Join Or Die, Political Cartoon, Benjamin Franklin

This “political cartoon” was published by Benjamin Franklin in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, on May 9, 1754, right around two months before the Albany Congress first met. Image Source: Public Domain.

The Albany Congress of 1754

June 19, 1754–July 11, 1754

The Albany Congress took place in Albany, New York in June and July of 1754. It was a meeting between colonial leaders and leaders of the Iroquois and restored the Covenant Chain between the Six Nations and the colonies. During the proceedings, Benjamin Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union, which would have set up an intercolonial government with representatives from each colony.

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Summary of the Albany Congress

The Albany Congress took place at a critical time for the British Colonies in North America. The successful trading relationship and alliance with the Iroquois Confederation, or the Six Nations, had been severely damaged, and trouble with France was brewing in the Ohio Valley.

British officials instructed colonial leaders to meet with the leaders of the Six Nations to repair the relationship, which was called the Covenant Chain. The Covenant Chain was physically represented by a belt made of small beads called wampum.

The proceedings were held in Albany, New York, and are commonly referred to as the Albany Congress but are also known as the Albany Conference or the Albany Convention of 1754. Representatives from seven colonies met with Iroquois leaders, including King Hendrick, from June 19 through July 11, 1754, and successfully restored the Covenant Chain.

King Hendrick, Theyanoguin, Engraving

This engraving of King Hendrick was done by an unknown artist after he died at the Battle of Lake George in 1755. Hendrick spoke on behalf of the Six Nations at the Albany Congress. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The most significant part of the proceedings, at least as far as most historians are concerned, was the Albany Plan of Union, which was proposed by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s plan proposed the formation of a federation of the colonies, as a means to reform colonial-imperial relations and to more effectively address shared colonial interests. Franklin and others, most notably Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts, urged the other colonial representatives to form an alliance. The plan was introduced on June 19, and the commissioners adopted a final version on July 10.

Many of the members of the Albany Congress believed that under the Albany Plan of Union the colonies would be able to deal with significant issues, such as attacks on the frontier by hostile Native American Indian tribes, by working together.

Despite the support of those who attended the Albany Congress, the Albany Plan of Union was rejected by King George II and by all of the individual colonial governments that considered its adoption. The Albany Congress was notable because the meetings and the Plan of Union were significant milestones because they marked the first official attempts to develop inter-colonial cooperation among the American colonies.

Most discussions about the Albany Congress focus on the development of the Plan of Union. The Congres itself is presented as a precursor to the Stamp Act Congress and First Continental Congress and the Plan of Union as an initial step toward independence. However, repairing the Covenant Chain was critical to the colonies because it restored the political, economic, and military alliance with the Six Nations.

What is often overlooked about the Albany Congress is what else was happening at the same time colonial leaders were mending fences with the Six Nations and discussing the Plan of Union. Hundreds of miles south of Albany, near present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the first skirmishes of the French and Indian War took place. They were fought between French forces and Virginia Militia, who were led by a young officer named George Washington.

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis

Benjamin Franklin presented his “Short Hints” about unifying the colonies at the Albany Congress. This portrait of Franklin was painted by Joseph Siffred Duplessis. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

France Threatens the Ohio Country

In 1753, some colonial governors, including William Shirley of Massachusetts, and Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia, were concerned about the growing threat of the French in the Ohio Country. They petitioned British officials in London for help. Dinwiddie received approval from the Crown to demand the French withdraw from territory claimed by Virginia. He was also given permission to use military force if the French refused.

Dinwiddie Sends George Washington to Warn the French

Dinwiddie sent a young military officer, George Washinton, on an expedition, known as the Allegheny Expedition, to deliver the message to the French commander at Fort Le Boeuf. Washington arrived at the fort on December 11, 1753. Washington was treated well by the French, but they refused to abandon their posts in the Ohio Valley. He carried their response back to Dinwiddie, along with intelligence he had gathered during his stay at Fort Le Boeuf. Washington had learned the French were planning to build a flotilla of boats, which they would use to send troops to the Forks of the Ohio.

Virginians Begin Construction of Fort Prince George

In January 1754, Dinwiddie sent another expedition into the Ohio Country. This time, he wanted to secure the Forks of the Ohio by building a fort at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, where the Ohio River begins. The group building the fort was led by Captain William Trent and the fort was called Fort Prince George, in honor of the future King George III.

