New Light on Washington's Fort Necessity
A Report on the Archeological Explorations at Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site
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1Most of the references cited hereafter, which deal specifically with Fort Necessity and the 1754 expedition, contain good discussions of events leading up to the battle at Great Meadows, as well as the battle itself. For good brief accouts, see A. A. Salley, The Independent Company from South Carolina at Great Meadows, Frederick Tilberg, Fort Necessity, and John P. Cowan, "George Washington at Fort Necessity". Two of the fullest accounts were written more than a century apart: Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, and Douglas S. Freeman, George Washington.

2Of the site of the future Fort Necessity, Washington wrote soon after arriving at Great Meadows: "We have, with Nature's assistance, made a good Intrenchment, and, by clearing the Bushes Out of these Meadows, prepar'd a charming field for an Encounter". (Letter to Robert Dinwiddie, May 27, 1754, in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, I, 54. This work will be cited hereafter as Fitzpatrick, Writings.) Even before preparing the first temporary entrenchments, the natural terrain offered some protection, for Washington wrote in his journal that upon arriving at the Meadows on May 24, he "placed Troops behind two natural Intrenchments, and had our wagons put there also". (John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Diaries of George Washington, I, 85. This work will be cited hereafter as Fitzpatrick, Diaries.) The "natural Intrenchments" undoubtedly were the creek beds of Great Meadow Run and a small branch, later known as "Indian Run". (See Fig. 1.)

3Freeman, George Washington, I, 309.

4Ibid., 343-344.

5Later in the French and Indian War, after the capture of Fort Duquesne, Fort Burd was built at this same point, and became an important British outpost. It is now the site of the city of Brownsville.

6Letter to Governor Dinwiddie, April 25, 1754, in Fitzpatrick, Writings, I, 41.

7This trail had been laid out by the Delaware Indian, Nemacolin, in 1750 at the request of Capt. Thomas Cresap. (See Archer B. Hulbert, Washington's Road, 96.) Cresap, one of the earliest of the Virginia settlers in this section, had been employed by the Ohio Company in 1748 to mark out a route to the Ohio.

8Probably more pages have been written about this skirmish, often referred to as "The Jumonville Incident", than to the remainder of the expedition, including the Battle of Fort Necessity. Some writers call this engagement the opening "battle" of the French and Indian War. However, it quite definitely was not a battle in the military sense, but only a skirmish between two scouting parties. Its importance lay more in the way it was exploited for propaganda purposes by the French to show that the English were the real aggressors in the disputed Ohio Country. The incident was magnified immeasurably by its unfortunate inclusion in the terms of capitulation at Fort Necessity, in which Washington, misadvised by the interpreter, admitted that Jumonville had been assassinated. (For Washington's account of the Jumonville skirmish, see Fitzpatrick, Writings. I, 55-58 and 64-65. For a short account, see Tilberg, Fort Necessity. 8-10.) Washington very ably refuted the French claim of Jumonville's assassination, which first came to his attention through the translation back into English of his Journal, which had been translated into French and published for propaganda purposes soon after it was captured at the Battle of Fort Necessity. (See Fitzpatrick, Writings, I, 36-37.)

9There seems to be no consistent application of the terms "palisade" and "stockade" at the time of Fort Necessity's construction, although later military usage definitely distinguishes between them. Washington always used some form of the word "palisade", e.g., "palisado'd Fort". Governor Dinwiddie, on the other hand, called Fort Necessity a "Pallisadoed Fort" when writing to Washington, probably out of politeness, (Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, I, 230), but when writing to his superiors in England, he referred to it as a "Stockade Fort". (Ibid., 206.) Shaw, describing the fort soon after the battle, referred to a "stockade". (See page 26.) Colonel Burd, who stopped at the site in 1759, also called it a "stockade". (See page 28.) Since "stockade" was used more commonly in contemporary references, that term, rather than "palisade", will be used in this report.

10See Appendixes 1 through 5 for contemporary accounts of the battle.

11Although most contemporary accounts call it "The Battle at the Great Meadows", in his note of appreciation to the Virginia House of Burgesses, dated October 23, 1754, for their commendation of his conduct at the battle, Washington referred to "the late unsuccessful Engagement with the French at the Great Meadows". (Fitzpatrick, Writings, I, 103.)

