Modern history

European Wars and American Consequences

Developments in North America in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were driven as much by events in Europe as by those in the colonies. From 1689 until 1713, Europe was in an almost constant state of war, with continental conflicts spilling over into colonial possessions in North America. The result was increased tensions between colonists of different nationalities, Indians and colonists, and colonists and their home countries.

Colonial Conflicts and indian Alliances

France was at the center of much of the European warfare of the period. Louis XIV hoped to expand France’s borders and gain supremacy in Europe. To this end, he built a powerful professional army under state authority. By 1689 more than 300,000 well- trained troops had been outfitted with standardized uniforms and weapons. Having gained victories in the Spanish Netherlands, Flanders, Strasbourg, and Lorraine, the French army seemed invincible.

In the 1690s, France and England fought their first sustained war in North America, King William's War (1689—1697). The war began over conflicting French and English interests on the European continent, but it soon spread to the American frontier when English and Iroquois forces attacked French and Huron settlements around Montreal and northern New York. English and Iroquois forces captured Fort Royal in Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia), while the French destroyed Schenectady, New York, and attacked settlers in Maine and New Hampshire.

Although neither side had gained significant territory when peace was declared in 1697, the war had important consequences. Many colonists serving in the English army died of battle wounds, smallpox, and inadequate rations. Those who survived resented their treatment and the unnecessary deaths of so many comrades. The Iroquois fared even worse. Their fur trade was devastated, and hundreds of Mohawks and Oneidas were forced to flee from France’s Indian allies along the eastern Great Lakes. “French Indians” and Iroquois continued to attack each other after the peace settlement, but in 1701 the Iroquois agreed to end the raids and remain neutral in all future European conflicts. Wary of further European entanglements, Iroquois leaders focused on rebuilding their tattered confederacy.

A second protracted conflict, known as the War of the Spanish Succession (1702—1713) or Queen Anne’s War, had even more devastating effects on North America. The conflict erupted in Europe when Charles II of Spain died without an heir, launching a contest for the Spanish kingdom and its colonies. France and Spain squared off against England, the Netherlands, Austria, and Prussia. In North America, however, it was England alone that faced France and Spain, with each nation hoping to gain additional territory. Both sides recruited Indian allies.

After more than a decade of savage fighting, Queen Anne’s War ended in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht, which sought to secure a prolonged peace by balancing the interests of the great powers in Europe and their colonial possessions. Yet England benefited the most in North America even as it consolidated power at home by incorporating Scotland into Great Britain through the 1707 Act of Union. Just six years later, France surrendered Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Hudson Bay Territory to England, while Spain granted England control of St. Kitts in the West Indies, Gibraltar, and Minorca as well as the right to sell African slaves in its American colonies. Yet neither the treaty nor Britain’s consolidation forestalled further conflict. Indeed, Spain, France, and Britain all strengthened fortifications along their North American borders (Map 3.1).

Indians Resist European Encroachment

The European conflicts in North America put incredible pressure on Indian peoples to choose sides. It was increasingly difficult for native peoples in colonized areas to remain autonomous, yet Indian nations were not simply pawns of European powers.

MAP 3.1

European Empires in North America, 1715-1750 France, Great Britain, and Spain competed with one another and with numerous Indian nations for control of vast areas of North America. Although European wars repeatedly spilled over into North America in the early to mid-eighteenth century, this map shows the general outlines of the empires claimed by each European nation in this period and the key forts established to maintain those claims.

Some sought European allies against their native enemies, and most improved their situation by gaining cloth, metal tools, guns, or horses from their European trading partners. However, many Indian nations suffered growing internal conflicts as war, trade, and colonial expansion increased the power of male warriors. In societies like the Cherokee and Iroquois, in which older women had long held significant economic and political authority, the rising power of young men threatened traditional gender and generational relations. In addition, struggles between the English and the French often fostered conflict among Indian peoples, reinforcing grievances that existed before European settlement.

The tensions among Indians escalated during the late seventeenth century as southern tribes like the Tuscarora, Yamasee, Creek, Cherokee, Caddo, and Choctaw gained European goods, including guns. As deer disappeared from the Carolinas and the lower Mississippi valley, the most precious commodity for trade became Indian captives sold as slaves. Indians had always taken captives in war, but some of those captives had been adopted into the victorious nation. Now, however, war was almost constant in some areas, and captives were more valuable for sale as slaves than as adopted tribesmen. Moreover, slave raiding occurred outside formal conflicts, intensifying hostilities across the southern region.

