Sunday, August 13, 2017

Episode 005: Jumonville & Fort Necessity

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

The close of King George's War in 1748 left no one satisfied.  In America, the two parties agreed to pull back to their borders that existed before the war. This frustrated New Englanders who had sacrificed a great deal to make small gains on the New England Canada border. More frustrating was the fact that the disputed territories in the Ohio Valley remained disputed.  A committee was supposed to make final border decisions in that area, but it never did.

Both France and England claimed that territory. The best way to secure a claim is to plant colonists on it and have them remain loyal to your country.  However, the Iroquois-controlled tribes living on that land did not want colonists from either side living there.  Moving in colonists too aggressively would simply cause the Indians to rise up and kill them and probably align themselves with the other country for future protection.

Over the prior decade, Indian tribes from Pennsylvania that had been forced to move west into the Ohio Valley had brought with them English traders. These were men who bought their furs and other goods and provided them with metal tools and other European goods that they could not manufacture themselves. So by the late 1740s, English trading posts dotted the territory with  support from local tribes.

France Attempts to Confirm its Land Claims

Concerned about these English encroachments, the French sent 200 Frenchmen and 30 Indians on a trip around the Great Lakes and through Ohio country in 1749.  The purpose was to renew French claims to the region, to gather intelligence on English presence in the area, and to impress upon the Indian populations that they remained under the French sphere of influence.  Capt. Pierre-Joseph de Céloronn de Blainville led the expedition.

The French were disturbed by the number of English traders they found on what they considered their territory.  However, they were not ready to start a war over the matter yet. They simply told the traders that they were trespassing on French territory and ordered them to leave they also ordered the local tribes to cease and desist trading with the English within their territory. In most cases, the English and the Indians simply ignored the orders, although they did report the incidents to colonial governments in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.  The French even buried lead plates at certain areas as a way of proving that they had been there, and that the land belonged to France.

The Ohio Company of Virginia

For the English colonists, moving into the Ohio Valley, as long as they could convince the local tribes to approve it, was their best method for laying claim to the land.  About the same time that the French Capt. Céloron was telling the English to “get off my lawn” and burying lead plates, King George II granted several new charters for Virginia colonists to claim land in the Ohio Valley and other western lands.

The King’s offer of free land was not without strings.  The Investors had to make agreements with the local tribes, settle at least 100 families, build a fort, and provide the necessary defenses and supplies to ensure the success of the venture.  All of this would cost money.

About two dozen investors, including wealthy Virginia Planters and a few London investors, formed a partnership called the Ohio Company of Virginia. The king had granted about 200,000 acres of land in the Ohio Valley with another three hundred thousand if they could successfully settle 100 families within 7 years.  Among the investors was Thomas Lee, Colonial governor of Virginia. Actually, the title he used himself was President of Virginia. Also among the original investors were Lawrence and Augustine Washington.

In addition to money, it was important the Company had political influence. The Colony would almost certainly have to provide military assistance and also promote policies that would encourage immigration into the new territories. Most of the investors were also members of the colony's House of Burgesses. When Governor Lee died suddenly in 1751. the astute investors quickly included the new Governor, Robert Dinwiddie to the group. Investor Lawrence Washington died in 1752. His younger half-brother George inherited some of his properties and also joined the company as a partner.

The Ohio Company established a “strong house” at Wills Creek, near modern day Cumberland Maryland, to be a launching point for expeditions into the Ohio Valley.  It was not big enough to be a fort.  Rather, it was a defensive building strong enough to defend against thieves or small raiding parties.  The company could store supplies there for use on expeditions.

France Establishes More Forts

France established Forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, 
and Machault in 1752-53.  The English estab- 
lished Fort Cumberland, then Washington built 
Fort Necessity during his advance, just south of 
"Jumonville Glen" where fighting took place. 
In July 1752, around the same time the Ohio Company was building its staging area at Wills Creek,  the Marquis Duquesne de Meneval, arrived at Quebec as the new Governor General arrived in Canada. He brought with him an aggressive agenda to secure as much land as possible.  The French erected a series of small forts, beginning with Fort Presque Isle on the southern shore of Lake Erie, where Erie, Pennsylvania now sits.  Fort Le Bouef was built a few miles south on French Creek a tributary leading into the Allegheny River.  Several miles further down river, they established Fort Machault.

The French also sent a military party of Canadians and Indians to destroy one of the largest English trading posts in the Ohio Valley.  While still trying to avoid starting a war by killing English colonists, they had no such compunctions about killing Indians who cooperated with the English.  The party ripped the heart out of one Indian trader and ate it. They allegedly boiled and ate another.  They destroyed the trading post and took other prisoners back to Detroit.

These barbaric acts, meant to shock and awe those who would fail to obey French rule, had their intended effect. The victims, Miami Indians, sought help from Pennsylvania, but  the Quaker government refused to get involved in a war.  As a result, the Miami secured a peace with the French and agreed to trade only with them.  The few colonists from Pennsylvania who had settled among the local tribes fled back east, not waiting until the French decided to turn on them as well.

Both the French and the British targeted the location where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers met to combine into the Ohio River as a key strategic point.  Whoever controlled that would control all river traffic in the Ohio Valley.  The French Fort Machault was about 75 miles up the Allegheny river.  The Ohio Company built another fortified strong house at Redcreek, about 40 miles up the Monongahela River.

Virginia Tells the French to Leave

In late 1753, Virginia and the Ohio Company decided it might be a good idea just to tell the French to leave.  They decided to send an emissary with a letter from Virginia Gov. Dinwiddie notifying the French that they were encroaching on British territory and that they should leave before things turned violent.  Such a mission called for diplomacy, tact, and experience to ensure the message was delivered without starting a war.  One would think the ability to speak French might also be a prerequisite.  Why they decided to leave the mission to an inexperienced 21 year old who knew no French has always bothered me.

The young man in charge of this mission was one of the youngest partners in the Ohio Company, an up and comer named George Washington.  Dinwiddie commissioned Washington a Major in the Virginia militia, despite no military training nor experience.  Washington assembled a small team of less than 10 men, some colonists, some Indians, including Jacob Van Braan, a translator who spoke both English and French, Christopher Gist, an agent for the Ohio Company who had already scouted out much of the territory, Tanaghrisson, the Iroquois leader in charge of overseeing the local tribes who were under Iroquois control, and a few others.
Washington and Gist traveling up
the Allegheny River*, by Daniel
Huntington (from

The expedition made its way through Ohio Valley, traveling down the Monongahela and up the Allegheny to Fort Machault. There, the commander told Washington to take his message further upstream to Fort LeBoeuf.  The French Commander at Fort LeBoeuf. Capt. Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre received the party and treated them respectfully.  Washington delivered a message from Gov. Dinwiddie demanding the French leave Virginia immediately.

