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The French & Indian War

During the 18th century, the Mohawk Valley was a frontier of great political, military and economic importance. The only natural east-west passage through the Appalachian Mountains was in what is now Canajoharie, providing a corridor to the Great Lakes for the British and conversely, a path for the French from New France to the heart of British America.

Before the American Revolution, a series of battles that became known in America as the French and Indian War (1754–1763) grew out of a power struggle that had been going on for decades among European powers. Numerous countries, particularly Britain and France, fought to control the resources and interior territories of the North American continent. The Mohawk people, protectors of the crucial river valley, fought alongside the British, along with the rest of the Iroquois Six Nations and the Cherokee (until differences sparked the Anglo-Cherokee War in 1758).

The British had the natural advantage. Their territories were more productive and heavily populated (2 million compared to the France’s 60,000), and they had a greater ability to resupply and protect their colonies through control of the Eastern seaboard. The French held their own by recruiting fighters from tribes they had trading relationships with in western portions of the Great Lakes region, including the Huron, Mississauga, Ojibwa, Winnebago and Potawatomi.

In 1757, the British leader Wiliam Pitt saw the colonial conflicts as key to building a vast British empire. Borrowing heavily to finance war on multiple fronts, he paid Prussia to distract France with European fighting and reimbursed the colonies for raising troops in North America. Spain joined the French cause, but eventually, the British prevailed.

At the peace conference in 1763, the British received Canada from France and Florida from Spain. It permitted France to keep its West Indian sugar islands and gave Louisiana to Spain (Napoleon Bonaparte took it back for France in 1800, and the United States purchased it in 1803). The treaty strengthened the American colonies significantly by removing their European rivals to the north and south and opening the Mississippi Valley to westward expansion.

Ironically, the overwhelming victory of the British played a role in eventual loss of their thirteen American colonies and the outbreak of the American Revolution. Without the threat of French invasion, the American colonies saw little need for British military protection and balked at British efforts to limit their colonization of the former French territories to the west of the Appalachian Mountains.