The Second Hundred Years War
Copyright © 2005-20, Henry J. Sage

Beginning in about 1689, a series of wars swept across Europe and around the world, all of which involved both the British and the American colonies. Those wars were fought all over the globe in some cases, and virtually every one of them saw fighting in America, pitting the British and Americans against their French and Spanish neighbors in the Western hemisphere. The European components of those wars often dealt with issues of little or no concern to the Americans, but they were often affected directly or indirectly by the outcomes, sometimes to their detriment. In some wars Colonial militias fought alongside British regulars and made significant gains on the battlefield, only to see the fruits of their efforts bargained away by treaties being made far across the Atlantic Ocean.

A substantial portion of these wars dealt with Empire—indeed, the last of them has been called the “Great War for Empire.” The net result of all of them was that Great Britain stood alone in command of most of North America—at least everything north of Mexico and east of the Mississippi. The Indian threat, which had been made worse because of the Indian alliances with the French, was significantly reduced, and the Americans in 1763 could feel secure within their borders. From fighting in these wars the Americans gained military experience as well as a sense of strength. Though they were not ready for any sort of union by 1763, they had begun to realize that in serious matters they had more in common with their colonial neighbors than they had previously believed.

Colonial American history was greatly affected by events in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. King Louis the XIV of France came to power in 1660, and as part of his strategy to increase French power in Europe he began what became a series of dynastic and imperial wars. In America, the aim of these wars was defense against Indians and against other colonial powers, especially France.

These wars, known as the Second Hundred Years War, included:

  • 1689-1697: KING WILLIAM'S WAR (War of the League of Augsburg)
  • 1702-13: QUEEN ANNE'S WAR (War of Spanish Succession)
  • 1715: YEMASSEE WAR: bitter, harsh; Indians defeated. (King Philip's War in New England.)
  • 1739: WAR of JENKINS' EAR: British and Spain—lasts until 1748 and leads into ...
  • 1740-48: KING GEORGE'S WAR (War of Austrian Succession)
  • 1756-1763: THE SEVEN YEARS WAR, or GREAT WAR FOR EMPIRE—The FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR In America

Those major wars were interspersed with periods of shaky peace and episodes of lesser conflict among the major powers. Each of these wars was fought in Europe among the British, French, Spanish, Russians, Germans, Austrians, and other players. In addition to being struggles over power on the European continent, these wars also affected the imperial domains of the nations concerned; thus many of them were fought not only in North America but on other parts of the globe where the European powers were struggling to build colonial empires. These wars also had religious implications, as Catholic and Protestant nations were often at odds, with issues left over from the bitter Thirty Years’ War, 1618–1648.

In the American colonies each of these imperial wars was named for the monarch on the throne of Great Britain at the time. Thus the War of the League of Augsburg became known as King William’s War; the War of Spanish Succession was known as Queen Anne’s war; the War of Austrian Secession was called King George’s War; and, as already mentioned, the Seven Years’ War was known in America as the French and Indian War. (That last war is sometimes referred to as the Great War for Empire.)

Those wars were world wars and were often carried out in the four corners of the earth. In North America, however, they affected the colonies deeply, as both the Spanish and French engaged Indians as allies to fight against the British colonists, and the colonists themselves furnished troops, supplies, and money to support these wars, which were also fought by British Redcoats shipped to America. The contributions of the colonial soldiers, while they were small in number, often involved substantial portions of the American population. Settlements along the front areas from New England to the South were threatened by Indian attacks, and the colonists lost significant numbers of soldiers and civilians from Indian raids. Most colonists considered their participation in these wars part of their duties as members of the British Empire, and the Empire looked at it in the same way. The colonists, however, were frequently frustrated by the fact that when these wars were terminated by treaties that ended the conflicts in Europe, those treaties often left the colonists wondering what they had been fighting for. For example, in one of those conflicts the colonists at great expense to themselves captured the French fortress of Louisburg in Nova Scotia. At the end of the war, however, the fortress was returned to the French as part of the peace settlement.

The last of these wars, the Seven Years’ or French and Indian War, was important for several reasons. First, the American contribution was substantial, and many Americans, including a young Virginia planter named George Washington, received combat experience that would serve them well in the coming revolution.

The French and Indian War is discussed in the American Revolution chapter.

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