Before the American Revolution, which everyone knows about, six – count ‘em, six – French and Indian Wars engulfed the region for over 43 years.
The French, Indians and British basically fought over territory, largely to the north and west of New England. French fur traders, soldiers and Jesuits along with their Indian allies fought off encroachment by land-hungry English settlers. Those Indian allies, the Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot people had formed the Wabanaki Confederacy in 1606.
In the end, the French and Indians lost, but they put up a good fight for a long, long time.
The English did have some Indian allies. The Iroquois, for example, enemies of the Wabanaki, allied with the French. But the French generally treated Indians better than the English did. Though the French had far fewer settlers, they made a formidable foe. Even after they surrendered Canada, Maine and all the land east of the Mississippi to the English, they came back to fight the English again in the American Revolution.
Historians sometimes refer to the French and Indian Wars as part of the first world wars, a remote theater of the wars fought by European empires on the continent and at sea.
The first five French and Indian Wars involved expeditions of several hundred men into enemy territory combined with murderous raids and massacres. Those included the Candlemas Massacre in King William’s War, the Deerfield Raid in Queen Anne’s War and the Battle of Norridgewock in Dummer’s War.
Finally, in the sixth French and Indian War, both sides got serious and committed significant resources to the war effort.
The Six French and Indian Wars
Each of the French and Indian wars has multiple names, which makes them even more confusing. They are:
- King William’s War (1688-97)
- Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713)
- Dummer’s War (1722-1725)
- King George’s War (1744-1748)
- Father Le Loutre’s War (1749–1755)
- French and Indian War (1754-1763)
King William’s War
King William’s War is also known as Castin’s War, Father Baudoin’s War, the First Intercolonial War or the Second Indian War (the first being King Philip’s War. Perhaps someone forgot the Pequot War.) Europeans knew it as the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), the War of the Grand Alliance and the War of the League of Augsburg.
In short, the Nine Years’ War had to do with Louis XIV’s plans to expand France and the British, Dutch and Austrian Hapsburgs forming an alliance to block his ambitions.
In North America, it started because the French and the English didn’t agree on the boundary between British New England, or what is now Maine, and French Acadia, now Nova Scotia. The British claimed Maine all the way to the Penobscot River, but the French insisted on the Kennebec as the boundary.
In addition, some Indians fled to Maine after King Philip’s War and sought revenge. They allied with the Wabanaki, who got tired of the English cheating them and trying to take their guns away. Tensions rose with English provocations. Three British sailors killed an Indian child, and a colonial administrator named Edmund Andros raided what is now Castine, Maine. He destroyed the home of a powerful French fur trader and soldier, Baron Saint-Castin. The baron had cemented an alliance with the Indians by marrying the with his marriage to the daughter of the great chief Madokawando.
Saint-Castin and Madokawando led a series of raids against English settlers in Acadia, as far south as Andover, Mass., and as far west as Schenectady, N.Y. In 1692 they killed 50 settlers during the Candlemas Massacre in what is now York, Maine.
When it all ended, the French and Indians wiped most of the English settlements off the map of Acadia. From 1689 to 1713, there wasn’t a single English home north of Wells.
From 1693, historian John Grenier characterized the war as devolving ‘into a string of gruesome murders that terrorized New England.’
Elsewhere in the North America: The English led a couple of failed raids in Canada: Sir William Phips (later governor of Massachusetts) led a raid against Quebec and Fitz-John Winthrop (later governor of Connecticut) led a raid against Montreal. Both failed. French raiders also took over English trading posts run by the Hudson Bay Company in the Hudson Bay region.
Best remembered from King William’s War: Hannah Duston, captured with her infant daughter in a raid, retaliated by killing and scalping 10 of her Indian captives – one man, two women and six children.
Impact: King William’s War removed the English from much of Maine.
Queen Anne’s War
Queen Anne’s War is also known as the Third Indian War and the Second Intercolonial War. Europeans know it as the War of Spanish Succession. Fought in Europe over the heir to the Spanish throne, the French wanted their king’s relative, Philip of Anjou. The English and Dutch did not, fearing French power.
In Maine, the war pretty much extended King William’s War: The English wanted to settle in Maine north of the Kennebec River, and the French didn’t want them there.
The French and Indians launched raids against northern Massachusetts (and Maine), most spectacularly against Deerfield in 1704. French privateers also captured over 100 fishing and merchant vessels from New England. The English sent expeditions into Canada, unsuccessful until they finally captured the Acadian capital of Port Royal in 1710.
The war ended with the Treaty of Utrecht.
