The French and Indian War was a conflict between Great Britain and France and their Indian allies over land and trade rights in North America during the 18th century.
Both Great Britain and France wanted to expand their colonies into the Ohio River Valley, which France considered a part of New France and Great Britain considered a part of the colony of Virginia.
Many American Indians also fought in the war because their tribes either lived in the disputed areas, were allied with the tribes who lived there or were allied with either the French or the English.
The French had far more American Indian allies than the English because they were more successful at converting the various tribes to Christianity and they focused more on trading than on settling North America, so the American Indians saw them as less of a threat to their land and resources.
The various nations who fought in the French and Indian War were:
England established many colonies along the east coast of North America during the 17th and 18th century.
In the mid-18th century, Great Britain wanted to expand its colonies westward into the interior regions of the continent, particularly the Ohio River Valley where there was a lucrative fur trading industry, but was challenged by the French who occupied much of the land in the interior regions and were also looking to expand into the Ohio River Valley.
In 1754, fighting broke out between the British and the French in the Ohio country when British troops attempted to expel the French from the area.
The fighting continued in North America for two years before Great Britain officially declared war on France on May 17, 1756.
France established a number of colonies in North America, mostly in Canada and west of the Appalachian mountain chain and also in the Mississippi region and the West Indies, in the 16th century and 17th century.
The French wanted to keep the British colonies in North America confined to a small area along the east coast so France could expand its own colonies and gain control of the trade industries there, according to Alfred A. Cave in his book The French and Indian War:
“France’s plan was to control trade in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys and, with the help of her Indian allies, confine the British to a narrow strip of land on the Atlantic coast. To that end, the French undertook construction on a chain of forts on western and northern lands claimed by Great Britain.”
In 1754, Britain attempted to expel the French from the Ohio country after the French built a series of forts there, which then resulted in the first battles of the French and Indian War.
After two years of fighting in North America, Britain officially declared war on France on May 17, 1756.
British North American Colonies:
In the build up to the French and Indian War, the British colonists realized that the lack of unity among the 13 British colonies and the regional differences between them made it hard for them to agree on many issues and was a threat to their safety and security against the French and their Indian allies.
On June 19 to July 11, 1754, seven of the thirteen British colonies, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, met with representatives from the Iroquois Confederacy at the Albany Congress in Albany, New York to discuss a union of the British colonies and the natives.
The long-term goal of the meeting was to achieve greater colonial unity and thus bolster their common military defense against France.
At the meeting, Pennsylvania representative Benjamin Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union, which called for a loose confederation of the colonies led by a president general with a limited authority to levy taxes to fund a central treasury.
The Albany Plan was approved by the delegates but was rejected by the Crown and the colonies’ legislatures.
Although it failed, the Albany Congress was a defining moment in American politics because it was the first time the colonies had met to discuss uniting together.
The plan later became a model for establishing the Stamp Act Congress and the First Continental Congress and parts of the Albany Plan were also later adopted in the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
After the war broke out in 1754, tens of thousands of British colonists actively fought in the war, which provided these soldiers with valuable military experience that later served them well in their own war against the British during the Revolutionary War.
The military force of the British colonies consisted of the British Army, British Navy and American volunteer military units supported by only a few tribes of American Indian allies.
Unlike the British colonies, where self-rule was established early on, there were no elected assemblies in New France. Decisions were made by local magistrates on behalf of the French king so the French colonists had little say in the war with the British.
The military force of New France consisted of the French Army, French Navy and Canadian volunteer military units which were supported by a large number of independent American Indian allies and American Indian militia units.
This military force was ultimately no match though against corrupt French officials and the superior British military, according to an article on the Canadian History Project website:
“While the French Canadians and brave military leaders like Louis-Joseph Montcalm fought desperately to hang on to New France, they were undermined by the greed and corruption of some French officials like the intendant François Bigot and the superior strength of the English navy.”
The Iroquois Confederacy sided with the British during the French and Indian War.
The Iroquois Confederacy claimed that it owned the lands that made up the Ohio Country. The British government, which argued that the Iroquois were their subjects, used the Iroquois claim to assert that it held legal title to the land.
