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The Seven Years War
Britain, France, and Several Indigenous Nations Fight for their Place in North America
This week's big question
What motivated the different groups involved in the Seven Years War to fight? Can we see, or infer, how they might have imagined victory?
Learning outcomesAt the end of this week you should be able to:
- describe American theatre of the Seven Years War;
- explain the significance of the siege of Louisbourg;
- draw inferences about Britons' and colonists' motivations for war;
- recognize the particular interests/viewpoints of the Wabanaki/Mi'kmaq leading into the war;
- recognize the particular interests/viewpoints of the Ottawa and Chocktaw coming out of the war.
Questions to consider, and learning activityThe Seven Years War was primarily a European war, but its first shots were fired in Nova Scotia and on the Ohio River.
- Discuss how some colonists understood the need for war, the war itself, and their place in the war.
- The cartoons are British, not colonial. Do they speak to the same issues? Do they see those issues the same way as the colonists?
- Gibson Clough was a 21-year-old mason from Salem, Massachusetts, when he enlisted in the colonial militia during the Seven Years War. His diary shows the experience of a soldier in the conflict, but also reveals the brutal discipline of the British regular army.
- What were Clough's impressions of military service? Clough said he enlisted "in the service of my King and Country". What did that mean for a Massachusetts man in 1765? Do we see other aspects of his patriotism? Other aspects of his worldview?
- We have little evidence from Indigenous peoples concerning their experiences in the war, but we can certainly get a sense of their political and diplomatic relations with the French and the British. Our secondary source this week includes an entire document outlining a meeting between Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and French leaders at Louisbourg in 1757. Though their words are being re-presented by a French officier, it's one of the few extended pieces we have that captures an Indigenous perspective.
- Note that Pierre Maillard, a French missionary among the Mi'kmaq, was also writing around 1757 and was describing the same people (Mi'kmaq and Maliseet) as Lockerby. Most of our French documents are translated, but the translations were done many years later. This one was done while the war was still on. Why would some Britons think it important to translate this document?
- What issues seem to have defined the Indigenous response to the French-British war? How did Indigenous perspectives change after the war? Can we see evidence of their assessment of their positiongoing into the war? After the war?
BackgroundA few weeks ago, we said that few stories were as significant in their long-term impact as that as the Atlantic slave trade. That’s true, but few stories about a single set of events – in this case a war – have had so much short- and long-term impact as the Seven Years War. The Seven Years War was a global struggle for imperial, economic, and naval supremacy that took place between the mid 1750s and the mid 1760s. In its most basic form, it pitted the most powerful land-based country in the western world, France, against the most powerful naval country in the western world, Britain – and Britain won. The impact was enormous. It shifted the global balance of power not only away from France but also away from the continent of Europe and toward Britain and its colonies; it reoriented global trade patterns; it was the last serious moment of power and influence for Indigenous peoples in eastern North America; it saw the removal of France from the New World; it turned the territory for what is now Canada from a mixed French-Indigenous territory into a mixed British-French-Indigenous territory; and some argue that in allowing such a major role for the British American colonies it marked the real beginning of American independence. The geo-political world of 1765 was very different than that of 1755.
Our examination in this Lesson focuses on the New World, on what we today might call the Canadian and American aspects of the war. As we saw in our week on King Philip’s War, the settler colonies of French and British North America, and their Indigenous allies, were in near constant conflict with each other. In New England people don’t call it the Seven Years War; they call it the French and Indian War, a name that aptly reflects their major concerns at the time. The western frontier was in a constant state of small-scale warfare; commercial shipping and fishing along the Atlantic coasts were subject to piracy and raiding; and antipathy to “Indians” and Catholics was reinforced by the growth of Catholicism among Indigenous nations aligned with, or at least not hostile to, the French presence. In New France, people said pretty much exactly the same thing, but it was Protestants and “les savauges” that needed to be dealt with. Indigenous peoples had their own conflicts - sometimes tied to their relations with the Europeans, sometimes not – and their own strategies for dealing with the French-British conflicts. For the Haudensaunee (Six Nations Iroquois), centred along the southern shore on Lake Ontario, the strategy was to maintain if not expand their existing territories and the control of the fur trade in central North America; they aligned with the British, seeing a mutual interest in limiting the penetration of French and Algonquian interests, particularly in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. In the northeast the Abenaki, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq formed a powerful alliance – the Wabanaki Confederacy – and maintained strong ties with the French while blocking British incursions into northern New England and weakening their hold on modern-day Nova Scotia.
