In the rural southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, but much closer to the Maryland and West Virginia borders, is a site where George Washington surrendered, started the first world war, and sowed the seeds of the American Revolution.
At the Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington, Pennsylvania, the story is told how a young George Washington led a regiment of Virginia frontiersmen into a skirmish with French troops that escalated into the French and Indian War on the American continent, and crossed the Atlantic to become the Seven Years War-a conflict that took place in Europe, Africa, India, North America, South America, the Philippine Islands, and involved Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Prussia, and the Iroquois Confederacy.
In 1753, a 21-year-old George Washington was summoned by Virginia Colony Governor Robert Dinwiddie. Five years earlier, a group of British colonists in Virginia (including Dinwiddie and Washington) had formed the Ohio Company and obtained a land grant to 200,000 acres in the upper Ohio River Valley territory. The confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, current day Pittsburgh, was the gateway to the Ohio territory.
British and the French both traded for beaver furs with the Iroquois Confederacy, with the British expanding westward expansion from their 13 colonies, and the French venturing southward with the ambition of consolidating all the land between Canada (New France) and Louisiana. What began as a trade rivalry, was developing political implications.
Dinwiddie sent an eight-man expedition led by Major Washington to order the French to withdraw. Along the way, they picked up an interpreter, a surveyor working, and several Iroquois led by Tanacharison. The French commander Saint-Pierre, claiming that the French had explored the Ohio territory for nearly a century, declined to leave.
Before Washington returned, Dinwiddie sent a group of 40 men to build a fort. The French with 500 men, advised the Virginians to leave, purchased their construction tools, and constructed Fort Duquesne.
When Washington returned to Virginia, Dinwiddie had Washington organize part of a regiment and return to the Ohio territory to help the Virginians build their fort-unaware then that the fort was now in French control. Washington learned from Tanacharison that the fort was in French hands. He continued and was reinforced with the rest of the Virginia regiment led by Colonel Joshua Fry.
On May 24, 1754, Washington arrived at the Great Meadows, a break in the forest where he set up an encampment. He noted that it was a "charming field for an encounter." Washington reconnected with Tanacharison and learned about a French scouting party in a nearby ravine.
As the Virginians approached the French, a shot was fired and a battle raged. Tanacharison killed Joseph Jumonville, the French commander. One French soldier escaped. Colonel Fry died and Washington became the leader of the regiment.
Washington ordered his troops to return to the Great Meadow and fortify the position with trenches, earthworks and a circular palisaded fort, which he called Fort Necessity. British reinforcements and supplies arrived, bringing Washington's forces up to 400.
On July 3 a force of 600 French and 100 Iroquois took up positions in the woods, and fired at Washington's position. Fighting continued all day in a heavy rain that filled the trenches with water.
The French captain, Louis, the brother of Jumonville, offered a truce. He would allow Washington's troops to leave if the British would agree to leave the Ohio Valley for a year. Perhaps, because the treaty was wet, or that his interpreter misunderstood the French wording, Washington signed a surrender document that included a confession to the "assassination" of Jumonville. Washington was allowed to leave and Fort Necessity was burned.
The following year, a British force of 2,400 men under General Edward Braddock marched against the French and Iroquois. Washington was Braddock's aid-de-camp. On June 25, 1755, they passed the ruins of Fort Necessity. On July 9, the French defeated Braddock's army. In 1758, British General John Forbes drove the French from the Ohio territory.
The war doubled Britain's national debt, and it began to impose new taxes on its colonies. The resistance to taxes, the lack of political voice, the weakening of the Iroquois federation, the alliance with France as a common enemy of Britain, and the ascension of George Washington as a military leader were the results of the war and the preface to the American Revolutionary War.
Fort Necessity is now a National Battlefield operated by the National Park Service. It is located along U.S. 40, the National Road. This road followed a portion of the Braddock campaign. It was begun in 1811 and became the first road funded by Congress.
For information see, www.nps.gov/fone.