12Fitzpatrick, Diaries, I, 101.

13Fitzpatrick, Writings, I, 40.

14See page 27.

15Letter to Robert Bolling, cited in William and Mary College Quarterly, old series, X, 104.

16Freeman, George Washington, I, 402. There is no basis for giving Washington credit for naming the fort, although presumably he had the right to do so, since it was built under his command. Some writers state that Major Stobo laid out the fort and directed its construction.

17The original Lewis map is now (1955) in the possession of Mrs. J. A. Batton, 136 Belmont Circle, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It was first published, as a facsimile (redrawn from the original by D. S. Stewart), in W. H. Lowdermilk, History of Cumberland, opp. 76. Later reproductions, all of which vary from the original Lewis manuscript map in various details, may have been copied from Lowdermilk. The Lewis document, but with interlineal "translations" of the descriptive notes, was published as a broadside of the Westmoreland Fayette Branch of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, presumably at the time of the Washington Bicentennial. (The broadside carries no publication date.)

18Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington, I, opp. 56. A description of the remains, but without the map, is also found in Sparks' later work, The Life of George Washington, 51.

19Freeman, George Washington, I, 402.

20For a more complete review of the history of this controversy, see, in addition to other references cited in this chapter, Frederick Tilberg, The Location and Structure of Fort Necessity. I apologize for referring frequently to unpublished reports, but they cover important points in the discussions and must be noted, even though they are not readily accessible. Pertinent sections of the unpublished report on the 1931 excavations are furnished in the Appendix. The several manuscripts by Frederick Tilberg and J. C. Harrington, all relevant to the present report, are too detailed to be included as appendixes, but can be consulted, if desired, at the sources indicated in the Bibliography.

21In addition to the map furnished by Blackford, as reproduced in Fig. 9, I was also furnished the original field notes made by Mr. Blackford in 1931, from which additional information, not shown on his map, was obtained. Blackford's material proved particularly valuable in working out the final solution to the fort problem. His map was first published in Frederick Tilberg, "Washington's Stockade at Fort Necessity", 253.

22The Frontier Forts of Western Pennsylvania, II, 38, citing Evert, History of Fayette County.

23Freeman, George Washington, I, 402.

24James Veech, The Monongahela of Old. The work was started by Freeman Lewis in 1850. He turned it over to Veech, who had not completed it at the time of his death. A few copies, with one chapter unfinished, were made up from the printed sheets, and privately distributed in 1859. The chapter was completed by Veech's daughter and limited edition published in 1892. It was reissued in 1910.

25Veech, The Monongahela of Old, 53.

26Sherman Day, Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania, 336. (See page 28 for further information on Colonel Burd and his visit to Great Meadows.)

27Veech, The Monongahela of Old, 53-54.

28Hulbert, Washington's Road, 182.

29Freeman, George Washington, I, 402, F.N. 113.

30Tilberg, Fort Necessity Stockade — A Preliminary Study. He paraphrased Hulbert as follows: "It is probable, if the original fort were an irregular square or parallelogram, that the action of rain and snows over the five years since it was erected, as well as the demolition of the fort by the French, may well have left an appearance of circular mounds".

31Hulbert, Washington's Road, 177.

32George D. Albert, ed., The Frontier Forts of Western Pennsylvania, (map between pp. 32 and 33).

33R. G. Thwaite, How George Rogers Clark Won the Northwest, 290-292. Thwaite's observations are of interest. He wrote: "It was surprising to find the remains of Fort Necessity so well preserved, Great Meadow Run, originally a lazy, weedgrown stream some ten feet wide, has been straightened by the present proprietor into a drainage ditch, but its ancient windings are readily distinguishable. (They still were in 1931, and fortunately Blackford mapped them at that time.) The change in the course of the run destroyed an outlying work, but the embankment of the fort itself is traceable through the greater part of its length. The line of earthwork is still some eight or ten inches above the surrounding level; while on the inner side, counting the excavation ditch, it has a height of about fifteen inches . . . There are of course no remaining evidences of the palisade, on top of the embankment, for this was at the time destroyed by the French . . . In the centre of the fort still rests, although upheaved by frost, a hewn block of limestone, two feet square, the only surviving memento of a movement . . . for the erection here of a Washington monument (in 1854) . . ."

