“War, Peace, and Revolution” By Colin G. Calloway

Introduction: War, Peace, and Revolution
Pages 3-18 from “The Scratch of a Pen
1763 and the Transformation of North America” by Colin G. Calloway edited by David Hackett Fischer (© 2006)
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By permission of Oxford University Press, Inc


“[S]o long as the world has stood there has not been such a War,” Moravian missionary Christian Frederick Post had told Delaware Indians while serving as an ambassador from Pennsylvania to the tribes in the Ohio Valley.1 British and French, Americans and Canadians, American Indians, Prussians, Austrians, Russians, Spaniards, and East Indian moguls fought the war, and conflicts had been waged on land and sea, in North America, the Caribbean Islands, West Africa, India, and continental Europe. Britain executed global strategies at enormous costs financed by unprecedented levels of taxing and borrowing. In 1763 Britain won an empire greater than that of imperial Rome but the nation was on the verge of bankruptcy.

For more than half a century, Britain and France had competed for domination in North America. Previous imperial conflicts–King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War–had begun in Europe and spread to North America. But the French and Indian War began with bloodshed around the Forks of the Ohio. Britain and France each believed that whoever controlled the Ohio country would win the continent. The French feared British expansion there would threaten their position in the West; the British feared the French were building a line of forts that threatened to strangle Britain’s seaboard colonies. The Indian peoples who lived in the Ohio country, meanwhile, endeavored to preserve their lands, cultures, and communities against outside pressures.2 The fighting began when twenty-one year old Major George Washington, a novice in Indian diplomacy and frontier warfare, ambushed a French platoon but then was compelled to surrender to a superior French and Indian force.3

At first the war went badly for the British. In 1755 General Edward Braddock marched against Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio with more than two thousand troops. He hacked a road through the mountains and forests of western Pennsylvania, crossed the Monongahela River, and had the fort almost within his grasp when a sortie of Indians and French attacked his columns and routed the army, inflicting almost one thousand casualties.4 News of Braddock’s defeat and escalating Indian attacks sent backcountry settlers scurrying east for safety.5

The next year, the French and their Indian allies captured the British fort at Oswego, and with it took control of Lake Ontario. In 1757, the Marquis de Montcalm took Fort William Henry on Lake George. His Indian allies attacked the surrendered garrison, perpetrating a slaughter made famous by the book and movie versions of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. Montcalm scored another victory in 1758, inflicting heavy losses on British troops who mounted a head-on assault against Fort Ticonderoga. The war went equally badly in Europe where Britain’s allies suffered defeats in battle and the island of Minorca in the Mediterranean was lost.

William Pitt turned the tide. Taking office as Secretary of State for the Southern Department after a period of ministerial instability, Pitt effectively functioned as Britain’s prime minister for the next four years. He pursued the war with new vigor and a simple strategy: reduce France from an imperial power to a continental power by stripping away its colonies, especially in North America. In Europe, Britain increased its subsidies to German allies, and Frederick II of Prussia embroiled French, Austrian, and Russian armies in recurrent bloodbaths. The British navy won command of the seas. In North America, British soldiers adjusted to forest fighting and began to win victories.6

In July 1758, British regulars and New England militia captured Louisbourg, overlooking the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. In August, Colonel John Bradstreet captured Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario, severing French supply lines to the West. That fall, Ohio Indians made peace with the British at the Treaty of Easton, leaving Fort Duquesne, the prize that had cost Braddock so dearly, virtually undefended. The French blew up the fort before the British, led by dying General John Forbes, could seize it.7

1759 brought British victories everywhere. British forces captured the slaving station of Goree in Africa and the rich sugar island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. In Europe, British and allied troops defeated the French at Minden. In July, the British captured Fort Niagara. France could no longer control the West or supply its Indian allies. The Franco-Indian alliance unraveled and Indians began to mend fences with the British, encouraged by promises of trade and protection for their lands.8 In September, General James Wolfe turned a stalled siege at Quebec into a dramatic victory: his redcoats scrambled up the cliffs during the night and routed the French army in the morning on the Plains of Abraham. Wolfe died in the battle; so did Montcalm.9 The British hung on to Quebec in the face of a French counter-siege, and the first ship to appear in the St. Lawrence the following spring flew the Union Jack: the Royal Navy had destroyed the French Atlantic fleet in November. Britain ruled the waves; beleaguered French forces in Canada were cut off from reinforcements, and France’s remaining overseas empire could be picked apart. Horace Walpole said English church bells were worn thin ringing for victories.10