In North America we tend to view many of these wars as local affairs, wars between the colonies. Sometimes they were. In 1745, for example, forces recruited and commanded by the colonies themselves (although mostly Massachusetts) successfully (if temporarily) captured the French fortress at Louisbourg on Isle Royale (what is now Cape Breton). But more often these wars related to on-going tensions between the two major powers of early modern Western Europe. Britain and France, and therefore New England and New France, had been in an almost endless series of wars dating back to the 1650s. The combination of religious differences – Catholic France versus Protestant Britain – combined with both countries’ desires to contain the power of the other meant that conflict, and war, were always close at hand. This pattern was not interrupted until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 (of which what we call "the War of 1812" was a part).
The war in North America can be seen to have had four major theatres:
We can only cover one of these, and so we’ve chosen the campaign for Louisbourg, which was in many ways a direct outgrowth of King Philip’s War. For the New Englanders who had fought in King Philip’s War, Dummer’s War, Queen Anne’s War, the War of the Spanish Succession, and now the Seven Years War, these battles were all struggles in the campaign against “Indians” and the Catholic French who harassed them on their ever-expanding frontier. For the Acadians (French settlers), the French imperial government, and the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet, these battles represented on-going efforts to contain British expansion. Both sides thought that right and God protected their causes.
- the interior (what the French called les pays d’en haut, what we would today call the Mid-West of the United States),
- the campaign for Louisbourg (and the related issue of the expulsion of the Acadians),
- the campaign for Quebec/Canada, and
- the naval battle for control of the North Atlantic (obviously crucial in getting any supplies or troops to North America).
We’ll focus our attention this week on Louisbourg in 1758. The war to this point had been largely a war on the frontier (mostly the Ohio River Valley), and one where the French and their Indigenous allies were if not winning certainly doing better than the British. Part of the reason for this was that the French knew the interior much better than did the British; another was that the French had far more Indigenous allies, a direct function of France's less aggressive settlement strategy and their much greater willingness to trade.
The British knew that if they were to win the North American campaign, they had to take Canada, because it was the base of supplies for the interior. It was clear by 1757 that they were not going to capture Canada by land; they would have to take it by sea. And if they were to do so, they would first need to conquer the fortress at Louisbourg. Located on the eastern end of Cape Breton Island, Louisbourg was the largest and best-defended fortress in North America, and together with its French fleet it patrolled the waters of Nova Scotia and effectively controlled access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and thus the St. Lawrence River.
Canada's first national anthem, "The Maple Leaf Forever", celebrated Canada's birth in the British defeat of France (unsurprisingly, French Canadians never really embraced that anthem!). But as our readings this week demonstrate, the simple tale of military conquest obscures the complex preparations (here notably the efforts to maintain Indigenous alliances), the development of war sentiment in Britain and the colonies (see the British cartoons and the writing in a Maryland newspaper) and the brutality of not only the campaign, but also the peace (as Gibson Clough recorded in his diary). The defeat of France also increased the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples in the interior of North America. Our final documents offer perspectives from Indigenous leaders of the time assessing their place in the new post-war world.
In Days of yore,
From Britain's shore
Wolfe the dauntless hero came
And planted firm Britannia's flag
On Canada's fair domain.
Like last week, this week's Toolbox is about drawing inferences. The skills of inference drawing are really important, and each of you can improve your work in this area.
To view last week's Toolbox, as well as all previous Toolbox entries, visit the Toolbox Overview.
- Pierre Maillard, An Account of the Customs and Manners of the Micmakis and Maricheets Savage Nations (London, S. Hooper and A. Morley, 1758).
- Maryland Gazette, 5 September 1754 (Source: Archive of Maryland Online)
- Extracts from Gibson Clough’s war journal, 1759. (Source: Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, Volume III (Salem, MA, 1861), 99-106.)
