On September 13, 1759, during the Seven Years’ War—a worldwide conflict known in the United States as the French and Indian War—the British troops under the command of General James Wolfe scaled the cliffs leading up to the city of Quebec. Their risky gambit paid off when they defeated the French forces under Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. Wolfe was fatally wounded during the battle, and though his victory ensured British supremacy in Canada, it also prompted the French to later support American colonists during the American Revolution.
Seven Years’ War: Background
In the early 1750s, French expansion into the Ohio River valley repeatedly brought France into armed conflict with the British colonies. In 1756, the first year of fighting in the Seven Years’ War, the British suffered a series of defeats against the French and their broad network of Native American alliances.
However, in 1757, British Prime Minister William Pitt, often called William Pitt the Elder, recognized the potential of imperial expansion that would come out of victory against the French and borrowed heavily to fund an expanded war effort. Pitt financed Prussia’s struggle against France and its allies in Europe and reimbursed the colonies for the raising of armies in North America.
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Battle of Quebec Begins
British and American troops established a foothold on the Isle of Orleans downstream from Quebec in June 1759. Three months later, on September 13, 1759, the British under General James Wolfe achieved a dramatic victory when they scaled the cliffs over the city of Quebec. The city was defended by French forces under Louis-Joseph de Montcalm.
The Battle of Quebec, sometimes called the Battle of the Plains of Abraham for the fields on which the fighting occurred, named for the farmer who owned the land), lasted less than an hour. Wolfe was fatally wounded by multiple musket shots. Montcalm also was wounded and died the next day.
By 1760, the French had been expelled from Canada, and by 1763 all of France’s allies in Europe had either made a separate peace with Prussia or had been defeated. In addition, Spanish attempts to aid France in the Americas had failed, and France also suffered defeats against British forces in India.
Treaty of Paris
The Seven Years’ War ended with the signing of the treaties of Hubertusburg and Paris in February 1763. In the Treaty of Paris, France lost all claims to Canada and gave Louisiana to Spain, while Britain received Spanish Florida, Upper Canada and various French holdings overseas.
The treaty ensured the colonial and maritime supremacy of Britain and strengthened the 13 American colonies by removing their European rivals to the north and the south. Fifteen years later, French bitterness over the loss of most of their colonial empire contributed to their intervention in the American Revolutionary War on the side of the colonists.