The Culture of War, Part 3: The English during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763)

The War Period (1754 – 1763) – The English

Middle British colonies in USA 1771
Middle British colonies in USA 1771

Colonial soldiers of the 18th century, particularly those of the provincial forces, were arguably mischaracterized for much of recent history. Often described as social dregs and castoffs, historians such as Fred Anderson and John Ferling contend that quite the opposite was often true. For example, using census data and “descriptive lists” of the manpower of six Massachusetts regiments in 1756, Anderson demonstrated that a vast majority of the documented militia were young, skilled laborers or farmers who likely struggled to find employment as the population of the state exploded.[1] The same can be said for the Army regulars, whether English Red Coats or Americans in the professional army. Peter Way finds that, in similar fashion as the New England provincials, British recruits were usually skilled laborers who, due to a lack of opportunity in their trade, opted for employment as soldiers.[2] A small sample of data for recruits from Boston appears to line up with this assessment for American recruits.[3] In addition, in New England, provincial forces grew from a tradition of military service, having provided soldiers for King William’s War (1689 – 1697), Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), and King George’s War (1740s).[4] Interestingly, this relative military readiness, combined with the fact that the powerful Iroquois Six Nations were seated in New England, effectively shielded the region from much of the war’s combat (with some notable exceptions in the first years of the war).[5] The French and Indian War largely hinged on the Ohio Valley region.

Virginia Colony Coat of Arms
Virginia Colony Coat of Arms

In Virginia, although the demographics were significantly different than in New England (almost half of the Virginia regiments in 1756 and 1757 were foreign born, as opposed to only 3% in Massachusetts), we see a similarity in that volunteers were for the most part not unskilled laborers (only 1 out of 10 were indicated as such).[6] And while the same history of military service did not exist in Virginia, these volunteers were far from the wretched castoffs expected, as “planters and skilled artisans” responded to the call for service in greater numbers than had been expected.[7] However, the war with the French was not popular in Virginia, as many thought the conflict was nothing more than a greedy expedition to benefit the Governor and the Ohio Company seeking land in the west. [8] So what could induce self-identified skilled laborers and planters to volunteer to fight in an unpopular war? The answer may be due to the specific culture in the South. Unlike in Massachusetts, where the economy was based heavily on family farming and which offered land and work opportunities for the young, in Virginia this work was completed by slaves. This being the case, young laborers and immigrants may have found it difficult to find an alternative to employment in the provincial military.[9]

In Pennsylvania, the cultural landscape significantly impacted the ability of the colonists to fight in the war. In fact, the political role played by pacifist Quakers in the region resulted in an inability to form a regiment until 1756, when a number of Quaker leaders withdrew from political office.[10] This pacifist resistance to supporting war, whether specifically against the French or generally in defense of the colony, emerged as early as 1755, when the Pennsylvania Assembly passed a tax to support the war effort. Although it seems the greater Quaker church resolved to support the civil government, even if that government engaged in war, strong pacifist tendencies contributed to a disorganized and sluggish response to threats against the province’s outer settlements.[11] General Edward Braddock, the first British commander-in-chief sent to the colonies, admired the military spirit of the New Englanders and commended Virginia for her response to the call to arms. But Pennsylvania’s lack of enthusiasm and preparedness left him with “no words to express his wrath.”[12] It was in this climate of martial malaise, as the Delaware and allied Indians raided into Pennsylvania, that Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong launched his raid against Kittanning in a desperate attempt to allay the mounting fear of the western settlers. Armstrong’s raid resulted in the death of the infamous Indian war leader known as Captain Jacobs, along with (according to Armstrong) no less than “thirty or forty” dead Delawares.[13]

In general, the colonial provincial forces of the colonies reportedly performed quite poorly during the conflict. On 2 July, 1758 while British and American forces labored to construct a road to facilitate the assault on the French fort at Louisburg, General Jeffrey Amherst stated in amazement “The covering Party and 500 Pioneers marched and what is incredible to believe, lost their way where one would think ’twas impossible to do so and tho’ they had the Engineers with them.”[14] A year later, in June, when certain supplies did not arrive, the general noted sourly “The Provincial Troops deserted most shamefully.”[15] In a reference to other provincial soldiers shortly after Canada capitulated, Amherst wrote (apparently in reference to general performance or to a lack of needed equipment), “I sent away about 500 Provincials …They are so poorly they can do no work … It froze hard last night.”[16] If historians such as Anderson and Ferling dispute that such performance resulted from provincials being pulled from the social dregs of the colonies, then what would explain this? For one, a gap in military culture had evolved between the New England provincials and the professional Red Coats. The young colonist force, in what might be seen as embryonic Revolutionary War mentality, believed that relations between men (which would include between officers and soldiers) was a form of contract or agreement. The English Red Coats and their officers, by contrast, made it clear that such relations were regulated by “status and coercion.”[17] This “coercion” usually took the form of corporal punishments (such as lashes from a cat-o-nine tails) that many times resulted in death. John Knox, in his journal, described the penalties for desertion and appearing to support desertion:

