The French, the English, the Indians, and the Wars for Empire

Native Americans throughout the eastern half of North America frequently found themselves fighting either for the French or for the English. In many cases, tribes with existing diplomatic or trade ties with one side or the other joined that side in the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Loyalties occasionally shifted, however, and Amerindians often chose “sides based on what they considered their best interests in protecting their territories, maintaining trade, or settling old intertribal scores.”1 In the end, some perceptive Native Americans realized that the belligerent European powers “were like a pair of scissors. The two sharp blades appear to clash noisily, but actually cut the Amerindians between them.”2

The French in Louisiana sought allies among the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, but met with only limited success. The Creeks had initially courted the Spanish, but missionary activities among the tribe created problems, and the converts moved south while the remainder of the tribe were now hostile toward the Spanish. The French were able to gain allies in some bands of the Creek, but the majority sided with England. The Choctaws ultimately allied themselves with the French, while the Chickasaws, who had been trading with the English colonies for some time, remained loyal to the English. The Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws had long been rivals with each other, and the colonial wars gave them an opportunity to gain powerful allies in their struggles against one another.3

Native Americans did not always choose sides during these conflicts, with the most notable neutrals being the Iroquois Confederacy. The Five Nations had long been hostile to New France, but growing dissatisfaction with their English allies helped push the tribes toward a policy of neutrality. In July 1701, representatives of the Five Nations met in Montreal with the French and many of their Amerindian allies. The resulting “Great Peace” remained in effect throughout the remainder of the French presence in North America. Members of the Five Nations had simultaneously negotiated at Albany to ensure their continued good relations with the English. This neutrality allowed the Iroquois to focus on intertribal rivalries to the south. In the south, the Creeks made a peace with the French that, like the “Great Peace” of the Iroquois, lasted until the French were forced from the continent.4 

____________________________________________

1. Carl Waldman, Atlas of the North American Indian, 3rd ed. (New York: Checkmark Books, 2009), 134.

2. Ian K. Steele, Warpaths: Invasions of North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 146.

3. Steele, Warpaths, 151-155; Waldman, Atlas, 136.

4. Steele, Warpaths, 148-155.

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