The War That Started a Revolution

USA TODAY, May 2005 | Go to article overview

The War That Started a Revolution


AS LITTLE AS TWO decades before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the idea that the American colonies would unite and revolt would have been called preposterous. Ties were strong between Great Britain and its colonies. Trade flourished, and political and social connections ran deep. Even a young Virginia soldier named George Washington wanted nothing more than to be a British military officer.

The French & Indian War (known as the Seven Years War in Europe) would change everything, as England, France, and dozens of American Indian nations fought for control of North America west of the Appalachian Mountains--and the confluence of three mighty rivers at Pittsburgh (Allegheny, Mountains--and Ohio) were seen as the strategic key to victory. By war's end, France virtually had been ousted from the continent; the British empire at last ringed the globe; and American Indians faced the difficult task of defending their independence against a robust Anglo-American opponent.

Perhaps most significant, the war changed the American colonists' view of themselves and the world. Active participation in the British victory gave them a profound sense of their political and military strength. Parliament's decision to tax the colonies to cover the costs of victory quickly turned celebrations of British patriotism into cries of protest. The chain of events that led to the American Revolution had begun.

Some 250 years later, "Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War, 1754-1763" brings this historic conflict back to life. "There is perhaps no other event in American history that has had as much impact and is as little known as the French & Indian War," maintains Andy Masich, president of the Heinz History Center. "'Clash of Empires' is an exciting opportunity to step back in time, visit a surprisingly different North America, and learn about a war that continues to affect our lives today."

Utilizing more than 200 objects and works of art, dioramas, videos, and a series of life-like, historically accurate models, the exhibition puts visitors in the midst of the tumult that was the French & Indian War.

In the depths of history, remarkable individuals often are romanticized or simply forgotten. For "Clash of Empires," world-renowned model-maker Gerry Embleton has created a series of nine evocative figures to illustrate and anchor core exhibit sections. Among the characters visitors will meet:

* Colonial officer George Washington, who was promoted from major to colonel during the conflict, agonizing over the decision to sign a French surrender document after his defeat at Fort Necessity; the actual document will appear nearby. His was the opening battle of the French & Indian War as well as the first and only time Washington would surrender during his career. …

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