Capt. Legardeur provided Major Washington with a written response that essentially said, I’ll pass this along to my higher ups, but this is French territory, and (respectfully) we are not leaving.

Both sides were determined not to back down, but neither wanted to be responsible for starting another war.  If war was inevitable, both sides wanted to say the other guy started it. Washington returned the note to Gov. Dinwiddie in Williamsburg.  He had done more than deliver a letter.  Washington took careful notes of French defenses and troop numbers.  He also kept an eye out for prime real estate where the Ohio Company might be able to set up villages.

Governor Dinwiddie promoted Washington to Lt. Col. and authorized him to raise a force of 200 soldiers to resist French encroachment into the Ohio Valley, which all Virginians believed was clearly just part of Virginia.  The Governor also handed out commissions to other Ohio Company members who were building additional strong houses in the Ohio Valley.  The next one would be the most controversial, a structure right at the forks of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.  The workers began construction in the middle of winter out of a concern that spring would see French ships moving down river to build their own fort.

Fort Duquesne

The local tribes were not outright hostile, but had no intention of cooperating with the English.  They refused to sell them food, even at inflated prices.  The local Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo well remembered the brutal French murder of Indians who had traded with the English a few years earlier.  The French seemed to be the better bet, and picking the wrong side could have fatal consequences.

Despite the local pro-French bias, Tanaghrisson, the Iroquois agent in charge of the Ohio Valley tribes was clearly pro-English. His authority came from the Iroquois, who though technically neutral, generally sided with the English.  He also told people that the French had killed and eaten his father.  Tanaghrisson personally helped build the strong house with the English where the three rivers met.

Just about the time they finished the house in April 1754, about 500 French Canadians and allied Indians arrived on the site with about 15 cannon.  The small force of about 40 men inside the structure, mostly builders, not soldiers, surrendered to the superior force.  The men were treated well and permitted to leave with their possessions.

The French decided that a much more imposing fort was needed at the site.  The named it Fort Duquesne in honor of the new Governor General of Canada.

As the French established Fort Duquesne, Washington had been making his way up to the forks when he received word of the surrender.  He had failed to recruit the 200 man regiment, having acquired only 160 men with little training, equipment, or supplies.  Most of them had joined with the inducement of receiving land around the forks to start their own farms.  Now that it was clear that the land would not be available, most wanted to give up and go home.

Gov. Dinwiddie refused to allow the advance to stop.  He told Washington the men should be satisfied with their agreed pay of eight pence per day.  If that doesn’t sound like much, you would be right.  It is about one-third of what a common laborer would make in a far less demanding and dangerous job.  The Governor ordered the Regiment to press on.  This pathetic 160 man regiment had no hope of retaking the entrenched French force of over 500.  Yet Washington was under orders to capture or kill anyone who resisted British settlement of the region.

Washington received promises of reinforcements, but had to press ahead until they arrived.  The men began cutting their way through the forest, building a trail toward the Red Creek Strong House.  They proceeded only 2-3 miles per day, hoping that the reinforcements would catch up with them before they made contact with the enemy.

Jumonville Massacre

Local Indians informed the French troop busily constructing Fort Duquesne that a force of several hundred British troops was headed in their direction.  The commander sent an Ensign named Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville with a command of 35 soldiers to find the English, gather intelligence and order them to leave French territory.  Jumonville was not expected to attack a force of several hundred with his 35 men.  Rather, his goal was simply to make first contact, size up the enemy, and report back to the Commander at Fort Duquesne.

Washington learned through informants that a French force was only a few miles away to the north.  His men were in open country, about half way between the Wills Creek Fort and Fort Red Creek. He sent about half his force, 75 men under Capt. Peter Hogg to move up river and intercept the enemy.  That night though, Tanaghrisson, arrived in camp with news that the French were only a few miles away.  The intercept force of 75 men had marched off in the wrong direction.  Now Washington was in the middle of nowhere, at night, with an enemy force nearby with unknown intentions.

Washington led a force of 47 men, along with Tanaghrisson and a few of his warriors, to seek out the enemy in a nighttime raid.  What happened next differs greatly depending on the account.  Based on the varied accounts, this is what I think happened:

Washington and his men approached the French camp near dawn on May 28, 1754.  Their Indian allies moved to the other side of the camp to surround the French.  French soldiers became alerted to the English presence and began to stir excitedly, going for their guns and getting ready to defend against a surprise attack.  A French soldier may have fired a shot in the excitement, but the British fired at least two volleys into the camp, killing or wounding at least a dozen men.  Some French tried to flee the camp, only to encounter Tanaghrisson and his Indians in their rear.
Washington at Jumonville Glen* by Junius Brutus Stearns
(from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

At some point, the French commander Jumonville was able to call for a ceasefire, after being wounded.  He stated that he was there simply to deliver the French message that the British were trespassing and should depart, much like Washington had done at Fort LeBoeuf the prior year.  Before he could finish reading the letter, Tanaghrisson grabbed a tomahawk and split open his skull.  According to some witness accounts, Tanaghrisson made a comment that he was doing this to avenge his father.  At this point the other Indians began killing the French wounded before the British could stop them.  The surviving French were returned to Virginia under guard as prisoners.  At least one though, escaped to return to Fort Duquesne and report on the massacre.

Washington’s official account does not mention that several of those killed, including Ensign Jumonville, were wounded in the battle and executed after the fighting ceased.  Washington’s account also says the French fired first. The French report that Washington’s men fired on them while they were in camp and before the French even knew they were there.  French and Indian witnesses also say that the British began murdering the wounded after they had surrendered and that their Indian allies had to intervene to stop the killing.  English witnesses say the Indian allies began to kill the wounded and that the British had to stop them.

Regardless of what actually happened, the French were convinced that the British had massacred their diplomatic party.  The British believed that the French had been rightfully prevented from a continued invasion of British territory and that the Indian allies may have gotten a little out of control, as they were often prone to do.  Both sides blamed the other for what was well on its way to becoming a real war.

Fort Necessity

After the battle, Washington built a small log palisade nearby which he named Fort Necessity.  This was a circular log fence about 50 feet in diameter with a few trenches. Washington, who had never built a fort before and had no engineering education or experience, thought it an adequate defense to repel any force of up to 500 men.

