‘Clash of the Empires, the British, French and Indian War, 1754-1763’

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Observer photo by Mark Matthius
The exhibit, “Clash of Empires: The British, French and Indian War, 1754-1763,” is on display at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center through July 15. Visit www.si.edu/visit/whatsnew/Ripley.asp for more information.

Exhibition at the S. Dillon Ripley Center marks the 250th anniversary of a three-sided conflict that changed the world.
By: MARK MAATHIUS

On May 15, 1756, Britain declared war on France and the conflict that followed marked the beginning of the end of European dominance in North America, and the rise of a new empire: The United States of America. “Clash of the Empires,” currently on display at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, marks the war’s 250th anniversary, telling the story of the last major colonial struggle between the British, the French, and their Indian allies.

Nearly 300 objects and artifacts, dioramas and life-size recreations of historical figures are on display, including 32 oil paintings, brought together for the first time. Most depict individuals — men in uniforms, Indians in war paint — while others, Benjamin West’s “General Johnson Saving A Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of an American Indian” and “American Indian and His Family,” tell stories.

Other rare objects include the only surviving complete pre-Revolutionary War British officer’s uniform — shown outside of England for the first time — and a collection of engraved powder horns.

The exhibition starts in 1754, the year that 22-year-old George Washington got his first taste of war. Washington led a group of colonial troops to confront the French, but the young lieutenant was defeated. A life-like recreation of Washington, holding the surrender document in his hand, exemplifies the young officer’s distress after his defeat.

This part of the exhibition hosts one of the two most remarkable items on display, according to Smithsonian volunteer and French and Indian War expert Tad Miller: The original surrender document, dated July 3, 1754, written in French with Washington’s signature and that of the French commander.

The other must-see is one of two remaining Caloron leaded plates. These 14 by10 inch engraved plates were placed by Pierre-Joseph Caloron de Blainville along the Ohio River to assert France’s territorial claims to the Ohio Valley. The one on display, found at the end of the 18th century, is only six by four inches. The rest was melted down to make bullets for the Revolutionary War.

Though most of the fighting ended on September 8, 1760, when the French surrendered Montreal to Britain, the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. France lost all its North American possessions east of the Mississippi and all of Canada was ceded to Britain.

Known as the French and Indian War in North America, the War of Conquest in French-speaking Canada and the Seven Years’ War in Europe, the conflict was not a war with a clear beginning and end. Therefore, a visitor looking to understand of the role of the French and Indian War on 18th century global affairs, could start at the “Clash of Empires,” but would need more information than the exhibition offers. However, anyone looking for a tasteful variety of objects, artifacts, paintings and dioramas which share some connection with the French and Indian War should be sure to visit this exhibition.

The exhibition has been extended and runs until July 15, 2007. The S. Dillon Ripley Center is located at 1100 Jefferson Drive, Washington, D.C. and accessible via Smithsonian metro station. Admittance is free. For more information: http://www.si.edu/ripley/

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