The French and Indian War, Fort Necessity, Fort Pitt, and Fort Ligonier

Our studies have recently covered the French and Indian War. There are many sites of interest related to this conflict in the Maryland and Pennsylvania region that I wish to share with you. First, some background on the war in this area.

The war, fought between 1756 and 1763, was a contest between England and France. The early battles centered on the need for control of the Ohio River Valley. Many British colonists from Virginia and Pennsylvania had settled in this wilderness territory setting up trading posts starting in the 1740’s. The French, who had long claimed this region, began to build forts to strengthen that claim and at the same time, curtail the ability of the British to expand into the Ohio Valley.

In an attempt to determine the intentions of the French in the Ohio Valley, the governor of Virginia sent then 21 year old George Washington to deliver a formal protest and learn of future plans and movements of the French. As he traveled as a embracery to meet with French leaders north of what is today Pittsburgh, he came upon the location where the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers joined to form the Ohio River (which today is the site of the city of Pittsburgh) and determined this would be an excellent site for a British fort. At Washington’s recommendation to the governor, the fort was started with a force of 40 men. Washington realizing the need for more men to finish and defend the fort, returned to Virginia. On his return to the fort with an additional 120 men, he learned the news that

Fort Necessity Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Fort Necessity
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

the fort had surrendered to the French (The French renamed the fort Duquesne). Washington, with the rank of colonel in the Virginia militia, quickly built a makeshift fort they called Fort Necessity in an area known as Great Meadows an hour southeast of Fort Duquesne. Knowing the French were coming, Washington and his men left Fort Necessity in an attempt to take Fort Duquesne. Hearing from his scouts that they were badly outnumbered, he returned to Fort Necessity and prepared for the coming assault. On July 3, 1754, The French with their Indian allies attacked the fort. After a day’s exchange of fire, and a downpour that flooded the marshy land and destroyed Washington’s gunpowder, Washington surrendered.  After a brief negotiation, the French allowed Washington and his forces to return to Virginia. This encounter is viewed by many historians as the first shots of the French and Indian War.

Now the British were even more determined to take Fort Duquesne and stop the French. In order to accomplish this, the British Government sent General Edward Braddock to the colonies. With 2,400 men made up of regulars of the British army, a Virginia militia headed by George Washington, artillery experts, and engineers to cut roads and build bridges, Braddock set out in the spring of 1755 to take Fort Duquesne. The slow, labored pace crossing mountains and streams began to frustrate the general. Being within 9 miles of the fort, he agreed with Washington’s idea to take 1,500 of his men and proceed onward, leaving his supplies behind. On July 7, 1755, as they neared the location of Fort Duquesne and without warning, 300 French and their 600 Indian allies attacked from behind trees from all sides causing mass confusion for the British forces. Braddock continued to order his men to stay in formation against Washington’s pleas to have the men disburse. The British suffered huge casualties. General Braddock was shot in the fighting and a few days later died of his wounds. He was buried on July 14th near Fort Necessity, on the side of the road his men built. This road would eventually be called the National Road (Route 40). In the end, George Washington and only 450 men returned to Virginia.

Fort Ligonier Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Fort Ligonier
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The French continued their success against the British until 1758 when the newPrimeMinister of Britain, William Pitt, assumed leadership of the war efforts. One of these campaigns was a full scale attempt to take Fort Duquesne in October of 1758. The British built a number of forts including Fort Ligonier, 60 miles from the Fort Duquesne, as staging forts to attack the French. The French and their Indian allies decide to attack Fort Ligonier before the British could reach the French fortress. After a day of fighting, the French suffered heavy losses and retreated. The British followed (yes, George Washington was here as well) only to find Fort Duquesne set on fire and abandoned by the French. The British soon rebuilt the fort and named it Fort Pitt after the British Prime Minister, hence, the name Pittsburgh today. Over the next few years, the French eventually lost most of their forts to the British in the land they called New France. With the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763, the Ohio Valley was now officially in British hands.

Places to Visit:

Braddocks' Grave Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Braddocks’ Grave
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I have passed Fort Necessity many times. As a child, my family would make the trip to Western Pennsylvania yearly to visit my mother’s family. My grandparents lived off of Route 40 a few miles from the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh in a town calledBrownsville. We passed the entrance to the fort on Route 40 each year and would, on occasion, stop and visit. The trip to see the sites mentioned above will have you traveling west from Frederick, Maryland on I-70 to I-68 to US 40. Fort Necessity National Battlefield is a 2 hour 45 minute drive from Hoover Middle School. I cannot think of a more perfect time to visit then in October when the Alleghany Mountains foliage is at their peak.   Fort Necessity is in Farmington, Pennsylvania and is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The fee is $5 with children 15 and under admitted free. The site has recently added an Interpretive and Education Center featuring exhibits reflecting 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania and a 20-minute film telling the story of the area. Near the entranceto the park on US 40 is a parking area to view the marker at Braddock’s Grave. Also next to the park on US 40 is Mount Washington Tavern. This is open for visitors from April 15-

Mount Washington Tavern Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Mount Washington Tavern
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

October 31. As the National Highway became the main route to the west, taverns for food and shelter could be found every mile along the road. This tavern is one of the few remaining. The Tavern was built in 1827-28 and is fully furnished in period pieces. On an aside note, if you extend your visit to see other National Road attractions, you can also plan to visit nearby Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and open for tours. You may also want to visit Laurel Caverns five miles further west of the fort. If it is a nice day and you want the best view of the fall foliage, I suggest eating at the historic Summit Inn Resort also five miles west of the fort. The hotel has an amazing history having been built in 1907 by local coal barons. As for my family history, my grandparents had their honeymoon here in 1924. You must eat on their Veranda Porch which looks out over the Alleghany Mountains and on a clear day they say you can see 60 miles to Pittsburgh.   If you decide to wait until the spring, the annual National Pike Festival is the third weekend in May. On that weekend, there are many local activities along Route 40 from Maryland to Illinois.

John Heinz Museum Photo Credit: Wikipedia

John Heinz Museum
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

If you decide to head to Pittsburgh next, take route PA-51N in Uniontown to visit Fort Pitt. The museum is located in historic Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. The bastion was reconstructed and opened in 1969. The two-story museum tells the story of the French and Indian War in Western Pennsylvania. Nearby is the Senator John Heinz History Center run by the Smithsonian Institution. This six story museum is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania. Finally, let’s say you decide to make it a week-end trip October 10, 11, and 12, 2014. Return southeast from Pittsburgh and visit the town of Ligonier. This is the week-end of their Fort Ligonier Days. This 3-day festival commemorates the Battle of Fort Ligonier.  There will be living history encampments, drills, and volunteers in historic garb showing frontier life and military tactics. The re-enactment of the battle is on Saturday at 2 and 4 pm and Sunday at 1:30 and 3:30 pm. You will also find great entertainment, food and crafts for sale in town. If you make this trip, send me an email and tell me about your experiences!

~Ms. Barry

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