French and Indian War: Colonel George Washington from Eureka Miniatures

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One of the remarkable things about history is how individuals taking part in small events can carry weight across generations and around the world. George Washington was one of these people over and over again throughout his life. Washington wanted nothing more than to rise through the ranks of the British military, earning glory and status as part of what had become the most powerful colonial force of the 18th-century. Three formative events occurred for Washington in 1754 and 1755 as a British Colonial officer on the rise, and his fate would become wrapped up in what would become the French and Indian War.

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“Death of Jumonville”

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1859).

In the spring of 1754, a newly-promoted 21-year-old Lt. Col. Washington in command of the Virginia Regiment was sent into the Ohio Country of Western Pennsylvania to provide assistance to British fort and road construction. Accompanied by Mingo leader Tanacharison (also known as “The Half King”), a dozen Indians and 40 Virginians, Washington encountered a French-Canadian scouting party on May 28, 1754. Washington’s ambush of the French in what would become known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen quickly devolved into The Half King’s surprise killing of the French Canadian commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. Although a victory for Washington, the affair rattled the young officer. The event also escalated hostilities between the French and British in North America, contributing directly to the beginning of the FIW.

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“The Night Council at Fort Necessity”

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1856). 

Anticipating French retribution, Washington and his Virginians fell back to a nearby meadow and began work on a hasty stockade fort. On July 3, some 600 French, French-Canadians and French-allied Indians attacked at the Battle of Fort Necessity. Outnumbered with just 400 men, Washington surrendered at day’s end after a rainy, muddy and bloody fight. In signing the terms with the French, Washington may have inadvertently admitted to the murder of Jumonville. Again, Washington’s stature in the British military was used as propaganda in France to further stoke the fires of war in the American Colonies.

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“The Fall of Braddock”

Painted by C. Schuessele, engraved by J.B. Allen, Virtue, Emmins & Co., New York. (1859)

With the war amping up, British Major General Edward Braddock arrived in the colonies in 1755 and set about a campaign deep into the Ohio Country to attempt again to oust the French. Beginning in May of that year, the ambitious campaign began with Washington at his mentor Braddock’s side leading over 2000 soldiers and ten cannon into the wilderness. The troubled and often stalled campaign finally arrived near their destination of Fort Duquesne (at present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on July 9, 1755. In the chaotic ambush, hundreds of Indians and French set upon the British advance column. In the ensuing battle Braddock was shot and eventually succumbed. Washington was devastated by the loss of his role model in another emotional loss that would weigh in him for years.

These events in the early career would go on to effect Washington for the rest of his life. His experience in the war and his rise within and eventual rejection by the British military system cannot be understated for how they molded Washington as the leader of the American Revolution and President of the United States.

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Needless to say, if you’re going to wargame the FIW period, you need a little Colonel Washington on the table. For mine, I turned to Eureka Miniatures. For about $10 they offer a metal cast vignette of Washington dismounted holding the reins of his horse and two of his beloved greyhounds standing faithfully nearby.

 

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Despite the charm of the four-piece set, I really wanted to model Washington with his boots on the ground. I’ll save the horse and dogs for some future project, and glued a spare musket to Washington’s extended hand.

For a painting guide, I used the iconic portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772. Although painted after the FIW, the image depicts Washington as a proud British Colonial officer of the war years dressed in his Virginia Regiment uniform.

With Washington, I have the charismatic leader from his early career ready to command forces on the tabletop.

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French and Indian War: French Canadian Militia from North Star Military Figures

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Much of the fighting in the North American colonies for the French in what is known as the French and Indian War was in fact conducted by French-Canadians. As early as the 1740s, Canadians born in New France made up the majority of forces allied with Native Americans in staving off the spread of British settlers into the contested Ohio Country. Years prior, Canadian militia had cut their teeth fighting New England settlers during King William’s War (1688-1697) and Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713).

Well-versed in moving and fighting through the wilderness, these French-Canadian militiamen proved to be highly effective during the FIW against British regular forces yet to adapt to a very regional style of warfare. Their successes at the Battle of Fort Necessity, the Battle of the Monongahela and the Battle of Fort Oswego dealt hefty blows to the British war effort. Irregularly clad in rugged back country clothing and armed with muskets and native hand weapons, the Colonial French militia struck a rugged look as they fought on behalf of the French Crown in Europe.

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I’ve begun building out my 28mm French Canadian Militia with a small pack of metal models from North Star Military Figures. Although many companies manufacture figures for the period, North Star serves as the official product line for the popular Muskets and Tomahawks skirmish game.

