Rival claims between the French and English to the vast territory along the Ohio River between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River approached a climax about 1750. The Ohio Company (organized in 1748 by a group of prominent Englishmen and Virginians who saw the economic and financial potential of the area) had obtained a large grant of 200,000 acres in the upper Ohio River Valley. From its post at Wills Creek, now Cumberland, Md., the Company planned additional settlements and started to open an 80-mile wagon road to the Monongahela River.
Meanwhile, the French, who considered the Ohio a vital link between New France (Canada) and Louisiana, advanced southward and westward from Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario, driving out English traders and claiming the Ohio River Valley for France. In 1753, Gov. Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia learned the French had built Fort Presque Isle near Lake Erie and Fort Le Boeuf in that part of the Ohio country claimed by Virginia. He sent an eight-man expedition under George Washington to warn the French to withdraw. Washington, then only 21 years old, made the journey in midwinter of 1753-54. The French refusal to withdraw set the stage for the events that took place at Fort Necessity.
The confrontation at Fort Necessity in the summer of 1754 was the opening battle of the war fought by England and France for control of the North American continent. It was also the opening episode of a worldwide struggle known in North America as the French and Indian War and elsewhere as the Seven Years' War. It ended in 1763 with the expulsion of French power from North America and India. The action at Fort Necessity was also the first major event in the military career of George Washington, and it marked the only time he ever surrendered to an enemy.
"A Charming Field For An Encounter"
In January 1754, even before he learned of the French refusal to abandon the Ohio Valley, Governor Dinwiddie sent a small force of Virginia soldiers to build a fort at the forks of the Ohio, where Pittsburgh now stands. The stockade was barely finished when a French force drove off the Virginians and built a larger fort on the site. The French called it Fort Duquesne in honor of the Marquis de Duquesne, governor of New France.
In early April, Lt. Col. George Washington started westward from Alexandria with part of a regiment of Virginia frontiersmen to build a road to Redstone Creek on the Monongahela. He was then to help defend the English fort on the Ohio. When told the fort was in French hands, he decided to push on to Redstone Creek and await further instructions. His force was well beyond Wills Creek when Col. Joshua Fry, commanding the expedition, arrived there with the rest of the Virginia Regiment near the end of May.
Washington arrived at the Great Meadows, as the Fort Necessity area was called, on May 24. The meadow was mostly marsh, but he believed it "a charming field for an encounter" and ordered his men to set up an encampment. Three days later, after hearing that French soldiers had been spotted about seven miles away on Chestnut Ridge, Washington and 40 men set out to find them. At dawn on May 28, the Virginians reached the camp of Tanacharison, a friendly Seneca chief known as the Half King. His scouts then led them to the ravine about two miles to the north where the French were encamped.
The French, commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, were taken by surprise. Ten were killed, including Jumonville, one was wounded, and 21 were made prisoner. One man escaped to carry the news back to Fort Duquesne. Washington's losses were one man killed and two wounded.
When Colonel Fry died at Wills Creek on May 31, Washington was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment. Fearing "we might be attacked by considerable forces," Washington undertook to fortify his position. By June 3 his men had built a circular palisaded fort, which he called Fort Necessity.
The Battle of Fort Necessity
When the rest of the Virginia Regiment arrived at the Great Meadows on June 9, bringing supplies and nine swivel guns, Washington's command totaled 293 officers and men. He was reinforced several days later by about 100 men of Capt. James Mackay's Independent Company of regular British troops from South Carolina. Washington, however, failed to retain his Indian allies.
Leaving the South Carolinians at the Great Meadows, Washington and his Virginians spent most of June opening a road from Fort Necessity to Gist's Plantation, a frontier settlement in the direction of the forks of the Ohio. Learning that a large force of French and Indians was advancing from Fort Duquesne, Washington withdrew his men to the Great Meadows. On July 2 they strengthened Fort Necessity by improving the trenches outside the stockade.
On the morning of July 3 about 600 French and 100 Indians approached the fort, fired several volleys, and took up positions in the woods. In the ensuing battle both sides suffered casualties, but British losses were greater.
Fighting continued sporadically until about 8 pm. Then Capt. Louis Coulon de Villiers, brother of Jumonville and commander of the French force, requested a truce to discuss the surrender of Washington's command. Near midnight, after several hours of negotiation, the terms were reduced to writing and signed by Washington and Mackay. The British were allowed to withdraw with the honors of war, retaining their baggage and weapons, but having to surrender their swivel guns.
The British troops left Fort Necessity for Wills Creek on the morning of July 4. From there they marched back to Virginia. The French burned Fort Necessity and returned to Fort Duquesne.
Anglo-French Rivalry for the Ohio Valley
The fertile Ohio River Valley stretched nearly a thousand miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. England and France each believed this land belonged to them through discovery, exploration, early settlement, long-standing treaties, royal grants, and purchase from various Indian tribes. The English viewed the Ohio country as a natural area for expansion by trade and settlement. The French saw it as an economic and defensive link between their colonies of Canada and Louisiana and a buffer to English movements beyond the Appalachians. Both nations aggressively sought the goodwill and aid of the Indian residents through propaganda and presents. The Indians' concept of land ownership conflicted with European values and culture, causing their claims to the area to be ignored or forgotten.
