Amerindians and Seven Years' War

Throughout the Seven Years' War the Canadian Iroquois fought as allies of the French. They took part in the French operations in the Ohio and in every major campaign on the frontiers of Canada. France needed their support both because the French fighters were outnumbered and because their particular military skills and knowledge of the territory. Nonetheless, although they might be marching and fighting side by side, they were fighting two different wars.

Indeed, the French government considered the activities of the British in North America to be inimical to the interests of France. Thus, during the Seven Years' War French forces undertook a series of military operations directed against specific objectives whose destruction or capture were supposed to influence the action of the enemy. Soldiers and militiamen might have little interest in the pursuit of the objectives of the war, but they belonged to a society that was able to channel its human resources into military operations.

The Iroquois fought a different war. Their own lands were not at risk until the last year of the war. Their interests lay in peace rather than war with the British.

The Kahnawakes enjoyed longstanding and mutually profitable commercial relations with New York which they were loath to jeopardize. Yet they went to war alongside the French. The warriors entered a war that advanced French interests rather than their own because the French were their allies. Amerindian alliances were intricate matrices of reciprocal expectations and obligations between equals. Dozens of years of alliance established a broad range of private, personal, official, economic, social, military and even ceremonial bonds between themselves and the French.

Yet although the Canadian Iroquois fought in the Seven Years' War at the request of the French, in so doing they surrendered neither their independence nor their freedom to wage war in their own way. Many individual Amerindian warriors engaged in warfare to obtain status and prestige through military achievement (through the taking of prisoners in particular, as these prisoners were valuable commodities, who could be sold, retained as a source of productive labour, exchanges or incorporated into an Amerindian family and community).

Rather than allowing the objectives of the French to dictate their actions, the Iroquois treated their participation in the war as they would any other military venture, as a great opportunity of distinguishing themselves, and of getting some prisoners and scalps to show the people that the warriors had been at war.

They could generally achieve these personal goals, as they employed purely Amerindian tactics. However, when the French invited their Canadian Iroquois allies to participate in a series of campaigns against British strongholds, conflicts could and did arise between the French and Amerindian styles of war. Rather than joining their allies, the warriors conducted parallel campaigns directed to the taking of prisoners, along with scalps and materials, within French military expeditions directed at the capture of the forts.

The pattern of parallel warfare characterized most, if not all, major Franco-Amerindian military ventures during the Seven Years' War.

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