Fort Necessity was the site of a battle in 1754 that, quite literally, shaped the state of the colonies and the world for many centuries to come.
Even better for us is that it is located in the Laurel Highlands, about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh, and is an easy day trip to visit and explore the grounds, recreated fort, and the museum!
A Brief History of Fort Necessity
While western Pennsylvania is home to a number of historic sites, it is hard to think of one that shaped the course of modern history more than the area of the Laurel Highlands around Fort Necessity.
The reason for this is that in 1754 a young George Washington led a small troop of men to a French campsite and attacked them. How some of the events unfolded are still up for debate, but during the fighting the leader of the French troops, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, was killed.
This resulted in a retaliatory attack by the French on nearby Fort Necessity a few weeks later in which Washington was woefully unprepared and outmatched. His contingent surrendered and, due to a poorly translated document, Washington inadvertently admitted to assassinating Jumonville.
The fighting escalated to become what is now known as the French and Indian War, which then grew into the Seven Years' War (often considered to be the first world war), and put the colonists on a path to clash with the British in the Revolutionary War two decades later.
While this may still have happened regardless of the events at Fort Necessity, it is still pretty impressive to see how a seemingly small event cascaded into something much bigger than itself.
What Can Be Seen at Fort Necessity Today?
Today the site of Fort Necessity is home to a reconstructed fort, a beautiful walking path with many placards denoting the history, as well as a free museum that dives into the history of the events of the wars and the years that follow.
What is perhaps the most surprising about a visit to Fort Necessity is how unprepared George Washington truly was. The fort was small, built too close to the tree line, and provided almost no protection for the battle that followed.
While the site itself is fairly small, the museum is worth spending a fair bit of time at to really dive down into the history of the region and learn about how it was all shaped by what is often to be considered a mistake on Washington's part.
The museum continues on with the history of the region after the country's independence, and features a rather detailed exhibit about the National Road- the first national highway that was constructed in the early 1800s and passed by the battlefield (currently US-40).
After visiting the museum, take a short walk or drive over to the Mt. Washington Tavern to see an example of an 1800s style inn that was found along the National Road (note that the Inn typically has shorter hours than the museum).
Take a Drive to Braddock's Grave and Jumonville
To complete your historical journey surrounding the battle of Fort Necessity, you'll want to take a drive to visit a couple more sites within the region.
The first is the site of Braddock's Grave, located just a half mile or so west of Fort Necessity.
This simple memorial (constructed in the early 1900s) marks the final resting place of General Braddock, but also includes a monument to his original burial spot a few hundred feet into the woods as well as additional historical markers.
About five miles further west is the site of the Jumonville battle, the incident that started it all. The area offers a fairly small hike through the woods as well as some historical placards as well. But as this one is a bit off-the-beaten path, you may be like us and find yourself completely alone in the auspicious place.
While both of these sites are not necessary spots to visit to get an understanding of the battle at Fort Necessity and the trajectory it put the colonies on thereafter, it does offer a somewhat imposing feeling to be at the exact sites where the events occurred.
It is not every day you can be at a spot that shaped the course of modern history, but at Fort Necessity and the nearby battlefield site at Jumonville, you'll get just that.
Fort Necessity is located on US40 in Farmington, PA and is a national battlefield managed by the National Park Service. Entry is free.
Looking for more historical sites from the 1700s in Western Pennsylvania? Take a ride an hour north to check out Fort Ligonier to learn more about the British conquest of Fort Duquesne shortly after this incident!
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