One soldier was sentenced to receive a thousand lashes for absenting his duty and using expressions tending to excite mutiny and desertion. A second for being disguised with an intention to desert and being out of his quarters at an undue time of night to receive three hundred. A third for an intention to desert one thousand. And a fourth for desertion and endeavouring to inveigle others to desert to suffer death.[18]

Benjamin_Franklin_by_Joseph_Siffrein_Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis (1725–1802))
General Edward Braddock
General Edward Braddock

Perhaps giving voice to colonial disgust of harsh army discipline, Benjamin Franklin said of General Braddock that he was “too mean a one of both Americans and Indians.”[19] It appears that in some instances, colonial provincial soldiers simply did not relate to the English way of war anymore.

Conclusion

North America was only one theater in a transatlantic war. However, it was not only where the Seven Years’ War began, it was arguably the greatest prize, establishing (as T.R. Clayton states) “the foundations of the nineteenth-century British empire.”[20] For nine years, the French and English powers in the New World warred over the heart of North America. Both empires and their colonies had ample experience fighting each other, and both had experience interacting with native peoples. The tie breaker could have been the numerical superiority of the British colonists. Why then did it take so long to attain victory? Certainly military and political forces across the globe were important. But two broad, culturally-based factors hampered English effectiveness: first, that uneven colonial martial cultures (as demonstrated between New England, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) meant that the southern colonies were not as prepared to fight as the New England colonies. Secondly cultural misunderstandings of Native American war fighting values turned entire nations once friendly to the English against them. The end result of these two factors was to complicate operations in the Ohio Valley as the southern colonies endured unexpected attacks from former allies, and arguably lengthening the length of the war.

[1] Fred Anderson, “A People’s Army: Provincial Military Service in Massachusetts during the Seven Years’ War,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct 1983), 505, 507.

[2] Peter Way, “Class and the Common Soldier in the Seven Years War.” Labor History 44, No. 4 (November 2003), 461.

[3] Ibid, 463.

[4] John Ferling, “Soldiers for Virginia: Who Served in the French and Indian War?” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 94, No. 3, Virginians at War,1607-1865 (Jul., 1986), 316.

[5] David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 150.

[6] John Ferling, ibid, 314.

[7] Ibid, 317.

[8] Ibid, 316-317.

[9] Ibid, 326.

[10] Daniel P. Barr, “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War in Pennsylvania,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 131, No. 1 (Jan., 2007), 15.

[11] For a detailed description of the Quaker schism in regards to the French and Indian War, see Jack D. Marietta, “Conscience, the Quaker Community, and the French and Indian War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Jan., 1971), 3-27.

[12] Francis Parkman, France and England in North America, Vol. 2 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1983), 981.

[13] This number is disputed by many historians. Daniel P. Barr, ibid, 22.

[14] Amherst, Jeffery. The journal of Jeffery Amherst, recording the military career of General Amherst in America from 1758 to 1763 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931), 61.

[15] Ibid, 112.

[16] Ibid, 261.

[17] Fred Anderson, Crucible of War, 288.

[18] John Knox, An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760, ed. Arthur G. Doughty (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1914), 209.

[19] Francis Parkman, ibid, 973.

[20] T.R. Clayton, “The Duke of Newcastle, the Earl of Halifax, and the American Origins of the Seven Years War.’ The Historical Journal, vol. 24, no. 3 (Sep 1981), 571.

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The Culture of War Part 2: The War Period (1754 – 1763) – Native Americans

The War Period (1754 – 1763) – Native Americans

"Nouvelle-France 1750" by JF Lepage
“Nouvelle-France 1750” by JF Lepage

To a certain extent, Native Americans living in the Ohio Valley region, as well as some still dwelling on the periphery of the English colonies, found that their interests lined up quite neatly with those of the French, whose government operated to the north in Canada. By the time war broke out, the British colonies in North America overshadowed the French presence on the continent by a ratio of at least twenty to one.[1] As English incursions into the Ohio Valley grew by the year, the leadership of New France determined to take action or else risk losing their hold of American territories altogether. Similarly, the indigent tribes of the valley, which now included Delaware and Shawnee tribes, also needed to halt English westward expansion. The Delaware and Shawnee had previously been relocated from their traditional eastern homelands by the English (with the help of the Iroquois Confederacy). These peoples needed little incentive from the French to attack the English.[2]

"An Indian village on the move."
“An Indian village on the move.”

