The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle had been made only because the contestants were tired of fighting. In America, at least, each at once began taking breath and preparing to renew the struggle. Not a year passed that did not witness border quarrels more or less bloody. The French authorities filled the Ohio and Mississippi valleys with military posts; English settlers pressed persistently into the same to find homes.
In this movement Virginia led, having in 1748 formed, especially to aid western settlement, the Ohio Company, which received from the king a grant of five hundred thousand acres beyond the Alleghanies. A road was laid out between the upper Potomac and the present Pittsburgh, settlements were begun along it, and efforts made to conciliate the savages.
One of the frontier villages was at what is now Franklin, Penn., and the location involved Virginia with the colony of Pennsylvania. As commissioner to settle the dispute George Washington was sent out.
The future Father of his Country was of humble origin. Born in Westmoreland County, Va., "about ten in ye morning of ye 11th day of February, 1731-32," as recorded in his mother's Bible, he had been an orphan from his earliest youth. His education was of the slenderest. At sixteen he became a land surveyor, leading a life of the roughest sort, beasts, savages, and hardy frontiersmen his constant companions, sleeping under the sky and cooking his own coarse food. No better man could have been chosen to thread now the Alleghany trail.
Washington reported the French strongly posted in western Pennsylvania on lands claimed by the Ohio Company. Virginia fitted out an expedition to dislodge them. Of this Washington commanded the advance. Meeting at Great Meadows the French under Contrecoeur, commander of Fort Du Quesne (Pittsburgh); he was at first victorious, but the French were re-enforced before he was, and Washington, after a gallant struggle, had to capitulate. This was on July 3, 1754. The French and Indian War had begun.
The English Government bade the colonies defend their frontier, and in this interest twenty-five delegates from the seven northern colonies met at Albany on June 19, 1754. Benjamin Franklin represented Pennsylvania, and it was at this conference that he presented his well-considered plan, to be described in our chapter on Independence, for a general government over English America. The Albany Convention amounted to little, but did somewhat to renew alliance with the Six Nations. [footnote: Increased from five to six by the accession of the Tuscaroras.]
In this decisive war England had in view four great objects of conquest in America: 1. Fort Du Quesne; 2. The Ontario basin with Oswego and Fort Niagara; 3. The Champlain Valley; 4. Louisburg. The British ministry seemed in earnest. It sent Sir Edward Braddock to this side with six thousand splendidly equipped veterans, and offered large sums for fitting out regiments of provincials. Braddock arrived in February, 1755, but moved very languidly. This was not altogether his fault, for he had difficulties with the governors and they with their legislatures.
At last off for Fort Du Quesne, he took a needlessly long route, through Virginia instead of Pennsylvania. He scorned advice, marching and fighting stiffly according to the rules of the Old World military art, heeding none of Franklin's and Washington's sage hints touching savage modes of warfare. The consequence was this brave Briton's defeat and death. As he drew near to Fort Du Quesne, he fell into a carefully prepared ambuscade. Four horses were shot under him. Mounting a fifth he spurred to the front to inspire his men, forbidding them seek the slightest cover, as Washington urged and as the provincials successfully did. The regulars, obeying, were half of them killed in their tracks, the remainder retreating, in panic at first, to Philadelphia. Braddock died, and was buried at Great Meadows, where his grave is still to be seen.
Washington was the only mounted officer in this action who was not killed or fatally wounded, a fact at the time regarded specially providential. On his return, aged twenty-three, the Rev. Samuel Davies, afterward President of the College of New Jersey, referred to him in his sermon as "that heroic youth, Colonel Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to his country."
The early part of this war witnessed the tragic occurrence immortalized by Longfellow's "Evangeline," the expulsion of the French from Acadia. The poem is too favorable to these people. They had never become reconciled to English rule, and were believed on strong evidence to be active in promoting French schemes against the English. It was resolved to scatter them among the Atlantic settlements. The act was savage, and became doubly so through the unmeant cruelties attending its execution. The poor wretches were huddled on the shore weeks too soon for their transports. Families were broken up, children forcibly separated from parents. The largest company was carried to Massachusetts, many to Pennsylvania, some to the extreme South. Not a few, crushed in spirit, became paupers. A number found their way to France, a number to Louisiana, a handful back to Nova Scotia.
Braddock was succeeded by the fussy and incompetent Earl of Loudon, 1756-57, whom Franklin likened to Saint George on the sign-posts, "always galloping but never advancing." He gathered twelve thousand men for the recapture of Louisburg, but exaggerated reports of the French strength frightened him from the attempt. Similar inaction lost him Fort William Henry on Lake George. The end of the year 1757 saw the English cause on this side at low ebb, Montcalm, the tried and brilliant French commander, having outwitted or frightened the English officers at every point.