Reinforcements finally arrived in June, 200 more militiamen from Virginia and about 100 British Regulars from South Carolina.  On June 16, 1754, Washington decided to leave the British Regulars at Fort Necessity (since they refused to take orders from a Colonial Militia commander) and press forward with 300 Virginians to take back Fort Duquesne.

The reinforcements had brought supplies and arms, including nine swivel guns (small cannon). Washington did not know the size of the force at Fort Duquesne but was determined to defeat it.  He also relied on Tanaghrisson to rally local allies from among the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo tribes.

Not only did the tribes refuse to join, they indicated that they were likely going to help the French.  The British were offering nothing but great risk to themselves and their families.  If they won, the British would simply begin bringing in colonists that would force the local tribes to give up even more land.  They had no inclination to help with any of this.  Disheartened, Tanaghrisson not only gave up recruitment efforts, he gathered up his remaining warriors and families and retreated back to the relative safety of central Pennsylvania.  Ironically, he would die there, of pneumonia, less than a year later.

Without Indian allies, Washington continue to press on, making extremely slow time trying to get the heavy weapons and wagons through the forest.  On June 28, still miles from Red Creek Fort, and after receiving word that a large French force had left Fort Duquesne with the purpose of driving all the British out of the Valley, Washington decided to give up his advance and pull back to Fort Necessity.  There, at least, he could meet the French in a defensive posture.

Most of their horses had died during the difficult advance.  Washington’s troops had to drag the wagons and weapons 20 miles back to Fort Necessity over two days.  The men were exhausted when they arrived on July 1.  The following day it began to rain.  The fort was built in a valley which pooled the water, and filled the trenches.  There was no roof so only those few soldiers with tents had any shelter.  By July 3, only 300 of the 400 soldiers were fit for duty.  Most of those who were fit were still wet, hungry, and generally unhappy.

At around 11:00 AM the 600 French soldiers and militiamen, along with about 100 Indian allies arrived at the Fort.  Their commander was Capt. Louis Coulon de Villiers, half-brother of the deceased Ensign Jumonville.  Washington marched his men out of the Fort and lined them up for battle, expecting European style face to face field combat.  The French commander though, saw no point to that.  He deployed his men behind trees on the hills overlooking the fort and began firing.

Washington’s men ran back into the fort where they spent the day hiding from French who fired into the fort from the surrounding hills.  The rain had disabled most of the British guns, meaning they could not fire back even if they saw a target.  By evening, nearly one-third of the fort’s defenders were dead or wounded.  The men, assuming they would be massacred the following day, broke into the Fort’s store of rum and got drunk.  Things did not look good.
Night Council at Fort Necessity*
(from Wikimedia Commons)

Then came some  hope.  Around dusk, the French called out to discuss terms.  The French demanded that Washington sign articles of surrender, return prisoners who had been captured at the Jumonville massacre, and agree to leave and stay out of the Ohio Valley for at least one year.  Under these terms, the men would be free to leave with their possessions and arms, except for a couple of hostages to be held until the French prisoners were returned. Given the circumstances, this seemed rather generous.

What was unclear about the terms, written in French as Washington was struggling to read at night and in the rain, was that they blamed Washington for the “assassination” of Jumonville and provided the French with a justification to declare war based on the young colonist’s actions.  Washington signed the treaty and returned home.

The Marquis Du Quesne had successfully removed all British from the Ohio Valley, established a French military presence down to the Ohio River, and forced the British to accept all blame for the conflict.  With his goals achieved, he sought reassignment to a naval command.

Washington was seen as a failure.  Facing demotion, he resigned his commission.  Having failed to accomplish any of the goals laid out by Britain or Virginia, and having been responsible for starting a war, the 22 year old Washington may have felt that military life perhaps was not for him.

Next week:  British officials in London send a force to clean up Washington’s mess in the Ohio Valley.

* Artist renderings made long after the fact may not portray events accurately.

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

Further Reading:

Web Sites: 

The Ohio Company of Virginia:

Thomas Lee’s Vision for Virginia:

Fort Le Boeuf:

Frontier Forts:

Gov. Dinwiddie’s letter to the French demanding they leave the Ohio Valley (1753):

French Response to Dinwiddie (1753):

Washington’s Journal Account of Jumonville (1754):

Shaw’s Account of Jumonville (1754):

French Report of Jumonville (1754)

Free Books
(from unless otherwise noted)

The Ohio Company of Virginia and the Westward Movement, 1748-1792, by Kenneth Bailey (1939).

Washington's expeditions (1753-1754) and Braddock's expedition (1755), by James Hadden, (1910).

The History of Canada, Vol. 3, by William Kingsford,  (1887).

History of Cumberland, by William Harrison Lowdermilk (1878).

George Croghan and the Westward Movement, 1741-1782, by Albert Volwiler (1922)

A review of the military operations in North America: from the commencement of the French hostilities on the frontiers of Virginia in 1753, to the surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August, 1756, by William  Livingston, William Smith, and William Alexander, called Lord Stirling (1757) (This was written by contemporaries living in the colonies as the events transpired).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000).

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

The Ohio Frontier: An Anthology of Early Writings, by Emily Foster (ed) (1996)

Empires at War, by William M. Fowler, Jr. (2005).

Empire of Fortune, by Francis Jennings (1988).

* (Book links to are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Episode 004: Britain, France, and the Indians

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

Now I know we are already on episode 4, and nowhere near close to discussing the actual American Revolution.  Before we get into the Revolution itself, I need to go through the events leading up to the war.  A big part of that is the French and Indian War.  We see many leaders of the Revolution, from both sides, getting their start in that war.  It also gives rise to some of the divisive issues that eventually lead to the Revolution.

I am going to ask even more patience by pointing out that today’s episode will not even get into the French and Indian War.  I want to talk about the relations between the English, the French, and the various Indian tribes that would play a role in that war.  Next week though, I promise will get into some actual discussions of fighting.

British and French Boundary Disputes 

North America, during French and Indian War (Wikipedia Commons)
As the French and Indian War began, Britain was solidly in control of the east coast of what is today the United States, except for Spain controlled Florida. Further north, Britain had extinguished claims by the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and others.  Its policy of encouraging massive colonization had helped to secure its claims.  Britain had a colonial population of 1.5 million, while New France’s population totaled only around 75,000.

The powerful British navy had forced France to cede Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in what is today Canada after the War of Spanish Succession in 1713.  At the same time, it also received control of the “Hudson Bay Company area which is most of Northern Canada today.  This was not considered a terribly significant concession at the time.  Much of the war was fought over control of various parts of Europe.  France cared much more about valuable Caribbean colonies with large cash crops.  Canada’s territory was mostly about offshore fishing rights and a thriving but not terribly profitable fur industry..

