parthenon. Or, as in the case of West's earlier paintings, only classical subjects should be commemorated at all. It was Wolfe's first, more traditional historical painting of Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus at Brundisium, celebrating the virtue and heroism of a Roman military widow that had caught the King's attention.

    But in commemorating the death of James Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec, West decided to do things differently. He painted Wolfe in contemporary dress, and he depicted the soldiers that surrounded him in uniforms that were carefully researched. This is what Reynolds objected to: he thought all the detail was gaudy and distracting, and suggested that it obscured the message of patriotic sacrifice that the event represented. 

    But apparently, the public disagreed, as did the king. As court painter and then president of the Royal Academy, West would repeat the formula introduced here in paintings of Admiral Nelson and William Pitt, too.

    The Life of General Wolfe

    West defended his decision to paint Wolfe in contemporary dress by referring to the obligations of the artist. 

    "The same truth that guides the pen of the historian," he wrote, "should govern the pencil of the artist."blank">beginning of the end.

  • Diplomacy

    Tanaghrisson, the Half King

    Tanaghrisson was a chief among the Senecas—one of the six tribes within the Iroquois League that dominated the northeastern part of North America for most of the 18th century. 

    But among the people he was sent to govern in the Ohio Valley—the Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingos—he was referred to disparagingly as a "half king," because his decisions had to be submitted for approval to the Iroquois council sitting at Onondaga. 

    During the 1750s, this half king would be handed the impossible task of maintaining Iroquois control as the imperial visions of three great powers converged on a comparatively small area at the Forks of the Ohio River. Tanaghrisson's problem would prove to be unsolvable, and by 1754, the contest for the Ohio Valley would trigger a chain of events of unsurpassed importance in the history of the Western world.

    Competing Imperial Visions: Great Britain

    In 1750, three great nations pursued imperial visions on the North American continent. 

    The story most familiar belongs to Great Britain. Since the planting of a settlement at Jamestown in 1607, the British had established a string of colonies stretching from Nova Scotia to Georgia. These colonies had been settled under varying arrangements with the British government and the British government maintained an interested, if somewhat relaxed, eye on the colonies. 

    But for the most part, Britain's American colonies were private ventures, rooted in the ambitions of specific commercial organizations and religious groups. On occasion, the British government had tried to tighten its grip on the colonies—but never too hard, for experience soon showed that a relaxed approach to ruling the North American colonies allowed them the freedom to flourish.

    By 1750, British North America was home to more than a million people and a vibrant and diverse economy. Fully half of all British shipping was engaged in trade with North America, and some 33% of Britain's commercial vessels were built in American shipyards.blank">George Washington, to deliver the British ultimatum. Accompanied by a handful of scouts and interpreters, Washington spent November and December of 1753 scouting French positions in the Ohio Valley and delivering Dinwiddie's demand. But the French refused to withdraw, and when Washington returned from the Forks with word of the French refusal, he was asked to lead a regiment back into the valley to build a competing British fort at the Forks of the Ohio.

    Washington was only 22 years old when he left Williamsburg for the Forks in 1754. Perhaps an older, more experienced military leader might have been able to achieve greater success on the mission he now undertook. 

    But probably not. Especially as the most critical figure in the story about to unfold wasn't actually George Washington, but rather, Tanaghrisson.

    When Washington and his men arrived within a few miles of the Forks, he established a camp at the Great Meadows. Native American scouts soon brought word that a French patrol was in the vicinity. Washington set off in pursuit, surprising the patrol of 35 French soldiers just before dawn. After a brief skirmish—it's not clear who fired the first shot or even why—the French surrendered.

    Tanaghrisson's Gambit

    It was a small battle but one that would have monumental importance in the history of America and the entire world. 

    As Washington accepted the surrender of the French officer, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, the young ensign explained that he'd been sent on a diplomatic mission—to find the Virginia regiment and demand that it leave the valley. But before Washington could even respond, Tanaghrisson seized the initiative and fatefully set the course of events. 

    With a single blow from his tomahawk, he smashed the skull of Jumonville, killing him instantly. His warriors then slaughtered the wounded French soldiers. The French and Indian War had unofficially begun.

    • Could things have turned out differently?
    • Could the British have complied with the French order to abandon all plans for the valley?
    • Or could the French have abandoned their insistence that the British leave?

    We'll never know, for Tanaghrisson's attack set all parties on the path to war—a war that Tanaghrisson believed gave the Iroquois their best chance of retaining control over the Ohio Valley and its Native American occupants. Convinced that the Ohio Indians had already entered into an alliance with the French, and convinced that the Iroquois could no longer maintain their dominant status by playing one European power against the other, Tanaghrisson resolved to take a stand with the British, deliberately inciting a war that he hoped would crush the upstart Ohio Indians and drive the French back to the Great Lakes. 

    We'll have to defer consideration of the long-term effectiveness of the strategy, but in the short term, it achieved all that he planned.

    Fort Necessity

    George Washington was caught completely off guard by Tanaghrisson's attack, but he immediately recognized that the unprovoked murder of French prisoners-of-war under his watch had just changed the diplomatic landscape entirely. 

    Knowing that French retaliation was inevitable, he withdrew to the little fort his men had thrown up at the Great Meadows and awaited the French attack he knew would come. On July 3rd, 1753, more than 600 French troops, reinforced by 100 Native American allies, attacked Washington at the rickety stockade dubbed Fort Necessity. 

    Badly outmanned, Washington surrendered the next morning. The young officer made one final youthful mistake. Unable to read French, he signed a statement admitting he'd assassinated a French envoy—a serious breach of diplomatic protocol and formal grounds for war.

    When word of the military and diplomatic humiliation of Washington at Fort Necessity reached London, there was panic among British officials. British interests in the interior of North America had suffered a serious setback, and broader French schemes against British power had been given a boost. Command over the dire situation in North America could no longer be entrusted to a raw kid from Virginia. 

    So, in the spring of 1755, General Edward Braddock was dispatched to America with two regiments of British Regulars. These forces would be joined by two more regiments raised in America, plus provincial militia called into service by colonial governors. With more than 5,000 total troops at his disposal, Braddock was to attack French holdings not only in the Ohio Valley, but in Nova Scotia and all regions south of the Great Lakes. 

    By force of arms, Britain would reestablish its position in the interior of North America, secure its holdings south of the Great Lakes, and send a message to the French that it wasn't to be taken lightly in either hemisphere. It was time for war.