Fort Pitt (1761-1797)
English Domination Until The Birth Of A Nation
When General Forbes army took command of the river junction in 1758 from the fleeing French garrison, he inherited the key to westward expansion. Forbes was determined to safeguard it for the King of England to ensure British domination over this strategic location. With firm British resolve, Forbes was committed to defending the region. He ordered the construction of a large and virtually impregnable fort, to be called Fort Pitt, named in honor of Prime Minister William Pitt. The settlement that would grow around the fort would be known as Pittsborough.
Before work could be started on a major fortification, a temporary fort needed to be erected. The French Fort Duquesne had been burnt beyond repair. The troops needed shelter for the winter and Colonel Hugh Mercer, commander of the garrison troops feared a renewed French offensive. Mercer's Fort was constructed on the bank of the Monongahela and was sufficient to shelter a force of four hundred men.
Completed in late December, the temporary fort stood for a year and a half while the garrison worked on the construction of the permanant fort. Fort Pitt would be the most elaborate and impregnable fortress the English constructed on American soil. By 1762 the fort was completed. There were two acres inside the fortress walls and eighteen more in the outworks.
In 1760, the population of Pittsborough was 149. This number increased to 330 in 1761 and in 1763 that number had doubled. These census figures did not include the garrison at the fort.
Fort Pitt was a formidable barrier, and the citizens of the new village of Pittsborough were delighted that it was finished. By 1762, the Indians were getting restless. The war with the French was still raging in the north, and their Indian allies in the region were growing increasingly frustrated with their treatment by the British occupiers.
In May of 1763, the Indians went on the warpath. In an effort to drive the British settlers back across the Appalachian Divide, Chief Pontiac and a large force from several local tribes, began a campaign against British Forts in the Northwest territories. All but three forts fell. Only Fort Pitt, Fort Detroit and Fort Niagara stood against the savages. Fort Detroit was under siege and Fort Niagara was under threat.
The Indians also focused a great deal of effort on Fort Pitt. They drove down from the north, overrunning a string of smaller settlements in the Allegheny River Valley, then moved on the settlement of Pittsborough. Settlers and traders that had not been killed or captured sought refuge in Fort Pitt.
By May 27, 1763, the fort was surrounded, and a three-month siege ensued. Six hundred frightened settlers and a garrison of 150 determined British soldiers were determined to hold out. The Indians avoided a direct attack, and instead decided to either burn or starve out the defenders. Forces along the river banks shot fire arrows into the fort, and others blocked all resupply routes. The defenders of the fort stood firm, but after three months supplies were running desperately low and they were running short on ammunition.
The only hope for rescue was a relief column, consisting of elements of the 77th and 42nd Highland Regiments, along with some Royal Americans. This force was led by the redoubtable Colonel Henry Bouquet.
While approaching Fort Pitt, the column was ambushed, on August 4, near Bushy Run Station, a small stronghold southeast of Pittsborough. After a two day struggle, Bouquet defeated the Indians and continued on to relieve Fort Pitt. The seige was officially lifted on August 20, 1763.
The Indian Chief Pontiac soon abandoned his efforts to drive the British out of his lands and hostilities ceased. This was the last time that the village of Pittsborough and Fort Pitt were involved in direct hostile actions.
After the Indian Uprising, known as Pontiac's War ended, peace came to the region. An expansion to the fort was ordered by Colonel Bouquet, the new commandant, and four redoubts were built outside the main twenty acre complex. One of these buildings still exists, the blockhouse at Point State Park.
With peace came prosperity, and Pittsburgh entered a new phase in its development. Situated at the base of the Ohio River Valley, the city became the official "Gateway to the West". Plans for a grand city were drawn and soon the need for a frontier fort diminished.
In 1770, George Washington made a stop in Pittsburgh on his way to inspect land holdings in Ohio. He spent the day inspecting the garrison, and then lodged at a Pittsburgh home for the evening.
In 1772, thirteen years after it was built, Fort Pitt was abandoned by the British. The structure was sold by Captain Charles E. Edmonstone of the 18th Royal Regiment to Alexander Ross and William Thompson for fifty pounds of New York currency. Many of the outlying structures of fort were dismantled and construction materials recycled in the erection of some of Pittsburgh's earliest buildings. Jurisdiction over the region passed from the English Crown to the Pennsylvania Colony.
Boundary disputes between Pennsylvania and Virginia soon heightened regional tensions, and Pennsylvania was granted permission from the Crown to garrison a local militia at the fort. By 1774, these disputes had reached a high point. Both Pennsylvania and Virginia claimed ownership of Pittsburgh, and the neighboring colonies were prepared to fight to preserve their claim.
On January 6, 1774, Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, sent Dr. John Connolly to the fort to announce himself as "Captain and Commandant of Pittsburgh and its dependencies." Connolly began raising a militia. Pennsylvania challenged Virginia's claim to the fort and had Connolly arrested. Obtaining release from sympathetic judges, Connolly returned to again take command of the fort and organize his militia.
Then, on April 25, 1774, Dunmore ordered all taxes and public dues paid to officers appointed by him. Fort Pitt was renamed Fort Dunmore, and Pittsburgh technically became a part of the Virginia colony. The Virginia Court was moved from Augusta, Va. to the newly named fort. Pittsburgh residents reluctantly became Virginians.
In May of 1775, frontiersman from Pittsburgh, and the surrounding region, organized a convention in the city and unanimously approved of the Virginia Colony's recent secessionist actions against the Crown. These conventions marked the beginnings of the American Revolution.
Dr. Connolly and Lord Dunmore, who had been working with the Crown to align the local Indian tribes against the colonial insurrection, failed in their mission. Now, finding themselves and their small loyalist militia in hostile territory, Lord Dunmore and his garrison abandoned Fort Dunmore and returned to Virginia. Captain John Neville and 100 Pittsburgh militiamen took command of the fort, immediately restoring it original name, Fort Pitt.
Once again bearing its proud name, Fort Pitt became a United States fort when Brigadier General Edward Hand tood command from Captain Neville on June 1, 1777. At this time, the Virginia court was removed. The boundary dispute between the colonies became secondary to the higher purpose of the the revolution. In time, the state lines were agreed upon by negotiation, and Pittsburgh reverted back to a being a part of the state of Pennsylvania.
During the revolution, Fort Pitt saw no action. It was used as an armory and a staging ground for several incursions against restless Indians, whose promises of peace were never long lived. On August 11, 1779, Captain Daniel Broadhead left Fort Pitt with 600 men to destroy the Seneca Indian villages along the upper Allegheny. Indian raids on settlers were a constant cause of distress, and the elimination of this menace became a priority for the struggling region.
After Independence was won from the English, in 1783, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took possession of Fort Pitt from the United States of America. Repaired in 1791 by Major Isaac Craig, the fort remained in operation for another year. The U.S. Army decommissioned the site on August 3, 1797, and all salvagable items were auctioned.
The City of Pittsburgh's growth soon surrounded, then consumed the old fort, until nothing was left except Bouquet's blockhouse, which had been converted into a dwelling. Today, through the efforts of historical preservation societies, the blockhouse has been restored and some remnants of the fort have been excavated and rebuilt. The Fort Pitt Museum is located under a replica of one of the fort's five pointed bastions. The museum is full of artifacts and models showing the history of the forts that once occupied the Golden Triangle.
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