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     Pitt and north America
     Wolfe and Quebec
     Peace treaties

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Washington in the Ohio valley: 1753-1755

It has been plain for some years that the Ohio valley is a dangerous area of friction between French and British colonists. Hostility turns to violence in 1752, when the French destroy a British trading centre at Pickawillany. They and their Indian allies then seize or evict every English-speaking trader in the vicinity of the upper Ohio.

The government of Virginia regards this as part of its territory and has been granting land in this region to colonists. Its response, in 1753, is to send an officer to warn the French of impending reprisals if they do not withdraw. The choice for this difficult mission falls on a 21-year-old, George Washington.

With a party of only six (including an interpreter and a guide), Washington sets out on 13 October 1753. A difficult winter journey brings them to a French fort, Le Boeuf, just south of Lake Erie. When Washington delivers his message to the officer in charge, he is politely but firmly told that the French intend to occupy the entire Ohio valley.

The return journey is even more unpleasant, including a ducking when crossing the freezing Allegheny river on a raft. On January 16 Washington and his party reach Williamsburg, where Washington rapidly writes up an account of his futile adventure. Sent to London and printed, it gives wide publicity to France's hostile intentions.

By April 1754 Washington is marching northwest again, this time with 160 soldiers. Virginians have begun building a fort at what is now Pittsburgh, with the intention of making the area safe for English trade. Washington's mission is to defend the young enterprise, but he finds that the French are ahead of him. They have already captured the British who are building the log palisade. And they have given the place a French name, Fort Duquesne.

Washington makes a surprise attack on a contingent of French troops, killing ten. It is the first blood in what will prove the conclusive war between French and British on American soil - the conflict known to English-language historians as the French and Indian War.

When Washington meets the main French force, he is outnumbered and he surrenders. The French disarm his men, but allow them to march back to Virginia - on a promise that the Virginians will not attempt to build another fort on the Ohio for a year.

The expedition has been a failure, but it has important consequences.The government in London has been reluctant to renew formal hostilities with the French, so soon after the peace of 1748. But it cannot allow American militiamen, or volunteers, to remain unsupported against French professional soldiers. In February 1755 Edward Braddock lands with a British army. Washington becomes his personal aide-de-camp.

Braddock and Washington head west through the Allegheny mountains from Fort Cumberland, with wagons for their baggage train supplied by settlers in the Conestoga valley (introducing a vehicle of great significance in American history). But the two generals are no more successful than Washington alone in recovering Fort Duquesne. Their army is ambushed by the French in July 1755 and Braddock is killed. For the third time in eighteen months Washington arrives back in Virginia after a failed mission.

But his courage and authority on the field of battle have not gone unnoticed. In August he is promoted to colonel and is appointed commander-in-chief of Virginia's troops. He is now twenty-three.

Montcalm: 1756-1758

The French success at Fort Duquesne in 1755 is followed by two more years of striking victories over the British. The broad battlefield is the border territory between French and British America - east of Lake Ontario and north of Albany.

Here the French take several important British frontier posts, largely thanks to the skills of the marquis of Montcalm who arrives in the summer of 1756 to command the French armies in America. Montcalm captures Oswego on Lake Ontario in 1756, and Fort William Henry (to the north of Albany) in 1757.

Montcalm's greatest success is the defence of Fort Carillon in July 1758. In a strategically important position at Ticonderoga, between Lake George and Lake Champlain, he hold it against a much larger British force - with more than 2000 British casualties compared to only 372 in the French army.

By now the French threat to the British colonies seems overwhelming. The western regions of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia are almost deserted as settlers flee to safety from marauding parties of the French or their Indian allies. But the tide is about to turn. The second half of 1758 brings British victories. By this time the conflict is part of the wider Seven Years' War.

Pitt and north America: 1758-1759

The changing fortunes of the British in north America in 1758-9 are largely due to the energy and skill of the man who in the summer of 1757 becomes secretary of state with responsibility for the war - William Pitt, known as Pitt the Elder (or, later, earl of Chatham). Pitt builds up Britain's navy and selects talented commanders on both sea and land.

His first success is an expedition sent out to capture the powerful fort at the eastern extremity of New France. Louisburg falls in July 1758 in an action in which a young officer, James Wolfe, distinguishes himself.

Four months later, in November 1758, there is a victory in the extreme west of the American war zone. The event is strategically less significant than the capture of Louisbourg, but symbolically it is most gratifying to the British.

The French capture of Fort Duquesne in 1754 began the war in America. Now four years later, on the advance of a British army (once again with George Washington commanding a contingent), the French burn their wooden fort and abandon the site. The commander of the British army writes to inform Pitt that he is giving the place a new name - Pittsburgh, in the secretary of state's honour.

In 1759 the French fort at Niagara is taken (a strategically important site), followed shortly by another event of sweet revenge - the capture of Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga, the site of a costly and embarrassing failure in the previous year.

The stage is now set for a final assault on the very heart of New France, the original settlements of Montreal and Quebec.

Wolfe and Quebec: 1759

To command the expedition against Quebec, Pitt selects the young officer, James Wolfe, who has distinguished himself in the previous year's capture of Louisbourg. Wolfe's opponent in this crucial encounter will be the most successful French general in this war, the marquis de Montcalm.

Wolfe's army, numbering about 8500, is brought up the St Lawrence River in British ships in June. Montcalm is defending Quebec with some 15,000 troops. The citadel is protected by the river to the south and by high cliffs to the west. Montcalm's army is firmly entrenched to the east of the city, blocking the only easy approach.

Wolfe spends nearly three months bombarding the citadel from across the river. He also attempts various unsuccessful assaults. Montcalm sits tight. Then, during the night of September 12, Wolfe puts into effect a bold plan.

He is himself in a weak state, from tuberculosis, but in the darkness he leads his men across the river, in boats with muffled oars, to the foot of a steep wooded cliff west of the city. At the top, 300 feet above the level of the river, is a plateau - the Plains of Abraham - with open access to Quebec. By dawn the British army is on the plateau. Only in battle can the city be defended now.

The battle for Quebec lasts little more than an hour before the French flee. But that hour has been long enough to claim the lives of both commanders. Montcalm is severely injured and dies the next day. Wolfe, wounded twice in the thick of the fighting, receives a third and mortal blow just as the tide of battle turns finally in his favour. The death of the 32-year-old general, at his moment of victory, becomes an icon in British popular history.

It is a profoundly significant victory. Without Quebec, Montreal is isolated. Surrounded by British armies, the commander of the city surrenders in September 1760. The whole of French Canada is now in British hands - a state of affairs confirmed in the Paris peace treaty of 1763.

Peace treaties: 1763

Two separate peace treaties are signed during February 1763. The earlier of the two, by five days, is agreed in Paris between Britain, France and Spain. The second, between Austria and Prussia, is signed at Hubertusburg in Saxony.

The settlement between Britain and Spain restores to Spain both Havana and Manila, captured in the previous year. But it rewards Britain with the acquisition of Florida (which reverts to Spain from 1783 to 1819), completing the stretch of British territory along the entire east coast of the American continent down to the Caribbean. The northern part of this stretch, in Canada, is acquired by Britain from France in the one major upheaval contained in these treaties.

France cedes to Britain all the territory which it has previously claimed between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, together with the original territories of New France along the St Lawrence. This brings to an end the French empire in America (only New Orleans and its district remain in French hands under the treaty). The British become unmistakably the dominant power in the northern half of the continent, in one of the major turning points of history.

The lands more notionally claimed by the French between the Mississippi and the Rockies are ceded to Spain. (They are later acquired by the USA, in 1803, in the Louisiana Purchase.)