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Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years' War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765

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Even as the 250th anniversary of its outbreak approaches, the Seven Years' War (otherwise known as the French and Indian War) is still not wholly understood. Most accounts tell the story as a military struggle between British and French forces, with shifting alliances of Indians, culminating in the British conquest of Canada. Scholarly and popular works alike, including James Fennimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, focus on the action in the Hudson River Valley and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Matthew C. Ward tells the compelling story of the war from the point of view of the region where it actually began, and whose people felt the devastating effects of war most keenly-the backcountry communities of Virginia and Pennsylvania.  

Previous wars in North America had been fought largely on the New England and New York frontiers. But on May 28, 1754, when a young George Washington commanded the first shot fired in western Pennsylvania, fighting spread for the first time to Virginia and Pennsylvania. Ward's original research reveals that on the eve of the Seven Years' War the communities of these colonies were isolated, economically weak, and culturally diverse. He shows in riveting detail how, despite the British empire's triumph, the war brought social chaos, sickness, hunger, punishment, and violence, to the backcountry, much of it at the hands of Indian warriors.

Ward's fresh analysis reveals that Indian raids were not random skirmishes, but part of an organized strategy that included psychological warfare designed to make settlers flee Indian territories. It was the awesome effectiveness of this “guerilla” warfare, Ward argues, that led to the most enduring legacies of the war: Indian-hating and an armed population of colonial settlers, distrustful of the British empire that couldn't protect them. Understanding the horrors of the Seven Years' War as experienced in the backwoods thus provides unique insights into the origins of the American republic.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In gripping detail, [Ward] tells the story of a decade of devastation and settler-refugee flight produced by the war and its aftermath. . . . His engrossing writing style and crisp analysis should appeal to general readers as well as advanced history students and college professors. . . . Brings to life all the protagonists on America’s western frontier.” 
--History: Reviews of New Books

"Seamlessly combining military, social, diplomatic, and Indian history, Ward persuasively demonstrates how the war ‘fundamentally transformed both colonies.’ . .  highly relevant to academic, public, and classroom discussions of the war’s meanings and legacies.”
--PA Magazine of History and Biography

“Ward ably explains life in the backcountry, the demographics of provincial armies (including a comparison of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts soldiers), the intricacies of Native American diplomacy, the politics of colonial government, and military actions in the Ohio Valley. Scholars interested in rural life, military and social history, and Native American studies should welcome this book.”

Library Journal
Monographs about the Seven Years' War in North America, known also as the French and Indian War, have tended to focus on the military campaigns of European officers and the armies under their command. Ward (Univ. of Dundee, Scotland) opts to examine the conflict from a region dotted with isolated frontier settlements and polyglot Native American communities. The author admirably demonstrates how the vicious guerrilla warfare practiced in the backcountry forced terrified colonists to learn how to defend themselves, since it became patently obvious that British armies were unable to provide adequate protection. Not surprisingly, as shown by Ward, these individuals emerged from the conflict as hardened warriors with a general contempt for militarily impotent Great Britain. These views would contribute to the onset of the American Revolution approximately a decade later. This fascinating work complements Fred Anderson's Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, which is the best general survey of the conflict available. Both works are highly recommended for academic and public libraries.-John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822958659
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 987,929
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew C. Ward is a lecturer in the department of history at the University of Dundee, Scotland.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
The Collision of Worlds: 1700-1755 9
2 War Comes to be Backcountry 36
3 "Dissatisfact'n, Discontent and Clamours of All Ranks": The Breakdown of Backcountry Society, 1755-1758 59
4 "An Extream Bad Collection of Broken Innkeepers, Horse Jockeys, & Indian Traders": The Provincial Forces 91
5 Wars and Words: Political Conflict and the Diplomatic Offensive 123
6 Turning Point: The British Drive to the Ohio 157
7 The Quest for Security, 1759-1763 186
8 Denouement: "Pontiac's War," 1763-1765 219
Conclusion 255
App Composition of the Provincial Regiments 263
List of Abbreviations 265
Notes 267
Bibliography 307
Index 319
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2004

    Brings the French and Indian War to life

    This book manages to provide a great balance between a detailed study of the frontier of Virginia and Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War and the broader perspective of events elsewhere in North America and across the British Empire. It gives a real sense of the importance of this region during the war and how events in the region affected the war elsewhere. It provides a fascinating insight into how the war affected ordinary Virginians and Pennsylvanians, from the experiences of capture by the Indians, to service in the provincial regiments. There is also a good discussion of Indian warfare and Indian motives for going to war and of British and colonial strategy and tactics during the war. The story is brought to life by the many interesting episodes during the war which are detailed in the book, from the soldiers at Fort Allen in Pennsylvania getting drunk and partying with the Indians, to the attempts of the Quakers to negotiate a peace. The book has an appeal to both military and social historians and for those with an interest in the early career of George Washington or Native American history. Its style appeals both to an academic and a general audience and it is really easy to get into the book. Overall, this book really brings the French and Indian War to life.

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