The French & Indian War/The Seven Years' War: An Overview

The First Global Conflict

Death of Wolfe by Benjamin West. Photograph Source: Public Domain

The French and Indian War began in 1754 as British and French forces clashed in the wilderness of North America.  Two years later, the conflict spread to Europe where it became known as the Seven Years' War.  In many ways an extension of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the conflict saw a shifting of alliances with Britain joining with Prussia while France allied with Austria.  The first war fought on a global scale, it saw battles in Europe, North America, Africa, India, and the Pacific.  Concluding in 1763, the French & Indian/Seven Years' War cost France the bulk of its North American territory. 

Causes: War in the Wilderness - 1754-1755

Fort Necessity
Battle of Fort Necessity. Photograph Source: Public Domain

In the early 1750s, the British colonies in North America began pushing west over the Allegheny Mountains.  This brought them into conflict with the French who claimed this territory as their own.  In an effort to assert a claim to this area, the Governor of Virginia dispatched men to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio.  These were later supported by militia led by Lt. Col. George Washington.  Encountering the French, Washington was forced to surrender at Fort Necessity (left).  Angered, the British government planned aggressive campaigns for 1755.  These saw a second expedition to the Ohio badly defeated at the Battle of the Monongahela, while other British troops won victories at Lake George and Fort Beauséjour. 

1756-1757: War on a Global Scale

Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great of Prussia, 1780 by Anton Graff. Photograph Source: Public Domain

While the British had hoped to limit the conflict to North America, this was dashed when the French invaded Minorca in 1756.  Subsequent operations saw the British ally with the Prussians against the French, Austrians, and Russians.  Quickly invading Saxony, Frederick the Great (left) defeated the Austrians at Lobositz that October.  The following year saw Prussia come under heavy pressure after the Duke of Cumberland's Hanoverian army was defeated by the French at the Battle of Hastenbeck.  Despite this, Frederick was able to rescue the situation with key victories at Rossbach and Leuthen.  Overseas, the British were defeated in New York at the Siege of Fort William Henry, but won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plassey in India. 

1758-1759: The Tide Turns

James Wolfe dies
Death of Wolfe by Benjamin West. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Regrouping in North America, the British succeeded in capturing Louisbourg and Fort Duquesne in 1758, but suffered a bloody repulse at Fort Carillon.  The following year British troops won the key Battle of Quebec (left) and secured the city. In Europe, Frederick invaded Moravia but was forced to withdraw after a defeat at Domstadtl.  Switching to the defensive, he spent the remainder of that year and the next in a series of battles with the Austrians and Russians.  In Hanover, the Duke of Brunswick had success against the French and later defeated them at Minden.  In 1759, the French had hoped to launch an invasion of Britain but were prevented from doing so by twin naval defeats at Lagos and Quiberon Bay.  

1760-1763: The Closing Campaigns

Duke Ferdinand
Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Ably defending Hanover, the Duke of Brunswick (left) beat the French at Warburg in 1760, and triumphed again at Villinghausen a year later.  To the east, Frederick battled for survival winning bloody victories at Liegnitz and Torgau.  Short on men, Prussia was near collapse in 1761, and Britain encouraged Frederick to work for peace.  Coming to an accord with Russia in 1762, Frederick turned on the Austrians and drove them from Silesia at the Battle of Freiberg.  Also in 1762, Spain and Portugal joined the conflict.  Overseas, French resistance in Canada effectively ended in 1760 with the British capture of Montreal.  This done, efforts in the war's remaining years shifted south and saw British troops capture Martinique and Havana in 1762. 

Aftermath: An Empire Lost, An Empire Gained

Stamp Act
A colonial protest against the Stamp Act of 1765. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Having sustained repeated defeats, France began to sue for peace in late 1762.  As most participants were suffering from financial crises due to the cost of the war, negotiations began.  The resulting Treaty of Paris (1763) saw the transfer of Canada and Florida to Britain, while Spain received Louisiana and had Cuba returned.  In addition, Minorca was returned to Britain, while the French reacquired Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Prussia and Austria signed the separate Treaty of Hubertusburg which led to a return to status quo ante bellum.  Having nearly doubled its national debt during the war, Britain enacted a series of colonial taxes to help offset the cost. These were met with resistance and helped lead to the American Revolution.

Battles of the French & Indian/Seven Years' War

Battle of Carillon
The Victory of Montcalm's Troops at Carillon. Photograph Source: Public Domain

The battles of the French & Indian/Seven Years' War were fought around the globe making the conflict the first truly global war.  While fighting began in North America, it soon spread and consumed Europe and colonies as far flung as India and the Philippines.  In the process, names such as Fort Duquesne, Rossbach, Leuthen, Quebec, and Minden joined the annals of military history.  While armies sought supremacy on land, the combatants' fleets met in notable encounters such as Lagos and Quiberon Bay.  By the time the fighting ended, Britain had gained an empire in North America and India, while Prussia, though battered, had established itself as a power in Europe. 

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Hickman, Kennedy. "The French & Indian War/The Seven Years' War: An Overview." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). The French & Indian War/The Seven Years' War: An Overview. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "The French & Indian War/The Seven Years' War: An Overview." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).