French officials, including the Marquis de Duquesne, governor-general of New France, had used Indians like the Shawnee to harass and hold back English attempts to trade or settle in the area. Other tribes, including many of the Iroquois Confederacy, helped the English. Duquesne intensified the confrontation by sending detachments of "colony troops"the Compagnies Franches de la Marineinto the disputed area to occupy and fortify key points along the Ohio River and its tributaries. Virginia Governor Dinwiddie's efforts to combat the French threat to the Ohio River Valley in 1753-54 led to the opening shots of a conflict that would "set the world on fire," determine which European nation would dominate North America, and change forever the Indians' way of life.
Fort Necessity Then and Now
The Braddock Campaign
Following the encounter at Fort Necessity, the French hoped the English would no longer contest their claims to the Ohio country. But England refused to accept the unfavorable outcome of the battle as a conclusive test of her strength on the frontier. Instead it prepared to launch expeditions against several French strongholds: Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio; Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario; Fort Saint-Frederic (Crown Point) on Lake Champlain; and Fort Beausejour in Nova Scotia. The main attack would be against Fort Duquesne.
The man chosen to head the Fort Duquesne expedition was 60-year-old Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock, an officer with 45 years of service in the British army, most of it with the Coldstream Guards. He had no experience, however, with wilderness fighting. His nearly 2,400-man command seemed formidable, but it consisted of two relatively new and undermanned infantry regiments under Cols. Sir Peter Halkett and Thomas Dunbar, plus colonial troops from Virginia, New York, South Carolina, and Maryland. Some of the colonials had taken part in the Fort Necessity campaign. Braddock had a low opinion of colonials, but he personally invited young George Washington to join his staff as an aide-de-camp.
Braddock began his march in April 1755. His orders were to proceed to Fort Cumberland, the Ohio Company's post at Wills Creek, then northwest to the forks of the Ohio, all the while widening Washington's old road through the forest for artillery and baggage wagons. In mid-June, because the troops were moving too slowly, Braddock divided his army, marching ahead with 1,300 picked men and leaving the rest under Colonel Dunbar with orders to catch up as soon as they could. Braddock's detachment passed the Great Meadows and the ruins of Fort Necessity on June 25.
On the afternoon of July 9 Braddock's column, within eight miles of Fort Duquesne, collided with about 600 French and Indians. When the battle ended, two-thirds of the British troops engaged and most of their officers were dead or wounded. Braddock was mortally wounded and died during the retreat. Fort Duquesne survived until November 1758, when the French destroyed it upon the approach of Gen. John Forbes' British army.
The National Road
The battle of Fort Necessity and then the French and Indian War set the stage for the American Revolution. Washington, seasoned in these campaigns, emerged as a national leader, eager to unite the Eastern seaboard with the land beyond the mountains.
Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, helped make this a reality by drawing up the plan that led Congress to approve construction of the National Road. This was America's first federally funded highway and the first step in the development of a national road system.
Begun in 1811, the National Road ran from Cumberland, Md., to Vandalia, Ill., where construction stopped in 1839. From the late 1810s to the 1850s, this was the main road from the east coast to the western frontier. A large section of the road ran through southwestern Pennsylvania where it followed generally the Braddock Road as far as Braddock's grave, then turned west to Wheeling.
Today, though realigned in places and resurfaced, U.S. 40 follows the same route as the National Road. The site of Fairview Inn, or Three Mile House, is marked along U.S. 40 west of Baltimore.
The Park Today
Fort Necessity National Battlefield is 11 miles east of Uniontown, Pa., on U.S. 40. The park consists of three separate units: The main unit, which includes the battlefield, the reconstructed fort and earthworks, Mount Washington Tavern, and the visitor center; the Braddock's Grave unit, one mile west on U.S. 40; and the Jumonville Glen unit, seven miles west along the crest of Chestnut Ridge. The park also contains traces of the Braddock Road, built by Washington and Braddock in 1754-55.
Park grounds are open sunrise to sunset. The visitor center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. It is closed on federal holidays from November through February.
The visitor center contains an audio-visual program and exhibits that tell the story of the fort, the battle, and the archeological study that led to the fort's reconstruction. Groups can receive special services with advance arrangements.
Fort Necessity The reconstructed fort and the palisades are in the same locations as the originals. The original stockade, circular in shape, measured 53 feet in diameter and enclosed a small storehouse. The overall perimeter was 168 feet. The entrance gate on the southwest sector of the stockade, was 3½ feet wide. The entrenchments outside the fort are reconstructions of those strengthened by Washington's men before the battle began on July 3.
