In 1755, George Washington led an expedition with General Braddock including two regiments across the Allegheny Mountains into western PA. He also surveyed a path, and 3,000 men built a wagon road that was named Braddock’s Road when finished. This was the beginning of today’s National Road (US 40), the first path across the Appalachians.
During this expedition, General Braddock lost his life as French troops from Fort Duquesne met the party at Braddock’s Field. The Battle of the Monongahela saw heavy losses for the British and left the French and Native American allies in control of the upper Ohio River valley.
In 1756, British troops destroyed a Shawnee and Lenape village, Kittanning, in a prelude to the British campaign to capture French Fort Duquesne. British General John Forbes commanded 7,000 regular and colonial men, building Fort Ligonier and Fort Bedford, and constructed a road over the mountains called Forbes’ Road.
After an advance column commanded by Major James Grant was massacred in the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758, Forbes had thought to wait until spring to push the French out. However, the French soon after lost Fort Frontenac and had largely abandoned Fort Duquesne, so Forbes took advantage of the hopelessly outnumbered French troops. The French burned Fort Duquesne upon this attack, opening up space for the construction of Fort Pitt on the same site. Fort Pitt was named for British Secretary of State William Pitt. The settlement was also named Pittsborough during this time.
Because of many broken promises and treaties, and rapid encroachment by the Europeans, the Native Americans attempted to drive the settlers out of the territory in 1763. This uprising was known as Pontiac’s War and included a siege of Fort Pitt. The native Americans realized quickly they could not take the fort by force and began negotiations with the commander, Captain Simeon Ecuyer. Ecuyer gave them smallpox-tainted blankets knowing that it would cause an epidemic among the tribes that had no immunity to European diseases, ending the uprising.
During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Fort Pitt was the major headquarters and staging grounds for the western theater of the war. This western theater included the area west of the Appalachian Mountains, today’s states of Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, fought primarily between American Indians and British allies, as well as American settlers.
In 1777, the British began recruiting and arming native Americans around Detroit to raid American settlements to create diversions for their operations in the Northeast. Unknown numbers of settlers in present-day West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky lost their lives in these raids, and conflicts intensified after enraged American militiamen took revenge on Shawnee leader Cornstalk.
Many years of conflict followed, with Fort Pitt used as the starting point for most incursions. The year 1782 was known as the “Year of Blood” and saw a failed expedition by Pennsylvania militiamen led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson in Ohio, as they tracked native American warriors responsible for ongoing raids against PA settlers.
Next, Colonel William Crawford led 480 PA volunteers deep into native American land but the British troops had learned in advance and rebuffed them. The Americans were surrounded during a retreat attempt, though most managed to flee. About 70 Americans were captured or wounded, including Crawford.
By late 1782, the war had largely “ended in a stalemate” according to historian David Curtis Scaggs. News of the peace treaty talks arrived, and the Ohio Country was signed over to the United States by Great Britain.
All that remains of Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh today is a small brick building called the Blockhouse, located in Point State Park that has been preserved by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Protection of this area is what ultimately led to the growth and development of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.