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Colonial Wars, 1689-1762

Colonial Wars, 1689-1762

by Howard H. Peckham

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Although the colonial wars consisted of almost continuous raids and skirmishes between the English and French colonists and their Indian allies and enemies, they can be separated into four major conflicts, corresponding to four European wars of which they were, in varying degrees, a part: King William's War (1689-97) (War of the League of Augsburg); Queen Anne's War (1702-13) (War of the Spanish Succession); King George's War (1744-48) (War of the Austrian Succession); and The French and Indian War (1755-62) (Seven Years' War).

Mr. Peckham chronicles the events of these wars, summarizing the struggle for empire in America among France, England, and Spain. He indicates how the colonists applied the experience they gained from fighting Indians to their engagements with European powers. And what they learned from the colonial wars they translated into a political philosophy that led to independence and self-government.

The ready involvement of the colonies in European ambitions, the success and failure of co-operation between colony and mother country, the efforts of the English colonies together, and the growing differences between them and Britain give the narrative continuity and rising excitement.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226653143
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/15/1965
Series: The Chicago History of American Civilization
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 266
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Howard H. Peckham is now retired from the University of Michigan where he was professor of history and director of the Clements Library.

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The Colonial Wars 1689â"1762

The Chicago History of American Civilization

By Howard H. Peckham, Daniel J. Boorstin

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1964 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-65314-3


Europeans vs. Indians

It was inevitable that the American colonies of the several European powers should become involved in the wars of their rival parent countries. The latter were the Atlantic and North Sea nations that had risen to prominence after the discovery of an all-water route to the fabled East. The Mediterranean then lost its place as the center of commerce, and the Italian city-states their eminence in the carrying trade. European eyes turned outward to the vast expanse of the unknown Atlantic Ocean.


Little Portugal had found the way around Africa to the East and later settled on the shoulder of South America called Brazil. First to colonize in the New World, however, was Spain, following the discoveries of Columbus. Spreading herself broadly, if thinly, across the West Indies into Mexico and South America, Spain enjoyed the first fruits of foreign riches. Her period of glory was the sixteenth century, when she exploited the Americas, absorbed Portugal, and dominated Europe. Her foreign policy was the most expensive in the world, and not long after the destruction of the armada she sent against England in 1588, her fortunes began to decline.

Shipments of gold and silver bullion fell off as the mines of America approached exhaustion and as smuggling and piracy took their tolls. Spain's population diminished as the colonies attracted the more vigorous Spaniards to emigrate and as hundreds of thousands of Moriscos were expelled for religious reasons. Then came a succession of wars and military defeats in the first half of the seventeenth century by which Spain lost her holdings in the prosperous Netherland provinces and in Italy, failed to hold Portugal, and agreed to make the Pyrenees her boundary with France. By 1660 Spain was finished as a great power in Europe; still she held a vast colonial empire in her somnolent grasp and dreamed of a glorious military past.

When colonization of America began, Spain had the finest army in the world. It drew on the best elements of the population, since Spanish gentlemen considered any profession but arms degrading. Generations had been brought up on tales of battle with the Moors, and with the Reformation a new heretic appeared as enemy. The rigorous Spanish climate produced hardy young men who could endure much; and because a soldier was a person of distinction, the discipline and training that made him efficient were bearable. Merchant seamen provided the base for a navy on which Philip II spent another fortune enlarging.

The army organization of the early 1500's did not change until after the Spaniards were defeated by the French in 1643. The infantry was formed by tercios of three thousand men each, half of them armed with pikes, a third of them with swords and javelins, and the remainder with arquebuses (heavy muskets used with gun rests). In battle the pikemen formed squares, with the swordsmen in their center. The arquebusiers and artillery were drawn up between the squares. Cavalry was a minor arm. Increased use of firearms gradually altered these formations.

In the area of the United States, Spain penetrated the Southwest from Mexico first and the Southeast later, in 1565 founding St. Augustine in Florida. A century later, in 1672, a great stone fort was started there. In addition to the troops already posted in Cuba, Mexico, and Peru, two companies of regulars, amounting to two hundred and eighty officers and men, were dispatched for garrison duty in Florida. Small detachments were stationed in Guale on the Savannah River, at Timucua to the south, and at Apalachee to the west of St. Augustine. In 1688 the regulars totaled three hundred and fifty-five, in three companies. Two companies of militia—one of them free men of color—were formed from the perhaps twelve hundred local inhabitants.

St. Augustine was strictly a military town, a presidio. Its economy revolved around the needs of the garrison and the soldiers' pay. And the soldiers were there for two reasons: to guard the Gulf Stream passage of Spanish ships north and south between the mainland and the Bahamas, and to protect the forty to seventy Catholic missionary priests working among the Indians. Political and military power was concentrated in the hands of a governor, who was responsible to the governor of Cuba. He had two civil aides—an accountant and a treasurer —and a sergeant major as second-in-command of the garrison. These officials, plus a few others, including clerics, composed a junta, or temporary council, like the official cabildo in other colonies. The junta was an unauthorized advisory body which the governor could call together whenever he wanted help or to share responsibility. Since it was dissolved after each meeting, it carried no interim responsibilities. Regardless of its organization, St. Augustine never prospered, few settlers came, and the colony had to be constantly subsidized.

