History of Pittsburgh Part 2: The Fight for Independence

Fort Pitt Blockhouse

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.

Fort Duquesne

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.

Pontiac Urging and Uprising Against the British – 19th century engraving by Alfred Bobbett.

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.

Plan Of Fort Pitt in 1761

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.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse

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.

Catch Up with the History of Pittsburgh, Part 1 right here!

Pittsburgh and the Whiskey Rebellion

Pittsburgh Growth in the 19th Century

5 thoughts on “History of Pittsburgh Part 2: The Fight for Independence

  1. George Washington in the French and Indian War (1754-1763)

    “This story of George Washington once appeared in virtually every student text in America, but hasn’t been seen in the last forty years. This story deals with George Washington when he was involved in the French and Indian War as a young man only twenty-three years of age.

    “The French and Indian War occurred twenty years before the American Revolution. It was the British against the French; the Americans sided with the British; and most of the Indians sided with the French. Both Great Britain and France disputed each other’s claims of territorial ownership along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; both of them claimed the same land.

    “Unable to settle the dispute diplomatically, Great Britain sent 2300 hand-picked, veteran British troops to America under General Edward Braddock to rout the French.

    “The British troops arrived in Virginia, where George Washington (colonel of the Virginia militia) and 100 Virginia buckskins joined General Braddock. They divided their force; and General Braddock, George Washington, and 1300 troops marched north to expel the French from Fort Duquesne — now the city of Pittsburgh. On July 9, 1755 — only seven miles from the fort — while marching through a wooded ravine, they walked right into an ambush; the French and Indians opened fire on them from both sides.

    “But these were British veterans; they knew exactly what to do. The problem was, they were veterans of European wars. European warfare was all in the open. One army lined up at one end of an open field, the other army lined up at the other end, they looked at each other, took aim, and fired. No running, no hiding, But here they were in the Pennsylvania woods with the French and Indians firing at them from the tops of trees, from behind rocks, and from under logs.

    “When they came under fire, the British troops did exactly what they had been taught; they lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in the bottom of that ravine — and were slaughtered. At the end of two hours, 714 of the 1300 British and American troops had been shot down; only 30 of the French and Indians had been shot. There were 86 British and American officers involved in that battle; at the end of the battle, George Washington was the only officer who had not been shot down off his horse — he was the only officer left on horseback.

    “Following this resounding defeat, Washington gathered the remaining troops and retreated back to Fort Cumberland in western Maryland, arriving there on July 17, 1755.

    “The next day, Washington wrote a letter to his family explaining that after the battle was over, he had taken off his jacket and had found four bullet holes through it, yet not a single bullet had touched him; several horses had been shot from under him, but he had not been harmed. He told them:

    “‘By the all powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation.’

    “Washington openly acknowledged that God’s hand was upon him, that God had protected him and kept him through that battle.

    “However, the story does not stop here. Fifteen years later, in 1770 — now a time of peace — George Washington and a close personal friend, Dr. James Craik, returned to those same Pennsylvania woods. An old Indian chief from far away, having heard that Washington had come back to those woods, traveled a long way just to meet with him.

    “He sat down with Washington, and face-to-face over a council fire, the chief told Washington that he had been a leader in that battle fifteen years earlier, and that he had instructed his braves to single out all the officers and shoot them down. Washington had been singled out, and the chief explained that he personally had shot at Washington seventeen different times, but without effect. Believing Washington to be under the care of the Great Spirit, the chief instructed his braves to cease firing at him. He then told Washington:

    “‘I have traveled a long and weary path that I might see the young warrior of the great battle…. I am come to pay homage to the man who is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who can never die in battle.’”

    America’s Godly Heritage
    by David Barton

    1. Washington’s poor performance in 1754, when the French captured him at Ft. Necessity, and then in 1755 as an aide to Braddock, whose force was massacred near Ft. Pitt, was a terrible way to start his military career.

      Some historians state that Washington truly wanted to be an officer in the British Army. But, based on these two debacles, the Brits didn’t want him. That left him free to lead American forces during the Revolutionary War.

  2. “Smallpox, perhaps augmented by other endemic diseases, had ravaged the mighty Aztecs and Incas at the time of the Spanish conquests and killed more than half the Indians in the Caribbean. But the chain of events behind the one authentic case of deliberate smallpox contamination began in 1757 at the siege of Fort William Henry (in present-day upstate New York), when Indians allied with the French ignored the terms of a surrender worked out between the British and the French, broke into the garrison hospital and killed and scalped a number of patients, some of them suffering from smallpox. The blankets and clothing the Indians looted from the patients in the hospital and corpses in the cemetery, carried back to their villages, reportedly touched off a smallpox epidemic.“

  3. Chief Cornstalk is my 6th great grandfather and his son Elinipsico that he was murdered with in 1777 was my 5th on my dads side.
    My Uncle is Daniel Greathouse and my grandfather is Harmon Greathouse on my moms side. That’s right, one side of my family helped start Dunmores war with the Yellow Creek Massacre, and the other side pulled together the tribes to try to win it at the battle of Point Pleasant. I believe this is why I have so much internal conflict lol.

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