Exploring Fort Necessity in Fayette County

The modern-day replica of Fort Necessity at the National Battlefield in Fayette County PA

Fort Necessity in Fayette County is the site of the first battle in what would become known in North America as the French and Indian War (and known elsewhere as the Seven Years War), a global struggle for empire between the two superpowers of that time, France and England.

Inside the entrance at the Fort Necessity museum.
Inside the entrance at the Fort Necessity museum.

The Fort Necessity National Battlefield and three related, nearby properties managed by the National Park Service each tell an important part of the story of the French and Indian War and the years that followed, and I’ll describe these properties in their order of chronological importance to the story.

A map to Fort Necessity and nearby historical sites related to the French and Indian War.
A map to Fort Necessity and nearby historical sites related to the French and Indian War.

1. Jumonville Glen

Jumonville Glen National Park Service sign in Fayette County PA
Jumonville Glen National Park Service sign in Fayette County

In 1754, both the French and the English realized the importance of controlling “the Ohio Country”, part of which is now western Pennsylvania.

Reasons for the disputes between the French and British over control of the Ohio County.
Reasons for the disputes between the French and British over control of the Ohio County.

The French saw the Ohio River and its tributaries as an important link between their colonies in Canada and Louisiana; the English saw the economic potential of expanding their eastern seaboard network of colonies further inland.

Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia tasked 22 year-old George Washington with building an 80 mile-long wagon road from Wills Creek (modern day Cumberland, MD) to Redstone Creek on the banks of the Monongahela River, to aid in establishing new English settlements and as a route by which English troops and supplies could be moved into the area to expel the French from the region.

History leading up to George Washington's excursion into western Pennsylvania.
History leading up to George Washington’s excursion into western Pennsylvania.

On May 24, 1754 Washington arrived at the Great Meadows (as the area where Fort Necessity was built was known at the time) and set up camp there.

Three days later, Washington’s Native American allies informed him that a group of French soldiers was headed his way.

On May 28, Washington, along with his colonial troops and Native American allies, ambushed the French troops at dawn in a wooded ravine now known as Jumonville Glen.

Foggy morning at Jumonville Glen in Fayette County Pennsylvania.
Foggy morning at Jumonville Glen in Fayette County.

During the 15 minute skirmish, Washington’s troops killed or captured all but one of the French troops, with the commander of the French troops, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, being one of the fatalities.

Story of the battle at Jumonville Glen in Fayette County PA
Story of the battle at Jumonville Glen in Fayette County

The lone French survivor made his way back to the French stronghold at Fort Duquesne (modern day Pittsburgh), where he informed the commander there (who happened to be Jumonville’s brother) what had occured.

Jumonville Glen interpretive sign in Fayette County PA
Jumonville Glen interpretive sign in Fayette County

Today you can walk among the boulders where this firefight took place and where very little has changed since 1754.

Looking down in to Jumonville Glen from Washington's vantage point during the brief battle.
Looking down in to Jumonville Glen from Washington’s vantage point during the brief battle.

Although there are no great monuments or fortifications to see at Jumonville Glen (there are, however, some small interpretive signs along the trail from the parking lot to the glen), it is literally where the first shots in what would become the the first true “world war” were fired.

Jumonville Glen is located approximately 7 miles northwest of Fort Necessity, at GPS coordinates 39.87897, -79.64417.


2. Fort Necessity

Fort Necessity Battlefield sign along Route 40 in Fayette County Pennsylvania.
Fort Necessity Battlefield sign along Route 40 in Fayette County.

Following the skirmish at Jumonville Glen, Washington and his troops returned to the encampment at the Great Meadows.

Knowing a French reprisal was likely, he order the construction of a small circular fort which he called Fort Necessity (as it was built hastily out of necessity).

Interpretive sign near the modern-day replica Fort Necessity.
Interpretive sign near the modern-day replica Fort Necessity.

The fort was built in 5 days, was 53 feet in diameter, and had a 14-foot square log storehouse in the center of it.

Inside the storehouse at Fort Necessity.
Inside the storehouse at Fort Necessity.

Trenches dug around the perimeter of the fort were defended in part by “swivel guns”.

Swivel gun near the trenches around Fort Necessity.
Swivel gun near the trenches around Fort Necessity.

