Franco-British conflict in North-America

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At the time of their foundation, relationships between English and French colonies were rather good. However, this changed with the extension of these colonies in vast expanses of North America and with increasing trade between the colonies and the indigenous people. This led the English and French colonies to a conflict of economic interests with the resulting rivalry and conflict between them, whether for expansion and control of new land or in attempts to dominate the local trade, especially the fur trade which was of great economic returns.

It is no secret that commercial, political and colonial conflicts between Great Britain and France in other countries had an influence in the intensification of competition in North America as well, and European wars opposing the two countries often led to outbreak of corresponding colonial wars in North America.

Indeed these border wars between colonies, had defined the limits of the British colonies with a series of small towns. A first group extending along the coast of Maine and New Hampshire; a second stretching from the valley of the Connecticut River to central Massachusetts; and a third following the Hudson Valley up to the north of the Mohawk River and New York. Most of these territories consisted of large expanses of land interspersed with rivers which provided easy ways for the French to get to the British colonies.

Nouvelle-France, for its part, initially included some fishing villages along the coast of Acadia and a few settlements along the Saint-Laurent River.

Between these sparse settlements, various Amerindian nations occupied the territory. The Mi'kmaq people were close allies of the French and bitter enemies of the British while the Iroquois were British allies and enemies of the French since 1609, when Champlain accompanied a Huron expedition who defeated them.

Between 1664 and 1763, several conflicts took place between the British and the French in North America. The first conflicts originated from attempts of the British and French to impose their control on Lake Champlain and its tributaries, a highly strategic position for gaining access to waterways in the north-east of North America, especially if we consider that the few roads were very rugged and not suitable for transport and communications.

Prior to 1664, the Dutch had settlements in New Amsterdam and along the Hudson river. They had tried to expand northward and had sent scouts to determine the expansion of the French establishments in the Champlain Valley. At that time, the Dutch did not want a direct confrontation with the French so they rather resolved to limit French expansion to the south of Lake Champlain. For this purpose, they armed their Iroquois allies who soon became a serious threat to Nouvelle-France itself, making incursions up to Montréal. France reacted by sending a regiment of regulars, the Carignan-Salières Regiment, to protect its colonies and to launch punitive expeditions against Iroquois villages.

In 1664, the Iroquois lost the support of the Dutch colonies when four English frigates forces New Amsterdam to surrender. In 1665, the establishment, now under English rule, was renamed New York.

To prevent any further Iroquois incursion in Canada, the French established a number of forts along the Richelieu River a tributary of Lake Champlain. However, England considered these forts, located near its colonies, as a menace since it made an attack on their settlements rather easy and prevented any further English expansion in the Champlain Valley.


King William's War (1689-1697)

The first war fought between English and French colonies in North America was the King William's War, as it was designated in North America. A war which in fact was just an extension of the European Nine Years' War (War of the League of Augsburg). This war was fought as a result of policies pursued by James II, King of England, to bring England under Catholic rule; policies which led directly to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which brought Princess Mary and his husband, William Prince of Orange, to the throne. James II took refuge in France where he received the support of Louis XIV who was already engaged, since September 1688, in a conflict with the Holy Roman Empire. The conflict soon degenerated in a European war which reflected on the English and French colonies in North America.

For a long time, English colonies had protested French violations of their territories in the north part of the Champlain Valley along the Richelieu River. This was the subject of constant disputes between them. Moreover, English colonies were predominantly Protestant while Nouvelle-France was exclusively Catholic. These two communities of Christianity had long been at war in Europe and the recent revocation of the Édit de Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685 had done nothing to ease tensions.

Finally, during his reign, James II had not contented himself in bringing Great Britain itself under Catholic rule but had also tried to override privileges enjoyed by its colonies. He had sent one of his Catholic followers, named Edmund Andrews, to assume power in the colonies of New England, where he cancelled the work of local councils and imposed restrictions on religious and political freedom. James II also sent Catholic missionaries to the Amerindians, which irritated the English Protestant colonists. As soon as news of the Glorious Revolution reached the North American colonies, the colonists seized power and sentenced Andrews and a number of his followers. They then made preparations for war and entered into diplomatic negotiations with the Iroquois and with Amerindian tribes allied to the French.

