(The French War and the Revolution)

As the Spaniards had been first to explore and possess the regions bordering on the Gulf of Mexico and extending across the Southwest to the Pacific, so, in the next generation, were the French first to grasp the imperial domain watered by the Mississippi and many of its tributaries. By what steps this territory was wrested by the English from the French, as the Atlantic seaboard had been snatched by England from Spain; by what other steps, English colonists established on that seaboard, wrested from the mother country that more imperial domain bounded by the Atlantic, the Mississippi, the Gulf and Great Lakes, constitute the story embraced in the third of these great epochs in American history.

The long struggle between England and France, which closed at Quebec in 1769, virtually during the great Frontenac's first admininistration the voyages of Marquette and La Salle, did not assume an aspect of actual war until Frontenac, now a veteran of French courts, camps and battle-fields and past seventy years of age, arrived a second time in Canada as Governor. Thenceforth, for three-quarters of a century, the struggle went on, now by the peaceful methods of increasing and spreading population, trade and industry, now, intermittently, by open attacks on settlements, the burning of homes and the massacre of their inhabitants. Frontenac's avowed purpose in coming to America again was to secure the Hudson Valley, which, added to the St. Lawrence, Ohio, Mississippi, and the Great Lakes, already in French control, would have meant practical control of the North American continent. As Champlain, in 1609, had made war on the Indians of New York, so in his second administration did Frontenac in 1689-96. By such means both men gave, first to the Dutch, and then to the English, who cultivated their friendship, the powerful aid of that people in the border and barrier State of New York. Most historians now believe that the English alliance with the Indians, as fostered by Sir William Johnson, really turned the scale in English favor.

One of the incidents of Frontenac's operations southward was the massacre of Schenectady in 1690; others were similar outrages on frontier settlements in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, these attacks coming to an end only with the peace of Ryswick and the death of Frontenac in 1698. Altho scarcely more than skirmishes and raids against clearings in the forests, the attacks are known collectively as King William's War, and were soon followed by other and similar outrages, chief of which were the massacres of Deerfield in 1704 and Haverhill in 1708, and known collectively as Queen Anne's War. In this period the French built their most important forts in the Middle West, Kaskasia, Vincennes and Detroit, and founded settlements at Mobile and New Orleans, until, from Quebec to Niagara, from Lake Erie to the Ohio, and thence to the mouth of the Mississippi, France had a chain of defenses guarding her vast wilderness empire in the west, northwest, and south.

In 1743 began another phase of the struggle, known as King George's War, similar in many of its incidents, and chiefly memorable for the splendid success of New England militiamen under Sir William Pepperell, aided by ships under Admiral Sir Peter Warren, in capturing Louisbourg, a great fortress on Cape Breton Island reared by the French as their chief defense on the Atlantic seaboard. Following this event came peace, which continued five years, and then grim war in a great final struggle, its first scenes on the western frontier of Pennsylvania, where the French were building a fort they had been warned not to build; the next on the northern frontier of New York, which became dotted with forts and camps from Niagara to Lake Champlain, with Albany as the base of supplies, and finally at Louisbourg, once more under siege, and at Quebec, where the momentous conflict, after a loss of 30,000 lives, came to its close and New France ceased to exist.

This new and final war began in an obscure engagement on the southern borders of western Pennsylvania, where Washington in an attack on Jumonville at Great Meadows fired the shot which " set the world on fire." In the next year came Braddock's defeat and then a formal declaration of war between France and England. General Forbes, after an heroic march, in 1758 wrested Fort Duquesne from the French and bestowed upon it the new name of Pittsburgh, in compliment to the great war minister who was conducting the campaign. The scene shifted mainly to the northern frontier of New York. Indeed, just as in Frontenac's time, more than seventy years before, the contest, once it really began, became one for control of the Hudson Valley. The ensuing land battles were mainly fought in New York territory—at Fort Niagara, Fort Oswego, Lake George and Ticonderoga. The treaty of peace followed the second fall of Louisbourg and Wolfe's victory at Quebec.

The Revolution was a direct outgrowth of this war with France. On the part of the mother country, that war had led to a policy of special taxation for the colonies, the purpose of which was to reimburse her for expenditures incurred in ridding them of troublesome neighbors on the north; while, on the part of the colonists, it had awakened a lively consciousness of their own strength and ability to stand alone. The odious Stamp Act of 1765 became an early expression of the English policy, and the bitter opposition shown to it was a consequence of the conscious strength that possest the colonists. As the taxation controversy continued through subsequent down to the point of breaking, these conditions on both sides remained vitally potent.

The war which ensued in 1775 began as local conflicts between English regulars and colonial militiamen, on the village green at Lexington, at the bridge in Concord, at Bunker Hill and on the Heights of Dorchester. Its closing incidents took place in the South, where battle-fields were found in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, and where Cornwallis at last gave up his sword. But the real war was fought out in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Here was the vital ground, the same which the French in sending Frontenac over for his second term as Governor had recognized as vital. Control of the Hudson Valley meant everything now as well as then. Around the long contest for it revolved the battles of Long Island and Harlem Heights, Princeton and Trenton, the Brandywine and Germantown, Monmouth and Stony Point, Oriskany and Saratoga, and last of all, but not least in the tremendous issues involved, the treason of Arnold.

F. W. H.

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© 2002 by Lynn Waterman