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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

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Relations with the Indians and the French

Indian Affairs.—It is difficult to make general statements about the relations of the colonists to the Indians. The problem was presented in different shape in different sections of America. It was not handled according to any coherent or uniform plan by the British government, which alone could speak for all the provinces at the same time. Neither did the proprietors and the governors who succeeded one another, in an irregular train, have the consistent policy or the matured experience necessary for dealing wisely with Indian matters. As the difficulties arose mainly on the frontiers, where the restless and pushing pioneers were making their way with gun and ax, nearly everything that happened was the result of chance rather than of calculation. A personal quarrel between traders and an Indian, a jug of whisky, a keg of gunpowder, the exchange of guns for furs, personal treachery, or a flash of bad temper often set in motion destructive forces of the most terrible character.

On one side of the ledger may be set innumerable generous records—of Squanto and Samoset teaching the Pilgrims the ways of the wilds; of Roger Williams buying his lands from the friendly natives; or of William Penn treating with them on his arrival in America. On the other side of the ledger must be recorded many a cruel and bloody conflict as the frontier rolled westward with deadly precision. The Pequots on the Connecticut border, sensing their doom, fell upon the tiny settlements with awful fury in 1637 only to meet with equally terrible punishment. A generation later, King Philip, son of Massasoit, the friend of the Pilgrims, called his tribesmen to a war of extermination which brought the strength of all New England to the field and ended in his own destruction. In New York, the relations with the Indians, especially with the Algonquins and the Mohawks, were marked by periodic and desperate wars. Virginia and her Southern neighbors suffered as did New England. In 1622 Opecacano, a brother of Powhatan, the friend of the Jamestown settlers, launched a general massacre; and in 1644 he attempted a war of extermination. In 1675 the whole frontier was ablaze. Nathaniel Bacon vainly attempted to stir the colonial governor to put up an adequate defense and, failing in that plea, himself headed a revolt and a successful expedition against the Indians. As the Virginia outposts advanced into the Kentucky country, the strife with the natives was transferred to that “dark and bloody ground”; while to the southeast, a desperate struggle with the Tuscaroras called forth the combined forces of the two Carolinas and Virginia.

From an old print
Virginians Defending Themselves against the Indians

From such horrors New Jersey and Delaware were saved on account of their geographical location. Pennsylvania, consistently following a policy of conciliation, was likewise spared until her western vanguard came into full conflict with the allied French and Indians. Georgia, by clever negotiations and treaties of alliance, managed to keep on fair terms with her belligerent Cherokees and Creeks. But neither diplomacy nor generosity could stay the inevitable conflict as the frontier advanced, especially after the French soldiers enlisted the Indians in their imperial enterprises. It was then that desultory fighting became general warfare.

English, French, and Spanish Possessions in America, 1750
English, French, and Spanish Possessions in America, 1750

Early Relations with the French.—During the first decades of French exploration and settlement in the St. Lawrence country, the English colonies, engrossed with their own problems, gave little or no thought to their distant neighbors. Quebec, founded in 1608, and Montreal, in 1642, were too far away, too small in population, and too slight in strength to be much of a menace to Boston, Hartford, or New York. It was the statesmen in France and England, rather than the colonists in America, who first grasped the significance of the slowly converging empires in North America. It was the ambition of Louis XIV of France, rather than the labors of Jesuit missionaries and French rangers, that sounded the first note of colonial alarm.

Evidence of this lies in the fact that three conflicts between the English and the French occurred before their advancing frontiers met on the Pennsylvania border. King William’s War (1689-1697), Queen Anne’s War (1701-1713), and King George’s War (1744-1748) owed their origins and their endings mainly to the intrigues and rivalries of European powers, although they all involved the American colonies in struggles with the French and their savage allies.

The Clash in the Ohio Valley.—The second of these wars had hardly closed, however, before the English colonists themselves began to be seriously alarmed about the rapidly expanding French dominion in the West. Marquette and Joliet, who opened the Lake region, and La Salle, who in 1682 had gone down the Mississippi to the Gulf, had been followed by the builders of forts. In 1718, the French founded New Orleans, thus taking possession of the gateway to the Mississippi as well as the St. Lawrence. A few years later they built Fort Niagara; in 1731 they occupied Crown Point; in 1749 they formally announced their dominion over all the territory drained by the Ohio River. Having asserted this lofty claim, they set out to make it good by constructing in the years 1752-1754 Fort Le Bœuf near Lake Erie, Fort Venango on the upper waters of the Allegheny, and Fort Duquesne at the junction of the streams forming the Ohio. Though they were warned by George Washington, in the name of the governor of Virginia, to keep out of territory “so notoriously known to be property of the crown of Great Britain,” the French showed no signs of relinquishing their pretensions.

From an old print
Braddock’s Retreat

The Final Phase—the French and Indian War.—Thus it happened that the shot which opened the Seven Years’ War, known in America as the French and Indian War, was fired in the wilds of Pennsylvania. There began the conflict that spread to Europe and even Asia and finally involved England and Prussia, on the one side, and France, Austria, Spain, and minor powers on the other. On American soil, the defeat of Braddock in 1755 and Wolfe’s exploit in capturing Quebec four years later were the dramatic features. On the continent of Europe, England subsidized Prussian arms to hold France at bay. In India, on the banks of the Ganges, as on the banks of the St. Lawrence, British arms were triumphant. Well could the historian write: “Conquests equaling in rapidity and far surpassing in magnitude those of Cortes and Pizarro had been achieved in the East.” Well could the merchants of London declare that under the administration of William Pitt, the imperial genius of this world-wide conflict, commerce had been “united with and made to flourish by war.”

From the point of view of the British empire, the results of the war were momentous. By the peace of 1763, Canada and the territory east of the Mississippi, except New Orleans, passed under the British flag. The remainder of the Louisiana territory was transferred to Spain and French imperial ambitions on the American continent were laid to rest. In exchange for Havana, which the British had seized during the war, Spain ceded to King George the colony of Florida. Not without warrant did Macaulay write in after years that Pitt “was the first Englishman of his time; and he had made England the first country in the world.”

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