34Freeman, George Washington, I, 402.

35Harry Blackford, Record and Description of the Reconstruction of Fort Necessity. (Cited hereafter as Black ford, Record)

36Frederick Tilberg, Fort Necessity Stockade — A Preliminary Study. Tilberg repeated this discussion in his later report, The Location and Structure of Fort Necessity.

37J. C. Harrington, Preliminary Report, Archeological Explorations, Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site, August-September, 1952.

38Tilberg, The Location and Structure of Fort Necessity, etc., 20, citing the Daily National Intelligencer, Oct. 18, 1825.

39Quoted in Tilberg, ibid., citing Pennsylvania Archives, XII, 423.

40Deposition made by John B. W. Shaw before Governor James Glen of South Carolina on August 27, 1754. Original document in British Public Record Office; photostatic copy furnished by Historical Commission of South Carolina from microfilm negative. See Appendix 4 for transcript of this document and a note on the identification of Shaw. The manuscript will be cited hereafter as Shaw Deposition.

41The long controversy as to the size and shape of Fort Necessity, which began with the survey by Freeman Lewis in 1816, has been covered in the preceding section, and incidents relating thereto will not be repeated in this section.

42The site believed to be the spot where Braddock was buried is near the point where the Old National Pike (U. S. 40) crosses the Braddock Road about one mile west of the Mount Washington Tavern. A 23-acre tract surrounding the presumed burial site was acquired by the Braddock Park Association in 1909 and a monument erected in 1913. In 1932 the plot was transferred to the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, and in 1962 became a part of Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

43Tllberg, The Location and Structure of Fort Necessity. Exhibit IV.

44Ibid.. Exhibit VI.

45Fitzpatrick, Writings, II, 258-259.

46J. W. Abraham, "Redstone Old Fort", in Fort Necessity and Historic Shrines of the Redstone Country, 31.

47Umble (RE. Umble, "Mt. Washington, Fort Necessity, Park and Shrine", in Fort Necessity and Historic Shrines of the Redstone Country, 36) furnishes the following pertinent information: "'By virtue of an original order on Application No. 3383 entered June 13, 1769 by William Brooks, who, by Deed dated October 17, 1771 conveyed the said tract with appurtenances unto George Washington in fee simple and a warrant for the acceptance of the survey issued to him February 14, 1782 and on February 28, 1782 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted to His Excellency. George Washington. Esq., a patent for the same in consideration of 35 pounds, 15 shillings and 8 pence, the said land situate on the East side of Laurel Hill where Braddocks Road crosses the Great Meadows'. Enrolled at Harrisburg, Pa., in Patent Book 6, Volume 1, page 136 and recorded in the Recorder's Office of Fayette County, Pa., in Deed Book 507 page 458".

48Fitzpatrick, Writings, XXXIX, 97. Through the years Washington was unsuccessful in renting the tract, and the records contain several letters to his agent on this subject, of which the following to Thomas Freeman, dated September 23, 1784, is typical: "My tract at the Great Meadows may be rented for the most you can get, for the term of ten years: there is a house on the premises, arable land in culture, and meadow inclosed; much of the latter may be reclaimed at a very moderate expence; which, and its being an excellent stand for an Innkeeper, must render it valuable". (Fitzpatrick, Writings, XXVII, 469.) There seems to be no record as to when, or by whom, the house was built, or its location within the tract.

49Fitzpatrick, Diaries, II, 288.

50In a letter to his agent in 1794, Washington wrote that the tract "consists chiefly of Meadow, and is very valuable though unimproved . . . an excellent stand for a Publican", and instructed that the property be sold. (Fitzpatrick, Writings, XXXIII, 379.)

51E. E. Prussing, The Estate of George Washington, Deceased, 301-302. A "pistole" varied in value, but was equivalent roughly to $4.00 in present day currency. Another source gives the cost as 35 pounds, 15 shillings, 8 pence f.n. 47, page 28).

52Albert, The Frontier Forts of Western Pennsylvania, 331. (See also Thomas B. Searight. The Old Pike: A History of the National Road.)