Encouraged by French authorities, bands of Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes started to raid settlements on the fringes of western Pennsylvania and Virginia.[3] United by anger of the enemy English in the east and supported by French allies to the north and west, Native American raiders engaged a largely unprepared settler population on the fringes of the Anglo colonies. Men were killed, often brutally so, and women and children were taken prisoner (although some of these were killed as well).[4] The outlying settlements were scattered throughout the western wilderness and nearly impossible to defend. Indian war parties effectively emptied out many of the existing settlements, all the while waging a terror campaign rarely observed in traditional Indian warfare.[5] The objective was to force the English to recognize the land rights of the displaced Indians, and terror was the instrument to force the colonists to negotiate. These tactics were exceedingly successful, as these bands of “only a few hundred Indians” supported by French supplies, effectively paralyzed Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1754 – 1758.[6] According to Thomas Monte, writing in 1756, raids from Ohio-based Indians “…killed above a thousand inhabitants of the western frontiers.” But, he added, “The death of these poor people did not remain long unrevenged.”[7] In September 1756, Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong of Pennsylvania led a retaliatory raid against Kittanning, one of the primary Delaware villages used to stage attacks in the colony.[8] Although the success of the raid is a subject of some historical debate, it does demonstrate what David L. Preston describes as a growing of violence and hatred between the colonists and Native Americans – “raids and counterraids and a series of individual and mass murders…”[9]

Two infamous incidents rooted in cultural misunderstandings between the colonists and two separate Indian peoples had far reaching consequences. The first involved a band of Ohio Shawnee, who were on friendly terms with the English. In April 1753, a year before the greater war began, a Shawnee raiding party entered South Carolina, intent on raiding an enemy tribe (the Catawba). We may see here an example of what Wayne Lee described as warfare to teach a political lesson. The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy had signed a peace treaty with the Catawba two years prior. The Shawnee, although nominally under the Six Nations, were longtime enemies of the Catawba. The goals of the raid were to provide glory to the members of the war party, and to demonstrate Shawnee resistance to Six Nations authority.[10]

However, suspicious South Carolina militiamen, on the lookout for hostile Indian raiders, apprehended the party. The Shawnee were largely amenable, since the English were considered friends, and agreed to accompany the militiamen to meet with Governor James Glen. This proved ill-fated, as the party was soon thrown into jail. The fundamental misunderstanding by Glen of Shawnee cultural perceptions of the incarceration precipitated a full blown crisis. The governor sincerely felt the action was reasonable, particularly since the prisoners were well treated. To the Shawnee, however, the perceived betrayal by an ally was a terrible affront. To most Native Americans, incarceration was viewed as humiliating, and in this case particularly so since the purpose of the original raid was to enhance the raiding party’s war fighting stature.[11] Two months later, in a speech to the king of the Catawba, Governor Glen demonstrated the European cultural fixation on the illusory central authority of the Six Nations over subordinate tribes. Apparently unable to distinguish the actions of the Shawnee from the Six Nations, Glen warned the Catawba king that the Six Nations were not abiding by the peace treaty. To address this, Glen assured the king that he had dispatched letters to his brother (the governor of New York) and to the Six Nations leadership, imploring them to abide by the terms of the peace treaty.[12]   No such control existed, however. The result would be a war that lasted six decades, and focused primarily on Virginia and not South Carolina, due to the proximity of the colonies to the Shawnee.[13]

The second incident was equally tragic as similar English suspicions and cultural mistakes turned another valuable ally into a foe. Through the early years of the war, the Cherokee, still a loosely associated people, nevertheless proved to be extraordinarily valuable assisting English forces in Ohio. In 1758, four years into the war, the Cherokee appeared in mass at a pivotal time in the Ohio Valley. For two years the British and Ohio Indians had negotiated peace, but once the Cherokee force arrived, with rumors that they intended to kill all the Delaware in the region, the impasse started to break.[14] Although the discussions lasted several months more, the Cherokee presence helped shield the British while they continued to fight the French. Eventually, the historic Treaty of Easton was signed, in large part thanks to the environment created by the Cherokee.[15] However, the ability for Virginia, who the Cherokee supported in Ohio, to maintain friendship with gifts was soon strained. Feeling robbed of expected reward, tensions started to rise as some Indians raided Virginian settlements.[16] This began a series of killings and revenge killings between the settlers and the Cherokee.[17] In 1759, the Governor of South Carolina, who had entered into the dispute, effectively arrested two peace delegations. This action violated Native American expectations of diplomacy, and also aroused suspicions of Southern slavery intentions, as the southern plantation system had started to spread.[18] Once more, although the Governor thought his actions justifiable, the insult and disregard for Indian cultural sensitivities would have major consequences. The Anglo-Cherokee war would last from 1759 – 1761, in the midst of the war with the French.

