Colonial Growth & Expansion

Fort Frederica, Georgia, 1742

Fort Frederica, Georgia, 1742

To Oglethorpe and his associates, Georgia was a humanitarian project designed to provide new lives for English debtors. To the English Government, it was a military outpost from which attacks could be launched against Spanish Florida. To the Carolinians, even though they lost valuable western lands as a result, it was a welcome buffer against the Indian attacks from which they periodically suffered. Almost immediately, the Georgians and the Spanish Floridians began trying by force of arms to dislodge each other. Neither succeeded. In the last of a series of expeditions against St. Augustine, in 1739-40, Georgians came within sight of their goal but failed to reach it. Spaniards fared no better. After an unsuccessful attempt to take the Georgia outpost of Fort Frederica in 1742, they gave up the effort to expel the intruders.

Relations with the French along the western and northern frontiers of the English Colonies, if less bloody, were equally explosive. France claimed everything west of the Appalachians by right of a tenuous occupancy of the Mississippi Valley, a claim that England, because of the interests of her fur traders and land speculators, refused to acknowledge. England finally moved in 1754 to strengthen the colonies for the approaching conflict. Two imperial Indian agents were appointed to coordinate and improve Indian policy. An overall commander, Major General Edward Braddock, took charge of the American military forces and, to counteract the advantage of the professional French Army, British regulars began to arrive in America.

General Edward Braddock's Death

General Edward Braddock’s Death

The French and Indian War broke out early in 1754 when the French seized and fortified the forks of the Ohio River. Lieutenant Colonel George Washington marched west with a force of Virginia militia to contest the action but was besieged in Fort Necessity, southeast of the forks of the Ohio River, and was compelled to surrender. The following summer, General Braddock’s expedition against the French stronghold ended even more disastrously when the French and their Indian allies ambushed his command and all but annihilated it.

For three years the English tried in vain to drive back the French. Then William Pitt rose to power in England in 1757. He named young and vigorous men to commands in America, and the tide turned. In rapid succession, the French strongholds fell to the English armies: Louisbourg, Fort Duquesne, Fort Frontenac, Fort Niagara, Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Quebec, and finally Montreal itself. With the surrender of Montreal on September 8, 1760, the French gave up their claims to Canada and all its dependencies in North America. The war flared again, briefly, in 1761 when Spain came to the aid of France. The British, however, effortlessly seized Cuba and other Spanish possessions, and France and Spain had no choice but to sue for peace.

Benjamin Franklin and Richard Oswald discussing the Treaty of Paris

Benjamin Franklin and Richard Oswald discussing the Treaty of Paris

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, ended the French and Indian War. Besides losing Canada, France surrendered the eastern half of the Mississippi Valley to England. For the return of Cuba, Spain had to relinquish Florida. To compensate her ally, France gave to Spain western Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. England thus emerged as the possessor of all North America east of the Mississippi River, and in the long run, her mainland colonies profited very signally. No longer menaced by the French, they were free to expand westward in comparative security. They had gained from the war valuable military experience and a new sense of solidarity. Their ties with the mother country were weakened still further.

America Crosses the Mountains

The year 1763 found the western line of settlement stretching along the eastern base of the Appalachian barrier. Anglo-American frontiersmen had already penetrated the mountains beyond this line, exploring the interior rivers and trading for furs. This irregular penetration showed the way for the gathering flood of settlers who would soon pour through the mountains.

The fur interests vigorously opposed the overrunning of western preserves by settlers, who would inevitably drive away the Indian market. Balancing this influence, the land companies pressed to open new territories in the West. These and other interests were diligently at work while dogged pioneer farmers, who wanted only to find good land and build their homes, prepared to cross the mountains and claim the interior. The westward movement gathered momentum amid the clamor of land speculators and traders, presenting England with the bald fact that, no matter what the pressure groups wanted, or her own self-interest required, settlers were going to cross the mountains. The best that could be hoped for was the enactment of measures that would postpone western settlement until a policy could be formulated that would satisfy the vested interests and lessen the mounting threat of full-scale war with the Indians.

Appalacian Mountains in Georgia by Carol Highsmith.

Appalachian Mountains by Carol Highsmith.

The solution of the London policymakers was the Proclamation of 1763, which established the Appalachian highlands as the temporary boundary of settlement on the western border of the Atlantic colonies. At the same time, the proclamation established the Province of Quebec northwest of the Ohio River; East and West Florida; and the vast region north of the Floridas, west of the Appalachians, and south of the Ohio River as a reservation for the Indians, with land purchases from them forbidden. The Proclamation of 1763 and subsequent efforts in the same direction were, for the most part, hardly more than gestures. Events had passed beyond the control of the British authorities, who but dimly understood the forces at work in the Colonies.

Decrees from faraway London, intended to control the westward movement, could neither deal effectively with the surge of immigrants nor prevent conflict with the Indians. Indian fear and resentment expressed itself almost immediately in the bloody Pontiac uprising of 1763-64. For a time the frontier faced disaster, but the superior resources of the settlers ultimately prevailed, notably at the Battle of Bushy Run.

Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap by George Bingham

Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap by George Bingham

The tide of pioneers flowed through the mountain passes. Trading posts sprang up on the Ohio River below Fort Pitt, and the first settlement in the present State of Ohio was made at Schoenbrunn in 1772. In New York, the thin line of settlement that pointed west along the Mohawk spread north up the Hudson Valley, and south toward the Delaware River. German and Scotch-Irish immigrants filled the fertile valleys of western Pennsylvania, and rude cabins dotted western Maryland and northwestern Virginia. Since the 1730s, indeed, settlers from Pennsylvania had streamed south and west to Springdale and other places in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. This valley, in turn, offered a natural highway to the Carolina Piedmont, and from the farms and settlements of the Piedmont and Southern Highlands colonists drifted into eastern Tennessee, along the Watauga River, and through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

War with Indian and European rivals, treaties with these nations, land speculation, and the ceaseless coming and going of the hunters and fur traders — all these helped to plant the new frontier beyond the Appalachians. But the real strength of the westward advance lay in the sustained movement of thousands of settlers who left the safety of the colonies on the Atlantic, or came directly from Europe, to wrest a new life from the wilderness across the mountains. In the 18th century, the pattern of the frontier movement emerged. One day it would carry the Nation to the Pacific.

Compiled by Kathy Alexander, April 2019.

Also See:

Early American History

English Colonials to American Patriots

The French & Indian War

Settling America – The Proprietary Colonies

Source: National Park Service