The French and Indian War (1754–1763)

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the circumstances which led to the French and Indian War
  • Explain the outcomes and effects of the French and Indian War

Stirrings of War in North America

Of the 87 years between the Glorious Revolution in England (1688) and the American Revolution (1775), Britain was at war with France and her allies for 37 of them. These were not wars in which European soldiers fought other European soldiers on European soil. In the Wars for Empire, ragtag American militiamen fought for the British army against French Catholics and their Native American allies for control of their own land. Warfare took a physical and spiritual toll on British-American colonists.

Colonial British towns located on the border between New England and New France experienced intermittent raiding by French-allied Native Americans. Raiding parties would destroy houses and burn crops, but they would also take captives. They brought these captives to French Quebec, where some were ransomed back to their families in New England and others were converted to Catholicism by Jesuit missionaries and remained in New France. In this sense, Catholicism threatened to literally capture Protestant lands and souls.


Jesuits are members of the Society of Jesus, a religious order of the Catholic Church founded in 1540. Their primary aim is missionary work. Jesuit priests came to New France and New Spain starting in the 16th century with the aim of converting the Native American tribes and any other colonists they could to Catholicism. In fact, “saving souls” was part of the constitutions of both New France and New Spain and the missions were supported by the monarchs of both countries. The Jesuit missions did not gain a foothold in the New World until the mid-17th century, with the Spanish Jesuits establishing missions in Baja California as early as 1687. Many French Jesuit missionaries learned Indigenous languages in order to convert the First Nations people of Canada. In the 19th century, the French Jesuits had established missions as far south as Louisiana and as far west as Idaho, while the Spanish Jesuits had been suppressed and replaced by the Franciscan Order in 1767 by the Spanish government. The Jesuits in New France kept a record of their activities which were compiled and published annually from 1632 until 1673, called The Jesuit Relations. 

In 1754 a force of British colonists and Mingo tribal allies, led by young George Washington, attacked and killed Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, a French diplomat, at The Battle of Jumonville Glen. This incident led to what would become known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe, the French and Indian War in America, and the Guerre de la Conquête (‘War of the Conquest’) in French Canada. The French achieved victory in the early portion of this war in the colonies. They attacked and burned multiple British outposts, such as Fort William Henry in 1757. In addition, the French seemed to easily defeat British attacks, such as General Braddock’s attack on Fort Duquesne, and General Abercrombie’s attack on Fort Carllion (Ticonderoga) in 1758. These victories were often the result of alliances with Native Americans.

The Seven Years’ War in Europe and India

In Europe, the war did not fully begin until 1756, when Frederick the Great, the British-allied King of Prussia, invaded the neutral state of Saxony in order to protect himself from a new French-Russian-Austrian alliance. As a result of this invasion, the French-Russian-Austrian coalition, along with Sweden, attacked Prussia, and their allied German states. The last Hapsburg Queen of Austria, Maria Theresa, hoped to conquer the province of Silesia, which had been lost to Prussia in a previous war. In the European war, the British monetarily supported the Prussians, as well as the German states of Hesse-Kassel and Braunschwieg-Wolfbüttel. These subsidy payments enabled the smaller German states to fight France and allowed the Prussian army, which was well-trained and equipped but simply outnumbered, to fight against the large enemy alliance.

However, as in North America, the early part of the war went against the British. The French defeated Britain’s German allies and forced them to surrender after the Battle of Hastenbeck in 1757. The Austrians defeated the Prussians in the Battle of Kolin, also in 1757. However, Frederick of Prussia defeated the French at the Battle of Rossbach in November of 1757. This battle allowed the British to rejoin the war in Europe. Just a month later, Frederick’s army defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Leuthen, reclaiming the vital province of Silesia.

The British navy also consistently defeated the French at sea. The two nations fought by proxy to gain control of the Indian subcontinent at this time, as well as their wars in Europe and North America. At the Battle of Plassey in India 1757, the British forces, commanded by Robert Clive, and their Indian allies defeated the French and their Mughal Imperial allies. This victory gave the British back control of the seas, allowing them to now send more troops to North America.

The French and Indian War in the Americas

These newly arrived soldiers allowed the British to launch new offensives in the American colonies and in New France. The large French port and fortress of Louisbourg, in present-day Nova Scotia, fell to the British in 1758. In 1759, British General James Wolfe defeated French General Montcalm in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, outside of Quebec City. In Europe, 1759 saw the British defeat the French at the Battle of Minden, and destroy large portions of the French fleet. The British referred to 1759 as the annus mirabilis or “the year of miracles.” These victories brought about the fall of New France, and for all intents and purposes, the French and Indian War in North America ended in 1760 with the British capture of Montreal.

The British continued to fight in Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and South Asia against the Spanish, who entered the war in 1762. Portugal allied itself with the British, and when Spain attempted an invasion of Portugal in 1762 they were repelled. Portuguese and Spanish forces clashed throughout South America, especially in Brazil and Chile. On the Central American and South Asian fronts, the Spanish successfully defended Nicaragua against British incursion but were unable to prevent the conquest of Cuba and the Philippines.

Try It

A battle between white colonists and natives.

Figure 1. Albert Bobbett, engraver, “Montcalm trying to stop the massacre,” c. 1870-1880.

The End of the War

The Seven Years’ War ended with the Treaties of Paris in 1762 and Hubertusburg in 1763. The British received much of modern-day Canada and North America from the French, as well as Florida from Spain. They gave France back two Caribbean Islands, as well as two small islands in Northern Canada. The French lost control of their holdings in India, resulting in British hegemony on the subcontinent.


