The first international war in North America pitted two colonial powers, the French and British, against each other, with Indians and colonials fighting on both sides. Although it was known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War, it is called the French and Indian War in the United States. This conflict set the stage for the American Revolution, which occurred about 20 years later.

A Change in Colonial Language

The French and Indian War provides a way to show children how colonizers can imprint their culture on a region. French forces raided the upper Ohio River Valley, seizing Fort Prince George in 1754 and renaming it Fort Duquesne. The name change shows how language affects colonization. After the war, according to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s overview, the English took over formerly French territory in what is now the Upper Midwest and most of Canada. Only one province of the vast Canadian colony retained the French language of its original colonizers. The United States and most of Canada speak English today, in large part due to the aftermath of this war.

Small Raids to Big War

The war's surprising timeline began with early, seemingly inconsequential raids on trading posts and farmland, and ignited a worldwide war. In 1753, the governor of Canada, Marquis Duquesne, began building forts along Lake Erie and the Allegheny River system. Although the British did not have many settlers in the area, Britain claimed that territory. The next year, they their own stronghold, Fort Prince George. Tensions grew, but the war did not officially begin until the governments in Europe declared war in 1756. That declaration ignited Europe, quickly becoming what the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh calls a “global conflagration.”

George Washington's Start

George Washington got much of his early military leadership experience fighting in the French and Indian War. He was just a young officer when he was sent out to Pennsylvania. He defeated a group of French raiders, then erected his own fort -- Fort Necessity -- so British-American troops would have a handy base. The second time he fought the French, however, things didn't go so well. In 1755, he and his commander lost disastrously, partly because of the way the French were able to use the terrain to their advantage. Washington used those same tactics against the British themselves when he became a general.

American Indians on Both Sides

Youngsters may think of American Indians as a homogeneous group, but these nations differed as much in culture and language as the English from the French. Several nations participated in the war, on both sides. The French had strong relationships with American Indians west of the Alleghenies, based on their history as traders and trappers; their goal of suppressing English expansion meshed well with the Indians’ own motives, especially because the Lenape and Shawnee had only recently moved westward to escape the English. In addition to serving as scouts, American Indians played decisive roles in French victories at Fort Duquesne and Fort William Henry. In 1758, however, England made peace with the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, and the French lost the advantage of native support.