Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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The Forgotten Fight for America Volume 58 Number 1, January/February 2005
by Mark Rose

The centuries-long struggle for control of the continent before 1776

This painting depicts British troops under George Washington at Fort Necessity in 1754. (Robert Griffing, Paramount Press, Inc.) [LARGER IMAGE]

The enemy advanced with Shouts, & dismal Indian yells to our Intrenchments...
[the French] from every little rising-tree-Stump-Stone-and bush kept up a constant galding fire upon us.

On July 4, 1754, a young British officer led his exhausted and demoralized soldiers in retreat from western Pennsylvania. The night before, in a driving rainstorm, he had surrendered to the implacable adversaries who had surrounded his "fort of necessity" and decimated his troops in a grueling nine-hour battle. The defeat was a low point in George Washington's military career, but it was only one battle in the French and Indian War, and just one more battle in the largely forgotten, centuries-long struggle for possession of North America.

Excavations in the 1950s unearthed remains at a scatter of places, such as the palisade of Washington's Fort Necessity and skeletons of the garrison of Fort William Henry in New York, site of the French and Indian War massacre immortalized in James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans. But today, archaeologists are at work throughout the Atlantic seaboard, investigating early French settlements in the Southeast, homes of rebels and rulers in Maryland, shipwrecks in the frigid waters of Québec's Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the camp of merchants who supplied forts in the Lake Champlain corridor of New York and Vermont. At these sites, they are rediscovering the settings of the fight for America, telling of individuals who were swept up in sectarian strife and international wars, and discovering new evidence and asking new questions that will take us beyond history based on documentary sources alone.

Mark Rose is executive editor/online editor of ARCHAEOLOGY. The year 2004 marked the 250th anniversary of the outbreak of the French and Indian War. For more on that conflict and upcoming events, see

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America