The area known as New France, and later Louisiana, accessed the Atlantic ocean via the St. Lawrence River.  France still controlled land around the Great Lakes region further inland.  French claims extended down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers all the way to French controlled New Orleans.  The French had made a number of failed attempts to create forts and outposts in the 1500’s. Most failed quickly from starvation, disease, and/or Indians.  By the early 1600’s however, France began to establish some successful permanent outposts.  More than a century later, there were long standing and well established French colonies in Quebec, Montreal, Detroit, Green Bay, and numerous smaller ones along the St. Lawrence River and around the Great Lakes.  In addition, The French had established claims at the mouth of the Mississippi River, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  France laid claim to all of the Mississippi Valley and created forts and colonies along there as well.  One of the largest was St. Louis in modern day Missouri.

Many of Britain’s colonial grants to colonies created no western border.  Some colonies made legal claims to land all the way across the continent to the Pacific. Of course, theoretical claims did not matter much since virtually no colonists had moved west of the Appalachian mountains, only a few hundred miles inland.  These mountains separated the French and English colonists for centuries.

By the mid-1700’s however, French were beginning to move south in larger numbers into the Ohio Valley.  At the same time, English colonists were pushing west.  Virginia in particular was interested in settling the Ohio valley.  These competing claims gave rise to war.  All colonial powers knew that legal claims meant little unless you had people living on the land willing to back those claims, and military might to support those settlers.

Britain and France’s Long History of Warfare

In the prior half century, Britain and France had gone to war on at least six separate occasions, many involving in part disputes over colonies in North America.  Here is a brief summary:
  1. The War of the Grand Alliance, or Nine Year’s War (also called King William’s War) (1688-1697).  In the American theater, this mostly involved border raids primarily between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and French Canadians.  No major border changes resulted from the war. This war was mostly an extension of a larger war in Europe caused when the English deposed the Pro-French Catholic King James II in favor of William and Mary.
  2. The War of the Spanish Succession (also called Queen Anne’s War) (1701–1714): The European war involved all the major powers in a fight over whether Spain would fall under the control of French Royal family. In America, this involved fighting on three fronts: between New England Colonies against New France, between the Carolinas and Georgia against Spanish Florida, and between English and French Colonists in Newfoundland.  The War ended up forcing France to cede parts of northern Canada, eastern Quebec and Newfoundland to the British.
  3. Jacobite Uprising (1715-1716): France attempted to restore a pro-French Catholic King to the British throne after the death of Queen Anne.
  4. Dummer's War (1721–1725): Primarily, this was a border dispute in Maine between Massachusetts and New France.
  5. The War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748): This actually included several Wars, including the War of Jenkins Ear, started after a Spanish naval captain cut off the ear of the British merchant vessel captain named Jenkins, the First Carnatic War, which involved disputes over colonies in India, and King George’s War in America.  It also included another attempt by the French to encourage and support another Jacobite uprising in Britain to overthrow the Protestant King George.  The American theater was known as King George’s War. involved intense fighting between New England colonists and the French colonists to the north, along with their Indian Allies.
  6. Second Carnatic War (1749–1754): France and England fought again over control of various parts of India.

 Again, these were only the wars Britain fought against France during this period.  Britain also participated in the Great Northern War (1700-1721) in support of King George I, who was involved because of his rule in Hanover.  Britain even found time to ally itself with France in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1717–1720) against Spain.  Britain found itself in an almost constant state of war with someone for the preceding couple of generations.  More often than not, France was on the other side.

In fighting these wars, Britain was not always sacrificing a generation of soldiers.  Most European powers fought wars with relatively small professionally trained armies.  Paying for a good army was a cost of running a country.  Using that army effectively is how one obtained more wealth and political strength against one’s neighbors.

New England Attacks Louisburg in Canada with the help of
the British Navy, during King George's War, 1745
(Wikimedia Commons)
In the colonies, the British government often relied on colonial militia to provide the necessary soldiers. This often led to a much larger toll of human life for the colonists. In King George’s War, for example, Massachusetts devoted a great deal of money and manpower to push back French borders and claim more land for the colony.  It is estimated that around 8% of the adult male population in Massachusetts died in that war.  When Britain decided to give back those captured lands to France in the interests of securing other land in Europe, many colonists were outraged.  They were fighting for their lives, while European nobility simply used them as pawns.

In the early 1750’s, when both Britain and France began a shoving match over the Ohio Valley, no one would have been surprised to see another big war on the horizon.  The resolution of King George’s War in 1748 essentially passed off the competing claims between Britain and France to a commission to work out the details.  The Commission never resolved anything, leading both countries to push ahead and take what they could get.

At first glance, it would seem that the French had a very untenable position.  There were about 75,000 French colonists in all of North America, compared to about 1.5 million colonists living in the British colonies.  Militia would make up the bulk of the forces. Britain’s colonial population twenty times that of France gave it the clear advantage..

The French, therefore, were much more reliant on alliances with Indian tribes.  French colonies tended to have closer relationships with the native population than did the British.  French trappers had a thriving fur trading business with local tribes.  Frenchmen frequently intermarried with the Indians and had formed strong bonds with them.  British colonials traded with local tribes, but more commonly maintained their own separate communities with less interaction.

At this time, there were virtually no European colonists from either side living in the Ohio Valley. Most of the land fell under the control of the Iroquois Confederacy.  Parts of the border areas to the north and east were controlled by the Algonquin speaking Wabanaki Confederacy.  Neither of these groups had any sort of strong central government.  Rather, they were coalitions of smaller tribes who interacted and traded with one another, but operated independently.

The Indians of the French and Indian War

Today we often look back with hindsight on the Indian tribes of North America as inferior militarily, doomed to give way to European conquest.  But in the mid-18th Century, several very powerful tribes and confederations stood as substantial military forces, with the ability to hold their own against the European powers. Colonies and nations entered into treaties with them, went to considerable expense to maintain their alliances, and recognized that respect for native cooperation was a key to colonization.

If the various tribes had remained united in opposition to the European powers, we probably would have seen a very different story unfold.  Unfortunately for the Indians, they never could develop a sustained united opposition, at least not until the 19th century when it was far too late.  Rather, many tribes were more interested in European alliances that would improve their positions against neighboring tribes.  Aside from these divisions, the devastation from European diseases also contributed largely to their eventual downfall.

