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The Seven Years War

1754–1763

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Synopsis

Though it is named the Seven Years War, the first truly global conflict actually raged for nine years, the first two of which were fought exclusively in North America. The war began in 1754, when a young British-American officer named George Washington attacked a French patrol at Jumonville Glen, Pennsylvania. The attack ended in disaster when Washington’s Mingo Tanahgrisson killed a George Washington rose to prominence in the Seven Years WarGeorge Washington rose to prominence in the Seven Years War French prisoner. The French swiftly counter-attacked and captured Washington at Fort Necessity, forcing him to sign a French document in which he claimed responsibility for the attack. This document became a justification for war as France and Britain mobilized their armies for an undeclared war in North America. The following year Britain attempted a series of offensives against France’s frontier forts, but most were defeated or fought to a draw by French forces. Key to France’s early success was the support of Indigenous allies like the Abenaki and Odawa, who provided warriors skilled in woodland’s combat.

By 1756, the fighting had grown so intense in North America that the Kingdom of Prussia took of advantage of France’s distraction to annex portions of Saxony. This action prompted most of Europe’s major powers to join the war on France’s side, forcing Britain and Prussian into an alliance of convenience. Despite their lack of allies, Britain enjoyed major advantage in naval power, preventing a direct strike against their homeland and limiting the amount of reinforcements France could send to their colonies. Britain also had over a million colonial subjects in North America, from which they could raise fresh regiments to throw against French forces.

Before long, the fighting between the two rival coalitions spread across the planet to even the remotest European colonies and outposts.

In the North America, the conflict became increasingly brutal as the First Nations and European settlers raided each other’s communities in a bitter guerrilla war for control of the land.

Location

Eastern North America, India, Caribbean, Europe, West Africa, Florida

Map worldEastern North America, India, Caribbean, Europe, West Africa, Florida
Conflict Category: International War

Combatants

Franco-Indigenous Alliance

After a century and a half of success, the Franco-Indigenous alliance which entered the Seven Years War, was profoundly weaker than in the past. Indigenous partners like the Wabanaki Confederacy, Wendat and Anishinaabe had been decimated by decades of war and disease. While the French forces were riven by infighting between Canadian and European officers and officials.

vs.

The Covenant Chain Alliance

As the global war between Great Britain and France began, the British had a distinct advantage on the North American front. With the Royal Navy effectively sealing off the continent, the British army could systematically target the vast network of French forts. The British also greatly outnumbered their French enemy thanks to the support of their Mohawk allies and a million British American subjects.

Allies

Franco-Indigenous Alliance

  • Mingo
  • Algonquins
  • Shawnee
  • Flag for Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire
  • Flag for Sweden Sweden
  • Flag for Russia Russia
  • Flag for Spain Spain
  • Mughal Empire
vs.
vs.

The Covenant Chain Alliance

  • Seneca
  • Onandaga
  • Cayuga
  • Tuscarora
  • Oneida
  • Flag for Portugal Portugal
  • Flag for Hesse-Kassel Hesse-Kassel
  • Flag for Hannover Hannover
  • Cherokee
Sy siege of quebec

Pivotal Battle

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham — Sept 13 1759
Sept 13 1759

Though it took three years of hard fighting, by 1759 Great Britain broke through France’s frontier defences and had the city of Quebec under siege. British Brigadier General James Wolfe, was desperate to capture the strategically vital fortified city before winter froze the St. Lawrence river and prevented Britain’s Navy from resupplying his army. On September 13th, he landed 4500 men down river on a large field outside Quebec’s walls. France’s Commander and Chief of their army in Canada, Le Marquis de Montcalm, marched out to meet him with an army of equal size. Whereas Wolfe’s men were all professionals, Montcalm’s was force was a mixture of regular troops and Canadian militia, more accustomed to guerrilla combat than fighting in formation. The French fired several volleys with little effect, but the British waited until they were at close range before returning fire. With the French army reeling, the of Scottish Highlanders of the 78th Regiment, charged the enemy with their broadswords. In the face of this assault, the French army began a chaotic retreat. Only the cover of Indigenous and Canadian snipers in the treeline spared them from total destruction. During the fighting, both Wolfe and Montcalm received a mortal wound. Without their Commander in Chief to lead them, French forces abandoned Quebec and retreated to Montreal.

