America’s first President George Washington fired a shot heard round the world 21 years before the start of the American Revolution. That shot triggered what many historians consider the first global war, the Seven Years War.
In May 1754, Major George Washington led a motley crew of Seneca tribesmen and Virginia militiamen into what is now Western Pennsylvania. Washington’s mission was to establish Virginia’s claim to the region by building a small fort.
At first glance, Washington’s expedition seems harmless, but it was about to lead to a clash of empires. To explain, in the Mid-18th Century the French Empire controlled the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, the Great Lakes, and most of North America.
Clash of Empires
Colonial authorities excluded all non-French and non-indigenous people from French North America. They barred outsiders to protect France’s fur monopoly, which was a key source of revenue for the always cash-strapped monarchy back home.
Native Americans trapped and hunted animals and traded the furs to the French. In exchange, the Natives received guns, gunpowder, metal tools, metal weapons, cooking pots, and alcohol. Additionally, the natives tolerated French Catholic missionaries.
By 1754, French North America faced an enormous threat. The 13 British colonies on Britain’s Eastern seaboard were growing like weeds. The colonies’ resident populations were growing fast.
Moreover, tens of thousands of new colonists from Scotland, Northern England, Ireland, and Germany were pouring into the colonies. This immigration disrupted colonial society because land in settled regions was in short supply, and jobs were few.
Social tensions were rising, particularly between older English colonialists and the troublesome Scotch Irish. Colonial leaders tried to ease the tension by sending the Scotch Irish to the frontier to fight the Indians.
Colonial leaders hoped the warlike Scots Irish could form a buffer between the natives and established settlements near the coast. Unfortunately, many natives were French allies.
The Land Grab that led to Global War
Ambitious promoters, such as George Washington, made the situation worse by scheming to grab Ohio Valley land and resale it to the new colonists. Predictably, the Virginians did not consult the indigenous people living on the land they planned to grab.
The French colonial government tried to block the Virginians’ land grab by building Fort Duquesne on the site of modern Pittsburgh. The French hope was to block American expansion into the Ohio Valley.
The purpose of Washington’s expedition was to counter Fort Duquesne by building its own stockade at Fort Necessity in a nearby meadow. Unfortunately, Washington had underestimated the French presence in the region.
The Skirmish that Sparked World War in 1754
Instead, Washington encountered a force of French soldiers on 28 May 1754. Washington attacked the French when they were cooking breakfast.
Washington’s force took the French by surprise and killed all but one soldier. Disgustingly, the Virginians and Senecas probably scalped some French. One French soldier escaped and alerted his comrades at Fort Duquesne.
The massacre triggered a war between the British and French empires in North America. That conflict became the French and Indian War spread across the globe and led to fighting in Europe, the Caribbean and India.
World War, 18th Century Style
Historians call the resulting conflict in North America the French and Indian War. They label the European conflict the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Actually, the Seven Years’ war lasted nine years because North American fighting broke out two years before European hostilities began.
Eventually, nations that had no interest in North America; including Russia, Austria, Prussia, and various Indian states, became embroiled in the fighting. One near casualty of the Seven Years’ War was the most famous monarch of the Age, Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia.
Frederick became embroiled in a war with the far larger Russian Empire and lost. The only thing that saved Frederick from destruction was the death of his archenemy, the Russian Empress Elizabeth.
How George Washington Helped put Catherine the Great on the Throne
The Czarina Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s fearsome daughter, died just as the Russian Army was about to overrun Berlin. Fate saved Frederick and possibly Prussia, because the Czar Peter III succeeded Elizabeth.
Peter III, a fan of Frederick, switched sides saving Prussia in what Frederick called The Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. Peter’s switch enraged many Russian soldiers and officers.
In July 1761, Peter was overthrown and assassinated in a coup and succeeded by his wife Catherine II. The Empress Catherine II became Catherine the Great. Russian officers staged the coup because they thought Peter had betrayed Russia to Prussia.
Therefore, George Washington triggered the events that helped bring Catherine the Great to the throne of Russia.
Setting the Stage for the American Revolution
Washington’s raid led to all out war when both Britain and France sent large forces of regular troops to North America for the first time. Britain won the resulting war by capturing the French cities of Montreal and Quebec. North America became British.
Thus, Washington set the stage for the American Revolution. After the war, the British tried to block American access to the Ohio Valley to protect the fur trade.
Anger at British efforts to keep American settlers east of the Allegheny Mountains was one of the Revolutionaries’ key grievances in 1776. Another cause of the Revolution was frustration with British taxes levied to to pay the French and Indian War Debt.
George Washington was partially responsible for Britain’s conquest of India
Strangely, the man who won America’s independence, George Washington, partially caused India’s conquest by the British East India Company.
Oddly one of the main battlefronts in the Seven Years War was in India. To explain, fighting broke out between the British East India Company; which maintained the world’s large private army. and French allies.
The French and their Indian Allies lost to one of Britain’s greatest generals, Sir Robert Clive. Clive commanded the East India Company’s forces against French allies. Consequently, the British drove the French out of India.
After the war, Clive became Governor of Bengal, India’s richest province. As governor, Clive amassed a fortune by obtaining the right to collect land taxes and customs duties for the East India Company, or “John Company.”
The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II granted the East India Company taxation rights out of fear of its power. The Bengal taxes gave John Company the money it needed to finance the conquest of India. Thus, Indians paid for Britain’s conquest of India.
Moreover, the Indian princely states were incapable of resisting British military pressure without French support. Within a generation the East India Company’s forces had conquered most of India. India’s Mughal Emperors became the Company’s puppets.
Clive did not live to see the Empire he founded. In 1774, Clive committed suicide after a parliamentary investigation of his finances. Parliament was trying to learn the source of Clive’s £33 million ($40.27 million) personal fortune.
George Washington Father of the British Empire and India?
Thus, George Washington accidentally triggered a course of events that destroyed one British Empire; in America, but created another in India. Hence, Washington influenced the creation of the world’s two largest democracies the United States and the Republic of India.
Ironically, British efforts to finance their Indian Empire became a cause of the American Revolution. The British East India Company owned the tea that patriots dumped in the harbor at the Boston Tea Party. To explain, American merchants were angry because the East India Company was hurting their business by selling cheaper tea.
Direct British rule succeeded the British East India Company in India. In 1877, Queen Victoria became Empress of India. Britain’s Dominion of India developed into the modern nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Therefore, perhaps George Washington was the indirect founder of the British Empire and the grandfather of modern India.