The Iroquois took note of France’s growing power in North America though and became hesitant to take sides in the conflict out of fear of allying themselves with the losing side, according to Richard B. Morris in an article in American Heritage Magazine:
“In the American colonies England’s military security rested in no small part upon her traditional alliance with the Iroquois, the Six Confederated Nations. But the bonds between England and her Indian allies had been stretched to the breaking point as the Iroquois observed with increasing alarm the rising military might of France. The Iroquois saw the French using the interlude between Queen Anne’s and King George’s Wars to expand on the Mississippi and in the Illinois country. Their tension mounted when the French boldly established Fort Niagara on Lake Erie as a bastion against them. To the Six Nations the alliance with England seemed to have less and less military value. As the French became more aggressive the Six Nations moved toward neutrality.”
In 1754, the Albany Congress attempted to recruit the Iroquois to fight alongside the British by showering them with gifts, provisions and promises of redress of grievances. It didn’t sway the Iroquois though and they decided to remain neutral.
After the war began, the Iroquois watched as the British lost many of the early battles of the war and feared the British would lose the war, thus bolstering their decision not to ally with them.
After the war began to turn in England’s favor in 1758, the Iroquois decided to officially join the war as allies to the British. Realizing that the British might win, the Iroquois reasoned it would benefit them to be on the winning side.
Catawba Indian Nation:
The Catawba Indian Nation had been trading partners with the British since the colonists first arrived in North America in the 17th century.
At the time of the French and Indian War, the Catawba lived along the border of North and South Carolina, along the Catawba River near present-day Charlotte.
During the conflict with France, the Catawbas sided with the British and patrolled the frontier and provided guides and about three hundred warriors to the British forces.
In 1754, although the colony was not under widespread attack, Catawba warriors killed two Frenchmen and three of their Indian allies, probably a scouting party, in North Carolina.
In 1756, when Carolina leaders received news of Cherokee scouting parties attacking and robbing English settlers along the Broad River and Catawba River, two colonial militia companies were ordered to patrol the area and a shipment of gun power and lead were sent to the Catawba to help them defend the backcountry.
In 1757, the British even began building the Catawba their own fort but never finished it.
In 1759, a smallpox outbreak reduced the Catawba population to around 500 people and about 100 warriors. This led the Catawbas to establish a smaller settlement at Twelve Mile Creek in South Carolina and a land reservation of 15 square miles in present-day counties of York and Lancaster.
In 1763, during the last days of the war, a Shawnee war party killed the Catawba chief, King Hagler, which devastated their morale and strength. By June of 1763, the Catawba nation had been reduced to just 50 warriors.
In return for their alliance in the French and Indian War, King George III in the 1763 Treaty of Augusta ceded the Catawba tribe of South Carolina a tract of land “fifteen miles square” comprising approximately 144,000 acres.
The Cherokee, who lived in the interior hill country of the Carolinas and Georgia, had been trading partners with the British since 1674.
In 1712, the Cherokee allied with the British for the first time when they provided 200 warriors against the Tuscarora Indians.
When the French and Indian War broke out, the British recruited the Cherokee and their warriors to help them fight the French. A small band of about 250 Cherokee served as mercenaries with Virginian frontier forces in 1757-1758.
In 1758, a Cherokee war party was returning from a raid in the Pennsylvania back country and passed through the colony of Virginia where they stole some horses and cattle from local farmers.
In retaliation for the thefts, the farmers killed around three dozen of these Cherokee warriors. To avenge these deaths, the Cherokee then began to raid Carolina settlements.
As a result, the diplomatic relationship between the Cherokee and the British completely broke down and in 1759 the British and the Cherokee went to war, a conflict which came to be known as the Anglo-Cherokee War.
The war continued until 1761, when the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Long-Island-on-the-Holston with the colony of Virginia.
In 1762, the Cherokee also made peace with South Carolina when they signed the Treaty of Charlestown.
The Huron (Wyandot) tribe had been trading partners with the French since 1614 and had a rivalry with the Iroquois, having been forced from their homelands near Lake Huron in Canada by the Iroquois in 1649.