[1] Matthew C. Ward, “’Old Women’” Indian Strategy on the Virginia and Pennsylvania Frontier, 1754 – 1758,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 103, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), 298.

[2] Ibid, 300-301.

[3] Ibid.

[4] David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 148 -149.

[5] Matthew C. Ward, ibid, 312.

[6] Ibid, 298.

[7] Thomas Mante, The History of the Late War in North America and the Islands of the West Indies including the Campaigns of MDCCLXIII and MDCCLXIV against His Majesty’s Indian Enemies (London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1772), 118.

[8] Daniel P. Barr, “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War

in Pennsylvania,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 131, No. 1 (Jan., 2007), 5 – 6.

[9] David L. Preston, ibid, 149.

[10] Ian Steel, “Shawnee Origins of Their Seven Years’ War,” Ethnohistory, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Fall, 2006), 662

[11] Ibid, 665-668.

[12] Speech of James Glen, Governor of South Carolina, to the Hagler king of the Catawbas, in The Papers of Sir William Johnson (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1921), 386 – 388.

[13] Ibid, 671.

[14] Paul Kelton, “The British and Indian War: Cherokee Power and the Fate of Empire in North America,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 4 (October 2012), 780.

[15] Ibid, 786.

[16] Tyler Boulware, ibid, 409.

[17] Ibid, 409-410.

[18] Ibid, 413-414.

Culture of War: French and Indian War (Part 1)

"French attack St. John's Newfoundland 1762". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“French attack St. John’s Newfoundland 1762”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

When the British Empire and France once again went to war in 1754, scarcely five years after the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the War of the Austrian Succession (or King George’s War, as it was known in America), Britain and her colonies were exceedingly well positioned for victory in North America. Numerically, the English presence on the Continent far outnumbered the French. And while the most powerful Indian presence in the east, the Iroquois Confederacy, had declared neutrality half a century before, the seat of the Native American union rested in New England, which facilitated a valuable strategic relationship and lucrative trade.[1] So why, then, did this war last nine years? Certainly, the so-called French and Indian War was only one theater in a larger, global struggle. Both empires had to make bold decisions on when, where, and how to execute warfare, and these decisions naturally affected operations in North America. However, this latest conflict was not simply a “continuation of the preceding war.”[2] This clash of empires playing out in the backwaters of the Ohio River Valley and the adjacent English colonies was shaped by an intriguing mix of cultures far more nuanced that simply “European” versus “Indian.” [3] These cultural differences between allies and enemies alike would complicate the already grueling business of warfare. In fact, we will see that cultural forces not only shaped the way each side fought, but a lack of understanding of these cultures arguably extended the war. This article will look more specifically at the effects of culture on the English and Native American forces before and during the conflict.

In the years prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Ohio Valley became increasingly volatile as English colonists began asserting themselves in territory long claimed by the French. To make matters even more combustible, the power of the Iroquois Confederacy, which had acted in many ways as a mediator between the two colonial powers, began to fragment. By 1652, controversial land sales by the Iroquois Confederacy (dominated by the Six Nations of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscarora peoples) pushed disgruntled Delaware and Shawnee tribes west, and many settled in Ohio among the Mingo and Miami Indians, traditional allies of the French.[4] This growth of displaced people resentful of both the Anglo-Americans and Iroquois leaders responsible for their relocation contributed to an increasingly hostile environment that eroded what authority the Iroquois Great League held over them and the valley region.[5]

As English colonists sought land deals (legitimate and illegitimate) to secure additional territory further to the west, they were constantly frustrated by the fact that Indian society rarely formed central authorities that resembled European-style governments. This made it difficult to negotiate with a single leader or group to authorize land purchases. Although the powerful Iroquois Confederacy in many ways stands out as an exception, this union of six nations only emerged in response to the arrival of European colonists in the 17th century.[6] At a town or tribal level, leadership of a people was often divided between a “war chief” and a “peace chief,” with the latter generally able to exercise power for longer periods than the former (war chiefs could lose their position if his people lost a battle or two).[7] This de-centralized governance was a reflection of a larger culture shared by most native peoples. The Cherokee, for instance, scattered throughout the southern Appalachian region, were linked by a base-Iroquoian language, and not much else.[8] Archeological evidence indicates that linguistically and materially, Cherokee towns shared little in the way of a shared identity and way of life.[9] This lack of a shared identity often meant that neighboring Cherokee towns did not join to fight with other Cherokee towns if they were engaged in war.[10] This diffusive tribal identity would only start to coalesce into something more cohesive when English settlers recklessly lashed out at friendly and neutral Cherokee, triggering the Anglo-Cherokee War (1759-1761).[11] We will see this in more detail when we discuss the war period.