In North America, the war began in 1689 with a series of massacres and atrocities carried out by Abenaki and Pennacook war bands at the instigation of the Frontenac, the French governor of Canada. In June, they attacked the town of Dover in the colony of New Hampshire, burning the town, killing half the population and taking the rest prisoners to sell them as slaves in Canada. The French also developed a plan to attack the English colonies by Lake Champlain, but a party of 1,500 Iroquois attacked French settlements along the Richelieu River, delaying the implementation of the French plan.

In February 1690, Frontenac sent three columns to attack English settlements: the first column burnt the town of Schenectady at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson; the second column burnt Salmon Falls in New Hampshire; and the third column destroyed Fort Loyal. In face of such brutal attacks, the English colonies decided to counter-attack the French colonies. In the Spring, they captured Port Royal the capital of French Acadia. They then prepared another campaign against Québec. This expedition was placed under the command of William Phips, the governor of Massachusetts. The English colonies of Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts contributed to this expedition which numbered 34 ships and about 2,000 men from the colonial militia. In October, the amphibious expedition reached Québec but the French repelled all attacks and the English fleet abandoned the enterprise and sailed back to Boston. The expedition against Québec was one of the major campaigns of this war which still lasted for several years. Colonies on both sides relying on small raids and sudden attacks.

In January 1692, a group of Abenakis, led by French officers attacked the town of York in present-day Maine, killing about 100 English settlers and burning the village.

Between 1693 and 1696, the French, assisted by their Indian allies, attacked Iroquois villages and destroyed many of of them without any intervention of the English colonies to help their Allies.

Small skirmishes between French and English parties continued till 1697 when the Treaty of Ryswick put an end to this war, restoring the situation existing before the conflict. Thus, Acadia was returned to France.

Queen Anne's War (1702-1713)

The second war waged by the British and French colonies in North America was locally known as the Queen Anne's War. It was in fact part of a wider conflict raging in Europe: the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1702, Great Britain declared war on France and Spain.

War soon spread along the borders of New England and Southern colonies from Massachusetts in the north to Carolina in the south. It even involved the commercial counters in Newfoundland and Hudson Bay. In the south, the growing French presence and the resulting trade with Indian tribes affected the commercial traders of South Carolina. Furthermore, the Spanish colony of Florida and the British colony of South Carolina both claimed the tract of land south of the Savannah River. Religious conflict between Spanish Catholics and British Protestants made things even worse. Finally, there was a dispute over the fisheries on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

The war began with a series of raids on settlements and border towns. In 1702, when news arrived of the declaration of war in Europe, James Moore, Governor of South Carolina, attacked the Spanish settlement San Augustine. His force was able to capture and burn the settlement but could not seize the fortress where the garrison had taken refuge. Moore's forces were forced to withdraw from the settlement after hearing the news of the arrival of a Spanish fleet from Havana. In 1706, a combined Franco-Spanish amphibious force tried to capture the town of Charleston in South Carolina but the inhabitants of the town managed to repel the attack.

In 1703, a few French Canadians under Beaubassin along with 500 men of the Wabanaki Confederacy conducted raids against New England settlements from Wells to Falmouth.

In February 1704, another force of 50 French Canadians along with 250 Abenaki and Caughnawaga Indians attacked the town of Deerfield in Massachusetts. They burned the town, killing 160 of its population and taking the rest prisoners. Meanwhile, British colonies were making preparations to reoccupy Acadia. However, their campaign was unsuccessful. During this time, a combined force of French and Mi'kmaqs launched several raids against British settlements in Newfoundland and besieged Fort William, the fortress protecting St. John's. However, they were unable to make themselves master of the fort. Nevertheless, the French continued to launch attacks against the settlements throughout the summer causing significant economic losses to the British.

In 1706, a small British fleet destroyed French fisheries on the north coast of Newfoundland.

In 1708, the Mi'kmaqs, backed by French volunteers made another campaign against British establishments in Newfoundland the island. They were able to capture, to momentarily occupy St. John's and to finally destroy its fortifications before retiring, in 1709, when a British relief force appeared in the vicinities.

