Learn About the Past

“The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of American set the world on fire”1

From the 1750's and through the early 1760's, the British, the French, and many American Indian nations engaged in a war that changed the course of American history: the French and Indian War. It started over who would control the Ohio River Valley and a familiar figure, George Washington, was an early participant.

At the time about 3,000 to 4,000 American Indians were living in the Ohio River Valley. The French had settlements in Canada, the “Illinois country” and Louisiana (which included New Orleans). The British settled east of the Allegheny Mountains along the eastern seaboard. Both the French and the British thought they had an indisputable claim to the Ohio River Valley, as did the Indians who lived there. For both economic and political reasons all three powers wanted to control this region. As tensions and actions escalated a clash seemed inevitable. On May 28, 1754 the first shot was fired and as British historian Horace Walpole wrote, it “set the world on fire.”

Eventually France and Britain declared war on each other and the fighting spread from North America to Europe, the Caribbean, India, and the Philippines. War was not new to these powerful European nations. They had been traditional rivals and enemies in a dozen previous wars.

As the French and Indian War continued in North America the American Indians fought for their own cause. They were influential in shaping the outcome of the war.

The fall of the French colonial city of Montreal in 1760 signaled the end of fighting between the French and British on this continent. Those two powers agreed Britain would control the Ohio River Valley. However, the British did not keep their promises to the American Indians and instituted new unfavorable trade policies. These actions sparked Pontiac’s War in 1763. The British and American Indians continued to struggle over the land. Eventually the British won and settlers pushed most of the Indians westward.

At the end of the French and Indian War Great Britain had a vast new empire to administer. The relationship between the British colonies in North America and their mother country began to change. The British government enacted policies that set the stage for the American Revolution.

1Horace Walpole’s comment on George Washington and the first shots of the French and Indian War. Robert C. Alberts, A Charming Field for an Encounter, (Washington, 1975) 20.

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