On the Water

Fox and Geese Game Board

This 9-inch square board with 32 holes was made for playing Fox and Geese, a game of strategy between two players. The 19 pegs representing geese and a single longer peg for the fox are long gone from this particular board made in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Fox and Geese was among the games played by fishermen during idle times on sailing schooners working in the North Atlantic fisheries. This board was part of a display on “Habits of Fishermen,” at the International Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883. Other games in the display, all from Gloucester, included cards, a checkerboard, backgammon, and a diamond puzzle.

The rules of play for Fox and Geese are simple: one player controls the fox, while the other controls the geese. The fox can move in a straight line in any direction and, as it jumps over geese, the geese are removed from the board. To win, the fox must break through the entire line of geese. The geese are only allowed to move forward or sideways. To win, they must corner the fox so it cannot move.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1633 reference to the game from a play called Fine Companion by Shackerley Marmion: “Let him sit in the shop . . . and let him play at fox and geese with the foreman.” The game was played in colonial America and, with minor variations, well into the 19th and 20th centuries.

This game board was one of several items donated to the Smithsonian by Capt. George Merchant Jr., of Gloucester.

ID Number:
Place Made:
Gloucester, Massachusetts
8 7/8 x 8 1/8 x .43 in.; 22.5425 x 20.6375 x 1.1 cm
Captain George Merchant, Jr., through J. W. Collins

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