It was therefore no surprise that when the Iroquois decided to ally themselves with the British during the French and Indian War, the Huron decided to ally themselves with the French.
The Shawnee tribe, who lived in the Ohio River Valley, were allies and trading partners with the French, serving as scouts and soldiers for France during the French and Indian War.
In October of 1758, the British reached a peace agreement, the Treaty of Easton, with the Shawnee and other Ohio Indians in which the British pledged not to settle the Ohio country if the tribes stopped fighting on the side of the French.
Without the support of the Ohio Indians, the French abandoned Fort Duquesne in the Ohio country to the British the following month.
According to Colin A. Calloway in his book The Indian War of George Washington, the Indians didn’t see this treaty as an abandonment of their French allies but instead saw it as a conclusion to the war:
“Had they been junior partners or pawns in the ‘French and Indian War,’ their acceptance of the Easton Treaty might be constructed as abandoning their allies. Instead, they were fighting their own war with their own goals, and having achieved those goals, they likely regarded the treaty as the end of the war for them.”
Ottawa tribe, who originally lived along the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario and western Quebec but later moved to northern Ohio in 1740, were trading partners with the French and allied with them during the French and Indian War.
Yet, like many tribes, the Ottawa had a complicated relationship with both the French and the British, according to an article on the Ohio History Central website:
“The Ottawa’s political alliances were complicated and changed with the times. Some Ottawa were allies of the French until British traders moved into the Ohio Country in the early 1700s. Many Ottawa moved into northern Ohio so that they could participate in the fur trade with the British. They lived in villages along the Cuyahoga, Maumee, and Sandusky Rivers, but the British were not content just to trade. Unlike the French, the British wanted to build forts and towns.”
The Ottawa found the number of growing British forts and towns troublesome and decided to ally themselves with the French in the hopes of defeating the British or at least keeping them confined to the East coast.
The Wabanaki Confederacy consisted of four tribes, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Mallseet and the Micmac, who lived in Maine and the Canadian Maritime provinces.
The Wabanaki Confederacy originally stayed neutral in the early French and Indian Wars until their rivals, the Iroquois Confederacy, formed an alliance with the British in the latter half of the war. In response, the Wabanaki formed an alliance with the French.
Lenape / Delaware Tribe:
The Lenape Tribe, which lived along the Delaware River in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Delaware, were originally trading partners with the French in the 17th century but then chose to ally themselves with the British, through the Iroquois, during the long series of French and Indian Wars that took place from 1688 to 1763.
Although the Lenape officially supported the British, individual Lenape leaders were free to make their own decisions and pledged loyalty to both the French and the English simultaneously (Weslager 1972:221-260).
In October of 1758, the Lenape tribe signed the Treaty of Easton which ended their alliance with the French.
Like many other Indian tribes, the Ojibwe became trading partners with the French when the French first arrived in the Great Lakes region in 1660.
The Ojibwe tribe sided with the French during the entire series of French and Indian Wars (1688-1763) and were particularly active during the final war, the French and Indian War.
The Mohawk Tribe was originally from the area that is now upstate New York but in the 1700s many Mohawks had been converted to Christianity and retreated to Canada to live in mission villages.
When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, the Mohawk Indians who lived in the Mohawk River Valley of upper State New York sided with the British while the Mohawk Indians who lived in Canada sided with the French.
As a result, when the French and Indian War broke out, Mohawks were at threat of being pitted against others Mohawks.
The Mohawks fortunately found a way around this problem, according to an article by Christina Rose on the Indian Country Today website:
“Wishing to avoid a war that was not their battle to fight, French documents show that when Mohawks met Mohawks privately, agreements were made not to take part in battles that would result in relatives against relatives. However, the Confederated Nations from Canada and the Six Nations of New York did fight throughout the nine years of the war.”
The Abenaki tribe, who lived in northern New England and the Maritime provinces in Canada, sided with the French during the entire series of French and Indian Wars (1688-1763) for a variety of reasons, according to the book Encyclopedia of North American Indians Wars, 1607-1890:
“The Abenaki position between Quebec and New England, the fact that French immigration was far less robust than that of the English, and the greater facility of French traders and missionaries with the tribe all served to place the Abenakis firmly in the French camp in any conflict.”