Still, during the 1710s, some southern Indians tried to develop a pan-Indian alliance similar to that forged by New England Indians in the 1670s (see chapter 2). First, a group of Tuscarora warriors, hoping to gain support from other tribes, launched an attack on North Carolina settlements in September 1711. Over the next several months, hundreds of settlers were killed and hundreds more fled. However, South Carolina colonists came to the aid of their North Carolina countrymen and persuaded Indian allies among the Yamasee, Catawba, and Cherokee nations to join forces against the Tuscaroras. Although some of these allies had traditionally been enemies, they now cooperated. Meanwhile political leaders in North Carolina convinced a competing group of Tuscaroras to ally with the colonists. By 1713 the war was largely over, and in 1715 the Tuscaroras signed a peace treaty and forfeited their lands. Many then migrated north and were accepted as the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The end of the war did not mean peace in the Carolinas, however. For the next two years, fierce battles erupted between a Yamasee-led coalition and the South Carolina militia. The Yamasee people remained deeply in debt to British merchants even as the trade in deerskins and slaves moved farther west. They thus secured allies among the Creeks and launched an all-out effort to force the British out. The Yamasee War marked the Indians’ most serious challenge to European dominance. Indeed, it was even bloodier than King Philip’s War. The British gained victory only after the Cherokees switched their allegiance to the colonists in early 1716 and thus ended the possibility of a major Creek offensive. The final Indian nations withdrew from the conflict in 1717, and a fragile peace followed.

The Yamasee War did not oust the British, but it did transform the political landscape of native North America. In its aftermath, the Creek and Catawba tribes emerged as powerful new confederations, the Cherokees became the major trading partner of the British, and the Yamasee nation was seriously weakened. And as the Cherokees allied with the British, the Creek and the Caddo tribes strengthened their alliance with the French. Meanwhile many Yamasees migrated to Spanish Florida, joining the Seminole nation.

Despite the British victory, colonists on the Carolina frontier faced raids on their settlements for decades to come. In the 1720s and 1730s, settlers in the Middle Atlantic colonies also experienced fierce resistance to their westward expansion. And attacks on New Englanders along the Canadian frontier periodically disrupted settlement there. Still, many Indian tribes were pushed out of their homelands. As they resettled in new regions, they alternately allied and fought with native peoples already living there. At the same time, the trade in Indian slaves expanded in the west as the French and the Spanish competed for economic partners and military allies.

Global Conflicts on the Southern Frontier

Indians were not the only people to have their world shaken by war. By 1720 years of warfare and upheaval had transformed the mind-set of many colonists, from New England to the Carolinas. Although most considered themselves loyal British subjects, many believed that British proprietors remained largely unconcerned with the colonies’ welfare. Others resented the British army’s treatment of colonial militia and Parliament’s unwillingness to aid settlers against Indian attacks. Moreover, the growing numbers of settlers who arrived from other parts of Europe had little investment in British authority.

The impact of Britain’s ongoing conflicts with Spain during the 1730s and 1740s on southern colonists illustrates this development. Following the Yamasee War, South Carolina became a royal colony, and its profitable rice and indigo plantations spread southward. Then, in 1732, Parliament established Georgia (named after King George II) on lands north of Florida as a buffer between Carolina colonists and their longtime Spanish foes. The colony was initiated by social reformers like James Oglethorpe who hoped to provide small farms for Britain’s poor. Initially slavery was outlawed, and land grants usually consisted of 50 to 100 acres.

Despite the noble intentions of Georgia’s founders, Spanish authorities were furious at this expansion of British territorial claims. Thus in August 1739, a Spanish naval ship captured an English ship captain who was trading illegally in the Spanish West Indies and severed his ear. In response, Great Britain attacked St. Augustine and Cartagena (in present-day Colombia), but its troops were repulsed. In 1742 Spain sent troops into Georgia, but Oglethorpe’s militia pushed back the attack. By then, the American war had become part of a more general European conflict. Once again France and Spain joined forces while Great Britain supported Germany in Europe. When the war ended in 1748, Britain had ensured the future of Georgia and reaffirmed its military superiority. Once again, however, victory had come at the cost of the lives of many colonial settlers and soldiers, a fact that was not lost on the colonists, some of whom began to wonder if their interests and those of the British government were truly the same.

Southern Indians were also caught up in ongoing disputes among Europeans. While both French and Spanish forces attacked the British along the Atlantic coast, they sought to outflank each other in the lower Mississippi River valley and Texas. With the French relying on Caddo, Choctaw, and other Indian allies for trade goods and defense, the Spaniards needed to expand their alliances beyond the Tejas. Initially, however, Apache raids on Spanish missions led Spanish settlers to sell captured Apache women and children into slavery in Mexico. In 1749, however, Father Santa Ana convinced a Spanish general to send two Apache women and a man back to their village with a peace proposal. Shortly afterward, in an elaborate ceremony at the mission, the two sides literally buried their differences in a large pit and negotiated peace.

The British meanwhile became increasingly dependent on European immigrants to defend colonial frontiers against the French, Spaniards, and Indians. Certainly many Anglo-Americans moved westward as coastal areas became overcrowded, but frontier regions also attracted immigrants from Scotland and Germany who sought refuge and economic opportunity in the colonies. Many headed to the Virginia and Carolina frontier and to Georgia in the 1730s and 1740s. Meanwhile South Carolina officials recruited Swiss, German, and French Huguenot as well as Scots-Irish immigrants in the 1740s to settle along the Pee Dee River and other inland waterways. Small communities of Jews settled in Charleston as well. Gradually many of these immigrants moved south into Georgia, seeking more and cheaper land. Thus when Spanish, French, or Indian forces attacked the British colonial frontier, they were as likely to face Scots-Irish and German immigrants as Englishmen.


• How did the European wars of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries impact relations between colonists and England?

• How and why were Indians pulled into the wars between European powers fought in North America?

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