France had responded slowly to Carrier's early voyage into the St. Lawrence River and grudgingly allowed Samuel de Champlain to establish a colony at Port Royal, Acadia, in 1605, and one at Quebec in 1608. He went on to build a temporary fur post at Montreal in 1611. Until shortly before these events, France had been torn by factions and civil war, achieving unity by wise toleration. Although she was soon to be involved in the Thirty Years' War in Europe, she gathered internal strength after 1663 under the tax reforms of Controller Colbert, who proceeded also to build up the French navy and merchant marine and to encourage colonial trading companies.

From 1666 to 1691 Louis XIV had another exceptionally able minister in the Marquis de Louvois. He reorganized the army and made it the new model for all Europe to emulate. He hurried the replacement of pikes and bows by muskets, to which he attached bayonets. He introduced training for the men, marching in step, uniforms, and regular pay. Louvois insisted that officers tend to their duties, added lieutenant colonels to check on noble colonels and lieutenants to assist noble captains, and appointed inspectors to see that the standards he set were maintained. General officers above colonels were ranked to regularize the flow of authority downward from the king, who was commander in chief. Staffs were provided to plan campaigns. The artillery was attached to the army, and an engineering corps was created.

Louvois built barracks to end the billeting of soldiers in private houses and provided a retirement home for old and disabled veterans. The immensely improved efficiency of the French army was tested and hardened under two great generals of the period, Turenne and Condé. At the same time, an imaginative military engineer, the Marquis de Vauban, devised a successful method of conducting sieges and also fortified French cities against such operations—until it was said that a Vauban city could be taken by no one, except Vauban. Thus it was that by 1689 France had a reputation for invincible arms, and its professional army of one hundred thousand men was both the pride of Louis and the terror of all Europe. It was also enormously expensive.

For all the dominating size of the French army, Louis spared little of it for service in Canada. Never did he send as many as two thousand troops to defend his colony or to capture any of the British colonies. Canada was regarded as the warehouse of a commercial company interested in the fur trade. Failure of the company to provide for the security or well-being of the colony forced Louis to take it over as a royal province in 1662. Immediately he sent over one company of regulars to maintain order, and the first governor he appointed brought a reinforcement. The whole French population in Canada at this time amounted to only three thousand. In 1665 Louis sent over the rest of the Carignan Regiment (twenty-four companies of fifteen hundred men) under Colonel de Salières. It was split up: a garrison protected Quebec; five companies under Captain Sorel built and garrisoned a fort named for him near the mouth of the Richelieu River; others under Captain de Chambly built a second fort farther up the river; a third fort, Ste. Thérèse, was erected almost at its source, which is Lake Champlain; and a fourth, Fort Ste. Anne, was constructed on Île La Motte in the northern part of the lake. These four forts along the favorite Iroquoian route to Montreal were designed for defense. Governor de Tracy sent his regulars and militia against the Mohawks in 1666 and burned their villages. They sued for peace, and in the next year all but four companies of the Carignan Regiment were ordered back to France.

Seigniories were offered to officers of the recalled companies if they would remain as settlers. The grants were large enough that those who took them could sublet tracts to noncommissioned officers and soldiers. The royal treasury also gave them cash to get a feudal colony started around Montreal. Twenty-five to thirty officers and more than four hundred soldiers remained. Five hundred new settlers came in 1670, and six more companies of the Carignan Regiment were returned. The ten companies were now transferred to the Department of the Marine and Colonies and henceforth were known as La Marine Regiment. Early in the 1680's about six hundred more regulars were ordered to Canada as replacements. Governor the Marquis de Denonville was supplied with eight hundred regulars in 1686, which he used, along with a thousand Canadian militia and three hundred Indians, against the Senecas the next year. But when the Indians retaliated and he sought more troops from home, he was advised to make peace!

The province of Canada was ruled by the king, who appointed a governor to act for him in civil and military affairs, and an intendant in charge of financial and judicial matters. If each official was jealous of the other and reported on hisrival's actions, so much the better for administration. In addition, the Catholic Church sent over a bishop, and these three officials selected five councilors to serve with them as a governing body. The colonists had little to say and were divided economically into social classes. Grants of land, or seigniories, had been made by the king to favorites. These feudal landowners not only pledged their loyalty to the king but rented land to tenants, milled their wheat for a fee, led them in military service, and acted as their judges. Skilled artisans paid the seignior for the privilege of working at their trades. New settlements were made by granting new seigniories. Many of the Canadians worked in the fur trade, serving the company that held the monopoly or a merchant licensed by the company. They were boatmen and bush rangers. A few attempted private enterprise by pursuing their work independently and illegally, and selling to English traders. These hard, brawling, half-civilized woodsmen had even less interest in self-government than the plodding tenant farmers. What was conspicuously missing was a middle class, large, stable, and flourishing.