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The main joy of painting these figures is in the variety and personality struck in each model’s clothing, equipment and pose. The imagination can really run wild in painting clothing in a variety of earth tones and muted reds, blues and green. Satchels, often traded with Indians in the period, can also be decorated with geometric patterns mimicking fine native finish work.

The North Star miniatures scale to a full 28mm, a bit taller and heftier than castings from manufactures like Conquest Miniatures and Eureka Miniatures. Those who are familiar with FIW figures from Galloping Major Wargames or Blue Moon Manufacturing will find their equal with these North Star models. That said, the look of these models fit in nicely as part of a rough force fighting the British for control of their frontier homeland of New France.

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French and Indian War: Building Fort Necessity in 28mm

Twenty-three years ago I found myself interning for a summer in southwestern Pennsylvania. While researching and writing National Register of Historic Places historic district nominations for three towns along Route 40 (The National Road) I found myself driving past Fort Necessity National Battlefield countless times. I wound up visiting and revisiting the site numerous times that summer, and I was fortunate to return to the site a couple summers ago (photo from that visit above).

Fort Necessity holds a particular place in my heart as a site marking a military loss and a long-misinterpreted oddball fortification. This is American history at its small and messy best. And so, with a big current interest in modeling and wargaming the French and Indian War at the 28mm scale, I needed to build Fort Necessity.

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Mid-20th-century archeology formed the basis for my fort

In building my fort in 28mm, I relied heavily on the historic and archeological work from J.C. Harrington’s New Light On Washington’s Fort Necessity. The report is available for free and makes for some fairly detailed reading on the campaign leading up to the construction of the stockade and battle. The Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754 is notable for being a foundational experience for a young George Washington commanding British Colonial forces. The defense in an open field was accomplished with a simple “Fort of Necessity” of split upright logs and a small central storage building. The battle was overly one-sided with the French Canadians and their Indian allies dealing a loss to Washington. The hastily-built stockade, having served its one-time purpose, was burned to the ground at a later date.

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Scale drawing of the fort as based on archeology of the 1950s

From there, the site passed through a number of unremarkable ownerships over the centuries until the National Park Service took over the site in 1933. First-hand accounts and contemporaneous documentation of the battle site and fort is minimal. The NPS recreated a fort in a vaguely diamond-shape, erroneously interpreting the remains of earthen ramparts as firing steps inside the stockade. Subsequent investigations of the site in the late 1950s revealed a round shape for the stockade, and the NPS built a new version of the fort in the 1970s. Visitors to the site today see the fort in a much closer approximation to what the original must have been like some 260 years ago.

Timbers were split lengthwise with the flat side pointed outward. This is thought to have been done largely as a time saver as only half the number of trees had to be felled when building the fort. Live musket tests at the site in the video above demonstrate how little protection the logs would have provided with hundreds of French and Indians firing from the surrounding woods. Standing in the stockade under fire would have been a mix of smoke, splinters and metal ripping through the air.

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Scaled drawings for the fort construction

I used the scale drawings from the report to create a scaled building plan. With the fort estimated at 53′ in diameter, I converted the size to about 12″ in diameter for the model. Going on my own visits to the site, I estimated the palisade height at about 7 1/2′ which I scaled to about 1 1/2″ for the cut timbers. Finally, the small storage house at the center of the fort of about 14′ square in real life was scaled to a 3″ square model size.

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Twigs being cut and split into scale timbers

With all this research and inspiration in my head, I spent a sunny afternoon collecting fallen twigs in a nearby park. I cut selected twigs into 1 1/2″ pieces and split them lengthwise with a sharp knife. Once cut and split, one end of each was clipped to a point using small hobby cutters.

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The stockade goes up six inches at a time

The base of the fort consisted of a rigid plastic circle I found discarded on the street. Using a pencil, I traced the outline of a 12″ circle toward the outer edge of the base. Working about six inches at a time, I applied a heavy bead of construction adhesive along the line and stuck my cut timbers side by side in the glue.

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Superglue adds strength to the wall

Although the adhesive eventually dries very hard, it does cure a bit slowly. This allowed me to wiggle and straighten the wall pieces as I went along. When a section began to firm up, I spread a small amount of superglue between each timber. Once dry, the whole wall was nice and rigid. I continued this process around the whole fort, leaving a 1 1/2″ gap for the door with a solid round timber on each side.