In 1760, British power converged on Montreal and the defeat of New France was complete. “I believe never three Armys, setting out from different & very distant Parts from each other[,] joyned in the Center, as was intended, better than we did,” wrote commander-in-chief General Jeffery Amherst.11 Montcalm’s former aide-de-camp, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, carried the articles of Montreal’s surrender to Amherst. Bougainville was an asthmatic, plump little man who could quote the classics and had written a book on calculus by the time he was twenty-five. He hardly seemed cut out for soldiering or frontier life, but he saw plenty of both. He fought at Fort Oswego in 1756, at Fort William Henry in 1757, and was wounded at Fort Ticonderoga in 1758. He sat in council with Indian allies, sang the war song with them, and was adopted by them. He witnessed the fall of Quebec in 1759. He also left a vivid account of the war France lost in North America, a view from inside a crumbling empire. The French lacked the manpower and resources to hold back the British. British naval power deprived New France of reinforcements, news, and supplies. Waste, inefficiency, and corruption pervaded the French system. Personal rivalries and petty jealousies diverted energies and hampered defense efforts. Famine and disease stalked the land. French officers held endless councils with their Indian allies but felt less and less sure of their allegiance. (The tribes of the St. Lawrence, formerly France’s most steadfast Indian allies, switched their allegiance in 1760.12) “What a country! What a war!” Bougainville exclaimed in frustration as the war slipped away from the French. Taken prisoner with the rest of the army, he was shipped back to France. (He later led a scientific expedition around the world and explored the South Pacific, introduced the Bougainvillea flower to Europe, was imprisoned for a time during the French revolution, and became a count during the Napoleon regime).13

Carlos III became King of Spain after his half-brother, Fernando VI, died in August 1759. He was on his way to Madrid to assume the throne when he heard about Britain’s capture of Quebec. The news is said to have caused his blood to run cold. With French power removed, what was to stop British imperial ambitions reaching to Florida, Mexico, and even into parts of South America? 14 Spain had stayed out of the war. For a time, William Pitt even had courted Spain in the hope that, if it did fight, it would do so on the side of Britain, not of France. But the string of British victories removed Britain’s need for Spanish allies, and at the same time pushed Spain to abandon its policy of neutrality.

Carlos renewed the Family Compact, the old alliance between the Bourbon monarchies of Spain and France, and in January 1762 joined France in a futile effort to avert total British victory in North America. It was a disastrous decision. Spanish privateers preyed on British shipping but Creek and Yuchi Indians harried the Spanish frontier in Florida. The British had been waiting for an opportunity to pounce on Havana, the hub of Spain’s Caribbean empire and western Atlantic trade system–Admiral George Anson had drafted plans the year before for an amphibious attack. In June 1762 a British force comprising 40 warships, 135 transports, and 15,000 troops landed in Cuba and laid siege to Havana. Havana’s fort was supposed to be impregnable. But the arrival of the British fleet caught the garrison off guard: the British had captured their mail ship and the Spaniards were unaware that a state of war existed. Despite appalling casualties to gastric disorder and yellow fever, the British captured Havana after a two-month siege. Britain had penetrated the outer defenses of Spain’s American empire and merchant ships from England and the American mainland colonies hurried to Havana to expand their commercial activities. One Englishman called it “the most momentous acquisition we had til then ever made in America;” Benjamin Franklin called it “a conquest of the greatest importance.” Havana’s loss sent shock waves to Madrid.15 Two months later, in October, British regulars and sepoys from India captured Manila in the Philippines. Spain’s brief involvement in the war cost it heavily and caused massive adjustments in North America in the peace that followed.

Even as Britain was winning victories everywhere, William Pitt predicted “peace will be as hard to make as war.” The French foreign minister, the Duc de Choiseul, agreed; indeed he began the process almost as soon as he took office. “Since we do not know how to make war,” he said, “we must make peace.”16 He dedicated himself to getting France out of the war on the best terms he could get. Pitt wanted to continue the war to inflict maximum damage on the French, whom he regarded as Britain’s natural and permanent enemy. Others feared that Pitt’s strategy would guarantee future war by alienating all of Europe. Pitt had won the war but now he had to leave office to make way for peace. Despite Pitt’s huge popularity with the people, the king forced him to resign.

In May 1762, the king appointed John Stuart the Earl of Bute, a leading proponent of peace and a royal favorite, to serve as prime minister. In September, the Duke of Bedford crossed the Channel to restart peace negotiations in Paris; the Duc de Nivernois headed for London for the same purpose. Preliminary peace terms were agreed upon on November 3. The next day Louis XV secretly ceded Louisiana west of the Mississippi, together with New Orleans, to Spain. Britain, France, and Spain signed the definitive Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. The same month, Austria and Prussia signed the Treaty of Hubertusburg, essentially restoring the status quo ante bellum in central Europe. By contrast, in North America, where the war began, the Treaty of Paris redrew the map.