- Speech of Pontiac, May 1763.
- Speeches by Tomatly Mingo, Alibamo Mingo, and Nassuba Mingo speaking to British officials in what is today modern-day Louisianna, summer 1765. (Source: Dunbar Rowland, ed. Mississippi Provincial Archives, English Dominion, 1763-1766: Letters and Enclosures to the Secretary of State from Major Robert Farmar and Governor George Johnstone, Volume I (Nashville, 1911), 236-242.)
- Two maps illustrating the peace:
Click on the image to find a larger version online.
Earle Lockerby, "Maintaining the Alliance: A French Officer's Account of the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Kennebec at Louisbourg, 1757," Native Studies Review 18:2 (2009), 1-26.
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What was negotiated in Britain's colonial era treaties with Indigenous peoples?
In the period after 1713 and continuing to the present day Great Britain, Canada and the United States signed a series of treaties with different Indigenous nations across North America.
Big question: What was negotiated in the Indigenous Treaties of the 18th and early 19th centuries?
This lesson examines three treaties between Indigenous peoples and the British state, plus a proclamation regarding treaties issued by the British state. It's important for us to see both the variety and the basic consistency across this period and these different colonies - that is, that in different times and places the treaties addressed different issues, and yet at the same time adhered to similar principles. Because their terms are different, and because these treaties still have legal standing today, how they affect, say Nova Scotia, is quite different from how they affect Ontario, or Saskatchewan, and so on. Indeed, some places - notably all of Quebec and most of British Columbia - have no treaties explicitly covering their territories.
Interpreting all these treaties, as two prominent researchers have observed, is "fraught with ambiguity". Some treaties are long and complex, while others are surprisingly simple. Some address diplomatic relationships, while others address land and resources. Some mention land surrender for a fixed sum, while others seem to imply continued Indigenous rights; others, like the Robinson treaty, suggest not fixed terms but an evolving relationship. Thus, we have different issues governing different places, and little or nothing specifically governing other places.This is where the general principles become important. With few proper treaties signed in British Columbia, for example, how can we apply the general principles of the treaty-making process to this situation? In Quebec, it is much the same. In Nova Scotia, as you'll see in one of your examples, promises of "Peace and Friendship" were made, but there is no discussion of surrender, or of ceding land. What does that mean?
What's clear in most of these negotiations is the prominent place Indigenous diplomatics protocols played. The illustration here of the Shawnee negotiations with the British in 1765 and the descriptions of the proceedings in your primary document give you some sense of that. See if you can identify the specifically Indigenous activities and think abut how these change over time. One area we see repeated references to is the Covenant Chain, a set of agreements initially between the Hudson River Mohawk and the British, the Covenant Chain is a symbolic representation of an alliance - a chain that binds the two people together. Begun in the mid-17th century, it came to define British-Haudenosaunnee [Six Nations] relations well into the 19th century. Like most treaties, it was subject to renegotiation - when the chain rusted - and it later came to be referred to as a silver chain, i.e. one that would not rust. As one might imagine, the covenant chain made few particular agreements clear, but it held great power in signifying basic principles of mutual aid and support. In any one moment that might not require either side to a particular course of action, but it made clear general guidelines that ought never be violated.
The history of treaties is a messy and complex one. But it still has a single feature that gives the entire story a basic coherence: they remain documents with formal state-to-state legal standing. We, as a society, have a legal and a moral obligation to deal with our relationship with Indigenous peoples. It behoves us to use the treaties (and if there are none, then the principles we see in the existing treaties) to bring Indigenous peoples into a full and fair partnership on the benefits (and costs) of living in an advanced democratic society. And that's what we will explore in the next few weeks.