Dinwiddie also ordered a new Virginia Regiment under the command of Colonel Joshua Fry to go to the frontier. Lieutenant Colonel George Washington was to proceed with an advance force of 150 men and help Trent build the fort and then protect it. The construction of the fort started on February 17, 1754, but Washington did not leave Virginia until early April. By then, it was too late.

French Forces Capture Fort Prince George

A French force under the command of Captain Claude Pierre Pecaudey, Sieur de Contrecoeur, drove the British from the construction site of Fort Prince George on April 17, 1754. The French had aimed more than a dozen cannons at the British and forced their surrender, without a fight. The French proceeded to tear down Fort Prince George and build Fort Duquesne on the site. The fort presented a threat to the British and Mingo Indian tribe that lived in the area.

Britain and the Colonies Respond to the French Threat

Board of Trade Calls for a Meeting with the Six Nations

At the time, the Board of Trade was responsible for overseeing affairs in the colonies. The Board sent instructions to George Clinton, the Governor of New York, and told him to invite some of the colonies to a meeting, along with representatives of the Iroquois Confederation, or Six Nations. The Board of Trade saw the relationship with the Six  Nations as key to helping defend the colonies against the French.

The Covenant Chain Between the Six Nations and the Colonies

The main purpose of the meeting was to repair the relationship between the Six Nations and the colonies, an agreement known as the Covenant Chain. Once that was done, the British wanted to convince the Iroquois to support them against the French. The relationship between the Six Nations and the colonies was strained because colonial officials had taken land from the Six Nations. In 1753, members from the Mohawk Tribe went to New York and informed colonial officials the Covenant Chain was broken.

Join or Die — Benjamin Franklin Reports on Fort Prince George and Calls for Unity

On May 9, 1754, the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was owned by Benjamin Franklin, printed an article that justified the concerns of the governors and confirmed the French threat in the Ohio Country. Franklin reported the story of the Virginia militia who had been forced to surrender to the French near the Ohio River. The article was accompanied by a “political cartoon,” drawn by Franklin. The cartoon was of a snake, cut into eight pieces. Each piece was accompanied by the initials of a colony. Underneath the drawing were the words “Join or Die.”

The French and Indian War Begins in the Ohio Country

While the delegates to the Albany Congress were preparing to make the journey to New York, Washington and his men arrived at a place called Great Meadows on May 24. Great Meadows was a large clearing, with plenty of grass to feed the animal and there was water nearby. Washington was about 60 miles southeast of the Forks and he planned to camp there and wait for reinforcements. He had his men build a crude wooden structure for protection and to use as a base of operations. It is known as Fort Necessity.

The Battle of Jumonville Glen

Washington was informed by an Indian, called the Half-King, that there were French spies in the area and they would attack him and his force if they had the chance. Washington and the Half-King decided to take action. They found the French camp and attacked it on the morning of May 28. The battle was nothing more than a skirmish and the French quickly surrendered.

The leader of the French force, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, insisted they were on a diplomatic mission, similar to the one Washington had gone on to Fort Le Boeuf the year before. What happened next is more legend than anything, other than the fact that Ensign Jumonville was killed. A popular legend says the Half-King killed him with his tomahawk and then washed his hands Jumonville’s blood and brains. Then, the other warriors with the Half-King attacked the French and killed more of them before Washington intervened and put an end to the massacre. Washington and his men gathered the remaining French and took them back to Great Meadows.

However, a Frenchmen by the name of Monceau had escaped and gone to Fort Duquesne to report the attack.

The Battle of Fort Necessity

When Washington returned to Great Meadows, he had his men reinforce Fort Necessity by building earthworks around the walls. He fully expected the French to retaliate and the attack came on the morning of July 3, a week before the commissioners in Albany approved the Albany Plan of Union.

Washington was outmanned and outgunned. The French force that arrived that morning was roughly 500 strong, and they were accompanied by around 100 Native American Indian warriors. The weather saved Washington because it started raining heavily, which kept the fighting to a minimum.

Washington knew he could not win, so he proceeded to negotiate with the French they forced him to sign Articles of Capitulation. In doing so, he mistakenly admitted to assassinating Ensign Jumonville. The French were outraged and used it to press for a declaration of war against Britain. Some consider this to be the actual start of the French and Indian War, although Britain did not formally declare war until 1756.

Washington abandoned Fort Necessity on the morning of July 4, 1754. A week later, the Albany Congress came to a close.

