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Special as the colonies felt they were, they were actually pawns in a world-domination power struggle among the great nations of Europe — mostly England, France, and Spain. Spain got the early lead by finding gold and silver all over South America (except for Brazil, owned by Spain's Portuguese neighbors). Mexico and parts of what would eventually become the United States were also part of the Spanish realm. On the East Coast of North America, England started late but was catching up fast, with no gold but plenty of valuable crops in the West Indies and 13 mainland colonies. In Canada and other parts of North America, France ruled a New World empire larger than the English with some valuable furs and fish.

Frontier fighting

The English colonists got left alone by Britain for their first 30 years, during which time they learned to take care of themselves. Being left alone also meant that, at first, the king didn't bother to send any troops over to help the colonists in their small fights, which he probably viewed as no more important than getting involved in a war between the squirrels in his backyard.

In both King William's War (1690) and Queen Anne's War (1710), French woodsmen and their American Indian allies raided English settlements. Fighting back, English colonists and their American Indian allies attacked Canada without doing much damage. The French and American Indians managed to kill a lot of settlers in Schenectady, New York, and Deerfield, Massachusetts, but averaging out the rest of the conflicts, the British won. They got frozen northern Canada around Hudson Bay and the peninsula of Nova Scotia, north of Maine, for their troubles.

The War of Jenkins's Ear (1739) was fought over British outrage that the Spanish cut off the ear of a British sea captain named Jenkins. During this conflict, great Georgia reformer James Ogle-thorpe skillfully repelled Spanish raids into the southern Atlantic colonies. (See Chapter 7 for more on Oglethorpe and Georgia.) When the war spread, New Englanders pitched in and, with the help of the Royal Navy, invaded Canada again. This time, they captured a large French fort, but the British gave it back at the end of the war in 1748. The colonists felt betrayed by Britain (and not for the last time).

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