Although historians guard against broad-brush generalizations of Native American culture, there are some similarities when it comes to warfare that are applicable to most eastern Indian tribes. As stated by historian Wayne Lee, “societies at war with each other tend to converge…in their techniques and values of war…”[12] The original peoples of the Americas fought each other for centuries before Europeans ever stepped foot in the New World. Over time, practices and certain expectations of conduct in war were widely adopted. In some instances European and Native American cultures created similar practices considered acceptable in warfare. Differences were more common, however.

Lee postulates that Native American warfare served three primary cultural functions: to administer political lessons to opposing groups (in other words, to demonstrate dominance over another tribe); to exact blood revenge in response to the killing of a member (or members) of a tribe; and to achieve glory or personal stature.[13] This last function, personal glory, sometimes encouraged young men to volunteer to help the colonists in their wars. For example, during King George’s War (1744-1748), although the Iroquois were generally firm in their declared neutrality, some did break away to join the French simply to fight, gain reward, and take prisoners.[14]

Warriors preparing for combat were expected to ready themselves spiritually, and though the requirements of such spiritual cleansing varied from region to region, participation in these rituals was required. One particular manifestation of this spiritual cleansing, which typically included abstinence from any sexual intercourse, was the effective removal of rape as a weapon from Native American warfare. [15] This cultural phenomenon will actually be a source of conflict with European warfare, as we will see.

Death of General Wolfe, by Benjamin West
Death of General Wolfe, by Benjamin West

Central to Native American warfare was the “mourning war.” This ancient practice enabled Indian tribes to grieve for deceased family by replacing them with the captives of another tribe.[16] This loss could be the result of warfare, but also could be because of famine or even disease. This replacement did not have to be literal (although it often was). Women and children taken from enemy populations were often adopted, while captured men were tortured to death in vengeance.[17]

These three practices of Indian warfare – taking prisoners, torture, and avoidance of rape – contrasts starkly with the European model of warfare. Of course, European warfare recognized significant value in taking of prisoners, especially with the intent to ransom them. But this monetary or political value differed significantly from the “mourning war” need to absorb the prisoners into the conquering society. As previously stated, women and children were preferred prisoners in regards to adoption, while men were often tortured. Both of these points contravened what was acceptable to European warfare.[18] Conversely, the European tendency to tolerate rape during war was reprehensible to the Native Americans. The disparities between what European colonists and Native American peoples considered taboo were a source of considerable friction and numerous misunderstandings leading up to the period of the French and Indian War. We will see that during the war, these misunderstandings will be at least partially responsible for turning once-allied Native Americans against the English, and will stoke English fear and hatred of Indians that were once neighbors.


[1] The Covenant Chain, established in 1677, was a commercial alliance that had the potential to enable the English to break into the closed French trading network in the continental interior. Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754 – 1766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 14-16.

[2] Patrice Louis-René Higonnet, “The Origins of the Seven Years’ War.” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Mar.1968), 57.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fred Anderson, ibid, 22-23.

[5] Ibid, 23.

[6] Ibid, 12.

[7] Wayne E. Lee, “Peace Chiefs and Blood Revenge: Patterns of Restraint in Native American Warfare, 1500-1800.” The Journal of Military History, Vol. 71, No. 3 (Jul., 2007), 706.

[8] Tyler Boulware,”The Effect of the Seven Years’ War on the Cherokee Nation,” Early American Studies, Vol 5, No. 2 (Fall 2007), 402.

[9] Ibid, 403.

[10] Ibid, 404.

[11] Ibid, 398-399.

[12] Wayne E. Lee, ibid, 703.

[13] Ibid, 713.

[14] Jon Parmenter, “After the Mourning Wars: The Iroquois as Allies in Colonial North American Campaigns,

1676-1760,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 64, No. 1, Free to Enslave: Politicsand the Escalation of Britain’s Translantic (Jan., 2007), 58.

[15] Wayne E. Lee, ibid, 720, 722.

[16] Fred Anderson, ibid, 12-13.

[17] Wayne E. Lee, ibid, 730, 732.

[18] Ibid, 732.