British Interests on the Western Frontier

By the 1760s, Canada’s economy depended on the fur trade. When Britain gained French territory with the 1763 Treaty of Paris, it sought to protect the vital fur trade and its Native American suppliers, particularly since furs were used in Britain for manufacturing felt hats.

French map of America in 1715 showing Shawnee territory
French map of America in 1715 showing Shawnee territory (Pays des Chauouanons) west of the British colonies, illustrated by Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720)

When British soldiers tried to take possession of the French forts in 1763, Native American allies of the French rose up, seizing some of the smaller forts and attacking frontier settlements in Pennsylvania. They feared loss of their homelands and hunting grounds to land-hungry British colonists.

Hoping to avoid further conflict with Native Americans and protect the lucrative fur trade, Britain issued a royal proclamation in 1763 that forbade colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. Stationing garrisons along the Great Lakes to guard fur trade routes, Britain used less defended southern forts to organize Native American raids against colonial forts and settlements.

Increasing numbers of colonists in Pennsylvania and Virginia defied the British and their Native American allies, pushing into West Virginia and present-day Kentucky, which was part of Virginia at the time. Virginia frontiersmen fought back against Native American incursions in 1774 as part of a militia established by Virginia governor John Murray, Earl of Dunmore. Lord Dunmore’s War ended in October, just six months from the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

Britain only retained control for a short time, losing its forts in southern Illinois to George Rogers Clark in 1778 and 1779. Following the Revolution, a number of British fur traders remained in the region.