CHAPTER II. EXPULSION OF THE FRENCH (1750-1763).
The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 (Colonies, sec. 112) had not laid down a definite line between the French and the English possessions west of the mountains, According to the principles of international law observed at the time of colonization, each power was entitled to the territory drained by the rivers falling into that part of the sea-coast which it controlled. The French, therefore, asserted a prima facietitle to the valleys of the St. Lawrence and of the Mississippi (sec. 2); if there was a natural boundary between the two powers, it was the watershed north and west of the sources of the St. John, Penobscot, Connecticut, Hudson, Susquehanna, Potomac, and James. On neither side had permanent settlements been established far beyond this irregular ridge. This natural boundary had, however, been disregarded in the early English grants. Did not the charter of 1609 give to Virginia the territory "up into the land, from sea to sea, west and northwest"? (Colonies, sec. 29.) Did not the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Carolina grants run westward to the "South Sea"? And although these grants had lapsed, the power of the king to make them was undiminished; the Pennsylvania charter, the latest of all, gave title far west of the mountains.
To these paper claims were added arguments of convenience: the Lake Champlain region, the southern tributaries of Lake Ontario, and the headwaters of the Ohio, were more easily reached from the Atlantic coast than by working up the rapids of the St Lawrence and its tributaries, or against two thousand miles of swift current on the Mississippi. To the Anglo-Saxon hunger for more land was added the fear of Indian attacks; the savages were alarmed by the advance of settlements, and no principles of international law could prevent frontiersmen from exploring the region claimed by France, or from occupying favorite spots. There was no opportunity for compromise between the two parties; agreement was impossible, a conflict was a mere matter of time, and the elaborate arguments which each side set forth as a basis for its claim were intended only to give the prestige of a legal title. In the struggle the English colonies had one significant moral advantage: they desired the land that they might occupy it; the French wished only to hold it vacant for some future and remote settlement, or to control the fur-trade.
13. COLLISIONS ON THE FRONTIER (1749-1754).
For many years the final conflict had been postponed by the existence of a barrier state, - the Iroquois, or Six Nations of Indians. This fierce, brave, and statesmanlike race held a strip of the watershed from Lake Champlain to the Allegheny River. For many years they had been subject to English influence, exercised chiefly by William Johnson; but the undisturbed possession of their lands was the price of their friendship. They held back the current of immigration through the Mohawk. They aimed to be the intermediary for the fur-trade from the northwest. They remained throughout the conflict for the most part neutral, but forced the contestants to carry on their wars east or south of them.
Southwest of the territory of the Iroquois lay the region of the upper Ohio and its tributaries, particularly the valleys of the Tennessee, the Muskingum, the Allegheny, the Monongahela and its mountain-descending tributary, the Youghioghany, of which the upper waters interlace with branches of the Potomac. In this rich country, heavily wooded and abounding in game, there were only a few Indians and no white inhabitants. In 1749 France began to send expeditions through the Ohio valley to raise the French flag and to bury leaden plates bearing the royal arms. A part of the disputed region was claimed by Pennsylvania as within her charter limits; Virginia claimed it, apparently on the convenient principle that any unoccupied land adjacent to her territory was hers; the English government claimed it as a vacant royal preserve; and in 1749 an Ohio company was formed with the purpose of erecting the disputed region into a "back colony." A royal grant of land was secured, and a young Virginian, named George Washington, was sent out as a surveyor. He took the opportunity to locate some land for himself, and frankly says that "it is not reasonable to suppose that those, who had the first choice,... were inattentive to ... the advantages of situation."
[Attempts to occupy.]
Foreseeing the struggle, the French began to construct a chain of forts connecting the St. Lawrence settlements with the Mississippi. The chief strategic point was at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, - the present site of Pittsburg. The Ohio company were first on the ground, and in 1753 took steps to occupy this spot. They were backed up by orders issued by the British government to the governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland "to repel force by force whenever the French are found within the undoubted limits of their province." Thus the French and English settlements were brought dangerously near together, and it was resolved by Virginia to send George Washington with a solemn warning to the French. In October, 1753, he set forth, and returned in December to announce that the French were determined to hold the country. They drove the few English out of their new post, fortified the spot, and called it Fort Duquesne. The crisis seemed to Benjamin Franklin so momentous that at the end of his printed account of the capture of the post he added a rude woodcut of a rattlesnake cut into thirteen pieces, with the motto, addressed to the colonies, "Join or die."