As historical geographer D. W. Meinig observes, the contrast between “niggling negotiations over little islands and harbors and the casualness with which huge continental expanses were transferred from one flag to another” is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend.17 In Britain, a long debate and a pamphlet war raged over the wisdom of holding on to snowy Canada, with its annual exports of 14,000 pounds, and returning Guadeloupe, which produced more sugar than all the British West Indies combined, with exports of 6,000,000 pounds. But the war had been fought for North America: “you must keep Canada, otherways you lay the foundation for another war,” argued one pamphleteer. “If we do not exclude [the French] absolutely and entirely from that country we shall soon find we have done nothing.” By the final round of the peace talks it was clear Britain placed North American security over West Indian sugar.18 Britain returned Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia to France. It also returned the fishing islands at Saint Pierre and Miquelon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and fishing rights on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, a concession whose importance is difficult to fathom today but which was massive in the cod-consuming eighteenth century: the Grand Banks–the shoals of the edge of the North American continent where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico meet the waters of arctic Greenland–are rich in phytoplankton and the richest cod grounds in the world.19 Gorée in West Africa and Belle-ÃŽle-En-Mer in the Bay of Biscay were also handed back. Britain returned Havana, captured with massive loss of life, to Spain, along with the Philippines, news of whose capture arrived too late for them to be included in the peace negotiations.

Out of office and in failing health, William Pitt gave an impassioned three-hour speech in the House of Commons, denouncing the treaty concessions as a betrayal of all he had worked for. France threatened Britain primarily as a maritime and commercial power, he argued, “and therefore by restoring to her all the valuable West Indian islands, and by our concessions in the Newfoundland fishery, we have given her the means of recovering her prodigious losses and of becoming once more formidable to us at sea.”20 John Wilkes, then a member of Parliament, attacked the peace, and the Earl of Bute as the man behind it, in the famous issue No. 45 of The North Briton. The preliminary articles, he said, “have drawn the contempt of mankind on our wretched negociators.” [sic.]21 Crowds rioted in the streets of London, even stoning the king’s coach.

Nevertheless, the merchants of London supported the peace and the House of Commons approved its terms by 319 to 65 votes.22 Britain’s gains were enormous: Canada “in its utmost extent,” all French territory east of the Mississippi, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Dominica and Tobago, Senegal in West Africa, Minorca restored. In India, where British and French trading companies had competed for domination of Bengal and the Carnatic coast, the French were now restricted to trading stations, unable to stop British expansion in the subcontinent. Spain yielded Florida in partial payment for the return of Havana. Britain’s North American possessions now stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The Annual Register, the year-by-year record of British and world events that began publication in 1758, declared that the gains ”made our American empire compleat [sic]. No frontiers could be more distinctly desired, nor more perfectly secured.” The challenge for Britain in North America, it seemed, was how to make profitable “an immense waste of savage country.”23 In his detailed chronicle of The Late War in North-America, Thomas Mante (who served in both the Seven Years War and Pontiac’s War and later acted as a double spy for England and France) said that the Peace of Paris “was justly deemed, by the bulk of mankind, a happy event.”24

The enormity of Britain’s victory seemed to herald a new world order. “No prince had ever begun his reign by so glorious a war and so generous a peace,” Lord Egremont was reported to have said to George III as they looked over the terms of the Peace of Paris.25 But what would the new world order look like, and how would it be governed? After the vigorous wartime leadership of William Pitt, England now faced the future, and its new empire, with a new government and a young king. George III was twenty-five and had been on the throne little more than two years. He relied heavily on the Earl of Bute, the unpopular Scottish minister who was not only denounced for selling out the country in his rush to make peace, but also rumored to enjoy intimate relations with the king’s mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales. 26

“It is truly a miserable thing,” Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote in December 1763, “that we no sooner leave fighting our neighbours, the French, but we must fall to quarrelling among ourselves.”27 His comment proved as apt for British North America as for English politics. The Peace of Paris brought little peace to North America, where Indian war dominated 1763, and where turmoil and movement led, ultimately, to civil war and revolution. George III became remembered as “the king who lost the American colonies.” The seeds of that loss were planted in the Peace that he and his ministers celebrated.
[Introduction to The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North American (Pivotal Moments in American History) Oxford University Press: 2007]

1 Pennsylvania Archives, 1st series 3 (1853), 539.

2 Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), chs. 1-5; Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), ch. 5.

3 French documents relating to Washington’s expedition, including the terms of surrender, are reproduced in Joseph L. Peyser, trans. and ed., Letters from New France: The Upper Country 1686-1783 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1992), 196-210; the terms of surrender, plus a plan of Fort Duquesne in 1754, are also in Pennsylvania Archives 1st series, 2 (1853): 146-47.

