Craig White's Literature Courses

Historical Backgrounds

the French & Indian War

(North America, 1754-63)

+ Pontiac's Rebellion (1763-64)

George Washington won distinction as a colonial military leader
during the French and Indian War. This portrait by C. W. Peale
was painted in 1772, about 10 years after the War's conclusion.

The French and Indian War (the American name for the "Seven Years War" in Europe) is one of America's Forgotten Wars, but its impact was profound. The victory of the British Empire, its American colonies, and diverse Indian allies over the French Empire, its colonies, and its Indian allies conditioned the USA to be a primarily English-speaking nation that would advance westward, while France's influence in North America would henceforth be increasingly limited to parts of Canada (and, briefly, Louisiana and Mexico).

The French and Indian War led directly to the American War for Independence a dozen years later, much as the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 led directly to the American Civil War of 1861-65.

PBS Timeline for French and Indian War ("The War that Made America")

Mr. Nussbaum's French & Indian War (incl. Pontiac's Rebellion)

1962 Encyclopedia Britannica documentary

Europe's Seven Years War & North America's French & Indian War were concluded by the Treaty of Paris of 1763. (This treaty also ended British expulsion of French-Catholic Acadians from eastern Canada, which had led the Acadians or Cajuns to relocate to Louisiana.)


Pontiac’s Rebellion of 1764-5 resulted directly from the French and Indian War (1754-63) and was another major factor leading to the American Revolution and War for Independence.

Pontiac’s Rebellion was one of many American Indian wars of resistance against European colonial military occupation and European-American settlement. Comparable events in American Indian history include

  • King Philip’s War of 1676

  • the three Seminole Wars in 1800s Florida

  • the Apache Wars here in the Southwest led by Geronimo

  • the Sioux Wars led by Crazy Horse of the same period.

The Ottawa Chief Pontiac, after whom the rebellion is named, was the most prominent of several American Indian leaders of several tribes involved in the war.

(For the 20th century the name of Pontiac was best-known as a brand of car made by General Motors—the Pontiac Firebird or GTO were popular muscle-cars—whose original headquarters were in Pontiac, Michigan.)

The current upper-Midwestern states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania were the site of Pontiac’s Rebellion.

British defeat of the French broke down old trading partnerships between French and Indians. The French colonial imprint had been light, with French men often marrying Indian women to create inter-social networks of trust and trade. In comparison, the English held themselves apart from the Indians, and many Indians' former alliance with the French gave rise to bitterness and vengeance.

An Indian holy man known only as "the Delaware Prophet" preached that Indians should return to their traditional ways and avoid working with the British. (The Delawares were the tribe that adopted Chingachgook and his son Uncas, the fictional Mohicans in Cooper's Last of the Mohicans.)

Chief Pontiac repeated the Delaware Prophet's message to other tribes including the Seneca, Chippewa (Ojibwa), Miami, Potawotomi and Huron (Magua's original tribe in Last of the Mohicans). Most of these Indians had sided with the French in the French and Indian War.

Pontiac led sieges on several British forts and Indians mounted raids on colonial settlers in Indian lands.


19c artist's rendering of Pontiac rallying a counsel of Indians


Paxton Boys’ Massacre: Scotch-Irish settlers in Pennsylvania, angry at lack of colonial protection against Indian raids, attacked peaceful Conestoga Indians, killing 6 and later 14 more in area of Paxton, PA. Later a mob associated with these settlers marched on Philadelphia in pursuit of Moravian Indians, but Benjamin Franklin and other Philadelphia leaders negotiated a settlement.

19c rendering of Paxton Boys' Massacre


Actions by both sides were terrifying. Results of the French and Indian War were a drastically reduced presence for France in the New World. For the British, English, and Native Americans, many issues remained unresolved or precarious.

France ceded all its territory East of the Mississippi River to Britain, and ceded its Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi to its ally Spain in compensation for Spain's ceding Florida to Britain. (France regained the Louisiana Territory in 1800, then sold it to the USA in 1802 as the Louisiana Purchase.)

The British Proclamation of 1763 sought to re-organize administration of the North American interior

Temporary boundary line between European colonization east of the Appalachian mountains and Indian lands west established. (See map to left.)

Private purchase of Native American lands outlawed to limit land speculators.

American colonists remained eager for more western land, therefore resentful of Britain.

Already many colonists had settled beyond the line, creating a conflict between the colonists' claims and British treaties, which contributed to the Revolutionary War.

British soldiers expected payment in lands—George Washington, for instance, was granted 20,000 acres in Ohio for his service to the British in the French and Indian War.

Subsequent treaties opened Kentucky and current WVA to British settlement, but thirteen years later the Declaration of Independence would allude to the boundary b/w colonies and Indians lands as a reason for American Independence:

"[The British King] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."

Indians of the Iroquois Confederation negotiating with British Colonel Henry Bouquet.

Note Indian leader's use of wampum for gift or record-keeping.