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Woodworker’s putty forms the ground around the stockade

As sections of the wall were completed, I filled in the ground. I used woodworkers putty to slope up gently to the wall on either side and cover the bead of adhesive holding the wall in place. I made sure to maintain an irregular texture with the putty to add some realism to the ground surrounding the fort.

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The full fort built and ready for some ground cover

When dry, I covered the ground in a thick layer of brown paint and ground cover. I left the gate area muddy, dry-brushing some lighter browns over the dark basecoat. With everything dry, I soaked the whole fort in some heavy coats of sprayed matte finish.

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The door comes together using more split timbers

For the stockade door, I split small timbers into boards flat on both sides. Cross pieces on the back held the boards together, and a final bead of superglue between each board firmed the door up. To make the door functional, I cut two small pieces of leathery cloth into thin hinges and glued them to the door and a round post to one side.

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Logs are glued up on the cardboard base

For the small interior storage building, I began with thin cardboard cut to 3″ on a side and tapering from 1 1/2″ at the front to 1″ at the back. A small door opening 1″ across was cut at the front.

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The log walls are completed

The building’s walls were made inside and out with logs glued over one another. I cut alternating lengths to provide joint overlaps at the corners to approximate actual speculated construction of the period.

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The roof is laid out and completed

For the removable roof, another piece of cardboard cut about 3 1/2″ square was laid on top. Beams were laid out and then the roof was covered with roughly cut thin pieces of leather to represent skins used to cover the roof. Finally, a few random poles were glued on top to hold everything in place.

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Colonel George Washington inspects the completed Fort Necessity

With the build completed over just a couple days, I had a fairly good model of Fort Necessity built at a 28mm tabletop wargaming scale. My plan is to use the new model in a recreation of the battle at the upcoming Fire In The East NJ Con this coming June. I’ll have another post on the scenario as I playtest it in the coming month.

French and Indian War: Virginia Provincials from Galloping Major Wargames

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With French eyes on the contested Ohio Country and Western Virginia, in 1754 British Colonial Governor Robert Dinwiddie called for the raising of provincial infantry to protect the frontier. Commanded by Colonel Joshua Fry and a young Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, the Virginians would be present at the very start of the French and Indian War at an encounter gone badly at Jumonville Glen in Western Pennsylvania in May 1754. Washington’s eventual promotion to Colonel commanding the Virginians in 1755 during disastrous experiences at Fort Necessity and with the Braddock Expedition would shape his future leadership both on and off the battlefield.

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I was fortunate to be recently gifted fifteen Provincial figures from Galloping Major Wargamers. These excellent sculpts are on the bigger side of the 28mm miniature spectrum, representing a classic “true 28mm” with stocky, detailed and well-posed figures. The models are equipped so as to represent a variety of the Provincial forces in the British colonies during the era, allowing for a lot of flexibility for painters and gamers.

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Charles Willson Peale. George Washington in the Uniform of a British Colonial Colonel. 1772. Oil on canvas. Lee Chapel & Museum, Washington & Lee University.

The challenge in painting models of the FIW period can be in choosing what uniforms to base color schemes on. From my research I was able to tell the  Virginia Provincials went through two distinct uniform designs. The first, from about 1754-1755, featured a boldly in red — red coats with red cuffs and turnbacks, red waistcoats and red breeches. The later uniform adopted in 1756 through the end of the conflict featured a dark blue coat with red cuffs and turnbacks, red waistcoats and blue breeches. The 1772 portrait of Washington by Charles Willson Peale captures a heroic depiction of this later uniform style. In reality, both uniforms probably overlapped in use and at times the undersupplied provincial units would have resorted to using whatever equipment and clothing was available.

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I chose to paint my provincials in the later blue coats so as to make them stand out from the other allied British redcoats on the gaming table. To my eye, the later uniforms somehow look “more American” as the Virginians exited the war already sowing the seeds of the Revolution against British Crown rule to come over the next two decades.

As stated above, these Galloping Major castings feature some great personality. The command figures, one with a sword drawn behind his back and the other with his pistol at the ready, really carry a lot of presence on the table. The drummer stands resting as is catching his breath before the next command beat through his drum. Even each line figure, either loading or firing, has slight tweaks to their pose or equipment to show each miniature as an individual within the Virginia Provincial Regiment.

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Boardgames of the French and Indian War

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To understand the founding of the United States, you have to understand the American Revolution, and to understand the American Revolution, you need to understand the French and Indian War. As I’ve learned more about these wars in my adult life, I’m increasingly surprised the FIW gets such short shrift in American education and the general cultural conversations of the country’s history.