Mount Washington Tavern This was one of several taverns along the National Road that served as stopping places for stagecoaches. Built about 1827-28 by Judge Nathaniel Ewing, then owner of the Great Meadows tract once owned by George Washington, it was one of the first substantial buildings on the National Road between Grantsville, Md., and Uniontown, Pa. The tavern, a welcome sight to travelers, offered lodging, meals, news, and refreshments. It now contains period furnishings reflecting the building's use over the years. A Conestoga wagon, housed nearby, shows a typical mode of travel in the early 1800s.
Braddock's Grave When General Braddock died on July 13, 1755, from wounds received in the Battle of the Monongahela, he was buried about one mile northwest of Fort Necessity in the middle of the road his troops had built. In 1804 workmen repairing this section of the Braddock Road came upon what is believed to be Braddock's remains. These were reinterred on the crest of a nearby knoll. Today a tall granite monument marks the grave.
Jumonville Glen Here Washington skirmished with the Sieur de Jumonville's Frenchmen early on the morning of May 28, 1754. This was the event that brought the Colon de Villiers expedition to the Great Meadows, culminating in the Battle of Fort Necessity. More than any other site in the park, Jumonville Glen evokes the isolated feeling of wilderness that characterized the Fort Necessity area in the 1750s and affords a unique opportunity to understand something of the effect this kind of terrain had on military tactics of the mid-1700s.
Braddock Road Washington built this road during the Fort Necessity Campaign in 1754 and Braddock improved it the next year. It ran from Wills Creek (Cumberland, Md.) to the Monongahela River (near present-day Pittsburgh) and later became a highway of westward expansion. The Braddock Road was abandoned in 1818, when the National Road reached Wheeling.
Fort Ligonier, Westmoreland County, was a staging area for the 1758 Forbes Campaign, which led to the capture of Fort Duquesne. Fort Ligonier was reconstructed in 1954.
Bushy Run Battlefield, Westmoreland County, where Col. Henri Bouquet's small British army defeated Ottawa Chief Pontiac's confederation of Indian tribes in a two-day battle on August 5-6, 1763. This victory also ended a siege of Fort Pitt and Pontiac's Rebellion.
Fort Bedford Park and Museum, Bedford County, is the site of Fort Bedford, a supply base for Gen. John Forbes' army during its march on Fort Duquesne. Like Forts Pitt and Ligonier, Fort Bedford was besieged during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site, Fayette County, preserves the home of Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
For Safety's Sake Pets must be leashed or firmly in control. Parents should keep their children in sight. Drive with extreme caution, especially at intersections. Many walking surfaces are slippery, and Jumonville Glen has steep, rocky bluffs. For firearms laws and policies see the park website. Service animals are welcome.
Source: NPS Brochure (2012)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Charming Field For An Encounter: The Story of George Washington's Fort Necessity (Robert C. Alberts, 1975)
A Preliminary Review of Historical Notations on the Great Meadows 1740-1970 (Stephen G. Strach, 1987)
Braddock Road (John Kennedy Laycock, 1932)
Braddock's Grave (Alvin P. Stauffer, Jr., October 22, 1937)
Fort Necessity: Civilian Conservation Corps Camp SP-12 1935-1937 (Larry N. Sypolt, November 15, 1988)
Fort Necessity National Battlefield: Historic Handbook #19 (Frederick Tilberg, 1956)
Fort Necessity National Battlefield: Historic Handbook #19 (Frederick Tilberg, 1954, reprint 1961)
Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Pennsylvania Newsletter (February 1990)
Fort Necessity Stockade: A Preliminary Study (Frederick Tilberg, August 25, 1952)
Furnishing Plan for the Mount Washington Tavern, Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Norman M. Souder, Harry Phanz and Frank Barnes, January 1968)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Fort Necessity National Battlefield NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2008/082 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, June 2009)
Historic Furnishings Report: Mount Washington Tavern (John Demer, 2005)
Historic Resource Study, Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Tom Thomas and Margaret DeLaura, September 1966)
Historic Structures Report: Mount Washington Tavern (Part I) (December 1962)
Historical Report: Fort Necessity, Jumonville's Grave, Braddock Trail (Roy Edgar Appleman, August 21, 1935)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Fort Necessity National Battlefield NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/FONE/NRR-2018/1780 (C. Andrew Cole, Abhinandan Bera, Sarah Rothman and Paola Ferreri, October 2018)
Notes sur la famille Coulon de Villiers (Jacob M. Sheads, translated by Lester D. Hummel, 1906)
Record and Description of the Reconstruction of Fort Necessity Transcription of the Blackford-Hindman survey of 1932 (1935)
Special Report Concerning the Restoration of the Physical Features of Fort Necessity Battlefield Site (John P. Cowan, August 18, 1937)
Special Report on the Collection of Visual Material Concerning Fort Necessity, The Braddock Campaign and The National Road (John P. Cowan, February 12, 1937)
Special Report on the Landscaping of Mt. Washington Tavern (John P. Cowan, February 24, 1937)
Washington's Military Expedition of 1754 (John Kennedy Lacock 1932)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021