In 1710, the British government finally decided to provide assistance to its North American colonies and sent a small fleet to carry out a military campaign against French Acadia. Upon its arrival in North America, the fleet embarked five battalions of provincials who brought its total land force to 3,600 men for the incoming campaign. The expedition besieged the town of Port Royal, capital of the colony of Acadia, which surrendered on October 13. The British established their own colony in Acadia and named its capital Annapolis in honour of Queen Anne.

In 1711, the British made another attempt against Québec. They gathered a fleet of 15 vessels under the command of Admiral Hovenden Walker. This fleet transported 5,000 land troops. On June 24, the fleet arrived in Boston where it was joined by provincial troops. The fleet sailed from Boston on July 30, now consisting of 9 ships of war, 2 bomb vessels, and 60 transports and tenders. It carried 7,500 troops and about 6,000 sailors. It was the biggest military force ever witnessed in North America and was expected to easily conquer Québec and Canada. The news of the approach of this powerful amphibious force reached Vaudreuil, the governor general of Canada who made his best to prepare the defence of the colony. Meanwhile, on its way in the Saint-Laurent Gulf, the British fleet faced thick fog. On August 22, as the fleet was west of Anticosti near Île-aux-Oeufs. During the night, part of the fleet ran aground, 8 vessels were lost and about 750 men perished. On August 25, Walker held a council of war where it was decided to cancel out the expedition because the fleet had no pilot with sufficient knowledge of the river. The expedition then returned to New England.

The rest of the war, which lasted until in 1713, was confined to small parties raids on the borders until the announcement of peace between Britain and France in the Treaty of Utrecht. By this treaty, Great Britain retained Acadia and obtained sovereignty over Newfoundland and Hudson Bay. Furthermore, France recognized the sovereignty of Great Britain over the Iroquois and agreed that trade with Amerindians should be open to all colonies. However, this treaty failed to establish precise borders for the territories recently conquered by Great Britain. For this reason, it did not put a definitive end to the problems between colonies and thus left the door open for a new conflict on the continent.

King George's War (1740-1748)

The third war between Great Britain and France in North America, the King George's War, broke out as a natural extension of the European conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession which began in 1740. France considered this war as a golden opportunity to reconquer the territories ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, especially Acadia. After the previous war, France had built forts and fortresses to better protect its colonies and had increased its military capability.

Louisbourg, the most prominent of these strong places had been built on the Cape Breton Island. Its construction lasted nearly 25 years. This fortress controlled the Saint-Laurent Gulf, the main entrance to the Saint-Laurent River and, in turn, to the Great Lakes and the interior of the continent. The fortress had 10 m. high walls defended by more than 100 cannon. Its fortifications are still among the largest ever built in North America. France considered Louisbourg as the “Gibraltar” guarding its North American colonies. It also constituted a fine base to launch operations against the British colonies.

During the first phase of the North American conflict, Great Britain and France made preparations for their planned military operations and strengthened their defences. There were very few campaigns during this period. The exception was the expedition of Oglethorpe, the governor of Georgia, at the head of 2,000 men against the Spanish settlement of San Augustine in Florida in 1740. However, the strength of the Spanish fortifications and the spread of diseases in his troops forced Oglethorpe to abandon the siege and to retreat. In 1742, the Spaniards sent a military expedition against the British colony of Georgia. The Spaniards attacked and burnt some settlements before being defeated by Oglethorpe and forced to retire.

Serious military started only in May 1744 when the French attacked the British fishing port of Canso. After a short bombardment, the small British garrison quickly surrendered as prisoners of war. The French then burnt the settlement, and brought back its inhabitants prisoners to Louisbourg.

In July 1744, 300 Mi'kmaqs allied to the French attacked the British fort of Annapolis, but their lack of heavy weapons did not allow them to storm the fort and they soon abandoned the siege. In August, a combined force of French and Mi'kmaqs, backed by warships, reappeared in front of Annapolis which by this time had been reinforced by troops from Massachusetts. The French surrounded the fort until October. The garrison had almost exhausted all its provisions when orders came to lift the siege because of the attack of a British force on Louisbourg.