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Major campaigns and battles of the French and Indian War, 1754-1763

As I’ve written about previously, I’ve spent a lot of time touring many sites where the French and British vied for control of the continent in the mid-18th-century. In that era the French held much of the country west and north of the Alleghenies while the British possessed the eastern regions of the coast. As an extension of the Seven Years War in Europe and around the globe, the French and British empires fought over territory in America during the FIW and pulled numerous native Indian tribes into complicated alliances along the way. The clash of cultures and motives among Europeans and native peoples carried ripple effects for years to come and old grudges from the period led directly to the American Revolution some two decades later.

FIWBooksSome of my recent reading on the French and Indian War

My time spent touring various sites around the company has been supplemented by a stack of books. Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War (2001) weighs in at over 900 pages and provides a super comprehensive treatment of the war in depth. The French and Indian War (2006) by Walter Borneman provides a similar overview with detail stripped way back into a more historical narrative. For a focus on how Indian peoples shaped the 18th-century European settlement and wars for the continent, Peter Silver’s Our Savage Neighbors (2007) gives some fantastic insights which are usually breezed over in most histories. Finally, I’ve recently picked up a copy of Braddock’s Defeat (2015) by David Preston. This book provides a great bridge story on how a key campaign on the western frontier of Pennsylvania in 1755 echoed through the events of the FIW into the American Revolution and history beyond.

With many miles traveled and pages read, getting to play boardgames of the FIW — both tactically and strategically — has provided me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and experience the wilderness roads, forts, settlements and battlefields of this fascinating period.

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Wilderness War (GMT Games)

My longtime favorite of FIW games is GMT’s Wilderness War from 2001. Designed by Volko Ruhnke, WW is not only the standout game of the period but also ranks among the best of modern wargames depicting any period. The game’s gorgeous hardbound game board defines the game as the war was fought amid the geography of the Northeast with point-to-point connections between major landmarks, cities, settlements and forts.

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Sample strategy cards from GMT’s Wilderness War

Strategy cards featuring both abstracted military actions like recruiting troops and militia, building siege works or conducting campaigns and period-specific events and personalities drive the game. Alternatively cards are played for points to activate leaders, forces stacked with a leader or individual units. Points may also be spent to construct stockades and forts to defend against attack a provide a safe haven during wintering periods.

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Wilderness War by GMT Games

For me, the three key strategies to WW are in defending the important interior frontier, remaining exceedingly mindful of troop positions as winter seasons approach and playing a long game of carefully-planned campaigns. All of these factors are incredibly well factored into a game which balances abstraction with historic events, all of which can be experienced with a solid few hours of play.

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The French and Indian War (Decision Games)

For another grand strategic experience of the FIW, Strategy & Tactics magazine issue #231 from Nov/Dec 2005 by Decision Games offers up a full campaign level game with The French and Indian War. Traditional wargamers will feel right at home with this hefty game although it does offer some unique elements.

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S&T’s FIW map and counters organized in tray

Right off the bat, experienced gamers will notice a departure with the game map laid out on a square grid instead of the more typical hex style. Past the square grid, the map itself is gorgeous with well-delineated terrain, clear colonial control boundaries and abstracted French and British home country holding areas across the Atlantic in Europe. Charts and tables for terrain effects, supply points, balance of power and colonial control displayed right around the board. The tiny cardboard playing chits likewise feature some simple and colorful art clearly differentiating units types and nationalities. In all, there’s a lot to love visually in this magazine game.

Gameplay goes a long way toward representing the build up of tensions and eventual outbreak of war between the French and British in North America. Yearly turns between 1758 and 1762 are split into four seasons each, and the results of battles occupation of cities and towns shifts the Balance of Power track which drives income, initiative, random events and negotiating strength. The relatively weak and poor British at the start of the game quickly gain strength as the Seven Years War breaks out and men, money and ships begin to arrive from Europe. For the French, they have to take some early victories and then hold key cities like Quebec through the late game. Victory in one of the three included scenarios is determined by a straight points system accumulated during the game largely by capturing cities and settlements.

Aside from the game rules themselves, the magazine holds over 20 pages of background on the FIW, major battles and quick bios on some of the conflict’s major personalities. This plus some nice maps and a short bibliography makes for a great package for those wanting a relatively comprehensive experience of the war. Being a magazine game, there are a couple discrepancies in the rules here and there, but the design and heft of the game is entirely satisfying.

