Oct. 26, 2023

Accounting for the Seven Years’ War in North America

Accounting for the Seven Years’ War in North America

How many people served in North America during the Seven Years’ War? As it turns out, that’s a much harder question to answer than you might think.

In “The Nadir,” the second episode of Worlds Turned Upside Down, we wanted to give audiences a sense of the war’s human scale in British America, New France, and Indigenous nations.

To fight the war, both Britain and France sent thousands of men and women across the ocean, and enlisted thousands more in the colonies, while many different Indigenous nations contributed warriors when they believed it was in their interest to ally with either European power.

Surely, we imagined, there must be a readily available set of statistics that could help us answer our question.

Turns out, not so much.

So, we turned to Dr. Fred Anderson, professor of history emeritus at the University of Colorado-Boulder, for answers. Anderson is the author of The Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, and a contributor to the first few episodes of Worlds Turned Upside Down.

As we learned from Anderson, there aren’t really any good compilations of statistics for the war in North America. But he was kind enough to offer us something to get us started.

What follows is Professor Anderson’s “guesswork,” supplied via email, in answer to our question about how many people served in North America during the Seven Years’ War. He notes that he would “be delighted to have my guesswork refined and brought up to date by younger, better-informed scholars.”

 Do you have suggested revisions? Let us know.

Number of People Serving in North America during the Seven Years’ War[1]

 Britain and its North American colonies, total population of about 1.5 million:

  1. Provincial soldiers and others serving in temporary military roles—perhaps 100,000 colonists in all, who over the course of the war consisted of:
  • about 93,500 enlistees between 1754 and 1762, for annual terms served by perhaps 70,000 distinct individuals; plus                      
  • about 25,000 artificers, batteaumen, sutlers, and contract workers who were employed by various provinces; plus
  • perhaps 10,000 crewmen on privateering vessels; plus
  • perhaps 30,000 militiamen who served briefly when mobilized for weeks or months; plus 
  • an unknown number of female camp followers, provisioned but not paid by the provinces to perform domestic work at forts and with marching forces, perhaps 8,000-10,000 over the course of the war; and, finally, 
  • at most 4,000 Native allies, whose numbers waxed and waned throughout the war.

N.B.: these categories overlapped. Most provincial enlistees were also militiamen; many men who served for a year or two as provincials came back as artificers or other contract workers, who earned more money than soldiers, generally at less risk; especially in maritime New England, many militiamen who were also mariners signed on as privateers, etc. Of the Indian allies, only a few hundred Christianized Natives, e.g. the Stockbridge Indians of Massachusetts, were organized as provincial army units.  

  1. British regulars serving in North America over the course of the war, in approximately 30 battalions dispatched for overseas service between 1755 and 1762:  about 30,000 men in all, including replacements. Roughly 11,000 of these were colonists who enlisted in regular regiments for 3 years or the duration of the war, or who served as Rangers, who were (generally) paid by the crown rather than by their colonies, and who were thus counted on the regular establishment. An unknown number of camp followers, mainly women, also served with the regular regiments; in all, I would guess at least 2,000 over the course of the war.
  2. British naval personnel serving in North American waters, the Caribbean, and crossing the North Atlantic during the war years: at a guess, about 30,000.

France and its American colonieshabitant population of about 80,000 (not including planters and enslaved inhabitants of the French West Indies): 

The best account of the participation of Canadians, French, and their Native allies is W. J. Eccles’s brief article “The French Forces in North America during the Seven Years’ War,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, 1741-1760, xvii-xviii.  Here’s a link to the DCB web version: http://admin.biographi.ca/en/special.php?project_id=49&p=20

In sum, the approximate numbers are as follows, adding up to (at most) 38,000 men, who consisted of 

  • Troupes de terre (French army regulars and artillerists): about 6,500 serving in New France over the course of the war in 7 regiments and associated cannon batteries, including replacements;
  • Troupes de La Marine (naval infantry, the colony regulars): about 4,650 over the course of the war, in 81 “independent” (i.e., unregimented) companies, distributed as follows:
    • about 2,600 in 40 companies stationed in Canada proper, plus
    • about 1,000 in 20 companies stationed in Louisbourg until the surrender of the fortress in 1758, plus 
    • about 1,050 in 21 companies stationed in Louisiana; and
  • the Canadian militia, formally defined as all able-bodied male habitants between the ages of 15 and 60, who numbered roughly 12,000 during the war, and who (unlike the British colonies’ militias) were frequently employed in expeditionary roles as well as support and logistical capacities; and
  • between about 10,000 and (perhaps) 15,000 active warrior allies from traditionalist Native and “domesticated” or Christianized groups (e.g., the Kahnawake Mohawks, the St. Francis Abenakis, and others living on designated reserves).  




[1] Fred Anderson to Jim Ambuske, 11 September 2023; Cover image credit: Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe (1770). Oil on canvas, 152.6 x 214.5 cm (60 x 84.4 in). National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.