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[Detail] Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. 1755.

French and Indian War

By the eighteenth century, France had three colonies in North America: Acadia (by 1713 just one island at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence), Canada, and Louisiana. While New France was large—stretching from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico—its population was not. Only about 90,000 colonists lived in New France around 1760. In contrast, 1.6 million people lived in the 13 British colonies. The sparseness of the population would prove to be a disadvantage to the French in their ongoing conflict with Great Britain over control of North American territories and trade.

A new British-French conflict in North America began in 1754. That year, the colonial governor of Virginia sent Colonel George Washington into the Ohio Valley to order the French to withdraw from the area.  Washington returned, informing the Virginia governor that the French had refused to leave the region.  With a small group of volunteers and some Indian allies, Washington returned to the Ohio Valley and surprised a French detachment near Great Meadows.  The French sent a force from Fort Duquesne, a fort they had recently constructed where the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers formed the Ohio River, and forced Washington’s surrender at Fort Necessity.  The conflict over the Ohio Valley soon developed into a full-scale war between France and England.

In a two-volume study, "An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North-America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760," British officer John Knox describes the sieges of Quebec and includes some documents relating to the conflict.  In June 1759, before the siege began, Knox wrote that the "prevailing sentimental toast among the Officers is—British colours on every French fort, port, and garrison in America" (Volume 1, page 279).  In September, when the British were nearly ready to admit failure and leave Quebec, Knox reflected on differences between French and British approaches to battle:

Upon our coming to an anchor, they [the French] turned out their floats, and ranged them in great order; their cavalry then dismounted, formed on the right of the infantry, and their whole detachment ran down the precipice with a ridiculous shout, and manned their works. I have often reflected upon the absurdity of this practice in the French, who entertain a high opinion of their own discipline and knowledge in the art of war; there is nothing that can be more absurd than such noises in engaging an enemy . . . How different, how nobly awful, and expressive of true valour is the custom of the British troops! They do not expend their ammunition at an immense distance; and, if they advance to engage, or stand to receive the charge, they are steady, profoundly silent, and attentive, reserving their fire until they have received that of their adversaries . . . experience plainly shews us, that the troops, who, in perfect silence, engage an enemy, waiting for their first fire, will always preserve a superiority.

From "An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North-America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760," Volume 2, pages 56 and 57.

How might a French officer respond to the reflections of Captain Knox? What defense could you make for the "noisy" approach to engaging the enemy?

The collection does include accounts by French officers (in French), such as the "Journal du Marquis de Montcalm," which details campaigns in Canada between 1756 and 1759 from the perspective of the French commander. 

Read the act of cession of Louisiana by the King of France to the King of Spain, November 3, 1762  in the appendix to "Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, From the First Settlement of the Colony to the Departure of Governor O'Reilly in 1770." According to this document, why was the colony of Louisiana turned over to the King of Spain?

A collection of documents published by the Illinois State Historical Library, "Anglo-French Boundary Disputes in the West, 1749-1763," examines critical issues that embroiled France and England in colonial conflicts.  One chapter of this publication includes letters written by British and French officials regarding a conflict over the wording of the preliminary draft of the treaty of peace. Read the pages referring to the disputed wording of the treaty, especially Article 7. Research the final terms of the Treaty of Paris, 1763. 

  • Why was the question over lands east of the Mississippi a major point of contention?
  • Why was navigation of the Mississippi River such an important aspect of the treaty?
  • Do the British appear to know that France had ceded Louisiana to Spain in late 1762? How might this affect the negotiations?
  • What evidence do you see of a lack of trust between British and French officials? How typical do you think this lack of trust might be among nations negotiating a peace treaty?
  • Compare the maps above. What territory did France lose as a result of the war? What might be the impact of losing this territory?

Examine "The Critical Period, 1763-1765," for documents relating to the history of the Illinois country under British rule following the French and Indian War.