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Hold The Line: French and Indian War (Worthington Publishing)

The 2008 French and Indian War Expansion Set for the popular Hold The Line series by Worthington Publishing downshifts into a more tactical presentation of the war without sacrificing the flavor of the era.

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Scenario set-up for the Battle of Snowshoes for the HTL FIW expansion

Adding to the HTL base game components,  the FIW expansion comes with Indian, Ranger and French unit tiles to be played with using the British and Militia pieces in the original. Additional terrain hex tiles  are included to represent lakes, boats forts and Indian villages, all of which played important roles in the wilderness battleground of the FIW. Five historic scenarios round out gameplay which will be any lover of the original HTL.

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The 2016 remastered HTL French and Indian War game

The HTL series has been remastered in 2016 with a successfully funded recent Kickstarter campaign. The new version has some serious upgrades with plastic miniatures from the Plastic Soldier Company and redesigned board and tile artwork. For both the American Revolution and FIW sets there were a bunch of extra scenarios and options to buy add-on miniatures. The new game looks fantastic and breathes new life into an already immensely enjoyable game on the era of 18th-century American colonial conflict.

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A Few Acres of Snow (Treefrog Games)

A Few Acres of Snow, designed by Martin Wallace and published in 2011 by Treefrog Games, is my other go-to game on the period. While not strictly a game confined to the FIW, AFAOS takes two players through the broader French-British colonial period in North America.

Playable in just over an hour, AFAOS is an area control deck-building game where British and French players draft cards into and out of their hands in order to move, settle, construct, skirmish and conduct sieges. Managing cards gives the game a campaign feel as several turns may be taken up getting all the right cards in place before executing a plan. The British player generally has more financial and naval strength while the French are much more agile and open to trade opportunities in the wilderness interior. Essentially, the game captures the overall character of the opposing forces and provides for a ton of strategic play within a simple, gorgeous design.

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A recent game of  A Few Acres of Snow by Treefrog Games

The major downside to AFAOS that many critics will bring up is a broken mechanic within the game where one side can all but sew up a victory through a specific series of opening moves. I’m not going to provide any details since players agreeing to play fairly and ignoring this one issue with an otherwise perfect and wildly popular game is how I choose to play the game. The look and flow of AFAOS makes it what I consider to be the best at introducing even inexperienced gamers to the period.

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Struggle For New France (Schutze Games)

I picked up a copy of 2013’s Struggle For New France designed by Bill Molyneaux and published by Schutze Games in a charity auction at HMGS Fall In! 2015. It’s a super simple beginner’s game playable in about 90 minutes with event cards and point to point movement. With just a few pages of rules, including a solo game option, SFNF is a lean game designed for swift play while still reflecting the basic character of the war.

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Set-up for a play through Struggle For New France by Schutze Games

The relatively inexpensive game has a compact yet beautiful 11″ x 17″ color map, over 60 cards and over 175 small printed wooden tiles. Play is quick with a hand of five cards for each player, of which one can be played per season. In a season, both sides move and battle using standardized movement for regulars and Indians plus bonuses for having a leader stacked with a force. Forts, fortresses and Indian villages give defensive modifiers in battle along with leaders present and any cards added to the battle modifiers. Areas won or lost provide victory points, all tracked on either side of the map. After four seasons of play, cards are refreshed and the next turn year begins. Playing from the entire course of the war, British win at 50 points and taking Quebec, Montreal and Louisburg, and the French win with 45 points. While by no means as rich an experience as the offerings from GMT and Decision Games, SFNF achieves a remarkable amount in strategic experience of the FIW.

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French & Indian War Battle Collection (Two Buck Games)

Another charity auction win at Fall In last year was 2014’s French & Indian War Battle Collection by Two Buck Games. The game makes a nice companion to SFNF and is also designed by Molyneaux. Like SFNF, this is an easy game but with a pack of twelve major battles and engagements of the war instead of a grand campaign style of play. Each scenario is playable in anywhere from well under an hour to maybe two hours maximum. While not big on design, the game does allow a player to get down to the tactical level in some very small engagements including some personal favorites like Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity and the Mary Jeminson Raid.

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The Fort Necessity scenario from The French & Indian War Battle Collection

A brief set of rules is supplemented with specific scenario outlines for set-up and play. Maps for each scenario are printed front and back on card stock, and 88 counters come with generic information to make for flexible use representing a variety of regular and irregular French, British and Indian units at each battle or skirmish. As this is a tactical game, units move just one hex and may only by stacked alone or with an officer. Leaders die easily in combat, Indians are dangerously flexible on the attack and terrain can play a big role in a game’s outcome. All these factors make planning an attack or defense finicky down at the ground level and FIBWBC goes a long way toward mimicking the feel of up-close engagements during the period.

