Lawrence Edward Babits, Stephanie Gandulla, eds. The Archaeology of French and Indian War Frontier Forts. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013. xx + 303 pp,. $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-4906-9.
Reviewed by Jessica L. Wallace (Ohio State University)
Published on H-War (July, 2014)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
Digging Up Forts: Material Culture in the Seven Years' War
The American theater of the Seven Years’ War has enjoyed a surge in scholarly attention in the past fifteen years, from Fred Anderson’s masterful Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000), to Matthew Ward’s Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years’ War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765 (2003), and Colin G. Calloway’s The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America (2006). Backcountry fortifications have also been studied, most notably in Daniel Ingram’s Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century America (2012), which examines the ways that Native Americans shaped the successes of two British and three initially French forts. The Archaeology of French and Indian War Frontier Forts, edited by Lawrence E. Babits and Stephanie Gandulla, builds on this historiography by bringing archaeological insights to the discussion of backcountry fortifications in the Seven Year’s War.
Babits and Gandulla’s book is a collection of thirteen essays, twelve written by archaeologists. They cover seven British and four French forts, ranging from South Carolina to upper Michigan and southern Ontario. Forts that have previously enjoyed extensive scholarly attention (such as Forts William Henry, Ligonier, and Niagara) were left out to cover lesser-known forts. An introductory essay by historian R. Scott Stephenson contextualizes the period and its fortifications, and James L. Hart contributes an overview of relevant military theories, focusing on manuals of regular fortifications by Bernard Forest de Bélidor and Guillaume Le Blond which articulated general principles of effective fortifications in eighteenth-century Europe. The essays build on Hart’s discussion of regular and irregular fortifications, particularly the challenges inherent in adapting theory to the colonial frontier.
The essays cover a range of forts, built by army regulars, provincials, and civilians. Contributors highlight the challenges engineers and architects faced in adapting the principles of regular architecture and knowledge to local circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, civilian fortifications, like Edwards’ Fort in Capon Bridge, WV, display evidence that frontier inhabitants had some knowledge of military fortifications; instead of haphazardly fortifying their dwellings, they attempted to use regular fortification principles, such as incorporating bastions. Sometimes regular features were adapted or abandoned unwillingly, due to unskilled workers, available materials and locations, bad weather, and pressing time demands, particularly in the violent Virginia backcountry.
The essays bring out the individual characteristics of each fort and collectively show patterns of similarities and differences between French and British forts. Established earlier in the eighteenth century, French forts were examples of positional warfare, which privileged gaining territory and developing colonial settlements instead of destroying armies. They tended to have civilian populations nearby (of the British forts, only Virginia’s Fort Loudoun was close to a colonial settlement--Winchester, VA). A major difference in the archaeological record was the presence of religious artifacts in French forts, from chapel buildings, lists of Indian baptisms, and rosaries. These items reflect French attempts to convert Indians to Roman Catholicism but also the different emphases on physical items for Catholics and Protestants. British Protestants would not have owned rosaries or images of saints, so the lack of specific religious items at British forts does not automatically reflect upon the British army’s spiritual state.
The fort is studied as a space that allowed for interactions among Native, colonial, and imperial people. At French and British forts alike, the archaeological evidence demonstrates these relationships. Fort Michilimackinac, for instance, housed a sizable mixed-race population, and the fort’s military personnel eventually became more like settlers than soldiers, according to local British traders. At Fort Loudoun (TN), an abundance of Native pottery suggests that soldiers used Native ceramics for everyday cooking. On the other hand, archaeological evidence sometimes contradicts assumptions. Despite documented interactions at Virginia’s Fort Loudoun, only three identifiable Indian trade goods were found in the excavations, suggesting avenues of future research into that specific fort’s roles.
As a whole, the collection is excellent at highlighting the benefits of utilizing both archaeological and historical evidence to flesh out the physical structures and daily lives of forts and their inhabitants. For example, excavations at Fort de Chartres, long assumed to be a fur trade outpost, revealed far more artifacts of the “household” category (food preparation, consumption, and storage) than items associated with the fur trade and other economic activities. The essays raise questions and areas of further research, encouraging historians to take the archaeological record into consideration when writing the stories of colonial American forts.
At times, the essays employ a good deal of archaeology-specific theory and jargon. Discussions of two theories of artifact distribution in forts (Carolina Artifact Pattern vs. Frontier Artifact Pattern) form the majority of Carl Kuttruff’s essay on Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun, yet these theories are not explained until the volume’s conclusion. Likewise, Babits admits that military artifacts, particularly ammunition, were not adequately addressed in the volume’s essays, a shortcoming for those interested in military history. There is, however, a timeline of the Seven Years’ War and a glossary to aid readers unfamiliar with the terminology of eighteenth-century fortifications. Overall, this book is a useful addition to the scholarship on forts, Native-European interactions, and military life on the colonial frontier during the Seven Years’ War and a fine example of the insights archaeologists can offer military historians.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Jessica L. Wallace. Review of Babits, Lawrence Edward; Gandulla, Stephanie, eds., The Archaeology of French and Indian War Frontier Forts.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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