The Iroquois

At the time though, the Iroquois Confederacy dominated the Great Lakes Region.  The origins of the Confederacy are not very clear. However it seems that they organized sometime in the 1400s.  The Confederacy originally comprised five tribes   Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.  In 1722, a sixth tribe joined, the Tuscarora.   Based on language and cultural traditions, anthropologists believe the Iroquois migrated north from southern tribes, invading the Algonquin speaking region of the Great Lakes.
Tribes in NY and south NE around 1650 (Wikimedia Commons)

According to oral history, these divided Iroquois tribes had fought with one another continuously for generations.  Confederacy allowed them to work together as a coalition of tribes in their own mutual interest.  They shared a common language, culture, and religion.  The need for mutual defense against other larger hostile tribes probably also contributed to the decision to unite.  The Iroquois were never a particularly large group.   For most of their existence, the five tribes combined probably never amounted to more than a few thousand people.  Their territory was originally limited to what is today part of upstate New York and a small sliver of southern Canada.

The Iroquois Confederacy was able to take on power exceeding its size after forming a trading alliance with the Dutch who, in the early 1600s settled in what is today New York.  With Dutch arms and ammunition, the Iroquois became one of the first tribes in the region with significant numbers of firearms.  This advantage allowed the Confederacy to expand its territory drastically.  The Iroquois claimed control of lands which now make up New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.  Some of these claims seem to be a reach as the Iroquois could never really sustain the subservience of other tribes in all of these areas.

Much of the focus was on maintaining the valuable control of trade with the European powers.  Many tribes at least nominally acquiesced to Iroquois control while still largely running their own affairs.  The result, however, was that the Iroquois controlled all diplomatic relations with the Europeans.  They made treaties on behalf of other tribes who were often powerless to object to them.

For most of the 1600s, the Iroquois were hostile to the French because of French alliances with the Huron, an enemy tribe of the Iroquois.  It did not help that for a period of time the French decided to kidnap as many Iroquois as they could to ship back to France as galley slaves.

Around 1700, the Iroquois adopted a policy of neutrality, which allowed them to play themselves off between the French and British as it suited them.  Generally though, when forced to pick a side, the Iroquois sided with the British.

Walking Purchase

Waking Purchase claim, 1737
(cropped from Wikimedia Commons)
Many conquered tribes were not terribly happy living under Iroquois rule.  The Delaware and Shawnee thought they were cheated out of land in Pennsylvania through several treaties.  One such deal, which will be more of an issue later, was the Walking Purchase.  In 1737, the owner of Pennsylvania, Thomas Penn found a 50 year old document between his father William Penn and several local Chiefs.  The document, which Penn characterized as a deed, granted to Penn land for as far as a man could walk in a day and a half from an area near modern day Wrightstown PA.  Although the 1686 document had never been executed, was not signed, and despite the fact that all of the parties involved were now dead, Penn decided to enforce the terms of the agreement and measure off the land that that was acquired by it.  To determine the land, Penn hired three long distance runners to maximize how much land they could walk in a day and a half.  Roads were cut for them and boats stood by to carry them over any water impediments in order to maximize their distance.  The best runner made it over 65 miles to an area near modern day Jim Thorpe.  A creatively drawn border from that point back to the Delaware river added even more land to the claim, about 1200 sq miles in all.

Iroquois leaders took bribes (or gifts depending on one’s perspective) from the colony and ratified the deal.  At the meeting to resolve disputes, the Iroquois leader Canasatego insulted the Delaware laying the blame on them for dealing with the English rather than allowing the Iroquois to negotiate on their behalf: “You deserve to be taken by the hair of your heads and shaken till you recover your senses and become sober. We have seen a deed signed by your chiefs above fifty years ago, for this very land. But how came you to take upon yourselves to sell land at all? We conquered you; we made women of you.”  The Delaware did not have the power to resist and were forced to leave the land immediately, some moving north, others moving west.

In another 1744 Treaty in Lancaster, the Iroquois sold lands in the Shenandoah Valley also home to Shawnee, Delaware, and Catawba tribes.  This time, however, the Iroquois themselves felt cheated after the Virginians claimed the treaty gave them control of the entire Ohio Valley as well.  Still, the Iroquois remained on good terms with Virginia, as the Colony had not yet tried to settle the area.  The Iroquois were more afraid of French incursions and needed the British to support Iroquois presence there.

The Iroquois themselves never became a particularly large population.  At their height, they numbered around 12,000.  They likely controlled or claimed control over about 100,000 other native people throughout the larger region.

The Wabanaki Confederacy

The Wabanaki were also a group of different tribes. The original Wabanaki Confederacy consisted of the Abenaki, the Penobscot, the Maliseet, the Passamaquoddy, and the Mi'kmaq.  They spoke an Algonquian language, very different from the neighboring Iroquois.  They originally populated New England and Eastern Canada. New England colonists mostly wiped out these tribes, with survivors moving inland toward the Great Lakes.  This history with New Englanders made them particularly likely to side with the French in any dispute.

The Wabanaki were the traditional enemies of the Iroquois.  They were larger in number but not nearly as well organized or armed.  Some tribes allied with the Wabanaki did speak the Iroquois language but were not part of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Many of these tribes were early allies with French explorers and traders.  They developed a booming and profitable fur trade with the French.  This interaction unfortunately resulted in the death of large portions of their population from European diseases.

These tribes further suffered from Iroquois expansion during the 1600s.  Many smaller tribes were wiped out or forced to migrate to other lands.  As I mentioned already, many New England tribes were forced into Canada by British colonists.  Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that if the British and Iroquois were on one side of a fight, the Wabanaki and most other Indians not under the control of the Iroquois would be on the French side.


I’ve already mentioned the Delaware who lived under Iroquois control.  As a result of land claims in Pennsylvania, the tribes had divided into the Eastern Delaware, who lived in the Northeastern part of the colony, north of the Walking Purchase, and the Western Delaware, who lived in what is today Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley.  Other tribes living among the Western Delaware were the Mingo and Shawnee, also under Iroquois control.

Around the Great Lakes, we find other tribes generally friendly with the French.  These included the Huron, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Wyandot.  Further west, we find the Illinois Confederation.The Illinois had less contact with Europeans generally.  If they did, it was usually the French.

Further south, the Cherokee dominated.  This group, found mostly around the area that is now eastern Tennessee, and the western Carolinas, interacted with the southern colonies.  They traded for arms and other supplies, becoming rather dependent on the English for trade.  Further south the Creek tribes still lived in parts of what is now western Georgia and Florida.  The Creek had less contact with the English and tended to interact more with Spanish outposts along the Gulf coast. As Georgia moved into their territory they began to trade more with the English colonists there as well.


