Seven Years’ War
The Seven Years’ War (1756–63) was the culmination of a century of European warfare that centered on the growing conflict between Prussia and Austria in Europe but also involved an escalating contest between Britain and France for imperial control beyond Europe. In North America, the war resulted in complete British victory, with France ceding Acadia, Canada, and Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, and ensuring that the dominant culture pattern would be English.
Britain and France warred over control of New France in the War of the League of Augsburg (1689–97), the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–14), and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), though the only permanent territorial change was British occupation of lightly populated Newfoundland, Hudson Bay, and Nova Scotia in 1713. British colonial expansion and control of the lucrative fur trade kept tensions high, however, and finally erupted into the French and Indian War (1754–63), which then expanded into the international Seven Years’ War. At mid-century, Britain controlled the Atlantic seaboard from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Florida, while France occupied the St. Lawrence Seaway and Mississippi River Valley. In between lay the Ohio River Valley, still largely in the hands of the Iroquois Confederacy, which controlled the fur trade. As Iroquois power declined, both the British and the French sought to expand into the region, each seeking Native American allies. When France built a string of forts from Lake Erie to the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in 1753, Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie sent a small force under Lieutenant Colonel George Washington to order them out of the region. A French force returned the following year, driving Washington from Fort Necessity and establishing Fort Duquesne at the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Britain suffered almost continual losses until 1757, when William Pitt became prime minister. He reorganized the war effort, promoting younger officers and convincing Parliament to make a major commitment of funds. In the next three years, Britain captured all the French strongholds, including Louisbourg (1758), Fort Duquesne (1758), Quebec (1759), and Montreal (1760). With the capitulation at Montreal, thousands of French colonists returned to France, and some 4,000 Acadians relocated to Louisiana, which briefly remained in French hands. In the Treaty of Paris formally ending the Seven Years’ War in 1763, France ceded Acadia, Canada, and Louisiana east of the Mississippi River to Britain; the western Mississippi valley and New Orleans were handed over to Spain. France’s once vast North American empire was thus reduced to two small islands, Saint- Pierre and Miquelon, south of Newfoundland.
As a result of the Seven Years’ War, 80,000 French speakers were added to British Canada, and new French immigration became negligible. The conflict in Europe and a ban in the Holy Roman Empire (1768) halted most German immigration to America until the early 19th century. Perhaps most important, Britain’s victory provided a significant shared experience for many British colonists of diverse ethnic backgrounds, important in the development of a distinct American identity.