53Searight. The Old Pike, 228.

54All of these later structures have been removed. The brick tavern has been restored and is used as a museum.

55The memorial was to consist of a monument of "hollow iron, about 4 feet square at the base, composed of plates, and about 50 feet high . . ." (R. E. Umble, "Mount Washington, Fort Necessity and Shrine", in Fort Necessity and Historic Shrines of the Redstone Country.

56A Young Colonel from Virginia (no author). This was a brochure put out by the Fort Necessity Memorial Association describing the proposed developments.

57The work was carried out by the Fort Necessity Memorial Association under the sponsorship of the Fort Necessity Chapter, Pennsylvania, Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, (See introductory chapter Fort Necessity and Historic Shrines.)

58See later discussion of 1931 archeological project and Appendix 6.

59Deed Book 512, page 480, Fayette County Records, Uniontown, Pa,

60Other Federal relief agencies also had a part in the site development, particularly in the historical and research program and restoration of the Mount Washington Tavern. Included were the Works Progress Administration and the National Youth Administration.


1Hulbert, Washington's Road, 177.

2Although McCracken was a surveyor and presumably mapped the site, the only record of his survey is a very simple map at small scale reproduced in Hulbert's published work (ibid., 179).

3Ibid., 184-185.

4Hulbert, Washington's Road, 185-187.

5Ibid., 187.

6Mr. Blackford worked under the immediate direction of Dr. W. Blake Hindman, Chairman of the Fort Necessity Memorial Committee. Both Mr. Blackford and Dr. Hindman visited the site while work was in progress in 1952 and 1953, and supplemented and confirmed Blackford's earlier report.

7Backford Report, Appendix 6.

8Also referred to as "Great Meadow Run" and "Great Meadows Run".

9Freeman Lewis described the site as it appeared in 1816 by brief notation on his map: "The flat land on both sides of the run clear meadow, except some swamps or clumps of alder bushes near the stream". (Note on original Lewis map, Fig. 2.) Jared Sparks, who was there a few years later, describes it as follows: "Fort Necessity was situate in a level meadow, about two hundred and fifty yards broad, and covered with long grass and low bushes. The foot of the nearest hills came to within one hundred yards of the fort, and at one place within sixty yards. The space between the fort and hills was open and smooth, the bushes having been cleared away". (The Writings of George Washington, I, 54.)

10There is no known topographic map of the site showing grades prior to the 1932 grading operations. I was told that the War Department had mapped the site when it was first acquired, but no such map has been located.

11Frederick Tilberg, Fort Necessity Stockade — A Preliminary Study. This report was revised and enlarged by Dr. Tilberg (The Location and Structure of Fort Necessity and the Physical Features of Great Meadows), making use of the findings of the preliminary explorations and the report on these excavations J. C. Harrington, Report on 1952 Archeological Explorations at Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site).

12Sparks wrote: "The fort itself was an irregular square, each side measuring thirty-five yards, with a trench partly finished on two sides. The entrances were guarded by three bastions". (The Writings of George Washington, I, 56.) Entrenchments similarly located to those on Sparks' map are indicated on the map in Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania, but it is almost certain that the draftsman copied this feature from Sparks.

13Sherman, Historical Collections, 336.

14A pertinent portion of the report reads as follows: "If we . . . accept the possibility of the ridge and depressions being the remains of the original outer entrenchments, where, then was the stockade? This brings the 'round' fort back into the picture". The report then goes on to present a number of arguments in favor of a small, circular fort. The report concludes the discussion as follows: "In presenting this radical hypothesis of a small, round . . . fort, I am definitely not suggesting that the present plan has nothing in its favor, or that it should be discarded. I am only attempting to arrive at a solution that most nearly fits all of the evidence available at this time. The round . . . fort seems to be to offer an explanation for certain facts and situations which are not satisfactorily met in the present reconstruction". (Harrington, Report on 1952 Archeological Explorations at Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site.)

15Harrington, J. C., Preliminary Report, Archeological Explorations, Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site, August-September, 1952.