Aftermath

With Quebec in British hands and the Royal Navy preventing reinforcement from France, Montreal surrendered to General Jeffery Amherst, in 1760. Though the war raged on until 1763 in Europe, the fall of Montreal ended major combat in North America. During the peace negotiations, France agreed to Britain’s annexation of their colonies in Northeastern North America in order to keep the sugar producing island of Guadeloupe. In doing so, Britain removed the threat which made their American colonists dependent on the home country for protection. Annexing France’s colonies also forced the British to accommodate new Francophone Catholic subjects with the Quebec act, a decision which also angered British Americans. These grievances and others eventually culminated in the American Revolution. France’s defeat also impacted their Indigenous allies by denying nations like Odawa, Ojibwe and Wendat a reliable source of guns and ammunition. As Jeffery Amherst began building forts in their territory and American settlers poured into their land, many First Nations decided to fight before they were too weak to resist.

Notable Commanders

General Montcalm, commander of France's army in North America
General Montcalm, commander of France's army in North America

Franco-Indigenous Alliance
Lois Joseph – Marquis de Montcalm

Montcalm was a seasoned veteran of the European battlefield when he arrived in Canada, and proved his worth by taking several British forts in rapid succession. However Montcalm had not been trained to cope with the guerrilla warfare common to North America and struggled to work with France’s Indigenous allies. His refusal to adapt to the realities of North American warfare helped contribute to the infamous Fort William Henry Massacre.

General James Wolfe died during the Siege of Quebec, the battle which made him famous
General James Wolfe died during the Siege of Quebec, the battle which made him famous

British Empire
James Wolfe

A sickly, educated young gentlemen, convinced he would die young on the battlefield, James Wolfe would prove himself to be one of the most daring and able commanders of the Seven Years War. Wolfe led from the front lines and famously carried a musket in battle, something Britain’s aristocratic officer corps rarely did. At the sieges of Louisbourg and Quebec, it was Wolfe’s take charge leadership and daring which won the day.

Key Weapons

Weapons are a central part of war. Explore the selections below to learn about the weapons used in this conflict.
Gunstock War Club
Gunstock War Club
Gunstock War Club

Gunstock War Club

A fusion of traditional Indigenous club designs and European metalworking, the Gunstock war club was from 16th to the 19th centuries across most of North America.

Land Pattern Musket
Land Pattern Musket
Land Pattern Musket

Land Pattern Musket

The weapon which forged the British Empire, this .75 calibre musket was nicknamed “the Brown Bess” by British infantry.

Bow
Bow
Bow

Bow

The oldest weapon in mankind’s arsenal, even the arrival of firearms did not banish the bow from North American battles.

Charleville Musket
Charleville Musket
Charleville Musket

Charleville Musket

The standard weapon of the French army during the 1700s, it also saw extensive use with the Americans during the Revolutionary War.

Tomahawk
Tomahawk
Tomahawk

Tomahawk

Despite being created in the 1600s, Tomahawks are still carried into battle by Canada’s special forces.

Ball Headed Club
Ball Headed Club
Ball Headed Club

Ball Headed Club

Carried by Haudenosaunee warriors for at least a century before Europeans arrived, the Ball Headed Club was used in combat as late as the War of 1812.

Kentucky Rifle
Kentucky Rifle
Kentucky Rifle

Kentucky Rifle

This Pennsylvania designed rifle, with its trademark long, grooved barrel designed for accuracy, saw extensive use on the Kentucky frontier and during the American Revolution.

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