Unreal Worlds: Two Alternate Americas


It’s a national holiday today here in the United States, one felt more keenly than average because we’re here only briefly before returning to Europe where the Great Lodge of the Illuminerdy currently is. Technically it’s called Independence Day (not named after the film, no matter what you may have heard), but it’s so ingrained in the popular history of the country that Americans don’t even have to use the holiday’s real name, because the short hand is good enough: it’s just the Fourth of July.

You may have deduced from previous posts that the Illuminerdy have something of a thing for the history of the early American Republic — both real and imagined — so it is with great effort that we will restrain ourselves from presenting a brief thesis on the origins of the American State, and instead merely remind you that the date is celebrated here because it is the date the United States of America wished itself into being in a strongly worded letter rebuking the British Crown for being mean. (Yes, this is the very short version, and yes, this is terrifically ironic because the modern American populace spends a huge amount of time obsessing about activities of British Royals. But that’s neither here nor there.) So, in the spirit of a day celebrating the America that is, we briefly present two Alternate Americas that never were, ready made for your time-travel and dimension-hopping games.

America 1421

The Chinese discovered America (and most of the rest of the world) in 1421, according to noted British Royal Navy officer and non-Historian Gavin Menzies. In his relatively popular 2003 book, Menzies suggests that the Yongle Emperor sent a massive Chinese treasure fleet led by the famous admiral Zheng He to East Africa (definitely) but also Australia and both coasts of North and South America (doubtful) proclaiming the glory of the Emperor and giving elaborate gifts to the peoples they found there. Zheng He’s fleet left no major permanent North American settlements in real history, but an ill-timed storm in the 1421 universe off the Pacific coast  left thousands of Chinese navigators, explorers, sailors, doctors, workers, and soldiers stranded in northern California, bringing a rigid, hierarchical presence to the American West 600 years before substantial numbers of Chinese immigrants arrived to build the railroads in real history.

Zheng He’s fleet included few women, so the ship-wrecked populace heavily intermarried with regional Native American tribes, ultimately ensuring that the Chinese maintained a presence beyond a generation. The sudden population explosion (and some cultural intermixing) forced the then-primarily hunter/gatherer tribe(s) to adopt agricultral practices, which in turn forced the second- and third- generation treasure fleet holdovers into expansionist wars of conquest up and down the Pacific coast.

In the 17th century, colonial Spain found its northward expansion checked by a littoral Empire ruled by the Daughter of Tianfei. The Empire’s veritable army of bureaucrats maintained an elaborate tribute system supporting numerous Native American tribes south and east of its borders for the next century, supplying war-like tribes with weapons and training from the Empire’s favored totem schools of martial arts to serve as buffers against European expansion into Imperial territory beyond the Rocky Mountains.

In the 18th century, James Cook’s planned exploration of the American West Coast was halted (and his ship sunk) by Imperial junks protecting Forbidden City at the mouth of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, but the brief contact renewed interest in reestablishing contact with mainland China. By the 19th century, the young United States had made common cause with Mexico, Russia, and Japan against both Chinas leading to a World War largely fought between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains in 1861.

The Luciferian Free States

In mainline history, the Salem Witch Trials were a series of episodes of mass hysteria likely caused by the strain of Puritan social strictures on a frontier civilization. Between 1692 and 1693, dozens of New England residents (mostly women) were falsely accused of practicing witchcraft, and then either jailed or executed depending on whether it was believed that their various pacts with the devil involved souring the neighbor’s cow’s milk or assisting demons in possessing local children.

In the Luciferian Free State universe, basically the same thing happen, except the accused were nearly all actually witches. Some merely carrying forward a variety of European folk practices in the secrecy of their homes, with a few actually able to wield demonic power provided by complex pacts with Lucifer and his minions. Consequently, ongoing magical resistance to colonial efforts to rein in the practices made it much harder to arrange for a series of executions, leading Colonial leaders to banish the perpetrators beyond the colonies borders rather than execute them, recalling the Antinomian Controversy caused by Anne Hutchinson 50 years earlier.

Although small in number, the hellish powers (and homeopathic medicines) of the banished witches and warlocks allowed them to survive harsh environments as they moved south and west, ultimately settling in several small, isolated Appalachian communities in what would become West Virginia and Kentucky in mainline history. As the European presence in North America continued to grow over the next century, the English colonies pressed toward territories nominally controlled by the Witch Councils, forcing several confrontations and ultimately an uneasy peace. 

As in real history, British colonial policies made ongoing union with the crown less and less tolerable to the citizens of its North American colonies, and independence was declared in 1776. The Appalachian Luciferia had two signers of the Declaration of Independence, and counted Freemason and mystic Benjamin Franklin among its most vocal supporters. As a result, the Continental Army marched to its earliest battles with hex-wielding volunteers and mountain-men, ultimately forcing the British to send Stearnish Witch Hunters into the mountains hoping to find and burn the Appalachian Scholomance to prevent it from producing more Hex-soldiers for the Americans.

Well-timed French intervention (aided in no small part by Appalachian weather-magic) at Yorktown led to American victory, with Luciferia among the first colonies to approve the Articles of Confederation as amended to include specific clauses for Freedom of Worship. Appalachian hex-casters and cunning-women continued to contribute in small numbers in many of America’s conflicts, battling French lycanthropes and Voodoo Loa on the high seas  in the Quasi-War, Tripolitan Djinn in the Barbary Wars, and the Faerie Corps of King George’s Army in the War of 1812.

The development of plantation-style agriculture in the South brought a number of Africans (and their mystical practices) to the colonies, and the Luciferian Free State became known as a place where escapes slaves could live in peace, unmolested by their former masters. Nevertheless, Magus John Brown’s anti-Slavery raid on a Federal arsenal Harper’s Ferry made the Free State the flashpoint for an American Civil War. Most of the Scholomance’s most powerful graduates found themselves supporting the South, but the independent Cunning Men of the mountain passes largely took up arms for the North. The war rages on. Brother against brother. Mage against mage. The fate of the nation — and the Free State — hangs in the balance.

Kennon Bauman is a professional analyst and lapsed historian who knows the sinister secret history of the little plastic thingies on the ends of your shoelaces. He lives outside Washington, DC with his wife, two children, and dog. You can find Kennon’s bite-sized musings on Twitter @theUniverseGM.

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