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The French and Indian War Became Known as Braddock’s Defeat- Part V

By Judy Leithe

Ongoing hostilities between Great Britain and France came to a head over territorial disputes in North America.  By the mid-1700’s, France had influence over the French colonists, as well as their Native fur-trading partners, in Canada and North America.  The British had authority over the thirteen colonies, and had made ties with the Iroquois Confederacy, which controlled most of upstate New York and parts of, what is now, northern Pennsylvania.

After the French refused the British order to dismantle Fort Duquesne, and the rest of their forts along the Ohio River, the British assumed that the matter would be settled by driving the French out of the upper Ohio River valley.

Brigadier General Edward Braddock, commissioned as the Commander-in-Chief of the North American forces, was about sixty years old.  He was short, stout, and bad-tempered.  He had little experience in battle, and no knowledge of the kind of wilderness tactics that were in store for him.  As Braddock’s Aide, Washington was increasingly dismayed by Braddock’s rude behavior.  His arrogance did not sit well with the colonials or the Iroquois; the very people Braddock needed most in his upcoming combat with the French and their allies.   

As Braddock and his army, 1,500 soldiers dressed in bright red coats, forged through thick forests they were surprised by an enemy force of about 900 men.    Near Fort Duquesne, the Canadian Native warriors descended on the British, startling them with blood-curdling war whoops, and catching them in a cross-fire, while the French blocked the panicked British as they tried to escape the mayhem.  Washington later wrote, “Efforts to stop (the British) were about as much use as trying to halt a stampede of wild bears.  British troops fired on each other in panic while Braddock and the surviving officers tried in vain to rally them.

”General Braddock was shot in the chest, possibly by one of his own men, and died on July 13, 1754, but not before giving his Aide-de-Camp, Colonel Washington, his sash and leopard skin saddle blanket.

Washington had two horses shot out from under him, four bullet holes were found in his clothes, and one in his hat.  Under blistering fire, he directed as many British officers and soldiers to safety as possible.  It was also noted that throughout this battle, Washington was ill with a high fever.

The French and Indian War, which began in 1754 but remained at a stalemate for several years, marked the beginning of a larger imperial war between Great Britain and France, known as The Seven Years’ War.  In Europe, Spain siding with France, also declared war on Britain.  Despite facing this formidable alliance, the British naval strength ultimately succeeded in seizing the French Caribbean Islands, Spanish Cuba, and the Philippines.  Fighting ended after a failed Spanish invasion of the British ally, Portugal.  By 1763, French and Spanish diplomats began to seek peace with Britain.  The Seven Year War finally ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763.  The British secured significant territorial gains in North America, including all French territory east of the Mississippi river, as well as Spanish Florida.

The Declaration of Independence from British rule (1776) was a direct result of the high costs incurred by the British Government during The Seven Years’ War.  They intended to replenish their coffers by heavily taxing “their” colonies in North America.  Like General Braddock’s arrogant manner, King George’s imperious notions did not sit well with the colonists.

Next week – Colonel Washington meets the venerable Indian Chief