Best remembered from Queen Anne’s War: The Raid on Deerfield and the capture of Eunice Williams, daughter of a Puritan minister. Despite her family’s best efforts, she remained with the Indians, converted to Catholicism, married an Indian and never moved back (she did visit her family, though).
Impact: The war still kept the English out of Eastern Maine, but France ceded Nova Scotia (except for Cape Breton Island), Newfoundland and the Hudson Bay region to the British.
Father Rale’s War is also a common name for this one, also known as Lovewell’s War, Greylock’s War, the Three Years War, the 4th Anglo-Abenaki War, or the Wabanaki-New England War of 1722–1725. It didn’t have a European counterpart.
The French, English and Wabanaki Confederacy fought Dummer’s War along the frontier of Massachusetts, which at the time included Maine and Vermont.
Queen Anne’s War had ended with a peace treaty that set the boundary of Massachusetts (now Maine) at the Kennebec River. But English colonists ignored the treaty and began settling east of the Kennebec. New Englanders also fished in Nova Scotian waters.
The English and the French and Indians began building dueling settlements. In Maine, the French built churches in the Indian villages of Norridgewock, where Father Sebastien Rale lived, and at Penobscot. The English built forts in Arrowsic, Brunswick, Thomaston and Richmond. In 1722, Massachusetts Gov. Samuel Shute sent an expedition to capture Father Rale, who escaped. But the Massachusetts men found his strongbox, which contained papers that showed he worked for the government of New France. He had promised enough ammunition to the Indians to drive out the English settlers.
The Wabanaki retaliated for the raid on Norridgewock by burning Brunswick, so Shute declared war on the Wabanakis in 1722. When he left for England, acting Gov. William Dummer took charge of the war in Maine.
The Wabanaki attacked Arrowsic, then the English attacked Penobscot. The Wabanaki over the next two years raided the Maine settlements. They also captured nearly two dozen fishing vessels in canoes.
The war was known as Greylock’s war in western Massachusetts and Vermont, where Chief Grey Lock raided Northfield and Rutland. In response, Dummer ordered Fort Dummer built in Brattleboro, Vt., where soldiers ventured out to punish the Abenaki. Greylock retaliated in Hatfield, Deerfield, Northfield, and Westfield.
The war reached New Hampshire when militia captain John Lovewell led three expeditions of militia companies to the Lake Winnipesaukee region. In the third, he built a fort in Ossipee and killed Pequawket Chief Paugus in Fryeburg, Maine.
In late 1725, Dummer and tribal chiefs signed a peace treaty
Best remembered from Dummer’s war was the Massacre at Norridgewock on Aug. 23, 1724. Two hundred colonial troops led a second raid on the Abenaki village of Norridgewock, Maine, and killed some 80 civilians, including Father Rale.
Impact: The Native and Indigenous population declined in Maine west of the Penobscot River and the French lost their foothold. Lovell, Maine, was named after John Lovewell, and Chief Paugus had a mountain and a bay named after him. Grey Lock also had a mountain named after him.
King George’s War
King George’s War (1744-1748), also known as the War of Austrian Succession or the Third Intercolonial War. Fought primarily along the frontier of northern New England, it didn’t settle much in the end.
Again, the belligerents fought over who got to settle Acadia and upstate New York, and who got to fish off Acadia’s Grand Banks. Europeans fought over the Habsburg queen Marie-Therese, who tried to prevent France and Prussia from seizing her territory in Austria.
In Nova Scotia in 1744, a French fleet burned down a small British fort near Canso, a fishing port used by New England fisherman. The English retaliated the next year by capturing the Fortress at Louisbourg, a stronghold in the Acadian territory still held by the French. The English paid a heavy price for the victory, though, losing as many as 1,000 men, mostly to exposure.
The Wabanaki then responded by attacking 11 English settlements along the Maine coast over the summer of 1745. Over the next two summers, they continued the attacks, capturing a few people, killing a few people, burning buildings and slaughtering livestock.
The French and Indians also attacked the western frontier of Massachusetts. In late November 1745 they raided and burned Saratoga. They also raided the lightly defended Fort Massachusetts near North Adams, taking the English fighters prisoner. The prisoners were later exchanged, and Fort Massachusetts is now a parking lot of the former Price Chopper supermarket between Williamstown and North Adams.
Greatest Victory of the French and Indian Wars
Best remembered from King George’s War: The capture of the Fortress at Louisbourg, New England’s greatest military victory until the American Revolution.