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Empires In America (Victory Point Games)

My latest addition to my FIW games is the recent second edition reprint of Empires In America from the States of Siege series by Victory Point Games. This one stands apart from the others here as a purely solo game with the player’s French and Indian allies pitted against the game’s British and their allied Indian forces.

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My first try at the re-issue of Empires In America by Victory Point Games

It took me a few times to get a handle on the single player flow of the game and I was beaten by the non-player AI in my first two games. Having played through it about a half dozen times now, I’ve finally got the hang of it with quick play and a fairly rich experience. Leaders wind up being key in winning the game much as leadership could make the difference during battles during the war.

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Photo from my visit to Fort Necessity in the summer of 2014

So where to start with the French and Indian War?

The 21st-century has already given us a bunch of fantastic games to take us back to the forest, rivers and battles of the French and Indian War of some 260 years ago. Despite having a half-dozen of the recent FIW games under my belt, there area always more games to play. Wilderness Empires, also by Worthington Publishing, puts the war in a block game format with beautifully-illustrated event cards and game board. Columbia Games re-released its 1972 classic block game of Quebec 1759 in 2009, and the game still stands as probably the best way to experience this pivotal siege of the war.

For me, Wilderness War sits at the top of the list for its design and depth, not only for the FIW but among all the games I play. A Few Acres of Snow, Empires In America and Hold The Line likewise win big design points for me, and their speed of play sacrifices nothing in telling the story of the period. A gamer wishing to get into the FIW with a couple very different yet always rewarding gaming sessions could hardly do better by starting with these games.

Touring French and Indian War America

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In the spring and summer of this year I vacationed in Missouri, Western New York and Southwestern Pennsylvania. While visiting family and friends was the main focus of my trips, my journeys intersected with the French and Indian War period repeatedly while driving hundreds of miles of back roads throughout the Northeast and Midwest. The hilly regions of the East were  formative in the first half of my life and the flat plains of the Mississippi River have been a presence in the past twenty years after marrying my wife from Missouri.

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National Park Service map with French and Indian War era sites I’ve visited

These regions also played a large role in the origin story of what would become the United States of America. The 18th-century American continent was the New World front in the worldwide competition between the French and English for worldwide colonial control. In the Americas, native peoples were inserted into the European conflict with the various Indian Nations shifting alliances among the European powers.

From 1754-1763, the Seven Years War stretched around the globe and occupied the colonial regions of America with the French and Indian War. From the Great Lakes and mountains of Upstate New York to the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania to the western rivers frontier, French, British, Native American and American colonists fought for the future of the what would become the modern United States and Canada.

Over the years, I’ve had occasion to visit numerous sites from this contested Anglo-French period. Family day trips when I was a kid took me to just about every major fort and battlefield in New York state and nearby Canada, including Fort Niagara, Fort Ontario, Fort William Henry, Fort Ticonderoga and Fort York at present day Toronto. During graduate school in Michigan, I spent a weekend at the northern tip of the state and visited Fort Michilimackinac. After graduate school, my time in Pennsylvania included visits to Fort Ligonier, Fort Necessity and the site of Fort Duquesne at Pittsburgh. Since meeting my future wife while in Pennsylvania, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Missouri, getting married in the historic French town of St. Charles and visiting other colonial era towns and sites.

With the French and Indian War on my gaming mind this past year with the excellent A Few Acres of Snow, here’s a few of the places I’ve managed to visit (or revisit) this past year.

French Settlements on the American Western Colonial Frontier

Over the Easter weekend, I visited my in-laws in St. Louis and St. Charles, Missouri. After a bit of time in and around St. Louis, we headed south along the Mississippi River to Ste. Genevieve. Settled in the 1730s, Ste. Genevieve showcases a remarkably intact collection of distinctive French colonial-influenced buildings. We were particularly fortunate in being allowed to walk through the Bequette-Ribault House which I had read about in one of my graduate school classes. The building was under renovation, allowing us to view a rare surviving example of the “poteaux en terre” construction technique of posts sunk vertically into the ground.

