The History of Fort Pitt: A Key British Fortification

Fort Pitt, a significant British fortification during the French and Indian War, played a crucial role in the struggle for control over the Forks of the Ohio River. This strategic location, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers converge to form the Ohio River, was highly coveted by both the British and the French. In this article, we will delve into the history of Fort Pitt, exploring its construction, its role in military campaigns, its interactions with Native American tribes, and its eventual decline.

The French and Indian War: Origins and Early Conflicts

The origins of Fort Pitt can be traced back to the French and Indian War, a conflict that erupted between Britain and France in North America in the mid-18th century. The French, aiming to solidify their control over the Ohio Territory, constructed three forts in Western Pennsylvania. These forts, including Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio, posed a direct challenge to British claims in the region.

In an attempt to reclaim the Forks of the Ohio, the British sent George Washington as an emissary to negotiate with the French in 1753. However, his mission failed, and the French continued their fortifications. The British responded by sending troops to construct Fort Prince George at the Point, but they were ultimately forced to surrender to the French in 1754.

The British Campaign to Retake the Forks of the Ohio

The British made several failed attempts to regain control of the Forks of the Ohio. In 1754, George Washington led an unsuccessful expedition, which led to the first bloodshed of the French and Indian War. The following year, General Edward Braddock’s army suffered a devastating defeat near Fort Duquesne. It wasn’t until 1758 that the British, under General John Forbes, launched a successful campaign to capture Fort Duquesne.

fort pitt

Construction of Fort Pitt: A British Stronghold

With the French expelled from the Forks of the Ohio, the British began construction on a new fortification, which would later become known as Fort Pitt. Named after William Pitt, the British Secretary of State, the fort was built between 1759 and 1761. Its pentagonal shape featured five bastions strategically positioned to defend against potential attacks from all directions.

The Fort’s construction utilized a combination of earthen ramparts, which were resistant to cannon fire, and a brick revetment on its land-facing walls. The fort was designed to withstand potential assaults, both from the French and their Native American allies.

The Siege of Fort Pitt: Pontiac’s War

One significant event in the history of Fort Pitt was the Siege of Fort Pitt during Pontiac’s War in 1763. Native American tribes, seeking to drive out British settlers from the Ohio Territory, laid siege to the fort for two months. However, the British successfully defended the fort, and the siege was ultimately lifted in August of that year.

After Pontiac’s War, smallpox ravaged the tribes in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions. On August 1, 1763, Native Americans abandoned the siege to face the army of Colonel Bouquet. The Battle of Bushy Run ensued and Bouquet emerged victorious, lifting the siege of Fort Pitt on August 10.

Following the end of Pontiac’s War, the British commander at Fort Pitt sold the outpost to William Thompson and Alexander Ross in 1772. At that time, both Virginia and Pennsylvania were vying for control of the Pittsburgh area. Subsequently, the Virginians assumed control of the fort and renamed it Fort Dunmore in honor of Virginia’s Governor Lord Dunmore. The fort subsequently served as a base of operations in the 1774 Dunmore’s War.

Fort Pitt’s Role in the American Revolution

During the American Revolutionary War, Fort Pitt acted as a command center for the military activities of the conflict in the western theatre. In 1778, Sampson Mathews, George Clymer, and Samuel Washington were sent to the western border of the United States on behalf of Congress to investigate security concerns. The British governor Henry Hamilton had been attempting to rally local Indian tribes against American forces, a situation which frightened Congress. In response, they sent 3,000 militiamen to the western border, including George Rogers Clark. Clark captured Hamilton in the winter of 1779, an event that helped to further the alliance between the United States and France. At Fort Detroit in modern-day Michigan, the British had a garrison.

The Decline and Decommissioning of Fort Pitt

As the need for a military stronghold at the Forks of the Ohio diminished, the British decommissioned Fort Pitt in 1772. The fort’s buildings and materials were sold to private citizens, and the property changed hands multiple times. Eventually, the fort was replaced by Fort Lafayette, and by 1792, Fort Pitt was completely dismantled.

In the 1900s, the city of Pittsburgh ordered an archaeological examination of the foundations of Fort Pitt. Subsequently, to give park-goers at Point State Park an idea of the size of the fort, some parts were reconstructed. An edifice in the Monongahela Bastion is the home of the Fort Pitt Museum and filled-in excavated portions of the fort.

The only surviving remnant of Fort Pitt is a small brick outbuilding, a redoubt, located in Point State Park. Dating back to 1764, the Blockhouse is thought to be the oldest building that is still standing in Pittsburgh. It was used as a private residence for a long time and was later preserved by the Daughters of the American Revolution, a local chapter.

Fort Pitt Block House

The Legacy of Fort Pitt

Despite its eventual decline and dismantling, the legacy of Fort Pitt remains significant. The Fort Pitt Block House, the only surviving structure from the original fort, stands as a testament to its historical importance. The original site of the fort is now part of Point State Park, and the Fort Pitt Museum provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about the fort’s history.

Fort Pitt played a pivotal role in the struggle for control over the Forks of the Ohio River during the French and Indian War. Its construction, strategic position, and defensive capabilities made it a key British stronghold. From its involvement in military campaigns to its interactions with Native American tribes, the fort left a lasting impact on the history of the region. Today, the remnants and stories of Fort Pitt serve as a reminder of the complex conflicts and struggles for control that shaped early America.

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