England lagged behind France in military prowess. War had become professional in Queen Elizabeth's time, but she would neither pay the expense of a standing army nor employ foreign mercenaries. She placed her reliance on the Royal Navy. England had a kind of militia in "trained bands" in each county serving under a lord lieutenant. Successive kings showed little interest in a professional army until Charles I faced a rebellion in Scotland in 1639 and discovered that the trained bands looted and rioted much better than they fought. Civil war followed, with king and Parliament each raising an army. Out of the contest emerged the New Model Army of 1645 that came under the command of Oliver Cromwell. The men were organized into regiments of ten companies each. Scarlet uniforms were adopted. Pay remained at eight pence a day, most of it withheld or "stopped" for clothing and food. A Parliamentary committee looked after the men; a treasurer of war handled financial matters; and an office of ordnance supplied weapons and stores.

Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II identified the army with Parliament's revolt, so he set about reducing it, keeping only a small corps of guards to protect his person. He also reorganized the militia so that the king commanded it. But in three successive wars with the Dutch the army had to be increased. Parliament, however, never recognized its existence and never provided for it. The king paid the costs of the army himself, sometimes using money voted for the militia, sometimes selling commissions. Another way was to borrow money secretly from Louis XIV, who harbored the remote hope of restoring Catholicism in England. There was no military law: disobedient soldiers had to be tried in civil courts, and some infractions such as desertion or sleeping on duty were not civil offenses and could not be punished. Military service carried little prestige. The officer corps was a not too demanding profession for young noblemen, and the ranks were the last refuge of desperate men.

From the homeland, then, the English colonies could not expect much military aid. In fact, England had left to stock companies the sponsorship of settlements in Virginia in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620, and to proprietors the attracting of settlers to the Jersies, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Carolina. Charles I had involved England in a brief war with France in 1628 and casually allowed the three Kirke brothers to lead a squadron that captured both Port Royal and Quebec. The French posts were restored at the peace table.

By the end of the century stock companies and proprietors had been disappointed, and most of the English colonies were under royal supervision. The king appointed the governor, but the colony was ruled, in contrast to a Spanish or French colony, by an assembly of two houses modeled after Parliament. The upper chamber or council, appointed by the Crown, in addition to its legislative function formed the highest court in the colony. The lower house was made up of representatives elected by free adult males who possessed some property. They held the purse strings, even on the governor's salary, and frequently were at odds with the governor and council. The laws they enacted could be disallowed by the Privy Council. Local or county courts with elected judges were provided throughout each colony. Town meetings in New England elected local officials and passed ordinances, while in the South the church vestrymen served the civil interests of their parish. Self-government to this extent was firmly embedded and zealously guarded by this middle-class society. Connecticut and Rhode Island were special situations, so democratic as to elect their governors and legislatures; the king permitted this freedom so long as their laws were in harmony with England's.

The Dutch, who had penetrated both East and West Indies, found the Hudson River and staked out a fur-trading post in 1614 near Albany, later building Fort Orange. In 1625 a Dutch colony settled on Manhattan Island and developed New Amsterdam. Then the Swedes appeared on the Delaware River, an area claimed by the Dutch. The Dutch seized the Swedish settlements and by 1655 had eliminated them from America. England in turn grew irritated at seeing Dutch expansion between the two developing English zones and boldly captured New Amsterdam in 1664, renaming it New York. In a second Dutch war, France joined Holland during the last few months of 1667, thereby spurring Holland as well as England to make peace. Nothing in this war happened in America except that the French marched on the troublesome Mohawks, and the governor of New York tried without success to arouse New England to join him in attacking Montreal and Quebec.

Above Quebec the frozen North lay open to the French until 1670, when by an astute move the British established a post in Hudson Bay. Thus Canada found itself hemmed in north and south, but with the vast interior of the continent wide open. Possessing the only water routes into the West, the French paddled up the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers to the Great Lakes. Forts appeared at both ends of Lake Ontario, and St. Ignace on the Straits of Mackinac controlled the upper trade route. Dauntless explorers discovered the great Mississippi River and ventured into the Illinois country. La Salle even planned a post at the mouth of the mighty river, but lost his life in a futile effort to locate it. English colonies might claim a long Atlantic coast line, but they had no depth, and France was determined that they should remain on the Appalachian shelf.

To the south, Virginians had pushed down into modern North Carolina, but Charleston harbor was settled by aggressive Englishmen from Barbados in 1670. They promptly attacked St. Augustine but were driven off, and Spain began its fortification. The Spaniards looked upon the Charlestonians as invaders anyway, and in 1686 the governor sent an expedition northward. Although it wiped out a four-year-old Scot settlement on Port Royal Island, a hurricane saved Charleston from assault.


Excerpted from The Colonial Wars 1689â"1762 by Howard H. Peckham, Daniel J. Boorstin. Copyright © 1964 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

I. European vs. Indians
II. Militia at the Frontiers: King William's War
III. Attempts at Military Co-operation: Queen Anne's War
IV. American Troops under British and American Officers
V. Militia and the Royal Navy: King George's War
VI. French Militia vs. Virginia Militia
VII. British Regulars and American Militia
VIII. Royal Americans and Rangers
IX. Anglo-American Allies
X. Victory Removes an Antagonist
XI. The Aftermath
Important Dates
Suggested Readings

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