The French and Indian War (1754–1763)

aka The Seven Years War

In 1756, war erupted into a world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years’ War. It was was referred to in the colonies as The French and Indian War and thus came to be regarded as the North American theater of that war. It was the beginning of open hostilities between the colonies and Great Britain. In Canada, it is referred to as the Seven Years’ War, and French Canadians call it La guerre de la Conquête (“The War of Conquest”). The name refers to the two main enemies of the British colonists: the royal French forces and the various Native American forces allied with them, although Great Britain also had Native allies.

England and France had been building toward a conflict in America since 1689. These efforts resulted in the remarkable growth of the colonies from a population of 250,000 in 1700, to 1.25 million in 1750. Britain required raw materials including copper, hemp, tar, and turpentine. They also required a great deal of money, and so they provided that all of these American products be shipped exclusively to England (the Navigation Acts). In an effort to raise revenue and simultaneously interfere with the French in the Caribbean, a 6 pence tax on each gallon of molasses was imposed in 1733 (the Molasses Act and The Sugar Act). Enforcement of these regulations became difficult, so the English government established extensive customs services, and vice-admiralty courts empowered to identify, try, and convict suspected smugglers. These devices were exclusive of, and superior to, the colonial mechanisms of justice.

The colonies were wholly interested in overcoming the French in North America and appealed to the King for permission to raise armies and monies to defend themselves. Despite determined petitions from the royal governors, George II was suspicious of the intentions of the colonial governments and declined their offer. English officers in America were also widely contemptuous of colonials who volunteered for service. A few of the men who signed the Declaration had been members of volunteer militia who, as young men, had been dressed down and sent home when they applied for duty. Such an experience was not uncommon. It led communities throughout the colonies to question British authorities who would demand horses, feed, wagons, and quarters – but deny colonials the right to fight in defense of the Empire, a right which they considered central to their self-image as Englishmen.

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