The Last of the Mohicans takes place in the midst of the French-Indian war. Specifically, it focuses on one battle in a war that lasted for many years. This was the last and most important conflict over French and British possessions in North America. Unlike the earlier wars, which began in Europe and spread to America, this struggle broke out solely in America in 1754, and was not settled until 1763. For this reason, Indian involvement in the conflict was incredibly high.
Territorial rivalries became more intense as the settlements of both countries expanded. The British and French could not agree on the boundaries of Acadia. Disputes also arose over the Great Lakes region and the land around lakes George and Champlain. Most important, both countries claimed the vast area between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River. In 1749, the French explorer de Bienville traveled through the Ohio River Valley to reinforce France's claim there. The first Ohio Company sent Christopher Gist to survey the same area in 1750. In 1753 the French built a chain of forts along the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia sent George Washington to the commander of the new forts, protesting against French occupation of the area. But the French refused to leave. In 1754, Washington led a small force of colonial troops to force the French to withdraw. They were attacked and defeated near Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh, in the war's first battle. Meanwhile, representatives of seven colonies met in Albany, New York, to plan military action.
The Marquis de Montclam took over the leadership of the French forces in 1756. He led attacks on Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry. The French troops outfought the British and seized both these forts. William Pitt became the political leader of Great Britain in the same year. His leadership gave new life to the British cause, which had been waning. In 1759, the British took the city of Quebec after a short but decisive battle. This marked the real end of the war, although the struggle held out until Montreal was taken a year later. By the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, Great Britain received Canada and most French possessions east of the Mississippi River. The Spanish territory of Florida also went to Great Britain. Spain received all French land west of the Mississippi. France's great American empire was reduced to two islands south of Newfoundland and two islands in the Caribbean. Spain was the only real rival of the British.