The three treaties we examine this week occurred between 1694 and 1818. The one is from 1694 in what is now New York state. It's from the period before the Seven Years War, and thus relates in some ways not only to British-Haudenosaunee relations, but also to the British-French struggle for control in North America. The second is from 1752, on the eve of the Seven Years War, and reflects British efforts to discourage French allies (in the case the Mi'kmaq of modern Nova Scotia) from fighting. And the third is a treaty from Rice Lake, Upper Canada (what is today called Ontario) and reflects the political situation not only after the Seven Years War, but also after the American Revolution. The other document is the Royal Proclamation of 1763. As you'll see the document covers several topics, all related to Britain's victory over France in the Seven Years War. You should read the entire document, but our primary attention should be to the clauses related to land and Indigenous sovereignty in North America. Britain sought to clarify what it saw as the new arrangement of imperial power in North America. Most of the proclamation dealt with borders and forms of government. A substantial section described relations with Indigenous peoples and more particularly outlined the Crown's view of Indigenous territory and sovereignty. We'll discuss more in class, but a key feature of that was drawing a line down through the Appalachian Mountains and proclaiming all land west of that line to be "reserved for the Indians". In outlining rules premised on Indigenous sovereignty over this territory, the Crown also established guidelines for all future relationships with Indigenous peoples. The end of the Seven Years War not only saw the defeat of the French Empire and their removal from North America, but also a corresponding weakening of the position of the many Indigenous peoples across North America (from the Mi'kmaq in the northeast to the Mingo in the southeast). The Royal Proclamation (1763) and the subsequent Treaty of Niagara (1764) were attempts on the part of Great Britain to establish rules for future government of what Britain now saw as its domain. In particular, in drawing that line, and declaring it to be "Indian country", Britain was acknowledging Indigenous sovereignty.
The Royal Proclamation is about more than Indigenous policies. Do you see a general idea guiding British thinking? Why do the British appear to be protecting "Indian" land? Is it significant that that British acknowledge Indigenous title to land? In many ways, the Royal Proclamation and the Treaty of Niagara reflected the new power arrangements in North America with the defeat of France, but in some ways it reflects a long-standing continuity. Discuss.
The Royal Proclamation implies Indigenous title to the land, and thus treats their surrender of land as a free choice (if the Indians "should be inclined to sell") and promises to set a process for future relations. Did subsequent negotiations appear to follow the spirit of the Royal Proclamation? The Rice Lake treaty negotiations offer one of the few transcripts available of the actual negotiation process. Do the Rice Lake Anishinaabe appear "inclined to sell"? Why? Is this sale "just and reasonable"?
The two maps above illustrate the peace at the end of the Seven Years War and one highlights the impact of the Royal Proclamation: In October 1763, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the British government confirmed the new boundaries of North America in a proclamation - what we now call "the Royal Proclamation of 1763". New boundaries meant new maps and several cartographers set out to show Britons the outlines of their newly won territories. But the results were interestingly different. Compare the lower map with Thomas Kitchin's "A New Map of the British Dominions in North America" (above). Both maps were produced in London within weeks of each other. Yet they show quite different versions of the new boundaries. These are not simply mistakes. They reflect very different understandings of the meaning of the Proclamation. The differences continue to have very real consequences in our world today.
Three hints: (1) note that these treaties do different things - they occurred at different time, in different place, under different contexts.
(2) Be on the lookout for clues in the formal procedures. Note the use of gifts, particularly wampum and furs. Why were gifts being exchanged? Look at the picture of the negotiation above. That, combined with the formal and ritualised activities described here should give us hints as to how these agreements were being made. Note too the references to the "chain" (Hill helps here)
(3) Make use of what you already know. Notice that the treaty with the Mi'kmaq is just before the Seven Years War; notice that the Royal Proclamation is just after. Preparing for war, and dealing with its outcomes point to radically different contexts. What's changed? Do they share principles? Do the later documents reflect the changed circumstances?
An Account of the Treaty Between His Excellency Benjamin Fletcher, Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Province of New York and the Indians of the Five Nations, August 1694 (New York, William Bradford, 1694).
Printed Proclamation of the 1752 Treaty between the Governor of Nova Scotia and some "Mickmack Indians" [Mi'kmaq].The Royal Proclamation (1763)
Documents on the Rice Lake Treaty negotiations (Upper Canada, 1818), pp.89-96.
Susan Hill, The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River (Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press), 65-71 and 82-89. [the download here is the entire chapter - read just the two sections]