From this moment all changes. William Pitt, subsequently Lord Chatham, now became the soul of the British ministry. George III. had dismissed him therefrom in 1757, but Newcastle found it impossible to get on without him. The great commoner had to be recalled, this time to take entire direction of the war.
Pitt had set his mind on the conquest of Canada. He superseded Loudon early in 1758 by General Amherst, who was seconded by Wolfe and by Admiral Boscawen, both with large re-enforcements. They were to reduce Louisburg. It was an innovation to assign important commands like these to men with so little fame and influence, but Pitt did not care. He believed his appointees to be brave, energetic, skilful, and the event proved his wisdom. Louisburg fell, and with it the whole of Cape Breton Island and also Prince Edward.
Unfortunately General Abercrombie had not been recalled with Loudon. The same year, 1758, he signally failed to capture Ticonderoga, leaving the way to Montreal worse blocked than before. Fort Du Quesne, however, General Forbes took this year at little cost, rechristening it Pittsburgh in honor of the heroic minister who had ordered the enterprise.
In the year 1759 occurred a grand triple movement upon Canada. Amherst, now general-in-chief, was to clear the Champlain Valley, and Prideaux with large colonial forces to reduce Fort Niagara. Both had orders, being successful in these initial attacks, to move down the St. Lawrence and unite with Wolfe, who was to sail up that river and beset Quebec. Prideaux was splendidly successful, as indeed was Amherst in time, though longer than he anticipated in securing Ticonderoga and Crown Point.
Meantime Wolfe at Quebec was trying in all ways to manoeuvre the crafty Montcalm out of his impregnable works. Failing, he in his eagerness suffered himself to attempt an assault upon the city, which proved not only vain but terribly costly. A weaker commander would now have given up, but Wolfe had red hair, and the grit usually accompanying. Undaunted, he planned the hazardous enterprise of rowing up the St. Lawrence by night, landing with five thousand picked men at the foot of the precipitous ascent to the Plains of Abraham, and scaling those heights to face Montcalm from the west. The Frenchman, stunned at the sight which day brought him, lost no time in attacking. In the hot battle which ensued, September 13, 1759, both commanders fell, Wolfe cheering his heroes to sure victory, Montcalm urging on his forlorn hope in vain. The English remained masters of the field and in five days Quebec capitulated.
Vaudreuil, the French commander at Montreal, sought to dislodge the English ere the ice left the river in the spring of1760, and succeeded in driving them within their works. Each side then waited and hoped for help from beyond sea so soon as navigation opened. It came the earlier to the English, who were gladdened on May 11th by the approach of a British frigate, the forerunner of a fleet. They now chased Vaudreuil back into Montreal, where they were met by Haviland from Crown Point and by Amherst from Oswego. France's days of power in America were ended. Her fleet of twenty-two sail intended for succor met total destruction in the Bay des Chaleurs and by the Peace of Paris, 1763, she surrendered to her victorious antagonist every foot of her American territory east of the Mississippi, save the city of New Orleans.
The Indians were thus left to finish this war alone. Pontiac, the brave and cunning chief of the Ottawas, aghast at the rising might of the English, and the certain fate of his race without the French for helpers, organized a conspiracy including nearly every tribe this side the Mississippi except the Six Nations, to put to the sword all the English garrisons in the West. Fatal success waited upon the plan. It was in 1763 Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph (southeast of Lake Michigan), Miami (Fort Wayne), Presque Isle (Erie, Pa.), Le Boeuf, Venango, and Pittsburgh were attacked and all but the last destroyed, soldiers and settlers murdered with indescribable barbarities. Pittsburgh held out till re-enforced, at dreadful cost in blood, by Colonel Bouquet and his Highlanders, who marched from Philadelphia.
The hottest and longest conflict was at Detroit, Major Gladwyn commanding, where Pontiac himself led the onset, heading perhaps a thousand men. The siege was maintained with fearful venom from May 11th till into October. The English tried a number of sallies, brave, fatal, vain, and were so hard pressed by their bloodthirsty foe that only timely and repeated re-enforcements saved them. At last the savages, becoming, as always, disunited and straitened for supplies, sullenly made peace; and at the call of the rich and now free Northwest, caravans of English immigrants thronged thither to lay under happiest auspices the foundations of new States.