Ok, got all that?  For the purposes of the upcoming war, just remember Iroquois - Pro-English, Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo, subservient to Iroquois.  Pretty much all the other northern tribes: pro-French.

We are now finally done with introductions and backgrounds.

Next week, the Virginians move into the Ohio Valley igniting another world war.

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

Further Reading:

More Resources about today’s topic.

Web Sites: 

French Immigration to New France:

The Iroquois Confederacy:

The Walking Purchase:

More Walking Purchase:

Even more on the Walking Purchase:

Treaty of Lancaster (1744):

Illinois Confederation:

Free Books
(from unless otherwise noted)

Treaty of Lancaster, 1744 (1905).

The Iroquois Confederacy, by Rufus Blanchard, (1902).

The Border Wars of New England, commonly called King William's and Queen Anne's wars, by Samuel Adams Drake (1897).

The peace of Utrecht : a historical review of the great treaty of 1713-14, and of the principal events of the War of the Spanish Succession, by James W. Gerard (1885).

The Walking Purchase, by H. A. Jacobson (1911).

The Papers of Sir William Johnson, by Sir William Johnson (1921): Johnson served as the British Indian Agent, and lived with the Iroquois.  He will feature prominently in future episodes.

Fontenoy and Great Britain's share in the war of the Austrian succession, 1741-1748, by Francis Henry Bennett Skrine (1906).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

The War of the Austrian Succession, by Reed Browning (1995).

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014).

The War of the Spanish Succession 1701 - 1714, by James Falkner (2015).

The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy, by William N. Fenton (2010).

The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, by Francis Jennings  (1984).

Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Past, by Daniel Richter (2011).

* (Book links to are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Episode 003: The British Background

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

Last week I gave a brief introduction to the colonies.  Today I want to go though a brief history of England during the colonial period so we all know where they are coming from.

King Henry VIII Leaves the Church

King Henry VIII
British interest in colonization really began to take hold during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII had forced England to convert to Protestantism.  This move separated England from mostly Catholic Europe.

Henry had broken with Church order to divorce and remarry.  He wanted to sire a male heir and provide for a stable transition to the next generation.  Leaving the Catholic Church, however, created massive instability for England for the next two centuries.

Many members of the royal family, including several who were in line to inherit the Crown, remained Catholic, leading to power struggles.  Elizabeth even had her own half sister, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots killed as part of those struggles.

The English Protestant reformation which Henry began also led to religious radicals pushing the government even further.  They argued that the Anglican Church remained “too Catholic” in its doctrine and practices.  They fought for a purer form of Protestantism like Luther and Calvin were promoting on the continent.  These Puritans would eventually start the English Civil War and would also be a large part of the colonization movement.

Britain Gets Interested in Colonization

Queen Elizabeth I
During the reign of Elizabeth, many British grew wealthy by raiding Spanish treasure galleons. Piracy was probably Britain's largest cash industry, although when the Queen supported it, they called it privateering.  Private adventurers would receive letters of Marque from the Queen, authorizing them to raid and plunder ships belonging to whatever country England was fighting at the time.

Seeing the literally tons of gold, silver, and other valuables that Spain brought back from its American colonies, many British adventurers thought it might not be a bad idea to get their own piece of the action. Spain had done its best to explore, conquer, and colonize as much of the Americas as quickly as it could.  But after a century, there were still many hundreds of miles of coast that had only seen an occasional explorer, with no real settlements.  Deciding that possession of the land through occupied colonies was a path to riches and power, Britain got into the colony game. Armed with a powerful navy, British colonists spread all over the world. North America was only one destination.  Others were the Caribbean, India, Africa, and the far east.

Hopes of finding large piles of gold and silver in America did not really work out.  Instead, the colonists focused on cash crops. Setting up colonies was not easy.  These were wilderness areas. Colonists had to cut down forests, clear fields, build towns, all in addition to trying to grow their own food, let alone cash crops for investors at home.  It could be difficult to convince people to pull up stakes, make an expensive and dangerous sea crossing, only to land in a wilderness where starvation, disease, and indian attack were common ends.  England had to populate America to make colonial claims stick against other European claims. In addition to offering the promise of cheap land and potential wealth, England found that promises of religious freedom was a good lure for many.

Essentially, Britain’s long term strategy was to tell lots of people to go settle in North America and be British.  In return for this nominal loyalty, the government mostly left them alone, levied no taxes, and did not enforce much of any restrictions.  The British provided military and diplomatic support for colonists.  The benefit to Britain was the hugely profitable trade in raw materials from its colonies.

The fact is, the 1600’s and early 1700’s were turbulent times for Britain.  It had neither the time nor inclination to get involved in colonial affairs.  The domestic situation took up far too much of its time and attention.  When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 she left no heirs (a major downside of being “the Virgin Queen”).  The next in line was the son of her deceased cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

King James I

King James I
James was already King James VI of Scotland, not yet united with England.  He was also a Protestant, unlike his mother. When he became King James I of England, he would rule over both England and Scotland as separate countries. Although a Protestant, James was a little too tolerant of Catholics.  This enraged Puritan elements within the nobility.  James never got along with the Puritans.  James also focused on establishing better relations with Catholic Spain.  This did not win him any points with the Puritans either.

Like many monarchs James approved of colonization, but did not give it much attention.  He allowed private companies to set up colonies with his approval.  But private investors took all the risks and management headaches.  He approved the Virginia Company’s settlement of British colonies in Bermuda and Virginia (Jamestown being named in his honor).  Although he paid it little attention, the Plymouth Colony in modern day Massachusetts also commenced towards the end of his reign.

King Charles I

King Charles I
Following James’ death in 1625, his son King Charles I ascended to the throne.  From the very beginning, things did not go well.  For starters, Charles married the 15 year old daughter of the French King.  The fact that the 25 year old Charles was marrying a 15 year old girl was no scandal.  The fact that she was a Catholic was very much so.  The King was trying to develop better relations with Catholic France.  This did not sit well with English puritans. That the King also appointed Catholics to important positions within his administration only worsened things.

Parliament refused to grant the new King any money.  By tradition, Parliament would set an annual allowance for a new King, through which he would run the government.  Parliament refused to do so until the King addressed their grievances.  Charles tried to summon new Parliaments several times but could not get an agreeable Parliament to meet.  In the end, he ruled for 11 years without a Parliament.  This was tricky since the government could not raise money without Parliament.  Instead, the King had to resort to legal loopholes to raise money.