When King George’s War broke out, Massachusetts Gov. William Shirley along with New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth organized an expedition to capture the fort. The two governors got 500 troops from Connecticut, a ship from Rhode Island and guns and money from a few other colonies. William Pepperrell of Kittery, Maine, commanded the combined forces.
After a 47-day siege, the Fortress at Louisbourg surrendered, and the 13 colonies and Great Britain joyously celebrated.
It made heroes of Vice-Admiral Peter Warren (with a town in Rhode Island and one in New Hampshire named after him), and William Pepperrell, who had a Massachusetts town named after him, though it dropped an ‘r’ from ‘Pepperrell.’
But then the French and British signed a peace treaty in 1748, and the British returned the fortress to the French. That did not go over well in New England.
Impact: Killed a lot of people in Massachusetts, didn’t settle much. In fact, the fighting didn’t even end in Maine and Nova Scotia. It simply morphed into Father Le Loutre’s War.
Father Le Loutre’s War
Also known as the Indian War, the Micmac War and the Anglo-Micmac War, it didn’t really have a European counterpart.
Bookended by King George’s War and the French and Indian War, it was a war of resistance by the Acadians and the Micmac, led by the Jesuit priest Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre and Acadian Joseph Broussard (an ancestor of pop star Beyonce).
Some Acadians in British-held Acadia had remained neutral, and some waged guerilla war with their allies the Micmacs, also Catholic. There wasn’t much the British could do with the recalcitrant Acadians because the French Acadians outnumbered them. Many absolutely refused to take loyalty oaths to the King of England or to the Protestant church.
But then Britain began to colonize aggressively, establishing the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia, and in Maine, Fort Halifax, now Winslow; Fort Shirley, now Dresden; and Fort Western, now Augusta.
Settling Halifax, though violated the treaty with the Micmac and touched off Father Le Loutre’s War.
The Acadians and Micmacs waged relentless guerilla warfare against the British, keeping them holed up in their new forts.
Expulsion of the Acadians
But by June 1755, three English regiments and New England Ranger units had arrived to back up British demands. With those reinforcements, acting Gov. Charles Lawrence ordered the Acadians to take the loyalty oath.
They refused. Fed up, Lawrence ordered the forcible removal of the entire Acadian population from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and parts of what is now Maine. Estimates vary, but as many as 10,000 Acadians out of a population of 12,000 were rounded up, boarded onto ships and sent to the 13 British colonies in North America and to France. Several thousand died of disease, starvation and drowning.
Best remembered from Father Le Loutre’s War: Expulsion of the Acadians.
Impact: Expulsion of the Acadians.
Last of the French and Indian Wars
Also known as the Seven Years’ War, its counterpart had only one name in North America: the French and Indian War.
The sixth time was finally the charm that ended the French and Indian wars, though arguably they continued through the American Revolution with French, Indians and English all in the fight again.
In Europe, Britain allied with Frederick the Great of Prussia to contain the French, while Austria switched sides and allied with the French. The enemies fought at sea, with the British harassing French vessels, blockading shipping lanes and bombarding enemy ports.
With Nova Scotia and Maine now firmly in English hands, the fight moved west to the Ohio River Valley. Virginia planters had received a patent for the Ohio lands west of the Alleghenies, and had a keen interest in keeping them. But the French had built forts along the Allegheny River to defend their fur trapping and trading with the Indians.
A 22-year-old George Washington, commanding a small militia company, went to occupy a fort called Necessity in what is now Confluence, Pa. Washington and his company encountered a French scouting party, killed the commander and eight men and took 20 prisoners. That pretty much started the French and Indian War.
The first four years of the war didn’t go well for the English because the French sent more land forces to North America. In one of the most notable defeats, Fort William Henry on Lake George surrendered.
William Pitt Runs the French and Indian War
But then William Pitt the Elder rose to power in England and he decided to seize as much of the French empire as he could. That included North America. So he poured men and materiel to enforce England’s claim to the territory, including Canada and the Mississippi River Basin. Robert Rogers alone commanded a unit of 600 guerilla fighters called Rogers Rangers.
British forces began to win major victories, in places like Pittsburgh, Youngstown, N.Y., and Crown Point on Lake Champlain. The final victory came in the fall of 1758, when the British defeated the French in the Battle of Quebec.
Best remembered from the French and Indian War: The Battle of Quebec, in which both commanders, James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, died on the Plains of Abraham. The French, badly outnumbered, had to surrender Montreal and all of Canada.
In the end, the British victory gave the English control of Canada and the land east of the Mississippi.
This story was updated in 2023.