This Date in Native History: On February 10, 1763, the French and Indian War ended, giving the British continued opportunities to fail their promises and further their attempts to remove Natives from the East coast.
In 1754, before it was the United States of America, the British declared war against the French, pitting the countries against each other in a battle that began with the Ohio Valley, which the French had already claimed.
Tribes allied with the French hoped to keep British expansion at bay. The French had caused less strife than the British, who were bringing their wives and families to settle while French trappers were marrying Native women. Other than bringing Catholicism, the French lived amicably among the Natives without imposing themselves on their way of life.
With 1.5 million British settlers along the eastern coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia and only about 75,000 French in North America, it was critical for the French to rely on their strong alliances with Natives across Canada, who were willing to support the efforts against further British colonization.
Wishing to avoid a war that was not their battle to fight, French documents show that when Mohawks met Mohawks privately, agreements were made not to take part in battles that would result in relatives against relatives. However, the Confederated Nations from Canada and the Six Nations of New York did fight throughout the nine years of the war.
The 1870 book, A Particular History of the Five Years French and Indian War in New England and Parts Adjacent by Samuel Francis Drake, is filled with specific details of the war’s beginning, naming those who scalped, killed and attacked, including people of all backgrounds and alliances. “Thus, year after year this practice went on. Many read the history of these wars as they read a romance. It is no romance. It was an awful reality to thousands. It should be so far realized by every one, that all who read may have a true sense of what their homes, now so pleasant, have cost.”
For the French, enlisting the Natives was easy. “When Europeans were at war among themselves, each party could gain to itself numbers of Indians by presents and falsehoods,” Drake wrote. “The French made the Indians believe that the English had cheated them in trade, had taken their lands without giving them any equivalent, and thus made them believe that they ought to drive them (British) out of the country. The English did the same thing, but not to so great an extent, for they never could make themselves such favorites with the Indians as the French could.”
A simple list of the horrors inflicted by the British, such as poisoned blankets and a raid on a Mi’kmaq home where five women, two of whom were very pregnant, were attacked, inspired loyalty to the French. Drake wrote that the English settlers “plundered the cottages and inhumanly butchered the five women and two children, committing acts upon the murdered women too revolting for recital.”
Arnold Printup, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Akwesasne, said, “They used us to achieve an objective, then they violated their agreements with the Native peoples. The way they set it up, they sharpened their knives on us and then went after the rest of the country.”
The French and Indian War is also called the Seven Years War, but it actually lasted nine. Great Britain’s lack of support for the settlers throughout the war caused great dissatisfaction to the colonists, which soon after resulted in the Revolutionary War.
Those who fought for Great Britain and British America were Iroquois Confederacy of Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Tuscarora, Mohawk, Cayuga Nations, with some participation from the Catawba and Cherokee.
In Canada, Natives from the Abenaki, Algonquin, Caughnawaga Mohawk, Lenape, Mi’kmaq, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Shawnee, Wyandot fought on the side of the French. The war was known to have been a bloody one that resulted in 5,000 deaths of soldiers and Natives on both sides.
“And then, as soon the war was over, they left everyone in the lurch with no guarantees. At the end of the war, the British said, ‘Now we have to get rid of the Indians,” Printup said.
The French and Indian War ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. By the time the war ended, it had reached international proportions with battlefields in Asia, Europe, and Africa. France was defeated and lost all of its territories except for Louisiana west of the Mississippi River. England took possession of Canada and Eastern United States and the Mississippi River.
A twist to the ending was that many of the British soldiers and settlers taken into captivity by the Natives during the war refused to leave after the war ended. When the government sought the prisoners release, “They found some of the captives indisposed to return, having become attached to the manner of life of their Indian masters, and some of them thoroughly imbued with the Roman Catholic religion; others refused to return to their native land, alleging as a reason that they would be obliged to labor a long time to raise the money paid for their ransom; that now they had their liberty and could do as they listed.”
This story was originally published February 10, 2014.