16Some historians have contended that the stockade was constructed just prior to the battle, when a last hurried effort was made to improve the fortifications. (For example, see Cowan, "George Washington," 173). It seems quite clear from the documentary evidence, however, that the entire circular stockade was built during the three or four day period immediately following the Jumonville incident. Washington stated quite clearly that a palisaded fort was built at that time, The last-minute improvements early in July must have comprised work on the entrenchments, rather than on the stockade.

17Although the bronze plaque placed on the reconstructed storehouse in 1932 states that the original structure was so used, I have been unable to find any documentation to support the claim.

18Shaw Deposition.

19Lewis stated that in 1816 the ditches were "from one to two feet below" the level of the meadow (Fig, 2). Thwaite, who visited the site in 1903, mentions only the inner depressions, which he says were about 15 inches below the top of the ridge. (R. G. Thwaite, How George Rogers Clark Won the Northwest, 290-292.) Blackford, on the other hand, states that in 1931 the ditches on the outside were 6 to 12 inches below the level of the ground, while those on the inside were 6 to 10 inches deep, (Blackford's original survey notes.) Although relatively little exploring was done on the outside of the original parapet line, no evidence was found of palisades in the outer ditch or of fraises at the other toe of the parapet.

20Virginia Gazette, July 19, 1754, (Appendix 2). Shaw's account is similar to Washington's. He stated that "in the Morning before the Engagemt they Endeavour'd to throw up a little Entrenchmt round them about two feet deep, But could not finish it . . ." (Shaw Deposition, Appendix 4).

21Virginia Gazette, July 19, 1754.

22Washington wrote Governor Dinwiddie on June 3 as follows: "We have just finish'd a small palisado'd Fort, in which, with my small numbers, I shall not fear the attack of 500 men". (Fitzpatrick, Writings, I, 71.) Almost certainly he was referring to the combined entrenchments and stockade, for a letter of the same day to his brother stated that the entrenchments were completed. (ibid., 70.)

23In his description of the battle, Washington wrote: "The enemy had deprived us of all our Creatures; by killing, in the Beginning of the Engagement, our Horses, Cattle, and every living Thing they could, even to the very Dogs'". (Virginia Gazette, July 19, 1754.)

24"...our whole Force not exceeding 300...". (Virginia Gazette, July 19, 1754.)

25A letter by Townsend Ward, printed in the North American, July 3, 1754, and quoted in Albert, Frontier Forts, page 34, reads: "The artillery which Washington was unable to remove, remained a number of years, and it is said to have been the custom of emigrants who encamped at the fort to use it in firing salutes. At length the pieces, one by one, were carried to Kentucky by some of the emigrants who crossed the mountains".

26Dinwiddie Papers. I, 121.

27Derailed descriptions of the battle, such as that published in the Williamsburg Gazette, tell how the Virginia and South Carolina troops fixed their bayonets for a last desperate stand after their powder became too wet to use.

28Freeman, George Washington, I, 383.

29Firzpatrick, Writings, I, 78.

30Sparks, Writings, II, 462.

31In his deposition (Appendix 4), Shaw made the following statement: "Our people having two Swivel Guns which were discharged at the same time".

32Freeman, George Washington, I, 409.

33Sparks, Writings, II, 462.

34In a letter to Col. Innes dated March 23, 1754, Dinwiddie wrote: "His M'y sent 30 Pcs Cannon, 4 Pounders, with all necessary Implem's. They are heavy, therefore have sent only ten to be carried in Waggons to the Ohio; if they be easily transported I shall send the other twenty", (Dinwiddie Papers, I, 126.) In a later letter to Gov. Glen of South Carolina, Dinwiddie states that these 4 pounders are mounted on "proper carriages'", but he also adds that they have no "coe-horns, mortars, or shells"". (ibid., I, 129.) Later he writes again that the troops have no "cutlasses, mortars, granad shells, or coehorn" which are needed to capture Ft. Duquesne. (ibid., I, 159.)

35Called a "cartouche box"" in contemporary records.

36In reference to preparing for this expedition, Dinwiddie ordered that there should be one quart of rum for every four men per day. (Dinwiddie Papers, II, 121.) The main supply of rum was carried in casks, but bottle decanters were probably used to serve drinks to the officers.

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Last Updated: 04-Mar-2009