What was the Seven Years War?

Map of England

Map of England

The Seven Years War was a global conflict which ran from 1756 until 1763 and pitted a coalition of Great Britain and its allies against a coalition of France and its allies. The war escalated from a regional conflict between Great Britain and France in North America, known today as the French and Indian War. George Washington, a wealthy Virginia planter and an officer in the Virginia militia, served under British General Braddock in the early years of this conflict. The Seven Years War was the fourth war between Great Britain and France in the hundred-year period after 1689. While there had been some territorial concessions in the earlier wars, most of those earlier struggles returned each nation to their pre-war status. The Seven Years War was different in that it ended in a resounding victory for Great Britain and its allies and a humiliating defeat for France and its allies. France lost to Great Britain most of its North American colonial possessions, known as New France. This included Canada and all of its land east of the Mississippi River, including the Ohio Valley, to Great Britain.

At the war’s end, Great Britain faced a number of serious geopolitical and financial problems. The first problem faced by the British government rose from the need to govern and protect vast new areas won during the long conflict. In North America, the British now had responsibility for Canada and the areas east of the Mississippi River. These former French colonies included thousands of Indians and many French-speaking Catholics who had no desire to become subjects of the British crown or to live under English common law. Great Britain also had control over East and West Florida which Spain, an ally of France, was forced to cede to Great Britain at the end of the war. Financing the administration of these new areas was a critical problem facing the British government at the war’s end.

British regiment marching.

British regiment marching.

Great Britain also faced a massive war debt at the end of the Seven Years War. As of January 5, 1763, the national debt stood at over £122,603,336. According to historian Charles Middlekauff in his work on the American Revolution, The Glorious Cause, the interest on this sum was over £4,409,797 per year. Complicating Britain’s financial problems, the government faced growing protests for tax relief after increasing taxes for those living in the British Isles. Protests against the heavy land taxes and the Cider Tax were especially strong there.
The war’s end also marked a change of attitudes among people in Great Britain and in its American colonies. During the war, the British government was unable to persuade the colonial legislatures to satisfactorily contribute to the expenses of the war. With the French defeat, the British government did not believe it needed to accommodate the concerns of the colonial legislatures regarding monetary issues. At the same time, the removal of the French threat in North America gave the American colonists a new sense of self-confidence. Many colonists questioned why the British government thought it needed to leave an army in North America to protect its colonies from Indian uprisings.

One of the critical problems faced by Great Britain at the end of the Seven Years War was its uneasy relations with the Indian tribes living in the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes. While these Indian tribes had traded with the French for years, few French settlers, other than trappers and traders, had moved into the areas south of the Great Lakes. After France and her Indian allies were defeated, British settlers began crossing the Appalachian Mountain in large numbers looking for good farmland. The Indians viewed the settlers, who wanted to claim the land, differently than the French fur traders with whom they had lived for many years.

The actions of Major General Jeffrey Amherst, the British Commander of British forces in North America, also contributed to the tense relations between the British and the Indians in the final years of the war. The British, like the French, had enjoyed the support of a number of Indian tribes and, during the war, the chiefs of these tribes had received generous gifts from the British government. Gift giving was considered by the British and the French to be an integral part of maintaining good relations with the tribes. As military operations in North America came to a successful conclusion, General Amherst decided to discontinue the practice of giving gifts to Indian chiefs, as he believed he no longer needed their support. He also made the decision to cut back on trading gunpowder to the Indians. The Indians felt that the British were treating them as a conquered people and not as former allies.

In May 1763, Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, led a number of Indian tribes in the area of the Great Lakes in an uprising against British forces and settlers along the frontier. While a few British forts on the frontier held out, over eight were taken. Hundreds of British soldiers were killed, and the settlers who survived the attacks fled from their farms on the frontier to the safe areas in the east. Commonly known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, the conflict lasted until 1764. Though peace treaties ended the fighting, the possibility of further conflicts with the Indians strongly affected Britain’s decision to leave a standing army in America after the Seven Years War.