I. France Finds a Foothold in Canada
Like England and Holland, France was a latecomer in the race for colonies. It was convulsed in the 1500s by foreign wars and domestic strife. In 1598, the Edict of Nantes was issued, allowing limited toleration to the French Huguenots. When King Louis XIV became king, he took an interest in overseas colonies. In 1608, France established Quebec, overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Samuel de Champlain, an intrepid soldier and explorer, became known as the “Father of New France.” He entered into friendly relations with the neighboring Huron Indians and helped them defeat the Iroquois. The Iroquois, however, did hamper French efforts into the Ohio Valley later. Unlike English colonists, French colonists didn’t immigrate to North America by hordes. The peasants were too poor, and the Huguenots weren’t allowed to leave.
II. New France Fans Out
New France’s (Canada) one valuable resource was the beaver. Beaver hunters were known as the coureurs de bois (runners of the woods) and littered the land with place names, including Baton Rouge (red stick), Terre Haute (high land), Des Moines (some monks) and Grand Teton (big breasts). The French voyageurs also recruited Indians to hunt for beaver as well, but Indians were decimated by the white man’s diseases, and the beaver population was heavily extinguished. French Catholic missionaries zealously tried to convert Indians. To thwart English settlers from pushing into the Ohio Valley, Antoine Cadillac founded Detroit (“city of straits”) in 1701. Louisiana was founded, in 1682, by Robert de LaSalle, to halt Spanish expansion into the area near the Gulf of Mexico. Three years later, he tried to fulfill his dreams by returning, but instead landed in Spanish Texas and was murdered by his mutinous men in 1687. The fertile Illinois country, where the French established forts and trading posts at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes, became the garden of France’s North American empire.
III. The Clash of Empires
King William’s War and Queen Anne’s War
The English colonists fought the French coureurs de bois and their Indian allies. Neither side considered America important enough to waste real troops on. The French-inspired Indians ravaged Schenectady, New York, and Deerfield, Mass. The British did try to capture Quebec and Montreal, failed, but did temporarily have Port Royal. The peace deal in Utrecht in 1713 gave Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia), Newfoundland, and Hudson Bay to England, pinching the French settlements by the St. Lawrence. It also gave Britain limited trading rights with Spanish America. The War of Jenkins’s Ear
An English Captain named Jenkins had his ear cut off by a Spanish commander, who had essentially sneered at him to go home crying. This war was confined to the Caribbean Sea and Georgia.
This war soon merged with the War of Austrian Succession and came to be called King George’s War in America. France allied itself with Spain, but England’s troops captured the reputed impregnable fortress of Cape Breton Island (Fort Louisbourg). However, peace terms of this war gave strategically located Louisbourg, which the New Englanders had captured, back to France, outraging the colonists, who feared the fort.
IV. George Washington Inaugurates War with France
The Ohio Valley became a battleground among the Spanish, British, and French. It was lush, fertile, and very good land.
In 1754, the governor of Virginia sent 21 year-old George Washington to the Ohio country as a lieutenant colonel in command of about 150 Virginia minutemen. Encountering some Frenchmen in the forest about 40 miles from Fort Duquesne, the troops opened fire, killing the French leader. Later, the French returned and surrounded Washington’s hastily constructed Fort Necessity, fought “Indian style” (hiding and guerilla fighting), and after a 10-hour siege, made him surrender. He was permitted to march...