Jonathan Benjamin and the French and Indian War

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Headstone of Jonathan Benjamin, Old Colony Burial Ground, Granville, Licking, Ohio.
Headstone of Jonathan Benjamin, Old Colony Burial Ground, Granville, Licking, Ohio. (Used with permission.)

➡ McMurray Family

“The definitive Treaty of Peace and Friendship between his Britannick Majesty, the Most Christian King, and the King of Spain. Concluded at Paris the 10th day of February, 1763. To which the King of Portugal acceded on the same day.”

So begins the Treaty of France, signed 252 years ago today, which ended the French and Indian War. Great Britain and her British American colonists could exist peacefully after this treaty was signed, or so it was thought.

The first real ‘global’ war, it was called the French and Indian War in America but known as the Seven Years War by Europeans because  hostilities there lasted from 1756 to 1763. The Canadians, who were affected greatly by this war, call it the Seven Years War if they are English, and La guerre de la Conquête (War of Conquest) or the 4th Intercolonial War, if they are French.

This was just the last of a series of conflicts beginning about 1688. King William’s War (1688-1697), Queen Ann’s War (1702-1713), and King George’s War (1744-1748, which included the “War of Jenkin’s Ear”) began in Europe and spread to the British American colonies. The French and Indian War, however, began in the colonies about 1754 and quickly spread among European nations. These four wars are often combined as “The French and Indian Wars.” (Note plural.)

The native peoples of North America were in conflict as well. The Five Nations of the Iroquois (AKA the Iroquois Confederation) were very active in this war against the British and colonists, yet the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee tribes were trying to gain their independence from the Confederation during this time too, increasing conflict. Add in local hostilities between colonists moving onto Indian land throughout our westward expansion, and America was in an almost constant state of conflict with native peoples until the 1890s.

As it had been for centuries, England and France were frequently at war, and that war drew in their colonists throughout their empire. In the Americas, France had allied with many Indian tribes, and paid bounties to Indians who brought in British scalps. (There were some Indian tribes who sided with the British, but not as many, and some who sided with whichever country was winning or paying the most at the moment.) Much of the fighting occurred in areas of the ‘Ohio Territory,’ or ‘Ohio Country’- basically the Ohio River Valley- land that was then the American frontier.

The Treaty of 1763 provisions required that France lose her territories in the Americas, and Britain  was given control of Quebec and The Ohio Valley, plus numerous other territories; this made England the greatest naval power in the world. New Orleans would remain in French hands and all of the Louisiana Territory that was west of the Mississippi was a Spanish possession, as Spain had allied with England.

So why this history lesson, other than to explain why people in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia speak English instead of French? (Portions of these states were part of “The Ohio Country,” and owned by France.) The American frontier of course had frontiersmen, and our McMurray ancestor, Jonathan Benjamin (1738-1841), was one of them, along with his family. Jonathan and his kin were subject to Indian and French depredations, and he fought back. Although reading the story of his family in the county library back in the late 60s was my first genealogy AHA! moment and hooked me forever, only recently did I learn that he is considered to be the last surviving US Veteran from the French and Indian War. So learning a bit more about Jonathan Benjamin can help us understand how our family helped to make history.

Jonathan Benjamin, in History of Licking County OH. Norman Newell Hill, Jr._Unigraphic, 1881. p602 (GoogleBooks)
Jonathan Benjamin, in History of Licking County OH. Norman Newell Hill, Jr. Unigraphic, 1881. p602 (GoogleBooks)

Jonathan Benjamin’s biography in The History of Licking County, Ohio continues:

“There is no doubt among his friends that he entered the military service at the age of fourteen years, and served through the war, but they cannot tell what war. It must have been some Indian campaign, as the French war did not commence for some two years later…

“In a conversation a short time before his death, he recapitulated his Indian history and sufferings. They were driven from their homes and their property burned three times, but the places where they suffered are forgotten.”

Part of his tales no doubt included the day he and his family escaped an Indian attack on a fort on the Susquehanna because they were across the river, but his brother and family were “…carried into captivity.”

Jonathan Benjamin and his family moved west, ‘civilizing’ what would become the United States. The end of the French and Indian War would have helped make their moves easier and less dangerous, though they probably still were required to protect their land and family.

 

More to come on Jonathan Benjamin and family.

 

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Text of the Treaty of Paris (interesting reading): http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/paris763.asp

2) Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 by Fred Anderson. Vintage reprint, 2001. THE best book available on the years of the French and Indian Wars, and how the animosities between British Americans and British troops, among other things, led to the American Revolution. (It wasn’t really just about tea and taxes.) This is a scholarly account though thoroughly enjoyable in my opinion, and, rather than being Anglocentric, presents the complex webs of economics, military, diplomatic, and societal relationships between the native peoples themselves, and then their interactions with the French and the English; it also has a global perspective, because even without internet and cellular communication, the world then was much more connected than many of us realize. Fred Anderson has written a shorter version (320 pp. vs 912, with 150 pages in the latter being notes and references ) called, The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. Fred Anderson. Penguin Books, 2006. This is geared toward the general reader as an introduction to this conflict. While based on his incredible, scholarly research, it does not read like a journal article but more like a novel. It actually is the companion book for the PBS 4-part series of the same name, which is available on DVD, but not as good as the books, in my opinion. The 1992 movie, “The Last of the Mohicans” is an excellent fictional account based on the book, but very historically accurate. and will only take a couple of hours of your time.

3) See also Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Paris_(1763)

French and Indian Wars: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_and_Indian_Wars

French and Indian War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_and_Indian_War

War of Jenkin’s Ear: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Jenkins%27_Ear

4) Jonathan Benjamin- last surviving veteran of the French and Indian Wars, on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_surviving_United_States_war_veterans

 

 

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