The reprisal attack Washington feared came on July 3, 1754, when 700 French and Native American troops surrounded Washington and his 400 troops.

Story of the Battle of Fort Necessity.
Story of the Battle of Fort Necessity.

Washington had made the tactical error of placing his fort too close to the surrounding woods, allowing the French and their Native American allies to fire on the fort at will from behind cover.

The replica of Fort Necessity built on the site of the original fort burned by the French following Washington's surrender.
The replica of Fort Necessity built on the site of the original fort burned by the French following Washington’s surrender.

At 8 pm the French requested a truce to allow Washington the option of discussing a surrender.

Just after midnight, Washington agreed to surrender terms that allowed him and his troops to withdraw with honors (meaning they could keep their sidearms).

In exchange, Washington released the French prisoners taken at Jumonville Glen and signed what turned out to be a confession to assassinating de Jumonville (Washington later claimed the interpreter did not accurately explain to him what he was signing).

Story of the surrender of Fort Necessity.
Story of the surrender of Fort Necessity.

Today in addition to the replica of the fort (the original was burned to the ground by the French following Washington’s departure), there is an exceptional Visitor Center with many artifacts, interpretive displays, and a theatre that shows a brief film about the events that unfolded at and around Fort Necessity.

Interpretive display inside the Fort Necessity museum.
Interpretive display inside the Fort Necessity museum.

Fragments of the original stockade posts of Fort Necessity that were underground and escaped the fire set by the French are one of the more unique displays.

Remnants of the original Fort Necessity excavated from the battlefield.
Remnants of the original Fort Necessity excavated from the battlefield.

The replica of Fort Necessity, built on the site of the original, is located just a few hundred yards from the Visitor Center and accessible via a relatively flat walking trail.

The pathway from the Visitor Center to Fort Necessity.
The pathway from the Visitor Center to Fort Necessity.

The Fort Necessity National Battlefield Visitor Center is located just off of US Route 40 at GPS coordinates 39.81444, -79.58604.


3. General Braddock’s Grave

Braddock Grave sign along Route 40 in Fayette County PA
Braddock Grave sign along Route 40 in Fayette County.

After Washington’s surrender at Fort Necessity, England decided to send a professional fighting force to try and remove the French from the Ohio Country. General Edward Braddock, with 45 years of military service, was sent to lead the effort in 1755.

Unfortunately for General Braddock, all of his experience was in fighting European-style in open fields, not in a dense wilderness.

A summary of General Braddock's campaign to remove the French from Fort Duquesne, on display at the Fort Necessity Visitor Center.
A summary of General Braddock’s campaign to remove the French from Fort Duquesne, on display at the Fort Necessity Visitor Center.

On July 9, 1755, Braddock’s army (which included George Washington) was routed by a much smaller but more wilderness-savvy French and Native American force, with nearly 2/3 of the English army killed or wounded.

Story of General Braddock's burial in Fayette County.
Story of General Braddock’s burial in Fayette County.

General Braddock himself was mortally wounded and was buried in a secret grave in the middle of the road so that his body would not be discovered and desecrated by pursuing enemy forces.

Original gravesite of General Edward Braddock in Fayette County Pennsylvania.
Original gravesite of General Edward Braddock in Fayette County

Today both his original, “secret” gravesite and the spot to where he was reinterred in 1804 are part of Braddock’s Park along modern day U.S. Route 40, just a few miles west of Fort Necessity.

General Braddock's grave along Route 40 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
General Braddock’s grave along Route 40 in Fayette County.

General Braddock’s Grave is located alongside U.S. Route 40 at GPS coordinates 39.83269, -79.60039.


4. Mount Washington Tavern

Mount Washington Tavern sign along Route 40 in Fayette County PA.
Mount Washington Tavern sign along Route 40 in Fayette County

The Mount Washington Tavern was a stagecoach stop along what was to become the National Road, the first federally-funded highway in America.

Mount Washington Tavern interpretive sign.
Mount Washington Tavern interpretive sign.

Situated on the hill above the Fort Necessity Battlefield, the tavern was built between 1827-1828.

Mount Washington Tavern near Fort Necessity in Fayette County PA.
Mount Washington Tavern near Fort Necessity in Fayette County

From its inception in 1811 until the 1850s, the National Road was the main road from the east coast to the western frontier of the United States.