For example, existing law permitted the King to demand ships from his nobles in time of emergency.  If the noble did not have a ship capable of use in naval service, he could provide money in lieu of a ship.  Since the King could define whatever he liked as an emergency without challenge, King Charles simply declared an emergency for no reason and demanded “ship money” from his nobles.

Some Puritans grew so frustrated with Charles’ rule, that they left the country and formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Charles was happy to be rid of them and granted them a Royal Charter to go live with the troublesome Pilgrims across the Atlantic.  Charles also granted a Royal Charter to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, an influential member of government who inconveniently declared himself a Catholic and was forced to resign from most of his government positions.  He eventually thought it best to leave England and received a charter to settle the Colony of Maryland (named after Charles’ Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria).

During this same period, other countries took advantage of the British neglect.  The Swedes set up a colony in what is today Delaware, and the Dutch established a colony in what is now New York.

Charles did not have time to focus on colonies.  He had to give his attention to fighting with Parliament.  Eventually those political battles gave way to real military battles in the English Civil War.  Charles eventually lost his head, literally, to Parliamentary forces and England no longer had a King.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell
Following the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell, a former member of Parliament and leader of the Parliamentary army that overthrew King Charles, became “Lord Protector of the Realm.” He was essentially King in all but name for about a decade, from 1649-1658.  He spent most of this time blocking royalist challenges and subduing Ireland.  Cromwell mostly ignored North America.  A large number of royalists, however, decided to head for Virginia during the reign of Cromwell, mostly to avoid punishment for opposing him in the Civil War.

Cromwell’s death in 1658 saw his son take control.  Richard Cromwell never achieved a satisfactory power sharing arrangement between the army and Parliament.  Within a year, King Charles II, son of Charles I, overthrew Cromwell and restored the monarchy.

Tories and Whigs

Before getting into the restoration monarchy, I want to talk about parties.  The English Civil War gave birth to the two political parties that would dominate English politics for centuries.  The Tory party was the political party of the Cavaliers, the Royalists who supported King Charles I during the Civil War and the restoration of Charles II.  The Whig party was the political child of the Roundheads, the Puritans who supported Cromwell and Parliament against the King.

The Roundheads got their name from the fact that they wore short and close cropped hair, making their heads look round when compared to the long flowing manes of the royalist cavaliers.  One might be tempted to think that starting to wear whigs over that short hair gave rise to the name of the Whig Party, but that is not the case.  The term Whig was originally a pejorative term derived from the Scottish “whiggamore” one who wrangled horses, what we would call a cowboy.  By the time of the English Civil War, the term Whig essentially meant a country bumpkin, not too bright or street smart.  Members of this new party eventually decided to “own” the pejorative and take it as their name.

The other party’s name “Tory” was also a pejorative originally referring to Irish outlaws, often Catholics who had been forced off their land and into a life of crime.  It began to be used in politics as a reference to supporters of the pro-Catholic King James and several of his Catholic descendents.  Like the Whig Party, the Tories decided to “own” the term after a time and adopted it as their party name.

King Charles II

King Charles II
After his restoration to the throne in 1660, Charles II reigned for twenty-five years.  Between his work restoring the authority of the Crown, dealing with still hostile Puritans, an angry Ireland and Scotland, as well as the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, he might be forgiven for neglecting the colonies and foreign policy.  But Charles actually showed a keener interest in the colonies than most of his predecessors.

Part of the reason was a war with the Netherlands.  England and France united in war against the Netherlands during the late 1660’s and 1670’s.  As part of this War, Charles decided to take the New Netherlands colonies and bring them under English control.  This assured that the area that is now New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware would come under British authority.  In addition, Charles attempted to create the failed Dominion of New England, which I discussed last week.

Charles provided a royal charter in 1663 for the colony of Carolina (the name derived from the latin name for Charles).  He appointed eight Lords Proprietors to rule the colony, which had already been settled by Virginia Colonists moving south for at least a decade.

Charles’ reign also saw the creation of the Pennsylvania colony in 1682.  This was not a Royal initiative.  William Penn was the son of a British Admiral.  Early in life, Penn converted to the Quaker faith, which was outlawed in England.  Penn lived in Ireland for a time, and worked with Quakers establishing a colony in New Jersey.  After the death of his father, Penn asked Charles to repay a large debt by providing him with land in America.  The King granted the request, and Penn set about encouraging colonists to settle there.

King James II

King James II
Before Charles II’s plans for the Dominion of New England could be implemented, he died in 1685, leaving implementation to his brother, King James II.  As we discussed last week, the New Englanders were not happy about this initiative and did everything they could to resist.  There likely would have been a real showdown, but for the intervention of other events in England.

James II took a decidedly pro-Catholic stance in England.  He actually wanted to appoint Catholics to government offices.  This was too much for the Protestant leadership.  Resistance to his policies eventually forced James to suspend Parliament and put down a bloody revolt.

Years earlier, James’ daughter Mary had been married off to the Dutch Prince William of Orange.  This marriage helped repair ties with the Netherlands after years of war.  Sorry about taking all your colonies, would you like my daughter?  William of Orange’s mother was the daughter of King Charles I, meaning that William and Mary were first cousins and both had strong British ties.  Parliament decided that James’ support for Catholicism disqualified him to continue as King.  Mary therefore should be the rightful heir to the throne.  Parliament invited William and Mary to come take control of England.

As you might imagine, King James was not happy about this.  But he also saw that this would not end well for him.  He no longer had political or military support.  Rather than attempt a fight, James fled to France where he lived out the remainder of his life, but at least with his head firmly attached to his body.  Parliament decided that James’ abandonment of the country constituted an abdication of the throne.

William and Mary

King William & Queen Mary
In 1689, William and Mary took the throne of England in what became known as the Glorious Revolution.  Their reign marked the establishment of several fundamental Constitutional reforms that made Parliament more powerful than the King.  Some were part of the English Bill of Rights.  Others were separate legislation. The King could not maintain a standing army without the consent of Parliament.  The Mutiny Act required parliamentary approval of the armed forces on a yearly basis.  The King could not spend any money without Parliament’s consent.  Parliament also established the Bank of England to manage government finances rather than leaving that authority with the King. The Settlement Act of 1701 prevented the King from going to war without Parliament’s approval.

The Settlement Act also created separation of powers by preventing members of the House of Commons from holding other public office.  It subjected ministerial appointments to parliamentary approval.  Parliament also took control of judges by denying the King the authority to remove them from office.  Under the new, law judges had to be impeached by Parliament.

