American Fort Duquesne
Fort Duquesne was located at the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers, in present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was one of a
series of fortifications constructed by France along Lake Erie and at the headwaters of the Ohio River in the period leading up to the French and Indian
France and Britain both claimed sovereignty over the Ohio territory and hoped to control its resources and the trade with local Native American tribes. An
imperial dispute arose when Anglo-American settlers, land speculators, and traders threatened French dominance in the Ohio Valley. This greatly
concerned France. The Ohio River system served as the vital transportation and communication artery between the St. Lawrence River in New France
and the Mississippi River in Louisiana.
Fort Duquesne, as diagrammed in 1754, the year of its construction, was located at the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers the
site of downtown Pittsburgh today. The fort was built during the French and Indian War to help protect frontier settlers. (Brown Brothers, Sterling,
The construction of French fortifications was most disturbing to the Ohio Company, a British land speculating firm that claimed 200,000 acres in the
region. Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie, an Ohio Company investor, assumed responsibility for defending British (and his own) interests in the valley.
The governor sent 21-year-old George Washington, of the Virginia militia, to Fort LeBoeuf, located between the forks of the Ohio River and Lake Erie, to
demand that the French withdraw from the region. They refused, and the Virginia militia began constructing Fort Prince George at the forks of the Ohio
River in February 1754.
Two months later, Captain Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecoeur arrived at the site of the partially completed fort with more than 600 French soldiers
and Native American warriors and demanded the Virginians’ surrender. Vastly outnumbered, the militia accepted the French terms and abandoned the
Contrecoeur renamed the fortification in honor of New France’s governor-general, Marquis Duquesne, Sieur de Menneville, on April 18, 1754, and the
French replaced the flimsy stockade structure with a more formidable earthen square. In May, Washington’s attack on a French reconnaissance party
provoked Fort Duquesne’s garrison. In retaliation, the French laid siege to the hastily constructed Fort Necessity, driving the British completely from the
Ohio Valley by July.
At London’s behest, colonial representatives convened in Albany, New York, in the spring of 1754 to formulate a defensive strategy for the western
frontier. Colonial infighting hampered the Albany Congress, which failed to provide for any defense, and forced London to assume responsibility for
countering France’s incursions. Major General Edward Braddock was dispatched to America on November 25, 1754, with two regiments of British
regulars, the 44th and the 48th. Braddock’s mission was to drive the French from four locations encroaching on British territory in the north and west:
Forts Duquesne, Niagara, Saint-Frederic, and Beausejour.
Braddock led the advance on Fort Duquesne. The general’s contempt for the colonial militia, Native American allies, and North American frontier warfare
tactics jeopardized his mission from the outset. He shunned Native American warriors, mistakenly believing that European-style tactics would prevail in the
wilderness. Braddock approached Fort Duquesne from the south, cutting a difficult road north from Virginia. The vastly outnumbered French ambushed
and decisively defeated Braddock’s column before it reached the fort. Significantly, Native Americans constituted the majority of the French force.
Braddock was killed and the remnants of his army retreated to Philadelphia, leaving the frontier unprotected.
Fort Duquesne’s garrison now assumed the initiative and encouraged Ohio Native Americans to raid along Pennsylvania’s western frontier. They ravaged
British settlements and forced panicked colonists to flee east, seeking refuge in Philadelphia. By October 1755, native raiders reached within 70 miles of
In 1757, Secretary of State William Pitt assumed control of Britain’s flagging war effort and planned new assaults against the French strongholds. Brigadier
General John Forbes was charged with the assault on Fort Duquesne. Central to the new British strategy was neutralizing the Ohio native tribes.
The Easton Conference, held during the fall of 1758, allayed Native American fears of British designs on their lands. The colonists stated that they did not
intend to settle beyond the Allegheny Mountains and only wanted to evict the French from the region and revive trade. French trade had been hampered
by the British naval blockade, and the Ohio tribes accepted the British guarantees, costing France a crucial ally and source of manpower.
With the Ohio natives neutralized, Forbes constructed a road west from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The French used harassing raids in a failed attempt to
delay the British advance. Vastly outnumbered, Captain François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery destroyed Fort Duquesne before retiring on November
23, 1758. The British, still miles away, occupied the remains of the fort the following day and began constructing Fort Pitt.
See also: Braddock, Edward; Fortifications; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); Military and
Diplomatic Affairs (Chronology); Military and Diplomatic Affairs (Essay); Pennsylvania; War.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Nester, William R. The Great Frontier War: Britain, France, and the Imperial Struggle for North America, 1607–1755. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.
O’Meara, Walter. Guns at the Forks. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1965.
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