Indeed, British colonies considered Louisbourg as a serious military threat. William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, feared for the British settlements in Maine and even for the colony of New Hampshire. Furthermore, Louisbourg was a safe haven for French ships which were attacking British trade. The population of New England was reluctant to launch a direct attack on Louisbourg because several merchant had dealt for several years with this harbour and knew the power of its fortifications, the strength of its heavy artillery, and the large forces (about 15,000 men) defending it. Furthermore Canada could send additional forces to its support. So Governor Shirley and his supporters tried to persuade the population to attack Louisbourg before the French could launch attacks against British colonies from this fortress. Using reports from prisoners captured at Canso mentioning the weakness of some areas of the fortifications of Louisbourg, especially those facing the sea, as well as luring the population with the prospect of huge economic benefits in the event of the fall of Louisbourg, Shirley finally managed to convince the rulers of Massachusetts of the necessity to launch an attack on Louisbourg in cooperation with colonies.

Led by Massachusetts, the British colonies assembled a land force of some 4,000 men and equipped a fleet. The command of the expedition was confided to William Pepperrell. In late March 1745, the amphibious force, now reinforced by the 16 ships of Commodore Warren, began to blockade Louisbourg. From May 2 to 10, it besieged and captured Port Toulouse. The French were not ready to face such an amphibious force. They thought that the British colonies were unable to carry out an organized attack and would need reinforcements from Britain. Even after Governor Louis de Chambon had received intelligence by French merchant ships of suspicious movements in the port of Canso, he made no preparation.

On May 11 1745, Pepperrell's forces landed at Gabarus Bay and began to attack Louisbourg but the French artillery forced the attackers to retreat. The British preferred to besieged the fortress and to bombard it to demolish its fortifications. The siege continued for six weeks. The French troops defending the fortress were exhausted and, on June 28, finally surrendered. The terms of capitulation authorised the French garrison to leave and the population to return to France with their property. These measures infuriated the colonists who wanted to loot the fortress and its contents.

The fall of Louisbourg, the greatest fortress in North America, angered King Louis XV of France. He was determined to recapture it and, in 1746, sent an amphibious force of 40 ships and 3,500 troops under the Duc d'Anville to do so. However, on its way, the French fleet suffered a storm who destroyed several ships, forcing the rest of the fleet to return to France without achieving any significant result. Another attempt was undertaken in 1747, but the French expedition was intercepted by a British fleet before it reached the North American coasts and failed as well.

However, the fall of Louisbourg did not prevent the French and their Indian allies to launch several attacks and raids against British settlements along the border. These attacks were characterized by brutality and violence. In 1748, a party of Indians attacked the town of Schenectady in the colony of New York and killed most of the population. Overall, these raids cost the northernmost British colonies heavy losses in lives and equipment.

In October of 1748, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle put an end to the War of the Austrian Succession. By this treaty, the fortress of Louisbourg was given back to France in exchange for the city of Madras in India. Overall, the situation was almost identical to what it was before the outbreak of the war. These conditions provoked the anger of the British colonies of North America who saw the fruit of their victory and sacrifices quietly returned to France by a group of British diplomats thousands of km away without their knowledge or approval.

Once more, the results of this war did not offer solutions to the problems of the colonies in North America where the respective sphere of influence of both powers remained points of contention in several disputed areas.


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  2. Abdul-Majid Naenai: The date of the modern United States of America, Beirut, 1983.
  3. Norris S. Barratt: Colonial Wars in America Pennsylvania, 1913, vol 1.
  4. Parkman: A half-century of conflict, Boston, 1898, vol 1.
  5. Branes and co: A brief history of the United States, New York, 1971.
  6. Benjamin Andrews: History of United States, New York, 1912.
  7. Horace E. Scuddel: A history of United States of America, Philadelphia, 1884.
  8. Ewarts B. Green: Provincial America (1690 – 1710) , New York, 1905.
  9. Henry M. Baker: The first siege of Louisburg 1745, New Hampshire, 1909.
  10. Fiske: New France and New England, Boston, 1902.
  11. Samuel G. Drake: A particular history of the five years French and Indian War in New England, Albany, 1870.


Abbass Hassan Obbaiss, a historian from Babylon in Iraq, for the initial version of this article