Interpretive display about the National Road near the Mount Washington Tavern in Fayette County PA
Interpretive display about the National Road near the Mount Washington Tavern in Fayette County.

Today, much of U.S. Route 40 follows the path of the National Road.

The Mount Washington Tavern is located alongside U.S. Route 40 at GPS coordinates 39.81796, -79.58745.


Visiting Hours and Information

In the age of COVID, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to check the Fort Necessity National Battlefield official website for the latest information on hours, admission prices and practices, and any potential closures.

Historical marker along US Route 40 commemorating Fort Necessity.
Historical marker along US Route 40 commemorating Fort Necessity.

For those with a keen interest in both US and world history, these sites at and around the Fort Necessity National Battlefield are where monumental events occured, and the what-ifs are profound as well.

Plaque honoring soldiers buried at Fort Necessity National Battlefield.
Plaque honoring soldiers buried at Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

What if George Washington had been killed at Fort Necessity, or alongside General Braddock the following year?

Portrait of George Washington as President, on display at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield Visitor Center.
Portrait of George Washington as President, on display at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield Visitor Center.

What if the English had decided the war against the French was too costly and ceded control of the “New World” to them?

A model of what the Battle of Fort Necessity might have looked like on display at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield Visitor Center.
A model of what the Battle of Fort Necessity might have looked like, on display at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield Visitor Center.

You can ponder these questions and others as you explore the historic Fort Necessity National Battlefield in the PA Laurel Highlands!


Three years after General Braddock’s failed attempt to remove the French from Fort Duquesne and the “Ohio Country”, British General John Forbes arrived in Pennsylvania with a different strategy to get the job done.

British officer reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.
British officer reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.

His plan was to build a road and supply chain from Philadelphia in the east to within striking distance of Fort Duquesne in the west, constructing forts approximately every 50 miles along the road to reinforce and defend his supply lines.

The British flag flying over Fort Ligonier.
The British flag flying over Fort Ligonier.

Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County was the last in that series of forts, and it was from here that in November of 1758 he launched his successful campaign to capture the French Fort Duquesne, where present-day Pittsburgh now stands.

Entering Fort Ligonier.
Entering Fort Ligonier.

Fort Ligonier is a full-scale reproduction of the original fort on its original location, and also has a wonderful Visitor Center and museum attached to it.

Weaponry on display inside Fort Ligonier museum.
Weaponry on display inside Fort Ligonier museum.

The Fort Bedford Museum in Bedford County pays tribute to the original Fort Bedford, built the same year as Fort Ligonier during the same military campaign by General Forbes and Colonel Bouquet.

Entrance to the Fort Bedford Museum in downtown Bedford Pennsylvania.
Entrance to the Fort Bedford Museum in downtown Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Like Fort Ligonier, the Fort Bedford Museum contains exhibits and artifacts related to the French and Indian War as well as colonial life in general.

Rifles on display at the Fort Bedford Museum.
Rifles on display at the Fort Bedford Museum.

Nearby Attractions

Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County is one of my favorite state parks in all of Pennsylvania!

An autumn view of Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park

10 of the Best Hiking Trails at Ohiopyle State Park will introduce you to some of the excellent trails to explore there.

The author photographing a late winter sunrise at Baughman Rock Overlook.

10 Must-See Waterfalls at Ohiopyle State Park will show you how to find some of the incredible water features the park is famous for.

A young couple enjoying the magnificent view at the Ohiopyle Falls overlook along the Ferncliff Trail.
Ohiopyle Falls in Fayette County, PA.

Fallingwater, one of the most famous homes in the world, is located close to Fort Necessity and Ohiopyle State Park.

The "classic view" of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in the PA Laurel Highlands.
The “classic view” of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in the PA Laurel Highlands.

Exploring Fallingwater in Fayette County will show you the best things to see and do when visiting this iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home.

Another view of Fallingwater from the bridge over Bear Run.
A winter view of Fallingwater from the bridge over Bear Run in Fayette County.

Did you enjoy this article?

If so, be sure to like and follow PA Bucket List on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest to stay up-to-date on my latest write-ups.

Click on any of the icons below to get connected to PA Bucket List on social media!


Pennsylvania’s Best Travel Blog!

Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here