Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Location: Farmington, Pennsylvania

Webpage: National Park

General Description: For nearly 200 years, the fertile Ohio River Valley, which stretches nearly a thousand miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, was claimed by both the British and French. Great Britain viewed the land as a natural expansion for trade and settlement and the France viewed it as an economic and defensive link between their colonies of Louisiana and Canada and a buffer to the expansion of the English beyond the Appalachians. Both nations aggressively sought the goodwill and aid of the Iroquois Confederacy who viewed the area as a buffer between these two powerful nations.   By the mid-1700s both nations sought control of the Ohio River, along with the key Forks of the Ohio at present day Pittsburgh. The Ohio Company, organized in 1748, had obtained a grant of 200,000 acres in the upper Ohio River Valley and from its post in Cumberland, Maryland, began to open an 80 mile wagon road to the Monongahela River. Meanwhile the French advanced southward from Fort Niagara on the Lake Ontario, establishing Fort Presque Isle near Lake Erie and Fort Le Boeuf to connect with Fort Venango on the Allegheny River with plans to establish a fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela River. In 1753 the Governor of Virginia sent an 8 man expedition under the command of George Washington to warn the French to withdraw, but was refused. Therefore, in early April, 1754, Lt. Col George Washington once again started westward, this time with a part of a regiment of Virginia frontiersmen to build a road to the Monongahela River along the Indian path he had scouted the year before. By May 24, they along with the rest of the regiment arrived at the Great Meadows, which was a large natural swampy meadow with 293 men. He was reinforced a few days later by about 100 regular British troops from South Carolina. They built a small stockade and wooden building to protect the supplies in the meadow with little thought of defense. By this point Washington was aware that the French had control of the Forks and had built Fort Duquesne. When he learned of a small force of French had been spotted 7 miles away on Chestnut Ridge, he and 40 men set out to find them. At dawn on May 28, they found the French encamped at the bottom of a ravine. It had been debated who fired the first shot, but very quickly the French were either killed or captured. The French commander, Joseph Coulo De Villiers, Sieur de Jemonville was one of those killed in the attack. Fearing they would be attack in retaliation, Washington fortified his position at Fort Necessity with the construction of trenches surrounding the small stockade. For most of June they continued to cut their road to Gist’s Plantation, a frontier settlement. Learning that a large force of French and Indians was advancing from Fort Duquense, Washington returned to Fort Necessity. On the morning of July 3 about 600 French and Indian allies approached the fort, firing several volleys. Washington lined up his men in formation as was the standard practice to meet an enemy in the field, however, the French forces decided to stay within the protected woods surrounding the meadow. The English forces had not cleared the woods since the fort was never intended to be a defensive structure, so the French were within easy musket range from behind the trees. The only protection the English had were the shallow tranches that were filled with water from a heavy rain that lasted throughout the day. While both sides suffered losses, the British losses were far greater. Fighting continued until around 8 pm when Capt Louis Villiers, brother of Jumonville, requested a truce to discuss terms of surrender. The British were allowed to withdraw with the honors of war, however, Washington unwittingly agreed to accepting personal responsibility for the assassination of Jemonville. The French burned Fort Necessity before returning to Fort Dequesne. However, the history of the area did not end there. The next year, in April 1755, Maj Gen Edward Braddock commanded a force of 2,400 men, the largest English force thus seen in the colonies, to drive the French from Fort Duquense. His force included colonial troops from Virginia, New York, South Carolina, and Maryland, as well as, regular British troops and George Washington was invited to join his staff as aid-de-camp. His orders were to advance to Fort Duquense widening the road as he went for artillery and baggage. In mid-June the road operations were slowing the advance too much so he split his forces in two groups, leading 1300 picked men past the Great Meadows and remains of Fort Necessity on their way to Fort Dequense. On the afternoon of July 9, Braddock’s column collided with 600 French and Indians, once again employing guerilla tactics in an ambush of the column 8 miles from the fort. When the battle ended the British had lost nearly 2/3 of the troops and most of their officers, including Braddock who was wounded. Braddock died 3 days later during the retreat and was buried in the middle of the road in an unmarked grave near the Great Meadow. Thus began the French and Indian War that would eventually consume most of Europe and colonies around the world. George Washington would eventually purchase the Great Meadow and area surrounding it to protect his memories of those early years of his life. This road, named the Braddock Road, was the beginning of the National Road from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia and later through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The Braddock Road had been used by wagons for over 50 years to move goods and settlers until in 1811, the National Road was authorized by Congress. A firm roadbed was initially laid down by the Federal Government with eventual maintenance to be funded by the states. Thus were the establishment of tool booths along the National Road and the birth of many towns and businesses along the route. Today the route is essentially US 40.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) There is a lot to see at Fort Necessity, so to see it all plan on spending the most of a day. The visit begins at the Visitor Center on the edge of the Great Meadow. In the Visitor Center there is an excellent museum covering all of the history of the location from the early settlements, through the Battle of Fort Necessity, to the construction of the National Road. There is also an excellent movie about the events in 1754 and 1755.

VisitorCenter

2) A short walking distance from the Visitor Center is the reconstruction of Fort Necessity. It may seem to be too small a fort, even for a frontier fort, as it is a small circle palisade with a small building in the center. That is until you realize it was never intended to be a defensive fort. Rather it was to protect the supplies from the troops and local Indians.

FortNecessity

3) Near the Visitor Center is the reconstruction of the Mount Washington Tavern. This tavern was built as an inn and tavern for one of the many stagecoach companies operating on the National Road. Here travelers would obtain their evening meal and spend the night before proceeding on their journey the next morning. All of the rooms have been reconstructed with period pieces and implements. Included are a formal parlor for women and families, the tavern for the men, a central dining room, and upstairs bedrooms where multiple people would share rooms and even beds. Outside is an old Conestoga wagon that was a common sight on the National Road carrying all manners of goods.

4) Many years later when they were making repairs to the National Road they discovered a body in the middle of the road. Believing these remains to be those of General Braddock, they were reinterred on the top of the hill above the road where a monument was erected. These are located a short distance north on US 40 from Fort Necessity.

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5) Further northwest on US 40, at the top of the mountain before it descends into Uniontown, is the cutoff to Jumonville Glen. At the edge of this small town, the National Park Service maintains the ravine where George Washington ambushed the French and Indians under the command of Jumonville. There is a nice paved path down to an overlook of the ravine. The path continues down into the ravine and back up to the parking lot.

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