France Loses Her North American Colonies

Map of eastern North America in the 1750s. Pink areas were controlled or claimed by France and red areas were controlled or claimed by Britain.
French troops surrendering to British troops in Montreal during the Seven Years’ War.

In the mid-18th century, the British colonies in North America had a population of well over a million, with rapid population growth. By contrast, around the same time, the French population of New France barely reached 75,000. Outnumbered many times over and spread out over a vast area, the French naturally found their position in North America vulnerable — and given that Britain had plans to take over France’s possessions, their concern was justified.

Allied with First Nations

Still, France had a trump card to play in the North American power struggle — the support of many First Nations. This support was a logical consequence of First Nations being dependent on fur trade with Frenchmen, and France often looking to cooperate with — and not expel — First Nations in areas that they colonized. In addition, on a personal level, a significant number of French fur trappers had married indigenous women and now lived together with indigenous tribes.

In contrast to many Frenchmen’s close ties to First Nations, the English-speaking colonists, in general, did not have the same amicable personal and trade relationships with indigenous people. The British colonial economy in eastern North America was based on the export of agricultural products to Europe, which, instead of cooperation, often led to conflicts over the right to own land and the displacement of indigenous people.

Ohio Valley

With the number of British colonists steadily growing, as more people arrived from Europe, the British Americans’ natural inclination was to expand westward to secure more land for agricultural production. Usually, this could be done without major wars having to be fought, but when British frontiersmen in the 1750s came upon territories in the Ohio Valley claimed by France and indigenous tribes, things were different. Here, a coalition of Frenchmen and Indians pushed back the frontiersmen and began skirmishing with British-controlled militia, who tried to take control of the area. The bloody clashes between the French-Indian coalition and the British-controlled militia thereafter turned into a long, multicontinental war, which was to drastically change the power balance in North America.

Britain victorious

The long, multicontinental war came to be known as the Seven Years’ War, and after harsh fighting, Britain came out the victor. As a result, in 1763, France had to give up practically all of its North American colonies, many of which came under British control. Ultimately, too, the indigenous peoples who had fought alongside France could now expect renewed pressure by the English-speaking settlers to give up their traditional hunting grounds to European-style farming.

Similarly to the fate of the First Nations people, the French-speaking population in Acadia, lastly, was also displaced by the Britons, both before and during the war. These people, while stubbornly resisting deportation or abruptly leaving their homes, sadly, died in their thousands.