From Ste. Genevieve we took a rickety ferry across the Mississippi and drove along the Illinois side to Fort des Chartres. Reconstructed in the 1930s, the fort today depicts a French outpost way out on the western boundaries of claims to French territory in the 18th-century which stretched from Canada to New Orleans. Standing in the middle of hundreds of miles of farmland all around, it’s amazing to imagine a small garrison of French soldiers at the fort watching over the far edges of a European empire over nearly 300 years ago. The well-interpretted partial reconstruction of the fort itself and the small on site museum captures the scope of the French empire’s commitment to taking a territorial stand on this edge of the New World.

Although the French would cede much control of North America to the British after the end of the French and Indian War, evidence of French culture remains in buildings and place names throughout the old colonial areas. Visitors from France and French-speaking Canada still flock to Ste. Genevieve and the surrounding area every year, and walking the streets of the town and the battlements of Fort des Chartres the French legacy still echoes today.

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Statue of King Louis IX of France, at the Saint Louis Art Museum

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The Bolduc House (c. 1770)  in Ste Genevieve, Missouri

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The Bequette-Ribault House (c. 1780) in Ste Genevieve, Missouri

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Fort de Chartres (c. 1720) near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois

Mary Jeminson, “The White Indian of the Genesee”

This summer I also took my family back to my hometown in Western New York which sits a quick drive from Letchworth State Park, home to deep river-cut gorges and spectacular waterfalls. The park also celebrates the story of Mary Jeminson, a young girl who was abducted from her family’s Eastern Pennsylvania farm in 1755, traded to Seneca Indians near Fort Duquesne and lived the remainder of her long life as a prominent member of the Iroquois in the area around present day Letchworth.

The legendary story of Jeminson is remarkable, and her life tells the story of the complicated territorial and military alliances between the various Native American and European peoples in the French and Indian War and subsequent American War of Independence. Jeminson is remembered at Letchworth with a monument marking where her remains were relocated in 1872 adjacent to a Seneca Council House which interprets the native people’s governance of the region during the colonial and post-Revolution period.
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The Mary Jeminson Monument at Letchworth State Park

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Seneca Council House relocated to Letchworth State Park in 1872

The National Road and Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Twenty years ago this summer I served as an intern researching and writing National Register of Historic Places nominations for three historic pike towns along the National Road (Route 40) in Pennsylvania. I hadn’t travelled back to the region in two decades, and touring Route 40 again brought back to me how rich the area is in early colonial American history.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield interprets a pivotal series of events that took place in this corner of the Pennsylvania wilderness in 1754 and 1755, arguably leading to the eruption and eventual escalation of the French and Indian War in North America. Commanding a force of Virginia colonial militiamen, British Lt. Col. George Washington encountered a small detachment of French Canadiens led by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville in May 1754. After a brief firefight, Jumonville was killed by Anglo-allied Mingo warriors. Two months later, a large force of French, Canadiens and Indians led by Jumonville’s brother Louis Coulon de Villiers met Washington’s small group in a wet, open meadow. Washington hastily built a stockade – a “fort of necessity” – but was overwhelmed by the French force attacking from the woods in a driving rain. One year later, Washington’s mentor General Edward Braddock met his end nearby during his doomed attempt to lad a British force inland to seize the French Fort Duquesne.

In the years since I’ve been to the battlefield, the National Park Service has created a new, modern visitors center telling two important stories from the past. The French and Indian War and its beginnings in the area nearby is depicted through interactive maps, videos and some great exhibits that zero in on the individual nations who fought over the region over two hundred years ago. The construction of the nearby National Road in the decades after the conflict occupies second half of the museum’s narrative, depicting the importance it played in the push West and economic development of the new nation in the early 19th-century. By the time you’ve spent a couple of hours in the visitors center and exploring the hilly region, you can’t help but leave with a real sense of the massive importance this part of Western Pennsylvania played in setting the stage for American progress in the subsequent decades.

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Fort Necessity National Battlefield

As with most of the French and Indian War and Anglo-French colonial era sites I’ve visited, it is remarkable that such wide-reaching ripple effects through centuries of subsequent history took place in these tiny corners of what was then an open territory for Europeans and home to a rich culture of Native peoples. By the end of the French and Indian War, the British had laid claim to much of the Americas. In so doing, the seeds of descent had also been sown among a bitter population of American colonists who would eventually rise up in independence against their British rulers.

All my travel this past year, followed up by a rewatching of the PBS series The War That Made America, has definitely fuelled the French and Indian War bug in me. I’ve put a few books on my reading list, including Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War, and Richard Berleth’s Bloody Mohawk. The period has also led me to pick up Wilderness War from GMT Games, the modern go-to board game on the period. With more than two-and-a-half-centuries between today and the fight for empire in the Americas, the French and Indian War is very much alive for me.

