Day 41, Saturday, August 25, 2018
Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Farmington, Pennsylvania
The French and Indian War started way back in the winter of 1753 – 1754. The British colonists had formed the Ohio Company, and had purchased land in the Ohio Country, on the far western wilderness of the colonies. It’s hard to imagine George Washington as a young man, but he lived and served in the British military back before he became a Revolutionary. That winter, Washington was sent as an emissary by the British to the southwestern Pennsylvania area (then part of the Virginia Territory) to order the French to withdraw.
Of course, the French had gotten there first, and considered the Ohio River a vital trade link between Canada (then called New France) and Louisiana. They didn’t really want the British trying to lay claim to land they already thought was claimed… The French, who had already built a fort there, predictably told Washington to go pound sand. The British were not deterred, and the next task for the young George Washington, just 21 at the time, was to build a road that would lead through the wilderness of the Virginia Territory into the Ohio Country, an area west of the land now known as part of Pennsylvania, which was destined to become the new frontier.
Washington was leading a force of colonists and British Army regulars back in the spring of 1754, and he was out there in the wilderness trying to construct the road, and ultimately secure a crossing over the Ohio River, in order to open up the Ohio Country for settlement. Accounts vary, but the French were getting more and more aggressive, because they didn’t really like the fact that the tribes in the area were trading more and more with the British, as well as these interlopers disrupting their plans to control the Ohio River. It wound up coming to a head in May 1754, with Washington and his troops, along with a small number of sympathetic Native Americans, ambushing a small group of Canadiens, and killing their commander, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, in what became the Battle of Jumonville Glen.
The French then sent more troops to regain control of the area, while Washington built a fortification to protect his supplies. Fort Necessity became the location for the Battle of Fort Necessity, where French troops under the command of Jumonville’s brother, attacked Washington’s troops at the fort. It was raining, muddy, and Washington’s troops were far outnumbered by the French and their Native American allies. After a rough day of battle against the 600 French troops and their Native American allies, Washington’s force of less than 300 surrendered, and signed a surrender document. It was written in French, and unknown to Washington, indicated that he had “assassinated” Jumonville in May. Once Washington found out that the translation he was given was not accurate, he denied that Jumonville’s death had been an assassination, but the French used this “admission” to malign the British and gain support for their cause.
The Battle of Fort Necessity is said to be Washington’s only defeat, and we all know that he went on to become the General who won the Revolutionary War. As for the French and Indian War though, it went on for several more years. The British assigned General Edward Braddock to lead troops in the ensuing attempt to oust the French, until Braddock was killed in battle two years later, in 1755. He was buried under the partially constructed road, to prevent the enemy from finding and desecrating the grave. He was found and moved to a grave near the road in 1804. Eventually the French were defeated and western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Country (along with other disputed lands north through the colonies), became part of the colony controlled by the British.
Today, Fort Necessity has been rebuilt, as it was originally burned down by the French after Washington’s surrender. You can see that while a beautiful grassy meadow, it wasn’t easily defended with the woods and higher ground all around. The fort was basically designed as a place to protect the supplies, rather than a fort that would accommodate all the men that were with Washington. They had to settle for the meager protection of the entrenchments that were built around the fort. It was interesting to see.
I did get to watch a musket firing demonstration, which I really enjoyed! I also heard a Ranger talk about the troops that fought there. They were a combination of regular army, and ragtag colonists who were poor, not well equipped, and just trying to make a living.
The Fort Necessity National Battlefield also contains the Mount Washington Tavern and General Braddock’s Grave. I’ll share my visits there next!