4 Charles Henry Lincoln, ed., Manuscript Records of the French and Indian War in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society (1909; reprinted Bowie, MD.: Heritage Books, 1992), 174-77. Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Knopf, 2000), 94-97, provides an account of the battle. Sources relating to the campaign are available in Winthrop Sargent, The History of an expedition against Fort Du Quesne, in 1755; under Major-General Edward Braddock … Edited from the original manuscripts (Philadelphia, Lippincott, Grambo, for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1855) and Paul E. Kopperman, Braddock at the Monongahela (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977).

5 Pennsylvania Archives 1st series 2 (1853), 443-45, 450, 475-76, 494, 528, 548.

6 Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

7 Alfred Proctor James, ed., Writings of General John Forbes Relating to his Service in North America (Menasha, WI: Collegiate Press, 1938).

8 Pennsylvania Archives, 1st series, 3: 744-52; 4 (1853), 48-49; Sylvester K. Stevens et al., eds., The Papers of Henry Bouquet. 6 vols. (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1951-94), 5: 150-56; “George Croghan’s Journal, 1760-61,” in Reuben G. Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 1746-1846 (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1904-07) 1: 104 (full journal 100–25). Jon William Parmenter, “Pontiac’s War: Forging New Links in the Anglo-Iroquois Covenant Chain, 1758-1766,” Ethnohistory 44 (1997), 617-54 traces the diplomatic efforts, and achievements, of the western tribes.

9 Anderson, Crucible of War, 344-68 sees the victory as the fortuitous outcome of Wolfe’s wish for a heroic death rather than a brilliantly planned and executed assault.

10 Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), ch. 12; Peter Cunningham, ed., The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford. 9 vols. (London: Bickers and Son, 1880) 3: 259.

11 J. Clarence Webster, ed., The Journal of Jeffery Amherst (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1931), 247.

12 D. Peter Macleod, The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1996), 177-79;Jean-Pierre Sawaya, Alliance et dependence: Comment la couronne britannique a obtenu la collaboration des Indians de la valllee du Saint-Laurent entre 1760 et 1764 (Sillery, Que: Les Editions Septentrion, 2002), ch. 1; WJP 13: 163-66. The St. Lawrence Indians comprised eight villages: Kahnawake (Iroquois); Kanasatake (Iroquois, Algonquin, and Nipissing); Akwesasne (Iroquois); Oswegatchie (Iroquois); Wendake (Huron); Odanak (Abenaki); Wolinak (Abenaki), and Pointe-du-Lac (Algonquin). From fall 1763, they associated as the Seven Nations of Canada. The Iroquois of Oswegatchie were not part of the Seven Nations; they dealt with Onondaga, not Kahnawake; Sawaya, 54n.

13 Edward P. Hamilton, ed., Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756-1760 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964, 1990), quote at 222. Bougainville returned to America during the Revolution and was present when the British army surrendered to the American and French forces at Yorktown in 1781. In his later life, he was a political prisoner during the French Revolution, traveled around the globe, and published an account of his voyages.

14 Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein, Apogee of Empire: Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759-1789 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 11-13; J. Leitch Wright, Jr. Anglo-Spanish Rivalry in North America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1971), 107.

15 Stein and Stein, Apogee of Empire, 51-55 British forces at 54, quotes at 55); Henry Kamen, Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763 (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 481-82, gives slightly different figures on the British forces.

16 Quoted in Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe: The French and Indian War (New York: Da Capo Press, 1995), 535.

17 D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History. Vol. 1: Atlantic America, 1492-1800 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 269.

18 Philip Lawson, The Imperial Challenge: Quebec and Britain in the Age of the American Revolution (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1989), ch. 1, for the role of Quebec in the peace negotiations; quote in Guy Frégault, Canada: The War of the Conquest (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969), 299.

19 Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (New York: Penguin, 1998), 43-44, 87.

20 Quoted in J. H. Plumb, England in the Eighteenth Century (Penguin, 1950), 114.

21 The North Briton, No. 45: 156a-b. The Gentleman’s Magazine 33 (1763), 239-46, contained a narrative of the proceedings for and against John Wilkes.

22 Lord John Russell, ed., Correspondence of John, Fourth Duke of Bedford. 3 vols. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1846) 3: 230.

23 The Annual Register for 1763 (London: J. Dodsley, 1796), 18-19.

24 Thomas Mante, The History of the Late War in North-America, and the Islands of the West-Indies (London, 1772; New York: Research Reprints Inc., 1970), 478. Mante also tried his hand at sheep farming and wrote a book on raising sheep in France); Richard Cargill Cole, Thomas Mante: Writer, Soldier, Adventurer (New York: Peter Lang, 1993).

25 Russell, ed., Correspondence of John, Fourth Duke of Bedford. 3: 200.

26 H. T. Dickinson, Caricatures and the Constitution, 1760-1832 (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986), 46-56; Philo-Britannicus “Letter from Scots Sawney the Barber, to Mr. Wilkes an English Parliameneter,” (London, 1763).

27 NYCD 7: 592