Finally, Parliament took authority for determining succession.   No person could become King if he was Catholic, or married to a Catholic.  This had the immediate effect of nullifying competing claims by King James II’s Catholic children.

With all the massive changes in government during their reign, William and Mary did little to change colonial affairs.  They are probably best remembered in America for their 1693 decision to sign a royal charter for William and Mary College in Virginia.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne
Queen Mary died in 1694 and William in 1702, without children.  The nearest Protestant relative was Mary’s sister Anne.  Parliament handed the crown to Queen Anne, who ruled for 12 years. Although married, she never had children.  Her reign was almost entirely consumed by the War of Spanish Succession, which embroiled all the great powers of Europe in War from 1701 until 1714.  She died shortly after the Treaty of Utrecht ended that war. Part of the agreement gave Britain control of Gibraltar in southern Spain, as well as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Hudson Bay territories in what is today Canada.

Anne’s reign also saw the Act of Union, which formally brought England and Scotland under common rule as a single nation in 1707.

Anne also had to contend with a half-brother named James who claimed the throne.  James probably would have become King, but for the fact that he was Catholic.  In 1708, James attempted to invade Scotland, with the backing of the French, but was unsuccessful.  He remained living in Europe as a continuing threat to the Queen’s reign.

With all this going on, Anne paid little attention to the North American colonies.  She did however make one lasting fashion contribution.  Until Anne’s death, all judges wore robes of different colors.  They started wearing black robes to mourn her death.  The black robes stayed and remain to this day.

King George I

King George I
After Anne’s death in 1714, there was no immediate heir to the throne who was not a Catholic.  Parliament had to reach quite far before they found King George I.  George was the Elector of Hanover, a small German State on the continent.  He did not speak English, and as far as I can tell had never been to England.  His mother, Sophia, was the granddaughter of King James I, which is how he found his way into the line of succession.  There were actually more than 50 people in line ahead of him, but they were were either Catholic or married to a Catholic.

King George I arrived in England to mixed reviews.  Many Tories and others objected to the idea of a German Prince ruling England.  But Whigs, afraid of a Catholic Monarch, felt this was the only option.  George seemed to take little interest in English affairs.  After being crowned, he returned home to Hanover, where he spent much of his reign.  To the extent George was interested in English Politics, it was to use the English military to back his ongoing European disputes.

During his absences, a Regency Council performed royal duties. Since the King did not typically attend meetings of his ministry, the ministers had to pick a leader.  They instituted the new office of Prime Minister. If the King did not care much about English affairs, he cared even less about the English colonies, which he ignored almost completely.  George I ruled from 1714 until his death in 1727.

King George II

King George II
His son George II was also born and raised in Hanover, in modern day Germany. He spoke German, married a German wife, and was over 30 years old before it even became clear that his father would become King of England.  Also, like his father, he never learned to speak English very well and spent most of his reign far more focused on his rule in Hanover.  George II was a little more engaged in English affairs than his father, but that is not saying much.  He tended to defer more to his ministers and Parliament and kept the office of Prime Minister to run things..

England embroiled itself in multiple European wars during the reign of George II.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear merged into the War of Austrian Succession, pitting England against Spain and France in continuing fighting.  In 1756, near the end of his reign, England began the Seven Years War with France.  We will discuss this war, also known in America as the French and Indian war in more detail in future episodes.

Aside from the French and Indian War, the American colonies did not get much attention from George II or the Parliament during his reign.  Focus was more on Europe.  His reign saw the last British colony in North America: Georgia, named after the King.  James Oglethorpe, a former British Army officer had devoted much of his life to helping the poor of London.  Oglethorpe believed many of these poor people would have a much better life in the new world.  So, he got royal approval to found the Colony.  Georgia served as a barrier between South Carolina and the Spanish in Florida and the French in Louisiana.  With strong animosity between the English and the French and Spanish, English control of the area between the two provided a strategic benefit.  Georgia began as a charter in 1731, to be run by trustees.  The Trustees were unable to develop a viable self government and it became a Royal colony in 1752.

King George III

King George III
George II died in 1760, allowing his grandson George III to ascend the throne.  George III’s father Frederick, had been destined to be King.  Frederick, however, died before his father, thus leaving the throne to George III.

I will discuss King George III in more detail in future episodes since he will be a primary player in the American Revolution.  For now, I just want to say that George was an ambitious King.  He wanted the King to be more than a figurehead. George III also ruled Hanover, like his Grandfather and Great-Grandfather.  Unlike them, though, George III seemed to focus more on England first and Hanover second.


Covering a few centuries of history in a few pages obviously means we must leave out a great deal. The key points I want you to remember are that we generally see an erosion of Royal power and the rise of parliamentary government.  We see the development of limits on government and an acceptance of the idea of Constitutional rights.  Most importantly, with the continuing internal and external distractions in Europe, we see the American colonies largely ignored.  They grow and prosper with little direction from the mother country.

Next week: a brief background on the tensions between England and France, as well as an introduction to the Native American tribes.

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

Further Reading:

More sources about today’s topic.

Web Sites

British History Online, good general source for everything about British History:

Britannia: This site provides a good summary of Monarchical reigns:

War of Jenkins Ear: an interesting artlicle on how the War led to the creation of Georgia:

BBC British History: another good overview of this era:

British Civil War Project:

More on the English Civil War:

Free Books
(from unless otherwise noted)

Queen Elizabeth, by Jacob Abbott, (1901).

Charles I, by Jacob Abbott (1876).

Charles II, by Osmund Airy (1904).

Oliver Cromwell, by George H Clark (1893).

James I. and VI. by T.F. Henderson, (1904).

Memoirs of the secret services of John Macky, esq., during the reigns of King William, Queen Anne, and King George I,  by John Macky (1733) - This is an original account by an official who served through these administrations.

A History of the Church of England, by George Gresley Perry (1879).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution, by Peter Ackroyd (2015) - This is more of a novel style of writing.  It is long but very good.

George I, (The English Monarchs Series) by Ragnhild Hatton (2001)

The Royal Stuarts: A History of the Family That Shaped Britain, by Allan Massie (2013) - Covers the early rule of this line of Scottish Kings through the ascension of King James I to the English throne, through the Civil War until the end of the reign of William and Mary.

Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Past, by Daniel Richter (2011).

George II: King and Elector (The English Monarchs Series), by Andrew C. Thompson (2013)

The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660, by Blair Worden (2010)


If you enjoy podcasts, I heartily recommend Revolutions by Mike Duncan.  I found his detailed podcast of the English Civil War very enjoyable.  Free MP3 recordings of each episode are available for download.

* (Book links to are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).