"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
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The Story of Virginia
Previous chapter Virginia’s Traffic in the Atlantic World

The French and Indian War

The colonial backcountry reached into the Shenandoah Valley. Beyond were the Appalachian Mountains, a protective natural barrier from French settlements that stretched from Canada to Louisiana. To shield against Indian attacks and French expansion, and to deter runaway slaves from establishing colonies in the mountains, British and colonial leaders encouraged settlement of the Shenandoah Valley. German, Scots-Irish, and English settlers introduced ethnic and religious diversity there and established small farms where they grew grain and bred livestock. Absent was the eastern Virginia dependence on tobacco and slavery.

The Virginia colony’s boundaries, defined by James I’s Charter of 1609, extended way beyond the Shenandoah Valley and included land north of the Ohio River. Sixty-three years later a French explorer laid claim to the Ohio Valley. The two nations were locked on a collision course. In 1754, when Virginia land speculators looked to push settlement north of the Ohio, French troops out of Canada and Virginia soldiers commanded by young George Washington skirmished in what is now southwestern Pennsylvania. They initiated a world war between the English and French (known globally as the Seven Years’ War) that ended with the expulsion of France from the mainland of North America.

Céloron Plate, 1749

This lead plate started a world war. Both France and Great Britain claimed ownership of the Ohio Valley. In 1749, Capt. Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville asserted France’s claim to the region by placing this lead plate and five others along tributaries of the Ohio River—a traditional way of marking territory. The plaque displayed here is the only one of the group that survived intact.

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