Read the diary of a provincial soldier who fought in the French and Indian War on the Captain David Perry Web Site hosted by Rootsweb. David Perry’s journal, which includes a description of the 1758 campaign, provides a glimpse of warfare in the eighteenth century.

These victories gave the British a much larger empire than they could control, which contributed to tensions between the British and their new subjects in Canada, as well as their colonists in America, leading to Pontiac’s War and the American Revolution. In particular, it exposed divisions within the newly expanded empire, including language, national affiliation, and religious views. When the British captured Quebec in 1760, a British newspaper distributed in the French colony boasted: “The time will come, when Pope and Friar/Shall both be roasted in the fire/When the proud Antichristian whore/will sink, and never rise more.”


Watch this video to learn more about the Seven Years’ War within the global context of global tensions, religious revival, and philosophical change. 

You can view the transcript for “The Seven Years War: Crash Course World History #26” here (opens in new window).

The Effects of the War

Religious Tensions

American colonists rejoiced over the defeat of Catholic France and felt secure that the Catholics in Quebec could no longer threaten them. While the American colonies had been a haven for religious minorities since the seventeenth century, and early religious pluralism served as evidence of an “American melting pot” that included Catholic Maryland, practical toleration of Catholics existed alongside virulent anti-Catholicism in public and political arenas. It was powerful and enduring rhetoric borne out of centuries of warfare between Protestant Britain and Catholic France. This tension would later be reflected in the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiments of the American Industrial Revolution, the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, and even the McCarthy Hearings of the 20th century.

In part because of the conflict with Catholic France, British citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, and of a variety of other Protestant sects, cohered around a pan-Protestant interest. British ministers in England called for a coalition to fight French and Catholic empires that imperiled Protestantism. Missionary organizations such as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Society for Propagation of the Gospel were founded at the turn of the seventeenth century to evangelize Native Americans and limit the Jesuits’ attempts to convert them to Catholicism. The previously mentioned Protestant Great Awakening crossed the Atlantic and founded a participatory religious movement during the 1730s and 1740s that united British Protestant churches. Preachers and merchants alike urged greater Atlantic trade to knit the Anglo-Protestant Atlantic together through commerce.

The American Colonies

The Seven Years’ War pushed the thirteen American colonies closer together politically and culturally than ever before. In 1754, Benjamin Franklin suggested a plan of union to coordinate colonial defenses on a continental scale. Tens of thousands of colonials fought during the war. Of the 11,000 British soldiers present for the French surrender of Montreal in 1760, 6,500 were colonials from every colony north of Pennsylvania. At home, many heard or read sermons that portrayed the war as a struggle between civilizations with liberty-loving Britons arrayed against tyrannical Frenchmen and supposedly savage Natives. American colonists rejoiced in their collective victory as a millennial moment of newfound peace and prosperity. After nearly seven decades of warfare, they looked to the newly acquired lands west of the Appalachian Mountains as their reward.

A snake is cut into pieces that each represent a colony. Beneath the snake are the words "Join or Die."

Figure 2.  Benjamin Franklin, “Join or Die,” May 9, 1754. Library of Congress. This political cartoon shows a snake cut into eighths, with each segment labeled with the initials of one of the American colonies or regions. New England was represented as one segment, rather than the four colonies it was at that time. Delaware was not listed separately as it was part of Pennsylvania. Georgia, however, was omitted completely. Thus, it has eight segments of a snake rather than the traditional 13 colonies.

The Seven Years’ War was tremendously expensive and precipitated British imperial reforms on taxation, commerce, and politics. Britain spent over £140 million on the war, an astronomical figure for the day. Tens of thousands of British soldiers served in North America, and 10,000 were left to garrison the conquests in Canada and the Ohio Valley at a cost of £100,000. Britain wanted to recoup some of its expenses and looked to the colonies to contribute to the costs of their own security. To do this, Parliament started legislating the colonies in a way that had not been done before. Different taxation schemes implemented across the colonies between 1763 and 1774 placed duties and tariffs on items like tea, paper, molasses, and stamps. Consumption and trade, an important bond between Britain and the colonies, was being threatened. To enforce these unpopular measures, Britain implemented increasingly restrictive civil liberty policies like unlawful searches and the suspension of trial by jury. The rise of the Abolitionist movement in Britain, bolstered by the 1772 Somerset v. Stewart case, made many colonists worry that slavery would soon be attacked as well. The colonists in America felt increasingly separated and at odds with the British government, who they felt no longer had their best interests at heart.

Link to learning

The 1772 Somerset v. Stewart case in Britain decided that England had never established slavery as a legal institution by statute or by common law, meaning that if any enslaved person brought from an English colony to England was automatically free. Granville Sharp, a British abolitionist, argued that British law stated that any contract not made with the explicit consent of the people involved was void, therefore no person could be removed from England to be sold overseas. Although the ruling did not apply to British colonies, which had passed positive laws allowing slavery, the precedent that this case set allowed for enslaved people in the American colonies to file suits for freedom. Starting with Vermont in 1777, many northern states began to draw up constitutions that explicitly forbade chattel slavery (although it still allowed for indentured servitude):

“I. That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Therefore, no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave, or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one years; nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent, after they arrive to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”[1]


  1. A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont, from the 1777 Constitution of the State of Vermont.