The Abenaki became allies with the French in the 17th century partly due to Catholic missionaries from New France converting many of the Abenaki to Christianity.
When English colonies in New England and their Iroquois allies began to encroach on Abenaki territory in the 17th century, it further solidified the Abenaki’s allegiance with the French.
The Abenaki first fought against the British during King Philip’s War and absorbed the defeated Wampanoag into their tribe after the war ended.
They then fought alongside the French against the British during King William’s War in 1689 and continued to fight the English-allied Iroquois until the Iroquois made peace with the French in 1701.
In 1699, the Abenaki signed an agreement to remain neutral in future conflicts between England and France. Despite this agreement, the Abenaki still fought against the British in Queen Anne’s War in 1702, in Drummer’s War in 1722 and in King George’s War in 1744.
When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, the Abenaki again sided with the French to battle the British and were active in most campaigns in the war.
When the French lost the war in 1763 and surrendered their colonies in North America, the Abenaki had no European allies left to help them deal with British demands for their land.
The Mohican Tribe (also spelled Mahican) who lived in the northern end of the Hudson Valley, sided with the British during the entire series of French and Indian Wars (1688-1763) although they were originally allies of the French.
In 1650, the Mohicans joined the French anti-Iroquois alliance and traded with the French and the Dutch until the British took over New Netherlands in 1664.
Since the Mohicans had less influence with the British than other American Indians, they decided to leave the area and moved to western Massachusetts where they fell under the protection of the Iroquois.
Because the Iroquois were allies of the British, the Mohicans also sided with the British during the French and Indian War, but they played a limited role in the conflict, usually serving as British scouts or auxiliary troops.
To learn more about the French and Indian War, check out this article on the best books about the French and Indian War.
Weslager, Clinton A. The Delaware Indians: A History. Rutgers University Press, 1972.
Calloway, Colin G. The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans and the Birth of the Nation. Oxford University Press, 2018.
Rose, Christina. “Native History: French and Indian War Ends with Treaty of Paris.” Indian Country Today, Indian Country Today Media Network, 10 Feb. 2017, indiancountrymedianetwork.com/history/events/native-history-french-and-indian-war-ends-with-treaty-of-paris/
“The Tangled Web of Conflict, Blood, and Peace: Cherokee Attacks on Fort Ninety Six.” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 18 July. 2012, www.nps.gov/nisi/blogs/a-tangled-web-of-conflict-blood-and-peace-cherokee-attacks-on-fort-ninety-six.htm
“Objibwe History.” Indian Country, Wisconsin’s Natural History Museum, www.mpm.edu/content/wirp/ICW-151.html
“Ottawa Indians.” Ohio Central History, www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ottawa_Indians
“Removal History of the Delaware Tribe.” Official Website of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, delawaretribe.org/services-and-programs/historic-preservation/removal-history-of-the-delaware-tribe/
Curtis, Edward. The North American Indian: Being a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States, the Dominion of Canada, and Alaska. Vol. 19, Edward S. Curtis, 1930.
“The Cherokee and the French and Indian War.” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/fone/learn/historyculture/upload/fone-cherokee-and-the-fandi-war.pdf
Mass, John. The French and Indian War in North Carolina: The Spreading Flames of War. History Press, 2013.
“The Militia: French Army, Canadians and Amerindians.” The Plains of Abraham, Government of Canada, bataille.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/siege-de-quebec/forces-en-presence/armee-francaise-canadiens-amerindiens/la-milice.php
“The Conquest: Introduction.” Canada a Country By Consent, West/Dunn Productions, www.canadahistoryproject.ca/1759/index.html
“New France.” U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium, Independent Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/8a.asp
Morris, Richard B. “Benjamin Franklin’s Grand Design.” American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 7, Issue 2, February 1956, American Heritage Publishing, www.americanheritage.com/content/benjamin-franklin%E2%80%99s-grand-design
Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607-1890: A Political, Social, and Military History. Vol I: A-L, Edited by Spencer C. Tucker, ABC-CLIO, 2011.