French-English Rivalry


Royal Colony
Colonial Administration
The Economy
Fur and Expansion
French-English Rivalry


By the late 17th century, the French territorial expansion in North was contributing to the tensions between France and England, although it remained a secondary element compared to the fierce competition between the two nations for supremacy in Europe and in the world.


The Early Wars : the War of the League of Augsburg (King William’s War, 1689-1697) and the  War of the Spanish succession (Queen Anne’s War, 1702-1713)


In 1689, France (allied to Spain) and England embarked on a series of wars, fought in Europe but which always involved the American colonies. The strategies of the two nations remained fairly constant in North America : the French rallied heavily on their Indian allies who attacked the New England frontier towns, while New Englanders tried to conquer Canada by use of a naval campaign against Quebec combined to a land attack on Montreal. New Englanders also attacked Acadia, a sparsely populated and fragile French possession. Indeed, after the War of the Spanish succession, the Treaty of Utrech of 1713 forced France to abandon Acadia and Newfoundland. French Acadia passed under English control and become the colony of Nova Scotia.



1713-1740: Between Wars


The years that followed the Treaty of Utrech were difficult for New France. There was a decline in fur demand in Europe, and when the fur trade picked up in the 1720s, it shifted away from Montreal to Albany (in the English colony of New York) and the British merchants who paid better prices. Additional economic problems in the colony resulted from the lack of labor and of capital, navigation difficulties, and a slow population increase compared to the much more numerous population of the English colonies. Nonetheless, the French tried to strengthen their possessions everywhere in North America.


The struggle for power was acute in the Atlantic regions. Acadia had been ceded to Britain in 1713 but France tried to retain control: a fortress was built in Louisburg on Cape Breton Island (Ile Royale) to protect the entrance to the St Lawrence and control the valuable fisheries. The French inhabitants of Acadia were expected to remove to the French territories if they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown, but for 30 years this rule was not enforced. The Acadians remained where they were and led a peaceful life. The region had changed hands many times before and it was very possible that it would become French again. There was very little British immigration to the area (known by the English as Nova Scotia) and  no representative assembly on the model of those existing in the American colonies was introduced. The main problem of the British in Acadia was with the native Micmac and Maliseet, who maintained their alliance with the French, due to the influence of the French missionaries who encouraged the Micmac to harass English fishermen, settlers and soldiers.



In the South and the Caribbean, the Compagnie des Indes was created to strengthen the French presence, and the town of New Orleans was founded in 1718 and developed as a strong plantation colony.


Competition with the English in the interior increased, especially in the Ohio Valley. In theory, the Ohio Valley was a French possession, but it was occupied by numerous Native peoples pushed west by the English settlers. It was an important trade region, where Indians were often attracted by the cheaper goods manufactured by the British. It was also coveted by the American colonists, who considered the Ohio valley as the natural region to expand and relieve the population pressure in the coastal area. To secure its hold on the region and maintain its Indian alliances, France built forts and trading posts on the Great Lakes and along the Ohio Valley.







The War of the Austrian Succession (King George’s War), 1740-1748


The conflict between France and England started again with the War of the Austrian succession (King George's War) from 1744 to 1748. In the Gulf of the St Lawrence, the Massachusetts militia took Louisburg but the action on Quebec failed due to the weakness of the British fleet. There were massive French and Indian attacks on the colonies of New York and Massachusetts: all the settlements north of Albany were destroyed and 8% of adult men were killed in Massachusetts. Peace returned with the Treaty of Aix La Chapelle (1748) which restored the status quo in North America without solving any of the problems, especially the crucial demographic pressure that pushed thousands of Americans into territories claimed by France. The ambition of the American colonists was symbolized by the creation of the Ohio Company in 1749 by the colony of Virginia to survey the Ohio Valley in preparation for settlement. Both sides moved to strengthen their position in the expectation of the next war.



North American Beginnings of the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War), 1754-1756


At first, the conflict was limited to North America and colonial leaders were in charge of the war: the Marquis de Vaudreuil for New France, Governor Shirley of Massachussetts for the English colonies. This local conflict was characterized by a mix of European troops, colonial troops and Indian allies, and the main French tactics were guerilla and frontier war. 


In the Ohio Valley, the English worked at undermining the old alliances between the French and the Natives. In 1754, there was a confrontation between the commanders of French forts and the Virginia militia (a small detachment of nine men under command of George Washington). Washington was beaten, so a coalition of American colonies was organized to drive the French once and for all out of the Ohio Valley. For two years, the American colonists led a series of expeditions against the main forts that defended New France, to no avail.


In Acadia, the Micmac renewed their attacks on the English, who directly threatened them in Nova Scotia. During the previous conclicts, both the Micimac and the Acadians had supported the French, thus failing to prove their loyalty to Britian.


In June 1755, the British, who remembered the Acadians’ support of the French in 1744-1748, asked them to take the long-delayed oath of allegiance to the British crown. Once more, the Acadians refused, promising that they would remain neutral in future conflicts. But this time the British government decided to expel them from Nova Scotia. In August 1755, ships from Boston gathered the Acadians to deport them to other British colonies. Houses and churches were  burned to make sure fugitives could not come back. This “Grand Dérangement” meant long years of wandering for the Acadians, because many colonies refused to accept the deportees. The luckiest ended up in Louisiana where their Cajun descendants still live.



The Seven Years’ War as a World Conflict, 1756-1763


To learn more about the Seven Years' War, go to the online exhibition of the Canadian Museum of War:


See also this presentation on "The French and Indian War, the end of salutary neglect, and the causes of the American Revolution:



In 1756,  the conflict expanded beyond America to become a world war, with a formal declaration of war between France/Spain and England. It was in fact a continuation of previous wars as Britain and France fought for control in Europe and in the world (India). France sent a professional soldier, the Marquis de Montcalm, who tried to lead a European-style war which did not suit the French colonial troops and their Indian allies.  At first the English commander, the Earl of Loudoun, antagonized the colonial (provincial) troops and the colonists; things improved in 1757 under Prime Minister William Pitt who encouraged cooperation between the Provincials and the Red Coats and launched a tremendous financial effort to win the conflict with the French once and for all. About 60,000 troops were mobilized for the final conquest of New France (as compared to a total population of 75,000 in New France and 1.6 million in the English colonies). By 1758, Canada was cut off from France and  England was negotiating alliances with the western Indians. In September 1759,  Quebec was taken by a naval expedition under command of General Wolfe, who died during the siege. In 1760, Montreal surrendered. In 1763, with the Treaty of Paris,  New France passed under English control and Louisiana was ceded by the French to its ally, Spain.

The English had made a tremendous effort to conquer New France, but it had unexpected consequences: the massive debt caused by the Seven Years' War was to be financed by introducing new taxes in the American colonies, a move that triggered fierce resistance and eventually led to the American Revolution.