Colonial Participants of the Albany Congress

Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island had agreed to send delegates to Albany to meet with each other and the representatives of the Six Nations.

North Carolina and South Carolina were invited but declined. The Southern colonies did not feel the meeting would be worth their time because they were too far away and the agreement with the Six Nations, which were located in the North, had almost no effect on them.

Connecticut

  • William Pitkin
  • Oliver Wolcott
  • Elisha Williams

Maryland

  • Abraham Barnes
  • Benjamin Tasker Jr.

Massachusetts

  • Thomas Hutchinson
  • Oliver Partridge

New Hampshire

  • Meshech Weare
  • Theodore Atkinson

New York

  • James DeLancey (Chairman)
  • William Johnson
  • Philip Livingston
  • William Smith
  • Peter Wraxall (Secretary)

Pennsylvania

  • Benjamin Chew
  • John Penn
  • Richard Peters
  • Isaac Norris
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Conrad Weiser

Rhode Island

Significance of the Albany Congress

The most significant result of the Albany Congress was the Albany Plan of Union, which proposed the idea of an intercolonial union. The plan was not a precursor to independence, because the system it proposed would have been under the control of the British government.

The Albany Congress was Successful

Although the proposed Albany Plan of Union was rejected by British authorities and colonial legislatures, the Albany Congress was successful. The meetings were held primarily to help restore the relationship between the Iroquois and the colonies, which was accomplished.

Precedent Set by the Albany Congress

The Albany Congress set a precedent for colonial leaders to meet and discuss issues that affected all the colonies. After the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, the colonies followed precedent and held the Stamp Act Congress. The significant difference was the Albany Congress was called for by the Board of Trade and was authorized by the British government. The Stamp Act Congress was not authorized by the British government and was viewed by many as an illegal meeting.

The Albany Congress — Quick Facts

Key facts and important details about the Albany Congress for kids doing research and students studying for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.

  • Date: The Albany Congress met from June 19, 1754, through July 11, 1754.
  • Location: City Hall in Albany, New York.
  • Purpose: The Albany Congress was a conference called by British officials for the purpose of improving relations between the American colonies and the Iroquois Confederation, which was known as the Covenant Chain.
  • Also Known As: The meeting is also referred to as the Albany Conference or the Albany Convention of 1754.

Colonies That Sent Commissioners

Representatives of seven colonies attended the Congress:

  1. Maryland
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. New York
  4. Connecticut
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Massachusetts
  7. New Hampshire

Covenant Chain Renewed

  • Colonial commissioners and Iroquois leaders re-established the Covenant Chain. However, the alliance was only moderately successful once the French and Indian War began.

Albany Plan of Union Proposed

  • On June 19, Benjamin Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union to form a permanent federation of the colonies as a means to reform colonial-imperial relations and to more effectively address shared colonial interests.
  • Commissioners to the Albany Congress approved the Albany Plan of Union on July 10, 1754.
  • The Albany Plan of Union was rejected by King George II and by all of the individual colonial governments that considered its adoption.

Result of the Albany Congress

The Albany Congress and the Albany Plan of Union were significant milestones in American history, as they marked the first official attempts to develop inter-colonial cooperation among the American colonies.

Founding Fathers at the Albany Congress

Sometimes, the Albany Congress is viewed as being a significant event that contributed to the ideas of the American Revolution. Further, the Plan of Union is seen as a key moment in the slow growth toward independence for the American Colonies. Neither argument is very clear, but it is a fact that several Founding Fathers participated in the proceedings of the Albany Congress. However, it is possible the ideas they discussed with the other commissions regarding the Plan of Union carried over into similar discussions during the Stamp Act Congress, the First Continental Congress, and the Second Continental Congress.

Benjamin Franklin is a Founding Father and was likely the most famous American in the world from the time of the American Revolution until his death. Franklin was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. He also helped create the alliance with France that recognized the United States as a sovereign nation, which led the French to join the war against Britain.

Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island is a Founding Father. Hopkins served as the Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. He was also a Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He is a Founding Father because he served in the First Continental Congress and signed the Continental Association and served in the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Philip Livingston of New York is a Founding Father. Livingston came from a prominent New York family and was a successful merchant. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He is a Founding Father because he signed the Declaration of Independence.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Albany Congress of 1754
  • Coverage June 19, 1754–July 11, 1754
  • Author
  • Keywords albany congress, albany plan of union, benjamin franklin, french and indian war, colonies, iroquois
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 28, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 28, 2022
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