The Seven Years' War rearranged the power structure of Europe and North America, setting the stage for both the American Revolution and the usurpation of power in India by Britain. Part of the reason this conflict had such wide-ranging effects is that it involved many different and powerful countries from around the globe. The heart of the conflict lay in western Europe. Austria and Prussia both claimed to own the province of Silesia. France took Austria's side and Britain sided with Prussia. When war broke out, French and British people living all around the world began fighting one another. In North America, French and British settlers both lived in the colonies. These two groups also went to war. The conflict in North America during the Seven Years' War became known as the French and Indian War.
In the years leading up to the Seven Years' War, a series of land disputes between the settled French colonists and the newly established British traders increased tensions between France and Britain. Canada was full of French colonists who wished to create a "New France" alongside the existing Native tribes. However, as more British traders moved into America, France realized it had to take action or it would lose its power in the region. A French-ordered military expedition was sent to discover and convey potential threats and report on the business dealings of the British settlers. Marine officer Pierre Joseph Cèloron left Canadian territory on this expedition and noticed that many Native tribes were trading with British explorers. French rulers were angered by the news of the British encroachment, and the country's leaders wanted to respond.
With tensions continuing to mount, the Iroquois and other Native tribes found themselves locked into this rising conflict. Although many of the tribes turned towards the reliability of the French forces for aid, the Iroquois found themselves bound to the newly arrived British explorers through trade agreements. It seemed clear to the Iroquois and other Natives that the French and British colonists would eventually fight for power in North America. In 1754 an English militiaman named George Washington ambushed a French regiment in Jumonville Glen, Pennsylvania, thus starting the Seven Years' War in North America.
War on the Home Front
The French troops, led by General Louis-Joseph Montcalm, were said to number twenty thousand, and were made up of mostly militia fighters and various Native tribes who had sided with the French. The war itself was initially fought on British land, as French soldiers launched an offensive that started at the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and continued up into Nova Scotia. Montcalm proved to be an efficient and capable leader, capturing British-controlled Fort Oswego and increasing lands for New France early in the war.
The French-Canadian forces, under the leadership of Montcalm, initially won these small territorial battles and dealt disastrous blows to the British colonists. There is no greater example of this than the battle at Fort William Henry, which became famous for extensive British causalities. It appeared that the British forces would quickly fall to the advancing French; however, in 1757, the British government in England was overturned, and William Pitt was elected ruler. This single act marked a crucial moment in Canadian history, as it was William Pitt's support and increased military aid that allowed the war to shift towards a British victory. William Pitt's support was two-fold. To support the war effort, he increased material resources and manpower in North America, and he deployed his vastly superior navy in an effort to distract France from the Canadian battle.
In response to these actions, Britain saw a drastic change in the war. In 1759, two prominent British armies moved into French Canadian territory, capturing Niagara and advancing all the way to Lake Champlain. General James Wolfe captained one of the campaigns, defeating Montcalm on the historic Plains of Abraham outside of the French stronghold in Québec. The result was a startling British victory and eventual capture of the Québec lands. In the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, the British moved inland onto previously French-occupied lands.
Social and Political Outcomes
As the war abruptly turned in favour of the British, French Canadians saw their land and entire governmental system begin to change. In 1763, the outcome was made official, as French dignitaries signed the Treaty of Paris, essentially giving Britain the colony of Canada. Although many French loyalists expected a regime of terror, the British rule in Canada was fair and centered on international trade. However, as political concerns diminished, the social implications for the remaining loyalist French Canadians proved to be challenging. The French-Canadian way of life had changed forever, and the arrival of an English Court had seemingly stripped away some legal rights and advancement enjoyed by French Canadians. The French could do very little to advance in law careers or as members of government, and despite a seemingly strong trading market and high population, Canada was still largely controlled as a colony of England.
The resulting social tension within French Canada forced the English government to draft the Quèbec Act. This Act gave French Canadians the right to hold onto their rights as practicing Catholics, and it expanded their territory from Ohio to the Mississippi River. The American colonists were directly opposed to giving these rights to French Canadians, and many historians believe it was this very act that led to Canadians siding with the English in the forthcoming American Revolution.
The British victory in Canada helped make Britain one of the most powerful forces in the world. Although Canada has since become an independent nation, her ties to the British Commonwealth have remained strong, as Canada adopted values, customs, and governmental structure from Britain.
Canada's entire modern history can be traced back to the outcome of the Seven Years' War, and the effects of the war still have political and social consequences in the French communities in eastern Canada. Quèbec is still largely viewed by many as a separate entity of Canada, and many French political agendas focus on the creation of Quebec as an independent nation.