New Game Weekend: A Few Acres of Snow

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 “You know that these two nations are at war about a few acres of snow somewhere around Canada, and that they are spending on this beautiful war more than all Canada is worth.” — Voltaire, Candide (1758)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the area of what would become the Northeastern United States and the neighboring Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec were a battlefield for French, British and Native American control. With the two European empires locked in a protracted series of large and small wars around the globe, the American colonies were often a sideshow to the global conflict. In the colonies, King William’s War (1689–97), Queen Anne’s War (1702-13), King George’s War (1744–48) and the French and Indian War (1754–63) each played a role in shaping not only the birth of the United States of America but also the face of the entire globe for centuries to come.

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A mid-18th century map of British and French colonies in North America

(from New York Public Library Map Division)

I grew up in Western New York State, spent most of my twenties in Eastern Michigan and Western Pennsylvania, and finally settled in New York City nearly twenty years ago. In my life I’ve logged many a road trip to the landmarks of British and French military control at Fort Stanwix, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort William Henry and Fort Niagara, along with various battlefields and stops at roadside markers. In July, I’ll be swinging by Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania where a British officer named George Washington first commanded troops in an opening battle of the French and Indian War. I’ll also be swinging through Letchworth State Park which was occupied by the western edges of the Iroquois Confederacy which sided with the British during the era of European conflict. In short, I’ve spent my entire life living amid the ghosts of the contested colonial regions of the North American colonial wars.

AcresCardsSample cards from A Few Acres of Snow

At the recent D-Day Plus 70 weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY I was fortunate to score a copy of A Few Acres of Snow in a dice-off raffle. Created by famed designer Martin Wallace and released by Treefrog Games in 2011, the game takes its name from a quote from Voltaire’s Candide commenting on the absurdity of European focus on colonial wars for territory. AFAOS takes players through the French-British colonial period in North America as each nation competed for control of the continent. Within the theme, the game is a rich mix of deck-building and area control mechanics as players seek to settle and defend key areas of the map.

snowsymbolsCard symbols from A Few Acres of Snow

(Wagon, Bateaux, Settler, Military Strength, Money, Fur, Ambush and Ship)

The two-player game begins with players choosing a side as the British or French with a set number of settled outposts in the wilderness of 17th and 18th century North America. British begin with their main settlements in New York and Boston while the French player starts with Quebec. Players begin with a draw deck from which they start with five cards. Playing cards in turns of two actions each, players perform a variety of actions including settlement, fortification, raids, sieges, trade, piracy and a number of card management options. Symbols depicted on each card allow for enormous flexibility in how each player executes their strategy of expansion. For example, a player might begin with a Location card setting off from an existing settlement. From there, a card is played with the appropriate movement symbol like a Bateaux along a river. Once at a new location, a card with a Settler might be played to create a new settlement. As a player’s holdings expand, their decks grow in size and options, leading to even more potential paths of empire growth. Once all settlement tokens are used or major settlements like Boston or Quebec are captured, the games ends and victory points are scored.

IMG_3640My first play of A Few Acres of Snow

In my first play through AFAOS, I faced off with my son playing the French and me playing as the British. The game plays in about an hour, but on our first run we went to a bit over 90 minutes as we wrapped our heads around the rules. After I quickly sailed to and settled Halifax well within the bounds of French country, several  sieges commenced. In his first siege attempt, my son was repelled by my superior military might powered by my store of money. He then took a few turns to quickly trade a lot of fur (one of the strengths of the French player) to buy additional forces for a second siege which chased my British from his territory.

IMG_3647My heavily-settled British Atlantic Coast in A Few Acres of Snow

In the meantime, I pushed inland with a string a settlements toward the Great Lakes in the hopes it would expose Quebec to a siege. However, my son quickly landed a stronghold in my coastal territory in a siege victory at Pemaquid. I retaliated with two failed attacks on Pemaquid using Native American raiding parties. Having held on, my son launched an attack on Boston and my British rule of the colonies fell.

Our first game showed us how quickly AFAOS can move once you get the mechanics. Getting the right cards in and out of your hand is key to winning the game, and the cards shift in importance as the game quickly unfolds. The balance of trade, expansion and military actions does a fantastic job in re-enacting the dynamics which played out between the British, French and shifting Native American allies over some 150 years. Even though we upset the course of history, we both walked away pretty thrilled over our new game and chatting up strategies for the next time we meet up in the woods and along the coasts of Colonial America.

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