The Seven Years' War

As in 1699, it was war, closely linked to British economic expansion, that revived the French government's interest in Detroit. A British alliance with the Miami and band of Hurons who had left Detroit as a result of Cadillac's misguided Indian policy helped British traders penetrate west and divert to Albany many of the furs that formerly flowed to Montreal from Fort St. Joseph. Although this economic squabble might not have led the French to reinvigorate Detroit, in 1744 a number of issues caused France and England to declare war on one another again.

As the war began the British reinforced their economic penetration of the Great Lakes region by building military strongholds among their Huron allies living along Sandusky Bay. The British also encouraged their Iroquois allies to launch an attack against Detroit. No large Indian attack occurred at Detroit, but small groups of hostile Indians continually moved near the community and occasionally killed someone who had wandered too far from the fort's walls. With war parties in the vicinity and British traders and military pressing the southern borders of New France, the long ignored garrison town was suddenly on the front line of the new conflict.

Detroit quickly became a valuable French military asset. As early as 1745 small Indian raiding parties were being outfitted in Detroit, and by 1747 the Detroit garrison had assumed considerable importance in preparing Indian expeditions. Although peace was declared in 1748 both France and England viewed this action as little more than a temporary truce. Detroit continued to serve as an important French outpost. In 1749, and again in 1751 and 1754, France gave special supplies and concessions to groups of settlers who agreed to come to the community and strengthen it.

During this period of armed truce, both France and England decided to make good on conflicting claims to the Ohio River valley south of Detroit. Both nations had asserted sovereignty over the region for decades, but before the 1740s there had been little effort to resolve or enforce the conflicting claims. In 1748, however, Virginia granted a group of speculators up to 500,000 acres in the area if they began a settlement. This threat of wide-scale English settlement added to French anxiety created by the British fur traders and military already operating in the upper Ohio valley.

Although France and Britain remained technically at peace, as early as 1749 the French in Canada began to respond militarily to British "provocations." In 1752 a raiding party was organized at Detroit and succeeded in destroying Pickawillany, a British fort in Ohio. After the fort's fall, the Indians who had allied themselves with the British were savagely attacked. In 1754 the two nations formally went to war. A seven-year, global conflict followed, which ultimately led to France's defeat and the loss of Canada to the British.

France would lose the war, but in the first years of the conflict French Canada fared well and French-allied Indians continued to use Detroit as a supply and staging area. In 1757 the situation in the Northwest so favored the French that several of England's Indian allies, believing the British cause was lost, assembled at Detroit to make their peace with France. But France's early victories were succeeded by ever-more-grievous defeats. As the fortunes of war changed, Detroit became an important French defensive position. By 1759 the French garrison at Detroit was feverishly preparing for a British attack. The British, however, who believed they could win a decisive battle in eastern Canada, concentrated their military forces there and ignored France's western outposts. This strategy proved to be correct. After the British captured Montreal, the governor-general of New France surrendered all of Canada, including Detroit, to the British. As a result of the surrender, British soldiers took charge of Detroit on November 29, 1760, without firing a shot.